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Marriage and Infertility : Nothing I Do Helps

By Michael
Originally published in Empty Womb, Aching Heart, Marlo M. Schalesky, Editor

I gripped the steering wheel, clenched my teeth, then turned the ignition key in my Ford F150. Sput, sput, vroooom. I smiled as the engine began to purr like a contented tiger. Four hours under the hood had paid off. The truck was as good as new. I sat back and wiped an oily hand across my forehead. Who needed those guys at the repair shop? After all, I was Mr. Fix-It, an engineer, a problem-solver. And right now, after hours of being up to my elbows in grease and machinery, I felt like I could fix anything.

I sauntered into the garage and began to scrub my hands with grease cleaner. A dozen other things needed to be repaired today. There was the bathroom faucet, the loose leg on the dining room chair, and that squeaky brake in Shannon's mountain bike. Or, maybe I should tackle the problem with the sliding door lock. I rubbed my hands together. Today would be a good day. Nothing made me feel better than getting in there and making things work.

After a moment's thought, I decided to attack the faucet. I gathered my tools and headed toward the bathroom. A leaky faucet would be no match for me today. I opened the door, hiked up my pants, and dropped to one knee to begin clearing out the stuff under the sink. No sooner did I get my wrench onto the pipe when I heard the sound of sobbing coming from the other room. Oh no, I thought. Not again.

I knew what had happened before I reached the master bathroom. As I threw open the door, I saw my wife sitting on the edge of the tub with a pregnancy test stick lying on the counter-negative, again. I closed my eyes and raised one hand to rub my forehead. I had been so sure that this would be the month. Disappointment rose in my throat like bile. Quickly, I suppressed the feeling. I had to be the strong one now. I had to fix this problem. I had to find the answer.

This month was the third time we'd undergone intrauterine insemination. We planned to try it only three times. The doctor had told us that if IUI didn't work in the first three tries, it probably wouldn't work at all. Now, we'd have to consider IVF, a procedure we couldn't afford.

I stood there for a long minute, staring at the pregnancy test, my mind racing. I had to make this better. I needed to figure out what to do now.

"This isn't the end of the world," I muttered.

My wife didn't even look at me. She only answered by crying harder.

"Maybe the test is wrong."

Shannon glanced at me briefly through her tears. "I t-tried it twice," she sobbed.

I frowned and cleared my throat. "Maybe the doctor blew it," I suggested. "I think we should try another clinic."
"Nooooo," Shannon wailed.

I ran my fingers through my hair and paced back and forth across the bathroom floor. "Okay, then, maybe we should try just one more time. Or maybe we could get a loan for IVF."

"It's no use," Shannon cried. "Nothing's ever going to work. We're never going to have a baby."

"That's silly," I replied in my most matter-of-fact tone. "Of course we are. If we have to go to the ends of the earth, we'll make this work."

Shannon sniffed and glared up at me. "This is not like one of your broken down cars," she shouted. "You can't just turn a wrench and make it all better. Don't you understand? It doesn't work like that!"

I scowled as she stormed out of the bathroom without a backward glance. What was wrong with her? Didn't she understand that I was trying to help? But nothing I did helped anymore. Whatever I said always seemed to be wrong. For five years we'd traveled this rocky path called infertility. And in all that time I felt we'd made no progress at all. We were no closer to understanding why we could not conceive. The doctors couldn't give us straight answers-just a bunch of possibilities and statistical probabilities. No matter how much I studied the subject, no matter how many websites I visited, I couldn't seem to find a logical series of steps towards our final goal.

And, lately, whenever I talked with Shannon about the subject our conversations would always end in turmoil. Nothing I said helped. I tried to be positive, I tried to suggest solutions I thought might work, but that only seemed to make her angry. It just didn't make sense. She didn't make sense.

Of course, I realized that the whole treatment process was more difficult for her. After all, I wasn't the one constantly being poked and prodded. But it wasn't easy for me either. Still, at every step in the process I tried to be the rock-the one to look at the process objectively. My objectivity seemed helpful at first, but these days even my most reasonable suggestions were met with tears.

I shook my head and stared at the negative pregnancy test. Infertility ought to be like a Ford F150, I thought. If it were up to me, it would be. If I could just find the right tools, turned the proper bolts, replaced the correct parts, everything would work again, just as it should.

For at least an hour I sat in the bathroom and searched for answers. But nothing came to me. Maybe Shannon was right. IUI would probably never work, and where could we even hope to find the money for more expensive procedures, procedures that weren't guaranteed work any better than the IUI? What if this problem could never be fixed? What would I do then?
My stomach tightened at the thought. Determinedly, I stood and stomped back to the guest bathroom. At least there life made sense. With a wrench in my hand, I knew what to do to make things right.

The next week dragged by. We went about our business without saying two words about the problem. I came home from work and fixed things. She buried herself in her work and in her spare time read her favorite novels again and again.

That week I fixed just about everything that needed it and more. I organized my garage and designed a new shelving system. I made the sprinkler system more efficient and gave the dogs two baths. But nothing helped. Repairing a bathroom faucet didn't fix my wife's broken heart. Re-designing a sprinkler system couldn't erase the pain I saw in her eyes. But what else could I do? She wouldn't let me help her. She wouldn't listen to my advice.

Since working around the house didn't solve our problems, I decided to take a short trip and go hunting. My friend, Pete, had been bugging me to shoot ducks with him. But, Shannon and I seemed so immersed in infertility treatments that I hadn't considered going. Until now.

Duck hunting can be truly exciting when the birds are flying. I would often shoot off two or three boxes of shells in one day. But, slow days afforded plenty of time for reflection. Too much time. This particular day was dark with fog. Perfect duck hunting weather. The air hung wet and cold around us as we made our way through the tall wet grassland to the duck blind. We set out our decoys and settled down out of sight just in time for the opening shoot at 6:56 a.m.

Carefully, we watched the sky as the fog bank around us became illuminated by the first morning light. But no ducks appeared. So, we began to blow on our duck calls, hoping to attract the birds flying above the fog. Still, no ducks. The precious first moments of the day slipped by without even the sight of a bird. At this rate, it was going to be a long, dull day. Or so I thought.

Pete and I stood hidden in the reeds for the next two hours with our feet immersed in near freezing pond water. My neoprene waders kept the water out, but I wished that I'd worn woolen socks. Pete, though a wise man and a member of our church board for as long as I could remember, was not much for conversation. In fact, he was downright boring. Nevertheless, it was he who broke the silence. "Why did you decide to come with me this weekend?"

I tapped my fingers on my shotgun's barrel where it lay across my lap. "Oh, I just wanted to get away for a little while," I sighed.

Pete looked at me for a long moment.

I shifted uncomfortably.

Finally, he spoke again. "So, how are you and Shannon doing with that infertility stuff?"

"Humph," I grunted. "Don't ask."

Pete nodded. "Seems to me like conception is a lot like duck hunting. The conditions may seem right. You can set out your decoys and blow your duck calls. But there's nothing you can do to make the birds come in. Must be hard, especially for you."

My scowl deepened as I thought about Pete's analogy. He was right, of course. I couldn't fix our infertility problems any more than I could make the ducks fly overhead. And that left me feeling frustrated, and confused. I gripped my shotgun and rubbed my palm over the shiny surface. "So what do I do? If I can't fix the problem, why even try?"

Pete answered with one simple sentence. His voice rings in my ears even now, though when he spoke, it was almost under his breath. "Sounds kind of selfish," he stated.

At first I had no idea what he was talking about. But a cold duck pond has a way of enabling self-reflection. As the hours passed I continued to think about Pete's comment. I didn't ask him about it. Nor did he offer any explanation. Rather, my thoughts turned to Shannon.

Perhaps all of my attempts to solve the problem were mostly for my own benefit. My concerns were surely centered around the fact that I could not do much to help the process-my own feelings of helplessness. But, what about Shannon? What did she need from me? Apparently, she didn't need my poorly-conceived solutions or my attempts to try to figure out how to make everything all right. Mr. Fix-it just wasn't helpful. But she did need something from me. Or at least she needed someone.

My mind again focused on duck hunting. On days like today, when I couldn't bring the birds in, I didn't stomp off angry. Instead, I waited. I hunched quietly down in the reeds, watched, and listened. I was patient. I was hopeful. I was ready for action.

Maybe that's all I needed to be with Shannon too. Perhaps all I needed to do was be with her, wait with her, sit quietly beside her and listen to her pain. Maybe all she needed was to know that I care.

I cleared my throat and glanced at Pete. "Hey, man" I said. "I think I need to go home now."

Pete nodded. "I understand."

The trip home was the longest eighty miles I'd ever driven. I didn't waste any time getting into the house. I don't remember specifically what I said to her, but it went something like this, "Shannon, please forgive me for being so selfish. I truly don't know how to fix our infertility problem. I can't fix it. But, one thing I do promise. I will be with you through it all. And, I love you more than anything."

Tears immediately came to Shannon's eyes. "I don't need you to try to fix it," she said. "All I want if for you to be there when I'm hurting. All I need is for you to understand."

I took her in my arms and planted a kiss on her forehead. "It's a deal," I muttered.

That day I learned that sometimes what I call doing nothing is doing something in Shannon's eyes. Sometimes all I can do is take her in my arms and say, "I understand. I love you." Sometimes all she needs is my shoulder to cry on.

As the months and years wear on, infertility hasn't become easier for us. Nor have we found any simple solutions. We're still putting out our decoys and blowing on our duck calls. But, one thing is different. We're now able to love and support one another through this difficult process, as we wait to see whether a bird will ever fly overhead.

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©2001 Copyright Protected. Marlo M. Schalesky.
Originally published in Empty Womb, Aching Heart. Reprinted by permission of Marlo M. Schalesky. All rights reserved.


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