Praying With Our Dog, Coping with Infertility

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(Note: I wrote this a couple of months ago. I have surgery next week.)

“You are an infertile couple,” the doctor at Seattle Reproductive Medicine told us.

Her simple statement confirmed our assumption and summarized our emotional evolution the past 22 months spanning excitement, anxiety, confusion and frustration.

In times of crisis, it’s easy and selfish to ask God, “Why me? Why us?” But that’s exactly how I responded.

I also confided in our dog, Gianna. She’s good at providing support and keeping secrets.

The infertility is my issue. Amanda tested normal. My results showed low testosterone and low sperm count. Multiple tests confirmed it. I also have a varicocele (think varicose vein) behind my left testicle, which may correlate to my condition, the doctor says. Hopefully it does. A surgery in October will confirm that one way or the other.

I am writing because we know that our family and friends have wondered about us. We shamelessly want to be parents. I’m not tired of people asking us when we’re thinking about having children. I’m tired of lying that “we’re waiting” for this or that to happen in life. We’re not. We just can’t get pregnant.

I am also writing because infertility — and similarly personal and painful topics like miscarriage — is not often discussed. In a personal crisis, you don’t want to feel alone. This is one of those private, embarrassing and seemingly rare topics that you can only find solace about in your partner and the anonymous Internet. Of course, infertility isn’t so uncommon or Seattle Reproductive Medicine wouldn’t have a healthy business and all of those comforting statistics about how common infertility actually is.

This has been the greatest challenge I have ever experienced.

Because I want to be a Dad.

Because my wife Amanda deserves to be a Mom.

I don’t have any particularly unique qualifications to become a father, but God designed Amanda to be a great mother in her mind and heart. Amanda has a degree in early childhood development and has spent most of her professional life as a nanny, youth educator and teacher to mothers and fathers. She’s overqualified for the job.

This is the woman who picked me up on our third date in a Volkswagen Jetta station wagon with three – yes, three – car seats in the back row. That was intimidating! At the time we met, she was nannying for two families and a combined three boys all under the age of 2 years. One of those parents later told me, “Your wife taught me how to be a mother.”

When I went back to Indiana to meet Amanda’s family and friends, I met our niece and nephew — who Amanda adores — and found that nearly all of her girlfriends had two children; many of them have at least three today. Our wedding attendees were mostly children by that math, and Amanda insisted we have a giant table down the middle of our reception hall loaded with coloring books and crayons.

Here in the Seattle area, a lot of men marry women who are equal or greater breadwinners or are highly motivated professionally. Children come later, if at all. I fell in love with a woman who is highly motivated to be a stay-at-home Mom, and we’ve designed our life around that. Call us old-fashioned.

I bought a four bedroom house before we married to grow into. Amanda transitioned out of nannying last year to take a break from childcare before we started our family. I made aggressive professional moves to get in the dream job that could support both of us.

I pulled the classic husband-delay tactics, too. We have a cat, dog and two chickens that are the partial result of my wanting to delay the inevitable and just enjoy being a married couple. And we have. We battled about if we could make a Europe trip before Amanda got pregnant because she was not going to Tuscany if she couldn’t enjoy the wine. We were that sure of things.

Then, month after month, nothing happened.

It’s a lot like the movies — staring at a lot of pregnancy tests, figuring out the timing of conceiving, reading books, reading articles online, getting invites to friends’ baby showers and seeing newborns in social media streams at an exponential rate. It’s a comedy.

You start to notice pregnant bellies when you’re trying to conceive. I guess it’s like when you shop for a car and start to notice the other cars on the road. I like to think we’re being good sports. We have our emotional breaking points from time to time, but to date we’ve kept that private until now (Hello, world!). We’ve never been discouraged by watching friends get pregnant or seeing their updates online. We’re elated! If anything we are that much more happy for them. We like babies!

Sex also becomes a funny thing. We’re no less romantic, but we’re more scientific. I’ve heard of sex becoming stressful and unromantic for couples who struggle with infertility, and the Lord knows I’ll move hell to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Oh, the irony of spending all of those years trying not to get pregnant, right? We talk now about how we should have started having unprotected sex immediately, which I’m sure past-me would have been game for!

Going to the fertility clinic is a trip. I can’t help but look at the other people in the waiting room and wonder how long they’ve tried. I’ll see a woman walk out of the clinic and wonder if she just got pregnant in a back room by a simple procedure. The doctors are performing miracles, creating life every day.

I weave in and out of this anthropological reflection to deep, emotional caverns that I didn’t know existed. It’s all part of coping, I guess.

Some days just fly by. Others are totally draining. Something random will remind one of us about our situation, we share that with each other privately and we cry together. Sometimes it’s just a YouTube video of a baby eating a lemon or it’s stumbling upon “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” on Netflix (great movie, by the way). Sometimes it’s nothing but a flash-flood of suppressed emotion. I apologize to Amanda often, especially when another month passes. I struggle knowing that I can’t help my wife land her dream job.

We’re comforted by knowing the cause of why we’re infertile, but it also doesn’t provide a clear solution. Will things just happen for us eventually? How should we plan financially for assisted pregnancy procedures? Should we consider adoption? We’ve explored these questions to varying degrees and we’re open to all the possibilities.

For now, we have a plan and steps to take, at least to learn if I can be fixed.

And symbolic accepting our situation, Amanda took a job nannying again.

Every morning and every night when we feed our dog, we pray together as a family. Not at the dinner table, just there in the kitchen where Gianna’s food bowls are. It’s a new tradition. Gianna processes it as “sit and stay” for a food reward. When we ask her to pray, she sits obediently while we fold our hands and bow our heads.

We thank God for our beautiful, generous life and family and friends, and we ask for a child.

We’ll keep on praying.

10 Comments
  1. Oh Paolo and Amanda, I’m so sad. I’m tearing up on MUNI! (Granted that’s the non- weirdest thing that’ll happen on the SF bus line this week), but my heart goes out to you and the struggle you’re endearing. You speak a lot about Amanda’s qualifications (cause there’s a lot!!) but when I think of you guys, I think how you’d BOTH be such amazing parents because the love between you is admirable, enviable, beautiful… You’re going to find your baby! Life works in mysterious ways and turns out right in the end. And if I know anything about you, I know you’ll make something happen. I’m rooting for you guys! xo

  2. Paolo & Amanda! I’m sending lots of love your way… I could definitely relate to this post, but love your take on things & adore that your love for each other shines through it all. All you need is love, and you two are overfilled with it… so many people in this world are lucky to know that about you, and I know that one day there will be another human being who will not only fully know it, but will also be brought up by it… by your love. xoxo!

  3. Firstly let me agree with Jeanna, when I think of people that are going to make great parents, I think of you two. Hands down, the ideal couple.

    I also think it’s amazing that you’re speaking up about this, it’s a topic like you mentioned, that doesn’t come out much, your courage and openness is inspiring and will no doubt help others who are struggling and come across your blog.

    Finally, I’m not a praying man, but I’ll say a prayer for the two of you and for a little Mottola to be forthcoming soon. Big hugs to you both.

  4. Paolo and Amanda – first, this is beautifully written because it comes from the pain of your heart and your love for each other that you want to share and create a family. Infertility is common (2 1/2 years and one miscarriage before Brian was born) but feels so lonely because no one talks about it.

    Our family is praying for you both – somehow God will deliver a child to you. The love you have for each other will prepare you for what is ahead and the strength of that love will make it more special when you get to hold your child for that first time.

    We love you both so much.

  5. I send love and positive vibes your way. I care for your wife so dearly. I wish you the best for your surgery and hope it brings the results the two of you most certainly deserve.

  6. What a vulnerable and beautifully freeing post to write. I’m praying for you tonight– and each time I think of you, I will ask the Lord to fill your hearts with every imaginable joy that floods your heart in the midst of parenthood. It’s been such a long time since Amanda and I saw each other in person, but I sure wish that I could give her a hug tonight.

  7. My husband and I can relate 100%. We have sat in the waiting room. We know the “peace” of learning the whys of our infertility (blocked tubes from a proceedure that saved my life). We have debated fertility treatments. We have had exploratory surgery. We have adopted. You have my prayers.