Monday, December 1, 2008

Infertility math

Yesterday I read the cover story in the New York Times Magazine by Alex Kuczynski about her use of a gestational surrogate to become a mother after 11 IVFs and four miscarriages.

One of the things that hit home was her brief description of "the terrible, wishful math of infertility." I'd never thought of it that way exactly, but I immediately recognized myself. And I recognized my penchant for Infertility Math.

I have repeatedly calculated how old I will be when I give birth if I get pregnant on X attempt, which is a continuously moving target. I also calculate where I will be in my academic training and career…along the lines of "If I get pregnant now, I will be on my internship… applying to post-doctoral fellowships… interviewing for post-doctoral fellowships…on a post-doctoral fellowship (probably true if I get pregnant this cycle)…on the academic job market," etc.

One of my most grueling versions of Infertility Math is computing the age and developmental stage our baby would be at if we hadn't miscarried the first time. I only do this with pregnancy no. 1- by the second and third losses I'd learned to not calculate due dates that might come back to haunt me.

With that first pregnancy, Will's older sister was one month farther along and now has a child (truly, a lovely child) who is a continual reminder of the fact that our baby is not here. Try as I might to NOT do this, when I am at my sister-in-law's, holding her beautiful son, it is almost impossible to not start the dreaded calculations in my head, subtracting one month from her baby's age and imagining what our daughter would be doing and how our lives would be so very different if she had lived.

Then I catch myself, and I stop.

Until the next time.

Similarly, watching friend after friend get pregnant and deliver, and then some of these friends get pregnant - how is it possible? - a second time, has become yet another barometer of loss. A painful reminder that Will and I are somehow out of step with time.

The holidays engender a particularly treacherous form of Infertility Math. Just yesterday, Will and I bought our tree and were securing it in its stand in the living room. Before I could stop myself, I reflexively thought, "This will be our last Christmas without a child."

Which would be fine, except that I think this every year.

And we don't have a child.

And (breath hitches in throat) I don't know if we ever will.

Infertility carries us along on a continuous cycle of hope and loss…followed by more hope. Hope that I can soon be a mother, hope that Will and I can seal our union with an oh-so-beloved child, hope that we can put this chapter of grief and loss and longing behind us and move forward into the future.

And at the same time that hope carries us into dangerous territory - dangerous and terrible and wishful territory - a landscape of unmappable days, of the uncharted and unknowable future.

That's the rub of infertility. And the peril of Infertility Math.



  1. Oh...the dreaded Infertility Math. The only thing worse than this is 'Infertility Statistics' where after winning the '18% of all couples experience infertility' lottery, you spend the rest of your days trying to make it onto the 'right' side of the odds.

  2. I was never good at math. I totally related to everything you wrote. I even created a spreadsheet to calculate when my 6 week, 20 week, etc checkups would be. I calculated how many vacation days I would accumulate when I gave birth to add onto the maternity leave. It's very hard to let go of my obsessive spreadsheet after 2 years. . .

  3. It is so painful - I do the same thing. I am in IVF#3 - and I keep thinking - it cannot fail this time, if I get pregnant again, I cannot possibly lose this pregnancy - the odds are not against me is painful.

  4. Oh Mo, it's too true. And this was a beautiful post. Thank you for writing it.

  5. I haven't clicked over to read the article yet, but you pick up on something so interesting here. ART is certainly an art, yet 'the numbers' and their formulas are the medium of this ART / art. I think one of the reasons we become so engaged in our own treatments is because the formulas are fluid.

  6. That article was on our reading list yesterday, too. Glad I wasn't the only one. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. I was never any good at math.... that's why I went in to law. Math is for accountants... let them think about the numbers. You think about your fantastic husband, great friends, and the bright spots in your life. It will come together for you, one way or another. Keep hanging on.

  8. effing infertility math! i read that article, too... i think we all do some sort of IF math.

    very well written. ...and i think that it is okay to hope that it is our last childless christmas. :)


  9. I love that - IF math! I totally find myself figuring ages and stages for all my concerts particularly - like I don't care if I have to miss the one in January because of cycling, but it would be so awkward to miss the second week of April - so hopefully we won't have to try again then...crazy making. I hope this is your last Christmas as a fancy free childless couple!

  10. Yes, dreadful isn't it....all those calculations? My BIL got married almost 26 months after us, and he has a nine-month daughter. Friends who had known health problems (addictions, thyroid problem) have already turned parents. And here I am sitting in clinic after clinic, test after test, that there does not seem to be any problem at all. You can imagine and compare your pregnancies with milestones of others. I have nothing to compare.

    It was wonderful to go through your blog. I think I will like to come back to read more. Peace!

  11. The numbers are what scare me, frankly :)

    I know a lady in my infertility support group who is pregnant now (for the first time) after her 13th IVF with donor eggs! Second cycle with donor eggs.

  12. I hate infertility math...but find myself calculating due dates, ovulation dates, and what ifs.

    11 IVFs...I don't know HOW she had the strength to do them!

  13. Thank you for this post. It expressed what many of us are experiencing, and did it beautifully.

  14. That passage jumped out at my when I read that article, too. It just so well encapsulated one of the most frustrating parts of infertility for me. I would play those same games, do the same math every month, even though I knew it was only going to drive me crazy. Very good post.


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