Nfld. & Labrador·First Person

Holding my breath: I kept bracing for bad news in our fertility journey

Neil Hyde shares what it was like to deal with fertility issues while having the audio recorder on, to document his and his wife's journey in the intimate CBC podcast, One in SIx.

Neil Hyde shares his experiences with infertility while making the new CBC podcast, One in Six

A woman and a man taking a selfie with the Canadian Rockies behind them.
Jen White and Neil Hyde do their best to smile in Banff, Alta., during their fertility journey. (Submitted by Neil Hyde)

This is a First Person column by Neil Hyde,  a graphic designer who lives in St. John's. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I held my breath every time my wife, Jen White, said, "I'm going to go pee on a stick."

Every time the nurse told her that "this might hurt a bit," I held my breath with Jen, as her grip tightened on my hand. The pain and discomfort flashed across her face. 

Every time someone would ask us: "When are you going to have kids?!" Every time a diaper commercial came on TV. Every time we were invited to a baby shower. Every time we walked into the fertility clinic … I held my breath. 

This is how we lived for over four years. 

Who am I? Nobody special, really. Or are we all special? I'm a graphic designer in St. John's. I lean toward the creative side of life, "making things pretty" in my day job while concentrating on family and friends during the rest of my time. I get up every day and try my best to do my best — to look after myself and the people around me that I care about. I know some things are way out of my control, so I don't get too discouraged when things "just don't work out." 

A man is preparing a needle, with a tape recorder on the table.
Neil prepares a hormone shot for his wife, while recording the audio of the moment for their CBC podcast, One in Six. (Jen White)

That's what was so frustrating about our fertility journey. "Unexplained infertility" is just that: unexplained. I never thought that something could be "unexplained" with today's medical system — especially something so important and far-reaching as a person's ability to have a child. 

I assumed that after the first round of blood tests and samples collected, the doctor would open up our chart and say, "OK, Neil, you need to eat more grapefruit." Or "How about going commando most days you are home?" You know, simple things.

Instead, it was: "We have no idea what's keeping you from conceiving.… So let's keep trying all of the things." 

In one way, it was a relief knowing it was out of our control. That it wasn't "my fault" for a low sperm count, or some other easily identifiable medical issue with myself or Jen. Instead, it was totally unknown — but not hopeless. 

That's the key to surviving all of this: grabbing on to as much hope as you can. Even the smallest grain of it could be the difference between tears or laughter.

Now, don't get me wrong: there were lots of tears. From both of us. It's tough. Nothing about our — or any — fertility journey is easy. But there was also a lot of humour. You have to make the best of things whenever possible to get through this. 

When Jen and Neil got married in 2015, they never imagined that they'd face fertility issues for years to come. (Sandra-Lee Photography)

So when we decided to seek help, I knew it was going to be difficult, but 99 per cent more for Jen than me. I knew I had to be there as much as I could be, to listen to the doctors and nurses and take notes, write down appointment times, and pill and injection routines — all the fun stuff. 

When we boil it all down, I really only had one job. But I wanted to be a part of this process way more than that. Little did I know that I'd also become a field nurse as well. (Spoiler: I'm very proficient at administering needles now!)

I tried to be a solid, stalwart partner. Jen's safe place. Trying not to show too much excitement — or disappointment. Internally holding my breath at every point. Quietly lying awake at night wondering if tomorrow's procedure or test result will allow us the joy that so many of our friends and family members experience. Or will it just be another negative outcome, and we either have to start it all over again or move on to bigger, and potentially harder, infertility adventures.

Hitting the 'record' button

Our decision to start recording our journey happened pretty naturally: Jen, being a reporter, is usually telling other people's stories; and me, I wanted to share our story with the world. It was more of a personal audio diary at first, with no real end game in mind — just knowing that there was no way that we were the only ones dealing with these complex thoughts and feelings. We figured we'd eventually look back at our experiences and either laugh or cry. Or both. 

CBC journalist Jen White and her husband Neil Hyde chart their challenges with infertility in the new CBC podcast One in Six — a story filled with anxiety and hope, against a backdrop of laughter and medical procedures.

We tried to make every recording very natural and in the moment. When leaving an appointment or just before another needle, we'd both be silent and nod to each other while setting up the microphones, wanting to capture all of our thoughts and feelings on tape. 

Each of those moments were so special to myself and Jen. We spoke from the heart, not holding much back. (Maybe a scattered swear word or two.)

A semen sample cup within a plastic bag, that has biohazard printed on the front.
Neil's main 'job' during their fertility journey was to provide semen samples in a cup. (Jen White)

I learned that when you really stop and think about your situation and feelings, some truly magical moments happen. My relationship with Jen is rock solid, and I'm grateful for that every single day. Our fertility journey tested us more than I could have ever thought. But talking through all of the hard moments really helped us not to keep anything bottled up inside for too long. 

I was, and forever will be, so very proud of Jen. The courage it took for her to put herself out there to everyone is truly remarkable. She's the one who got all of the needles, pills, scans, and examinations. Not to mention all of the social and emotional stress put on her throughout our One in Six journey.

Finding someone you can talk to

And now our adventures with infertility are out there for the world to hear, with the release of our podcast. I hope you listen and get some joy, hope, and positivity out of it. We are so very proud of One in Six. It wasn't an easy project to make, as you'll find out. We questioned hitting "record" on many occasions. But we knew it was the right thing to do. 

We felt inside that it was necessary to get our story out there and spread awareness of the silent, but heavy, weight that so many of us are bearing every single day.

Know that you are not alone in struggling with fertility. One in six people do! That's a massive number of people. It's such a scary journey, especially one that is so private. Never feel ashamed to reach out for help. Know that I'm here — even if we don't know each other — because chances are I can relate to what you're going through. Reach out to me any time and I'll be happy to talk about our journey, and help you with yours.

I was holding my breath on the eve of the podcast release. And now I'll be over here waiting for your reaction to our story — holding my breath once again. 

New episodes of One in Six come out on Tuesdays, until the final episodes are released on Nov. 8. Tune in on CBC Listen or wherever you get your podcasts.

A sperm floating to an egg in a pink graphic for the podcast One In Six: A Fertility Journey.

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Neil Hyde

Freelance contributor

Neil Hyde is a graphic designer who lives in St. John's with his wife, CBC producer and reporter Jen White. The couple shared their struggles with fertility issues in the CBC podcast One in Six: A Fertility Journey.