adventures in fertility: Chapter I, heavy clouds, no rain


In many ways, this blog has been a lie – I’ve been living through two huge era-defining events over the past three years, and neither of them have made it to the pages you read here. One is career stuff, the vaguely juicy gossip about the LA world, mixed with the pieces of awesome (and occasionally infuriating) news about our shows that I keep quiet out of a respect to the process.

With blessing and permission from Tessa, I can finally state the other: we’ve been caught in the choppy, non-navigable waters of fertility en route to having our second child. I will not skip to the end of the story because in many ways, the conclusion isn’t yet final, but if you don’t mind, I need to write this all down because if I don’t, I’m in danger of exploding.

You remember 2007, right? Nice enough year, Lucy was two, and we had just begun to wrap our heads around having another kid. Actually, it was a screening of “Children of Men” that really did it – something about that world bereft of kids awoke the desire in earnest. We had unprotected sex for the first time since Lulubeans came around, and within weeks… we were pregnant.


in Columbia County, May 2007

I always thought I’d have a bunch of kids, even if I had no idea how or even why. It seemed like a happy default setting, something that twas ever thus and t’would ever be. I came from many, and assumed I would leave the world many, and besides, I always wanted a house where someone was awake. When Lucy surprised us in 2004, even after we were using Tessa’s math-challenged “rhythm method”, it seemed obvious and natural.

At week 7, when we went to the OB-GYN to see if we had a heartbeat, she immediately shook her head at the ultrasound. The cells had stopped, no growth, the levels were all negative. On a gorgeously sunny Labor Day 2007, I drove Tessa to the hospital and we had a D & C done as an outpatient procedure.

Still, it seemed fine. I’d just turned 40 and she was just 38. We got pregnant the first time while trying not to, and we got pregnant the second time in one cycle. After letting ourselves recover for a few lunar revolutions, we tried again several times, and on Father’s Day 2008, Tessa leaned over in bed and said “I have a present for you.”

She was pregnant again, and this time she knew it was fine. She had pretty bad morning sickness, sensitive chest, all the usual trappings from 2004. On a week 6 ultrasound, our doctor saw the little fluttering heartbeat, and we felt good enough to tell our extended family the news. I remember how excited my dad was on the phone.

We took a short trip to Napa, and came back for another ultrasound in week 8 just to check in. The doctor found the little dark spot on the screen and said, “Oh. I don’t think this is going to happen.” No more heartbeat, nothing. A few hours later, I drove Tessa to the hospital yet again, and as they put my brave, wonderful wife under anesthesia one more time, I realized this was different. When we drove home, the sunlight was blinding. I remember thinking, “I can’t do any more abortions on these cruel sunny days.”

I wasn’t prepared for how hard the 2nd miscarriage hit me; I don’t think either of us were. We had a lot of confidence, inner instinct, an ineffable understanding that it was going to work, and we now knew that to be a load of crap. They tested the “fetal material” recovered from the operation, and it came back as “female normal chromosomes”. It’s a notoriously unreliable test that often mixes the mother’s DNA with the fetus, but you know… I have a girl, and all I could see was another little girl, somehow not allowed to make it.

I sank into a deep melancholy, tried to write obliquely about it on the blog, but the lack of real-life community was beginning to drag me under. Tessa’s milk had already come in, despite the miscarriage, leaving her suffering from mastitis as well as recovering from surgery. At that point, Tessa was starting to talk about adoption, but I was still headstrong in my belief: there was no reason why this wasn’t working.

Only 20 months before, a GP had told Tessa she “had the eggs of a 21-year-old”. She had an FSH test that showed her to be nicely in the realm of fertile. We had a hysterosalpingram that was normal, I checked out as normal and “nicely motile” (thank you very much) and we exhausted every other test in the playbook. We did an IUI as a lark, but like most larks, failed to produce larklings.

And then a chance conversation with another mom brought us to the Promised Land: the very best fertility center in the world, right here in America, with a brand new procedure that was revolutionizing successful birth…

COMING UP: To Conceive Where Tessa Was Conceived… The Centennial State!

0 thoughts on “adventures in fertility: Chapter I, heavy clouds, no rain

  1. Anne

    Ian: BTDT for the latter half of my 30s. I will be following this saga with great interest.
    Some may know our story: Vasectomy reversal (I’m wife #2). Infertility. Miscarriage. Adopted 3 kids in Colombia, including one infant (all at once). 9 months later, got pregnant at age 40. In 18 months, went from zero kids at home to 4. All this stuff is very mysterious and can also be heartbreaking.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Mindy

    Hugs from Virginia too. I’ve also been there, done that (too many times) and there really aren’t words to describe how heartwrenching it all is. Sometimes it’s true that misery loves company, but I truly hate to hear about other people having to suffer through it all too.
    I could write for hours about this, but I’ll just say that I’m so sorry you and Tessa have had to deal this.

  3. LFMD

    More hugs from Maryland! So sorry you both had to deal with this.
    Just curious whether you’ve shared your disappointments and this journey with Lucy and how you’ve gone about explaining it.

  4. bridget

    Sending you guys all the best wishes. It’s a tough subject but I’m glad you’re willing to post about it. I’ve recently been through the same experience and it’s something that people generally don’t talk about. But I think it helps knowing you’re not alone.

  5. Sue

    I really don’t know you, but I read your blog. I read your previous oblique reference and felt I knew exactly what you were writing about because I’ve been down this path myself. I’m very sorry you’ve had to go through this and even more sorry that you haven’t been able to be open and receive much needed support. Whatever the conclusion may be, I hope writing about it helps.

  6. caveman

    I am dealing with this exact scenario. #1 child was as easy as putting on Marvin Gaye’s greatest hits and opening a bottle of chardonnay. The battle for #2 has been the most challenging emotional test of my life.

  7. CM

    I think there was another blog entry where you wrote about it obliquely, and I think lots of people thought it was about some creative project, but I sort of wondered if it was about that. It was a frustrated entry about giving up on something.
    I could write reams about this topic, but infertility is very frustrating because it’s a constant struggle every day, and you wonder about all the little things you could be doing to help – should your husband start eating walnuts? Should you do acupuncture? Drink Robitussin before sex? You want to grasp for something but you have no idea. And yet, some people get prego at the drop of a hat.
    I was so scared that I would have to deal with it because of my age, and I did a lot of research. I was quite lucky that I didn’t have to go through it, but I know many who have. I am thankful for my new baby every day.
    There are some people who don’t understand, who say “Well, just adopt” (they have no idea of the emotional and financial ordeal of adoption, and they think there are just scores of needy kids out there who you can just pick when you want to) and other people who say “Well, this is what God wants.” If you read the comments on the internet about any story about Juliana and Bill Rancik’s infertility struggles, ignorant people are blaming her for the couple’s infertility. Rod Stewart and his wife who’s 39 are expecting after 3 rounds of IVF. I am so glad that some celebrities are finally talking about fertility treatments.
    I had a miscarriage before my first child, and it’s a rough thing to know you have to start all over again. Going through all that when you don’t actually know whether you’ll ever even get to be a mommy or daddy is a lot more heartbreaking. At least having one child is better than having none.
    By the way, I’ve also collected many success stories. One of my cousins got married at 37, couldn’t conceive, went thru IVF unsuccessfully, then started being able to get pregnant naturally. She had a healthy boy at 40 and NOW I just heard she is prego again with another healthy boy at 42!
    Hang in there.

  8. GFWD

    We had experience with one miscarriage before our first child was born. Cannot imagine having to go through that again. As you will see from your friends and readers, it happens way more than you can fathom, but no one ever talks about it. Writing about it and sharing with others will be cathartic.

  9. CM

    P.S. Is the “new” procedure PGD? It seems like it’s a great procedure in experienced hands. There’s a clinic here in North NJ that specializes in it.
    I am glad people are talking about this. It is such a heartbreaking thing for couples (and singles too) who are going thru it.

  10. LFMD

    I noticed that you said “the conclusion is not final” but I am really hoping that “TOMORROW: To Conceive Where Tessa Was Conceived… The Centennial State!’ is the Part 2 of a Two Part Series. I am on pins and needles until tomorrow.
    And, I have to give a big kudos to Tessa. I get angry if my husband mentions to people that I have watched every episode of “Jersey Shore” (“It’s my personal business if I watch junk TV! No one needs to know this!”), and it takes quite a lot of bravery to let all of us in on your medical issues and personal business. I feel very protective of you both!

  11. jje

    I’m so sorry y’all have had to go through this. I know firsthand how hard it can be. And secondary infertility – no matter what the reason – is as hard as primary. I’ve been through both.
    I’ve always been very open about our infertility struggles and our long, difficult but oh-so-worth it journey to our two wonderful little boys. I have always believed people should talk about it and not make it appear to be something shameful the way a lot of celebrities do by lying about it.
    Unexplained infertility. Told it would be a waste of time and money to attempt any IUIs. So we moved very quickly onto IVF.
    IVF #1 at local RE – Pg with twins, but ultimately lost them early on because something happened during retrieval to cause a life-threatening infection in my ovaries. Lost one of them but managed to save the other, thank God. Long, long recovery and depths of despair.
    IVF #2 at local RE in Charlotte – frozen cycle, failed. Cue despair.
    IVF #3 at well-respected clinic in Morristown, NJ – Our son Connor :-)
    IVF #4 at NJ clinic – big fat failure
    Almost gave up at that point, but felt in our hearts that #4 was just not handled as well as #3. Decided to go back to local clinic again for one last try…
    IVF #5 at local clinic – Our son Graham :-)
    And if Connor was a miracle baby, sweet little Graham was even more so. Four days before testing, I was sitting on the couch and suddenly there was a pretty good sign that the game was over. I’ll never forget that feeling of realizing that it had failed before I even had my beta test to confirm it. But for some reason, I woke up super early the next morning and took a test. Negative. A few hours later, I don’t know why, I fished it out of the trash and there was the faintest line you’ve ever seen. So hope came flooding back in…
    And then it left. My beta at 16 days post retrieval was 28. That is baaaaad. Really, really fantastically bad. The RE was pessimistic and in my internet searches there were precious few success stories.
    But the number kept doubling. And doubling. And doubling.
    And now that Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad beta number is a sunny, funny two year old.
    I’m praying that tomorrow’s follow-up has a happy “now you know the rest of the story” ending for y’all.

  12. CM

    I realized that as I furiously wrote my responses, I forgot to say one important thing: To both of you, I am sorry for your losses.
    I asked my OB not to tell me the gender after I got my karyotype results back from my D&C. It would have made it harder for me, somehow.

  13. josie

    I am holding my breath on this one.
    I have a girlfriend who has had a very heart breaking experience with secondary fertility; your post is very timely in her journey.
    Warm thoughts going out to the whole family….

  14. BrannonWiles

    I am a regular, though not always frequent, reader of this, but it’s the first time I think I’ve felt compelled to comment. I love reading what you write, no matter what the topic, and have since the days of the DTH. I’m far too often more of a watcher than a doer, and while some may conceive of a writer in the same way – an observer – I am time and again touched, amused & challenged by what you have to say, and I enjoy your writing immensely, whether it is political commentary or a personal anecdote about your family.
    My comment to you & Tessa on this is that while everyone’s situation is different, and everyone’s solution is unique to them, everyone’s pain & struggle in these matters is the same. I met my wife at Carolina when we were 19 & 20, and within months of our dating, she was at UNC hospital for removal of a dermoid ovarian cyst. So LONG before we had any notion of spending our life together, I knew that conception might not come easy.
    10 years later, I was in law school & grad school for theatre management in NYC, and we decided maybe we’d try to start a family. She went to the doc to kind of check things out, and lo & behold, another cyst – very rare to have them twice and more rare to have them occur bilaterally. We were told we were excellent candidates for IVF, but we decided then that she’d had enough medical intervention & the thought of all the necessary steps was just overwhelming. Even with the “warning” in college, this was devastating, not to mention unfair that she should have to have another major abdominal surgery.
    We then began the adoption process & were very lucky to work with a wonderful NY agency where we could afford to do it while I was a student & she was making nothing at MoMA, and we ended up with a beautiful baby girl from the exotic land of Long Island, an open adoption where we waited only about 9 months & didn’t break the bank.
    We thought about another, and 2 years later, the cysts were back. When they removed them in her THIRD abdominal surgery, we were told (based on frozen section) they were the same benign dermoids, but 10 days later after full pathology, we were called in for the news that they were cancerous. So now she was facing very intense chemo while we had a toddler, who still deals with her memories of her mother’s illness.
    The road was hard, but we were indeed blessed with an awesome kid. We didn’t have miscarriages but we had cancer. Others have very hard roads with adoption, while ours was fairly easy. For many IVF is the answer, while for others, it’s fraught with pain. It’s ALL difficult in much the same way.
    Thanks for reaching out – you clearly have a diverse community of readers just in those who’ve commented who can assure you you’re not alone. And though the individual successful outcomes are not always comforting in & of themselves, because the situations are different, the common thread is you will get through this in your own way & have the family you were meant to have, whether that’s one or two or ten.
    My heart truly goes out to you both.

  15. Ian

    What an incredible salve to hear from so many of you about this. I intended to put up the rest of the story today (Wed) but there’s been a little rush of craziness on our end, so I have to push it to Thursday and Friday.
    You people are what the internet is for. Well, that and pictures of old border collies taking care of newborn kittens.

  16. Ann

    I’m also a regular reader but not commenter, but have to throw in my two cents. My husband and I went through two and a half years of infertility treatment and it was so unexpectedly soul-crushing, anger-inspiring, and just generally frustrating day after day. It’s very difficult to pin down what the feelings are or what they are about exactly, beyond the obvious, but I think one of the worst aspects is that people who haven’t been through it just don’t get it for the most part – not surprisingly because I couldn’t have imagined it myself.
    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s good to know you’re “one of us”, and that you’re talking about it (relatively) publicly.

  17. Brian from the Spanish House

    Thanks for posting this. We are keeping our fingers crossed for you in Maryland. We’ve been through it too. We have a daughter a few months older than Lucy, but we’ve lost two too, one at 23 weeks. We decided not to go through a D & C, but went through labor with the 23 week old. Holding my dead son was probably the low point of my life. My wife is now pregnant again at 41 and we’ve just crossed into the second trimester, but are still holding our breath.
    Good thoughts, prayers, and karma heading your way from us.
    Brian from the Spanish house

  18. Cris

    My mom miscarried several times before having me. She maintained the pregnancy before me longer than any of the previous ones, but the child was stillborn with some kind of defects. My parents were advised to stop trying at that point, but she conceived me a few months later. Although I was 7-8 weeks premature, I was pretty much ok. When my mom first told me that story, I commented at how heartbreaking those years of miscarriages must have been. She said yes, but if any of those pregnancies had been successful, I probably wouldn’t be here – and she couldn’t imagine her life turning out any other way.
    When I was in grad school at UNC, my advisor and his wife started the adoption process after many years of unsuccessful fertility procedures. They adopted their daughter during my first year, then their son a few years later as I was finishing my thesis. Since I don’t have siblings, their kids have become my surrogate niece and nephew. Over the years I’ve watched them and their parents grow into an incredibly beautiful, happy family, convincing me that the process by which they came together is its own kind of miracle. Similar to my mom, my advisor once confessed that, as difficult as those years were while trying to conceive, he looks at his kids now and can’t imagine his life being any other way.
    So there are lots of roads to building a family. We’re all eagerly awaiting to hear the next chapter in your story.

  19. Randy

    Williams family hang in there. You never know what the universe has in store. We’ve had four kids, but there was a miscarriage thrown in there and I know that is one of the hardest times in a couple’s life (was for us). I am sorry for your losses, but hopeful for your future.

  20. John Galt

    In many ways? Don’t tell me you’re a closet conservative…
    Praying for the best for you & the family. One question though; did you not seek a second opinion on either of the miscarriages? Doctors are known to be wrong on their interpretation of all kinds of tests, ultrasounds included. Even on sunny days.


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