It took me six years and two minutes to become a mom.
I’m Abbe, an actress and producer in LA. On November 5th, my life changed in the craziest and most wonderful way when at 5:19pm I gave birth to my son, Malachi, and at 5:20pm to my daughter, Amalia. I’ve always wanted to be a mom, and really did always dream of having twins. But in those two minutes my dream came true, and now I’ve got my hands full — literally — and doing what all new moms do: learning the ropes as I go.
Becoming a mom is by far the project I’ve worked on more than any other over the last six years. Of course, no one ever plans on that; my husband Isaac and I thought the road would be straightforward and quick (doesn’t everyone?).
Let me back up here.
Our journey to parenthood began on a romantic trip to Italy in 2012 when we’d been married for two years. We’d had friends who had trouble trying to conceive and always felt grateful that our story would be different. We just had a feeling that it would happen for us, and we were confident we’d be great parents. I ran around Italy with ovulation tests, peeing on sticks and setting timers at fancy museums and vineyards. By the plane ride home, Isaac was convinced that we were pregnant, that it had happened on the first try. Two weeks later, when our first “not pregnant” appeared on the stick, Isaac said “OK, here begins our journey.” And he was right, it did begin our journey, but little did we know what that would involve. At this point we weren’t worried.
I remember throwing away that first test that read “not pregnant” in those lowercase letters. I tossed it in the bathroom trash, went to work, and when I got home, I saw it in the trash and was like “I GET IT! I’M NOT PREGNANT!” After that, I learned to place the test face down and under a tissue… a guaranteed way to ensure I didn’t have to see it again.
A year or so of trying went by. Sometimes we’d say oh let’s not try this month because that would mean we’d be pregnant at so-and-so’s wedding and that’d be a nuisance to fly or drive or drink… or whatever the situation may have been. I think that these days when we try to conceive at older ages we naturally imagine that having a newborn will fit perfectly into the life we’ve already built and the schedule and habits we’ve created. And I think its OK to feel this way, to assume that we can have it all, which let’s face it, we all want. So why not try to make it happen?
And then it doesn’t.
Eventually, after two years of trying, I was referred to multiple fertility doctors but we still weren’t acknowledging that there was a problem. It’s tough to explain, but I think the brain makes excuses for you to protect you. Mine did, anyway. It was stress, it was diet, it was not the right time, it was my job, it was his job. It was a lot of things, but it wasn’t infertility. We decided we’d keep trying “naturally.” (“Naturally” is a term I have come to hate because it implies that ART, Assisted Reproductive Technology, is not natural, which it kind of isn’t but it’s not my choice to be in a doctor’s office making a baby. Plus wanting children and becoming a parent is still the most natural thing in life.)
So after three years with no success, we were finally ready to enlist help, and though we were disappointed to need it, we were still optimistic. We sort of thought at that point we’d meet the doctor and the universe would see that we were serious about having a baby and then we’d get preggers. We started with IUI: Intrauterine Insemination. This is sometimes called the “turkey baster method” and is minimally invasive and relatively inexpensive (relative to other fertility assistance methods). It’s the “gateway treatment” in that it’s step one in the process if no firm problems are found and you just need a boost and/or some actual, predictable timing.
Too many IUIs later (four procedures in four months – each with more intense drugs) and with no pregnancy to speak of, our dreaded IVF journey began. Hearing the words “IVF” (in vitro fertilization, aka egg retrieval followed by assisted fertilization using said eggs and added sperm from dad to create an embryo in a test tube that can be reimplanted into the mama) upped all stakes. Our emotions soared, everything felt important, precious, delicate, intense, expensive. It added stress to our marriage, as is to be expected. It felt like everything about Isaac had to be perfect — even more perfect than usual — because if it wasn’t perfect, why were we going through this insane effort and financial strain to procreate with each other?
In addition to all the intervention on the medical front, I tried all sorts of eastern medicine-inspired boosters, diet tips, teas, Chinese herbs, you name it. I’d started going to acupuncture as the first line of what I call “oomie goomie” help because many fertility doctors actually believe that acupuncture can help with fertility because some studies have shown success. My acupuncturist put me on a CRAY eating plan: no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no nightshades (eggplant, tomato, pepper, potato). I followed the diet to a T save for wine, since, as I saw it, wine was fruit, so therefore should be allowed. I felt great, actually. It wasn’t easy, but I actually think following this insane regimen kept me feeling balanced, healthy and thin in the face of all those hormone shots. Of course I’d have traded it all for a pregnancy. My acupuncturist happened to be going through her own fertility challenges herself, so she understood and commiserated, which was lovely and helpful.
Guys, this story goes on and on. And we’ll get there. But we were on and off the medical fertility train for more than three more years with doctors — that’s six total if you include the “trying” without medical intervention, which I absolutely do.
A pattern evolved over time: I’d be ALL IN and gung ho, and then I’d face such debilitating heartbreak that I’d need to take a break. We spend all those years trying NOT to get pregnant, and then when you want it, it doesn’t come, which just seems cruel and twisted. And it made me think about things I didn’t want to think: why was G-d doing this to us? What lessons were we supposed to learn? Why did I feel so strongly that I was meant to be a mother when clearly I wasn’t? How could I keep going? How could I not?
Having unexplained infertility is like waking up everyday in a state of grief. There’s a part of your heart that permanently pangs with sadness and sometimes anger, a sense of void and also sometimes a teeny bit of hope. Infertility took its toll on us, of course. But what we didn’t expect was the way it would take a toll on our other relationships. We had friends who knew what we were going through, but in trying to be polite and respectful to us, never once checked on or asked how we were. It became awkward, sometimes, and isolating often. Even with some of our closest friends and family, we didn’t know how to share our grief and didn’t always feel the support we needed when we did share. All of the complicated feelings we were carrying needed somewhere to go – which was why we launched our podcast Maculate Conception. We wanted to start a conversation about ways that we can be there for each other as more and more couples struggle with this particular kind of grief.
There’s one other major piece of this process, and that’s the cost. GUYS – sometimes I think my calling in life is to fight for insurance companies to cover infertility treatment. Most don’t cover a penny of it. Ours didn’t. And it’s infuriating. Everyone has the same right to want a family. Some companies cover partial treatment, and how they determine which part is “reasonable” is beyond me. But, yeah, we pulled from our small 401(k)s, we went through our savings. Every penny went to this venture plus pennies we didn’t have, aka credit cards. Some said we were starting parenthood off irresponsibly from a financial perspective. (I have some choice words for those people.) Look, for me it was always about this: I didn’t want to wake up one day thinking “if only I’d have found another $10K, would we be parents? If only I’d have maxed that one card… would I stop yearning for a pizza birthday party with a dinosaur cake?” I had these thoughts. A lot. I rationalized it like this: Money can (hopefully) come back into my life, fertile years can’t.
So maybe you’re wondering how we finally got the happy ending. Well, it was lucky number EIGHT that did it for us. Yup, eight IVFs. This was really going to be our final, final, final round. We were by then exploring surrogacy.
I really never thought I’d get pregnant. And even though it took such a long time for me to become a mother, half the time I still look at Malachi and Amalia and can’t even wrap my head around where they came from. The other half of the time I look at them and ask myself how the f*#k I’m going to do this. A fellow mom-of-twins friend recently compared the experience of raising infant twins to getting on a roller coaster and discovering your seat buckle doesn’t work. She’s exactly right. Before you even have a chance to tell anyone about the buckle, the ride is pulling out of the station.
So… here we go. The train has left the station and here I am with my two brand new babies… and I’m gonna blog it here, and I hope you’ll follow along. I’ll share all the latest — the good, the bad, the ugly — as I get used to life with our new twins and taking care of them and of myself.