Life Interrupted: I Was Diagnosed with Infertility at Age 26

Written by Leah Campbell on April 4, 2017

Infertility at age 26

 I was never someone who was in a rush to settle down. In fact, I always figured I wouldn’t get married or start thinking about having kids until my 30s. I wanted a family in the future, I just assumed I had plenty of time to start making that a reality.

Besides, in my early-to-mid 20s, I was having too much fun to worry about settling down.

Then, everything changed. After months of pain and erratic menstrual periods, my doctor told me she thought scheduling an exploratory surgery would be a good idea. When I woke up, I had a brand new diagnosis: endometriosis. Six months later, when I needed surgery again, that diagnosis was upgraded to stage 4 (severe) endometriosis.

“If you want kids,” my doctor told me. “We need to get you to a reproductive endocrinologist sooner than later. You should expect a hysterectomy in your very near future.”

I was 26 at the time. And still very single.

The fallout

I wish I could say I handled my diagnosis with grace, but of course, I didn’t. I fell apart. I wanted to be a mother. I’d always wanted to be a mother, but not like this. Not under duress. Not alone. Not while I was still trying to figure the rest of my life out.

It wasn’t just that I wanted to be a mother, though. I wanted to be pregnant. I wanted to breastfeed. I wanted a little mini-me of my own. I wanted the whole experience.

And when I really sat down and thought about it, I realized that being a single mother was a lot less scary to me than never being a mother at all.

So, I made the appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist who recommended in vitro fertilization (IVF). I also began to look at sperm donors.

At the same time, I deeply pressured an ex-boyfriend of mine to be that donor. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking. I knew he and I weren’t compatible. But I also knew he loved me, and that he was the closest I had ever come to settling down. And I didn’t want to do this alone.

Thankfully, he had the sense to tell me “No,” but only after I spent several weeks begging. I’ll admit, it was not one of my finer moments.

When everything doesn’t work out

Not long after my 27th birthday, I began injections for my first IVF cycle. I’d chosen a donor with olive skin and green eyes. He was 6 feet tall, and on paper he sounded a bit like someone I might have dated in real life.

My friends and family were supportive, and when it was time for my eggs to be retrieved, I had a sense of peace about the whole thing. This was meant to be. I was going to be a mom. Everything was going to work out.

Only, it didn’t. I didn’t get pregnant. I spent my two-week wait completely convinced that I was, only to learn that I didn’t know my body as well as I thought I did.

And I was devastated.

I had two frozen embryos remaining, but suddenly I felt a whole lot less hopeful. I took a few months, trying to piece my thoughts together. I hadn’t dated in over a year because I couldn’t even picture what that would look like. How would I explain to someone new the path I was on? It was ridiculous to even think about.

I felt like I was wasting time, though. Like I had to figure this part of my life out first, so that I could then find that other puzzle piece. So after a few months of getting past the grief of my first failed IVF cycle, I started injections for my second.

And that was when I met somebody …

Infertility at age 26

Left with a thousand scattered pieces and no next step

The guy I met was funny, intelligent, and attractive, and he looked at me like I was actually somebody worth pursuing. I’d been so caught up in my infertility nightmare, I couldn’t remember the last time someone had looked at me like that.

I told him the truth on our second date, just days before I was supposed to have those two frozen embryos transferred. He handled it really well, considering the circumstances. We kept talking. And when I found out my second cycle failed, he was the person I sought comfort in.

Of course, the relationship fizzled after a couple of months. I was a 27-year-old woman with a clock ticking so loudly that neither of us could hear anything else. But he wasn’t at a place in his life where he wanted to be rushed into anything.

That was 100 percent fair, but I didn’t have time to wait for anyone to catch up.

Unfortunately, I also didn’t know what my next step should be. I’d spent every cent of savings I had (and accumulated a fair amount of debt) on fertility treatments that hadn’t worked. Even if I’d had more money, I’m not sure I would have wanted to go down the same path again. There were no guarantees, and the treatments themselves had accelerated the painful side effects of endometriosis for me.

Even worse than that, my heart was broken in a thousand pieces scattered all around me.

I didn’t think I had it in me to face those mediocre odds again.

The space to heal

Eventually, I made a decision to not make any decisions. I needed to breathe. I needed to heal. And I needed to find a partner. I didn’t want to do any of this alone anymore. I wanted someone by my side who would be as invested as I was in whatever step might come next.

In retrospect, it’s not shocking at all that my dating life over the next few years was a total mess. I’d never been a desperate girl. I’d never been someone who was anxious to settle down. But now I was, and with the vibe I was putting out, no relationships lasted long.

At 29, coming off a bad breakup with a guy I had actually thought might be the one, I decided to take a break from dating. I was clearly doing something wrong, and I needed to get my head on straight. I started working on me instead, attending therapy, training for a triathlon and half-marathon, and writing a book. I made the decision to do all the things I knew I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had gotten pregnant those two years before. I traveled. I posed for a boudoir photo session. And I probably spent a few too many nights drinking at bars with friends.

Until the day something happened that opened my heart up to adoption. And again, suddenly, I found myself pursuing motherhood while single. Only this time, it worked.

Infertility at age 26

Opening up my heart to motherhood

Just two months’ shy of my 30th birthday, I was in the delivery room meeting my daughter for the first time.

She’s 4 years old today, and she is the absolute love of my life. I still haven’t found that romantic love, but I’m the first to admit I haven’t really tried since my daughter was born. Being a single mother is pretty consuming and it doesn’t leave much time for first dates and starting a relationship from scratch.

Sometimes I wonder where my life would be if it hadn’t been derailed so drastically eight years ago. Would I have met someone by now? Gotten married? Started a family the old fashioned way?

There’s a big part of me that thinks I probably would have. Without the pressure infertility put on me, I likely would have followed the trajectory I’d always had planned for myself.

But then I wouldn’t have my daughter. And that’s a future I simply can’t imagine.

So instead of bemoaning the past, or wasting my time away on what-ifs, I choose to look forward instead. Right now, that means opening my heart to the possibility of a second adoption. Because it turns out, I actually do this single-mother thing pretty well.

The future and letting go

I’m still open to the possibility of someone new stepping into that, stripping me of my single-mother title and completing our little family. But I’m no longer desperate for it. Nor am I necessarily looking for it.

If there is one thing infertility taught me, it’s that I have a whole lot less control over how things turn out than I once believed. And that’s OK. Because sometimes, when you just let go, things turn out better than you ever could have dreamed.

Leah Campbell
CMS Id: 118642