by Jamie Schenk DeWitt
I had just gotten home from an evening out with my girlfriends. A glass of wine and some salmon and grilled vegetables later I walked into my house to a voicemail message waiting for me on the answering machine. We have one of those old school answering machines with a red blinking light and a speaker, so anyone in the house can hear the message. My husband wasn’t even home yet from his night out, and for the life of me I can’t even remember what he was doing. All I remember is seeing that red blinking light flashing at me – blink—blink—blink—blink
I pressed play on the machine.
“Hi Jamie. This is Dr. C. I just got the results from your blood test and your FSH is a 14.5. Jamie (long pause) a 14.5 is very high for someone your age.”
My age happened to be 35, which based on Dr. C’s tone was bordering on “Hi—you’re on the verge of all dried up at 35.”
The message continues. “Jamie, I would recommend that you see a fertility doctor right away. I would not waste any time.”
Dr. C went on to tell me that I could call her back to discuss this further and to get any recommendations for fertility doctors. But what she didn’t do was leave me her home phone number so I could call her back at 10:00 at night to discuss the most disturbing and heart breaking message I have ever gotten in my life. No. I could call her answering service – oh, wait,-- I did call her answering service, but it wasn’t a medical emergency to anyone but me. The emergency was going on inside of my head. What did she mean I needed to see a fertility doctor right away? I had had regular periods, good periods my whole life -- twenty-eight day cycles with ovulation on day fourteen. How could I possibly need to see a fertility doctor?
I grabbed a wine glass out of the cupboard and the open bottle of chardonnay out of the refrigerator. In my despair it was time for a glass of wine. And to be totally honest I grabbed a cigarette out of my secret stash in the hall closet. Now I know what you are thinking….well, I was thinking it too. Who grabs a glass of wine and a cigarette when they have just gotten the news that they have fertility problems? Shouldn’t I be downing a glass of orange juice and some prenatal vitamins? Well, not this lady. In my darkest hour of despair I went straight for the two things that I knew would numb the knife-wrenching pain in my gut. Knowing that I had to make it through the night with this burning unanswered question – Would I be able to have my own biological children? – was more than I could bare.
I grabbed my wine, cigarette and the cordless phone and speed-dialed my husband. No answer. Then, I speed dialed my mom in Michigan, three hours ahead of me in California. Yes. I was waking her up at 1 AM, but this was one of those mother-daughter moments when emotional breakdowns trump sleep. She answered the phone after two rings and I broke down into tears.
“I just got a message…sob, sob…from my OBGYN and I need fertility.” Now my crying began to intensify and it must have been hard to make out what I was saying through the tears and snot. “SOB, SOB, GASP, Sniffle…I am infertile. My FSH is 14.5 and I don’t know if I can have babies. GASP! SOB!”
Right at this moment my husband walked into the house and saw me outside on the phone. Before he could say anything I spit out the words, “Answering machine. Message. Listen.” He left the back door open and rushed into the kitchen. I could hear the sound of Dr. C’s voice echoing through the house and I felt my heart shatter into hundreds of broken pieces all over again.
I couldn’t believe that this was happening. And I definitely couldn’t believe that my doctor had just left this message on the answering machine. Who does that? And just as I was thinking that my mom said, “Why did she leave this message on your answering machine?”
Truthfully I didn’t have any idea. All I could think about was that I wish that I hadn’t walked into the kitchen when I got home and instead gone straight upstairs to bed. But there was no wishing away what was happening. It was real and I had the blood test to prove it.
My stepfather, a doctor, joined my husband and mom on the phone and all three of them gave it their best college effort to calm me down. They reassured me that everything would be okay. They told me that I would get more answers in the morning, which I knew but had to be reminded of. And most importantly my husband promised me that whatever it took we would figure this out and do what we needed to do to have a baby.
Thankfully with the help of my family and Mrs. Glass of wine and Mr. Cigarette I went to bed around midnight and got a semi-rested nights sleep. The next morning when Dr. C’s office opened I called at 9:30 am sharp. I left a message with the receptionist who promised me that Dr. C would call me back at the first break she had in her schedule. I clung on to my phone all morning until her call came in at 11:30 am.
“I know you are calling about your FSH and the message that I left last night. Sorry about that message, but you had checked off on your intake form that you wanted test results left on your answering machine.”
NOTE TO SELF (and readers): Never check that box if it appears on your intake form. A) You’ll never remember doing it. B) Bad idea to get bad news on your answering machine when you least expect it.
“I am so confused. I’ve always had regular periods. Twenty-eight days, fourteen-day ovulation. What is wrong with me?”
”You have high FSH. FSH stands for follicle stimulating hormone, which regulates the production of eggs in your ovaries. Someone at your age should have a FSH of a 5 or at the maximum a seven. Anything over a ten and at your age is very concerning.”
I was still confused. Why was this the first time I was ever learning about FSH from my OBGYN?
”So what does this all mean Dr. C?”
”Basically, your ovaries are slowing down and not producing as many good quality eggs. It will definitely be more difficult for you to get pregnant naturally and we don’t know if your FSH is going to keep elevating. “
” Will I be able to have my own children?”
“ I think we are catching this early on, but that is why I want you to go see a fertility doctor. I always recommend for my patients who are 35 and trying to get pregnant for the first time to get their FSH tested just in case this very thing might happen. I want you to be able to have the best chance possible at having a baby if that is what you want.”
That was exactly what I wanted. More than anything else in this world I wanted to be a mother. My husband and I had only been married for 6 months and hadn’t even officially started trying to get pregnant when my FSH test results came back. Suddenly here I was transformed and propelled into a new world. Within minutes I went from the newlywed who believed that she could get pregnant naturally to the wife who didn’t know if it would be physically possible to bear her own children.
Now, weeks and months later, I think back on that night often and with much fondness. I am so grateful that Dr. C had the foresight to test my FSH. I am so lucky that I found out about my high FSH before it may have been to late to try fertility. I am so fortunate that there is reproductive medicine and that there are very talented doctors who can help me get pregnant through an IUI or IVF. And I am also thankful because that was the last time I ever smoked a cigarette.