First comes love, then comes marriage, but little did we know how hard it would be to fill a baby carriage! Our story began nearly three and a half years ago with two naïve newlyweds who thought that making a baby would be in their time, on their terms, and in their control. 

happy couple under a tree

My sister had recently had her son, and I am certain they conceived the first time they tried. So why would my story be any different? I mean, we share DNA, so of course, I would be just as fertile, right? Wrong.

After six months of trying on our own, I ended up in the emergency room one evening in terrible pain. When the doctor came in and told me I was pregnant I was shocked, as I had been bleeding. Then a wave of paralyzing fear immediately came crashing over me. I knew something was wrong. After a week and a half of waiting in agony for repeated beta results, we were told that we were going to lose the baby. We were heartbroken and devastated. At that time, six months of trying had felt like a long time considering I was certain I would be pregnant after one month. 

Looking back now, I can see the good intentions behind the many attempts at consoling us after our loss. Words like “your baby didn’t even have a heartbeat yet,” “at least you weren’t farther along,” and “at least you got pregnant” have been permanently burned into my mind and soul. We grieved so much for our lost baby but were determined to continue.

As time passed and we continued to experience negative pregnancy tests and disappointment month after month, I became extremely worried and frustrated. Ovulation tests telling us when it was time to have sex was the least sexy thing imaginable. It took all of the fun out of trying to conceive! The romance and spontaneity completely died out, and baby-making became a chore. It didn’t matter if one of us was tired or not in the mood. That smiling face staring back at you screamed, “too bad—get to it!” As the months came and went, our feelings of frustration piled up, as did jealousy, pity, doubt, fear, anxiety, and a thousand more painful emotions.

A year after our loss, a doctor finally agreed to see us for infertility testing. After being presented with many abnormal lab results, the doctor told us she did not know what caused the abnormalities and presented us with several options from “do nothing” to IVF and said, “you choose!” Now there’s some quality medical care right there!

Scared, confused, and completely uncertain of what to do, we thankfully sought a second opinion. This doctor quickly diagnosed me with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and referred me to a surgeon for suspicion of endometriosis. Upon seeing the surgeon, he luckily took seriously the fact that every month I had lower back pain, nausea, cramping, and blood in my stool during my period (another doctor had simply dismissed me as having hemorrhoids!). 

collection of fertility medications and needles

Two weeks later, I had surgery where they discovered Stage 4 Endometriosis, and that part of my ovary needed to be removed. As if having surgery for the first time wasn’t terrifying enough, I suffered a complication that landed me back in the hospital three times and endured two weeks of debilitating pain and discomfort.

After healing from surgery and eager to start fertility treatments, my doctor said he felt that medically induced menopause would give us our best possible chance of conceiving a child.  After waiting a year and a half already, my husband and I didn’t love the idea of waiting 3-5 more months to be able to start treatment. But with our hopes set on having the best chance of taking home a healthy baby we agreed, and I spent the next few months living life like an insomniac middle-aged woman with constant hot flashes. Ladies, menopause is no joke!

When my period finally returned, I was dying to pop some hormones and give myself a shot! Our treatment plan consisted of letrozole, trigger shot, and IUI with estrogen and progesterone suppositories. But, of course, my body had more tricks up its sleeve and other problems to reveal. Not only do I have both Endometriosis and PCOS, but I am apparently also a chronic cyst-grower!

Our first two treatment cycles were canceled due to cysts. On our third cycle, the same cyst persisted, but we were excited to hear that our doctor was willing to push forward and let us continue on. But after our first IUI was unsuccessful, we were determined to figure out how to get rid of these pestering cysts.

Hours of research led to a complete makeover of our home and diet. We threw out anything in our home with any sort of chemical or toxin. Cleaning supplies, makeup, deodorant, laundry detergent, hair products—you name it!  Then we started the NO diet—no dairy, no gluten, no refined sugar, no alcohol, no caffeine, no processed foods. My hair was a ratty mess and I was hangry, but we were ready to do whatever it took to become parents!

For the first time ever, I had a clear baseline ultrasound, and three weeks later I finally saw two pink lines. As tears of relief and optimism filled my eyes, I was cautiously celebrating a pregnancy as the trauma of our loss two years prior replayed in my mind. Unfortunately, our few days of hope and celebration were shattered with another early loss. We were broken and now left to fear there was something else wrong. 

IUI treatment number three was unsuccessful, but number four was successful. We had managed to get pregnant again, but this time as I saw those two pink lines appear there was no excitement, only paralyzing doubt and fear. There is nothing comparable to how slowly and painfully the seconds crawl by when you are awaiting the results of betas after experiencing several pregnancy losses. 

Unfortunately, we were faced with more bad news, and this time it was an ectopic pregnancy. I can’t even begin to put into words the eerie, horrible feeling of waiting in an emergency room for hours to be given a painful injection that is going to destroy the life growing inside of you, a life that you have begged and prayed for, for years. We were completely and utterly numb. It was hard to accept that this was the third baby we were losing.

After some more testing, which all came back morning, the doctor reassured us yet again that three early pregnancy losses were “normal,” so we continued on to IUI treatments number five and six with no success. As we close this chapter of our journey, we are both hopeful and fearful as we face our next step, IVF.

fertility-challenged EL teacher Makenzie Brinkman pointing to her closet full of fertility medications

As we reflect on our journey thus far, it is easy to see all of the heartache, trauma, loss, and pain we have experienced. It is easy to pick out the negative and ugly sides of infertility. But between the losses, painful procedures, countless needle pokes, and broken dreams something beautiful has blossomed.

Because of infertility, my marriage has been strengthened. My husband has been my rock and my strength during dark times. He has shown me a glimpse of what an amazing father he will be someday by the way he has loved and taken care of me. We have dreamed together and mourned together. We have had more open and honest communication. We have loved each other more deeply. We have prayed and worshiped together.

Infertility has also connected me with so many amazing people. I have joined a support group, attended conferences, and connected with people across the world. I have publicly posted my picture with my story, something I would have never imagined doing. I have written blogs that have helped me process my emotions and heal my heart. I have learned about treatments and tests I would have never otherwise heard about from my Instagram friends (I love you all SO much!). I have had friends, family, coworkers, and complete strangers pray for me, check in on me, and genuinely love me during my darkest moments.

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Infertility has strengthened my faith.  It has broken me and shown me that I am not the one in control. It has humbled me. It has made me beg for forgiveness during times when I have felt envy and anger toward other people’s joy. It has made me realize that I cannot possibly do this on my own. It has shown me that I am in desperate need of a powerful, forgiving, and loving Father and His saving grace and miracles.

Infertility has taught me so many things.

It has taught me patience and trust. I am an absolute control freak. I write checklists, record everything in my calendar, think through things that don’t need to be thought through and plan out every little thing that could possibly be planned. Infertility has taught me that I am not in control. I never have been, and I never will be. It has taught me to trust in something much bigger and way more worthy than myself.

Infertility has taught me to be open, honest, and loving. It has taught me, first and foremost, that almost everyone you know is facing some battle. And when people’s lives are in a constant state of disappointment and earth-shattering heartbreak, the most important thing you can do or say is, “I am so sorry this is happening to you. I am here for you.” A person facing a battle wants someone to listen and to be there for them. Your words won’t heal the wounds, but they can cause them to linger and open back up. I have learned to be mindful and prayerful about what I say and to treat others with kindness always; so many people are battling silently and internally.

fertility-challenged EL teacher Makenzie Brinkman in the doctor's office

Infertility has taught me that people are well-intentioned. Along this journey, I can think back to hundreds of uncomfortable and painful conversations. I can think back to the terrible advice I was given. I can vividly remember painful comments people made in attempts to console me. In those moment, these words struck my heart like daggers. But after the emotions settle and time passes, I have come to realize that these often hurtful conversations come from well-intentioned places. 

People want to make your pain go away. They want to offer “advice” that will magically make the difference. They want to tell you about so-and-so who adopted a baby and then immediately got pregnant. They want to do something to help, but they don’t know how or what. And instead of just listening, they want to give. Give you tidbits of advice and messages of “hope” that they truly believe will help, heal, or solve your problems. I’ve learned to forgive, to be patient, and assume the best intentions from my loved ones and friends. After all, they have never been infertile, so how can they truly know what is helpful or hurtful?

Infertility has been one of the worst, yet best things that has ever happened to me. I hope that amidst the pain and heartache, you too can find bits of beauty, hope, and peace throughout your journey. God works through all circumstances, and through Him all things are possible. He is always good and His timing is always perfect. If you are reading this and in the midst of infertility, know that you are not alone in this. There will be good days, okay days, and awful days. Be gentle on yourself, and never ever give up.  Keep praying for your miracle, and be open to when and how that miracle might present itself.

Makenzie Brinkman lives in Minnesota with her husband Derek and fur-baby Shale. They have been actively working on building their family for three and a half years. Makenzie is an elementary EL teacher and Derek is a police officer.  In their free time they enjoy renovating and fixing up anything and everything, cuddling with their puppy, going to the movies, and spending time on the beautiful lakes of Minnesota. For more hope, laughter, and real talks from one fertility-challenged friend to another, follow Makenzie on Instagram @notexpecting.