Ahem. This is venturing into highly personal territory (& I'm not sure how dh will feel about me writing about this, so I may eventually have to pull it...!), but I've noticed a few questions & comments on this topic in other people's blogs, so I thought I would take a shot at addressing it in mine (recognizing that mine is only one perspective & experience, & other people living childless/free after infertility may handle the situation differently... & may not care to talk about it themselves).
The question is whether, when you decide to stop treatment, not pursue adoption -- in short, when you "decide" to live childless/free -- to use birth control.
The infertility counsellor dh & I went to see -- when our last agreed-upon IUI had failed & I was in the throes of panic attacks (really), contemplating a childless future -- mentioned birth control as something we should consider, if we really were going to live childfree. "I know this sounds totally NUTS, after everything you have just been through to try to have a baby," she said, "but unless you do something, you will always have that nagging little voice in the back of your mind, wondering whether this will be the month."
She was right. It did sound totally nuts. (I believe the book "Sweet Grapes" advocates the same thing, & I had the same reaction when I read it.) And so I ignored her advice. For the first year or two, or maybe even three, after we abandoned treatment, I continued to hope for that miracle baby, unlikely as the prospect seemed as I headed into my mid-40s. I still took my temperatures & charted. I even had someone give me a Clearplan Fertility Monitor, which I used for awhile.
Gradually, though, I stopped using the monitor... & then the thermometer (it was sooooo nice not to have to stick a thermometer in my mouth first thing every morning!!). (I knew I was making progress the day I finally shredded those damned temp charts.) I still tracked the days of my cycles (& still do, because AF is still a regular visitor & I like to know when to expect her, more or less -- plus, of course, they always ask, every time I go for a Pap), and perhaps I still vaguely hoped for a pregnancy, but the reality was slowly beginning to sink in that I really was not going to get pregnant. Ever. That feeling grew stronger as time went on.
However, as my comfort level grew, I noticed dh's anxiety levels were rising. Finally, one day, he confessed to me that he was terrified that I might get pregnant again (not to mention the likelihood that another pregnancy would probably mean another loss). He was in his late 40s by then. He wished we had been able to have a child, but at this age, he felt he was getting too old to be a dad now. He didn't want to be collecting his pension and paying for university tuition at the same time.
I was stunned. I had no idea he felt this way. I was hurt (would having a "surprise" baby with me, even at this late stage of our lives, really be so terrible??). I felt a little rejected. And honestly, I thought he was being ridiculous. Even though I'd kind of been hoping for a miracle pregnancy, deep down, I knew I had much better odds of winning a couple of million dollars in the weekend lottery. Did he really, truly think a pregnancy was going to materialize at this late date in our lives, after all we'd been through, with our lousy track record, with all we knew about his male factor, my bicornuate uterus, my wonky ovulation patterns, etc. etc.??
But if this was really how he felt, I realized we had to deal with it (especially if I ever wanted him to touch me again, lol). I don't remember him offering to have a vasectomy (lol) -- & I really didn't want him to have one either. But, having spent 13 years on the pill before pumping myself full of clomid, Gonal-F & other assorted synthetic hormones that were doing God-knows-what to my body, I didn't want to go back on the pill again either.
Eventually, we came to a kind of an agreement. As I said, I keep track of my cycle days. I've memorized enough of "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" and know my cycle & body signs well enough to tell, most months, when my most fertile days are (assuming that, at age 47, I have any left). On those, days we either don't come near each other, or we use protection when we do. It's not fun, and yes, I still think it's really kind of silly & pointless, but it's only for a few days a month. It's certainly not as effective as the pill, but given our track record, I really don't think it has to be, & if it makes him feel better, & that we're doing something, then it's worth it.
That was several years ago, and this "system" has worked pretty well for us. We did have one notable pregnancy "scare" a few years back, when AF decided to tease us by prolonging her arrival. It happened to be Christmastime 2003 (of course!), & we were visiting my parents. AF was late -- very late -- & I felt like crap (not to mention totally stressed out). I was also furious. I felt like I had just gotten used to the idea that I was never going to be a mother, thanks to my non-cooperative body -- & here was my body, jerking me around, yet AGAIN. ARGH.
We wound up sneaking -- like teenagers, instead of the almost-43 & 47-year-olds we were -- into a drugstore in the next town over (where I didn't think anyone would know who I was), with dh keeping lookout for my mom (who was shopping elsewhere in the same mall) while I bought a pregnancy test, trying not to look guilty & blush furiously in front of the sales clerk. I hid the bag with the test in my purse, and took it when both my parents were out of the house at one point. Negative. I stashed the used test in our suitcase & threw it out once we got back home. AF finally showed up a few days later, on something like day 58 of my cycle. It was & still is my longest cycle ever.
That episode taught me something, though: that I really was living more as a true childless/free person than I had realized. It was a revelation of sorts. Had I really been pregnant, I would have been thrilled (eventually)(& terrified, immediately) -- but the fact that I actually felt dismay & even a little anger at the prospect of pregnancy at this late stage of my reproductive life told me I really had moved on, more than I had realized.
Eventually, I shredded all of my temperature charts (although I have kept the journal I maintained of my infertility treatments, including daily follicle measurements, drug dosages, etc.). I even gave away a huge stack (not all, but a lot) of my "how to get pregnant" & pregnancy books.
I'm not looking forward to all the baggage that comes along with menopause -- totally uncharted territory -- but being free at last, of the need to be "careful," of AF's visits, & of that last little vestige of uncertainty, will (in some ways) be a huge relief, I think.
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Note: I wrote this post awhile back & decided to sit on it for awhile in my drafts folder. Wouldn't you know, AF decided to play hide & seek this month too? I sort of half expected it & wasn't overly worried, as it's been a stressful month or so, & I'm often "late" when that happens. I looked at my calendar notes about my cycle, & figured AF would probably arrive this weekend. If not, then I'd go to the drugstore or to the dr.
Dh, however, barely slept all week. I was starting to get a little ticked off with him (& thinking that maybe a vasectomy might not be such a bad idea...! -- after all, he's the one with the problem, right??). After all (as I complained in a whinging comment to Mrs. Spit) (a) I am 47 friggin' years old (b) my track record in these matters is not that great (c) AF was late, but not hugely so (I've never been a 28-day girl in my life) (d) she's often late if I've been sick or under some sort of stress, which I have been (two rounds of antibiotics, two rounds of Monistat, an allergic reaction, & a partridge in a pear tree...)(e) let's just say it really would be a miracle pregnancy, since the opportunities have been on the limited side lately (because of (d) above); (f) all signs pointed to AF's arrival this weekend and (g) I knew it would be just like AF to show up just in time for (1) the weekend & (2) our anniversary on Sunday.
And of course, she showed up just as expected, spotting & cramping on Friday & making a grand entrance Saturday morning. I felt so crappy I slept until almost 11! Haven't done that in quite awhile...!
*** Disclaimer: I would in no way endorse this method of birth control for anyone other than infertile couples in their late 40s/early 50s with male factor, uterine abnormalities, wonky ovulation and a lousy track record in all matters related to conception & pregnancy (and maybe not even then...!). Caveat emptor!! ***