Heidi Ritter of Courageous MRKH
I was born the middle child, and I have 2 brothers. I was the first girl born on my dad’s side of the family in 5 generations – so I was a very welcome surprise to my family. When my younger brother joined our family I was 5 years old so the PERFECT age to play with a real life doll and wanted to do everything I could to help my mom with my baby brother. My entire childhood was spent playing with dolls, sticking my tummy out to be “pregnant" and planning names for my future children. I was, of course, going to grow up, get married, and have 3 kids of my own and my life would be perfect!
In grade school, I was one of the first girls in my class to get and wear a bra in 4th grade. I was 10. It was a badge of honor. Too bad that the accompanying acne was not such a badge! One of my friends got a period book from her mom on her birthday…and I was so jealous – my mom didn’t get me a period book. And I also didn’t get a period. But Caroline did. And Tina. And Teresa. We all talked about it, but I didn’t get mine – and it didn’t really make sense, because I had the boobs and the acne…why couldn’t I get the period too? Maybe I was just a late bloomer?
In high school, I’m fairly certain that all my friends had their periods by then, and I just did not comment when they were talking about “period stuff”. You see, I had been studying the instructions that came with the box of tampons in the family bathroom…and I didn’t seem to have that mysterious hole to put the tampon in. I guess I just figured that would show up after my period started. But the longer I waited for “Aunt Flo” to arrive, the more awkward I felt about it. All you want to do in high school is fit in, and here I was unable to perform basic skills of human anatomy – I didn’t have to “learn” how to have a period, my body was just supposed to get busy already and HAVE one.
Finally my senior year of high school, while again studying the tampon diagram, with a mirror and a q-tip (don’t laugh…its true) poking around down there…I had THE BLOOD!!! Whoop-whoop!!! Finally, I was a woman!!!! Hallelujah, I wasn’t a freak after all!!! I got a maxi pad from the drawer in the bathroom and proudly stuck that thing in my panties. With relief and profound embarrassment, I whispered to my mother that finally I got my period. She was equally relieved and embarrassed and asked me if I knew where the supplies were in the bathroom. Mortified, I said yes of course, and scurried back into the sanctuary that is a teen’s bedroom. I packed a couple of maxi pads into my purse, and I did bleed a little for a couple days, but was so proud that I actually had to change my pad in the bathroom at school – I’d finally joined the cool club.
And then I waited, in eager anticipation of my next period. I knew it might not be regular, but I watched the calendar and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I turned 18, and waited some more. My mom decided that since I was now 18, it was time to see a doctor for my first “woman’s appointment”. She made an appointment and we went. I told them about the first period (not the part about the q-tip!) and nothing since then. She asked my mom about onset of puberty (hair and boobs! So embarrassing)…and she asked if she could do a pelvic exam to “see if everything looks normal”. After several pokes and “hmm”s…she had me sit back up. She couldn’t see a cervix, and it would be good to refer me to an OBGYN. She also ordered some lab work and gave me a prescription for a round of hormones to see if they could “kick start” my menstrual cycle. Nothing happened.
At the next appointment, the OBGYN said the same thing – no cervix. He ordered an ultra sound to see how things look from the inside. I went to that appointment, and they found “no apparent uterus, but a large pelvic mass” and suggested a diagnostic laparoscopy to confirm the pelvic mass and get an official diagnosis. So we scheduled that surgery.
When I woke up in the recovery room, the doctor came in and said, “Well, it’s pretty much as I expected. You don’t have a uterus and you won’t ever be able to carry a pregnancy. I’ll see you in 10 days to remove your stitches and we can talk more then.”
I was groggy, but devastated. He just said I can’t get pregnant. Ever.
Everything I had planned, everything I had hoped for, everything I wanted in my life…impossible. I was 18, I had a boyfriend of 4 years and we were getting married in the fall. I was going to be a military wife. I was going to have babies and be the perfect mother. I would run a day care and be as beautiful as June Cleaver. But he said I can’t get pregnant.
I went to the next appointment and he took out my 2 tiny stitches. He explained to me that I had a very rare condition called Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser (MRKH) Syndrome. I had both ovaries and Fallopian tubes, but I did not have a uterus or cervix. The pelvic mass he saw on ultra sound was actually my very large right kidney. He explained that while we are developing before birth, our kidneys start in the pelvic area and then “move out of the way for the other stuff” – and my right kidney just didn’t move. He also told me that my vaginal canal was very short, and that before I could have a normal sex life, I would need to stretch that out. We talked about “cylindrical molds could be inserted” to stretch manually, or that with a slow and gentle partner, I may be able to stretch naturally. I asked him if I needed to know anything else, and he said, not today, but come back if you have questions.
Fast forward a couple of years. I was able to stretch my vagina through intercourse, I got married, and actually joined the Army. This was in the early 90s and IVF was still very new, very expensive, and surrogacy almost unheard of. So knowing all of this, my husband and I talked about adoption, and began the process locally. We wrote letters and did an adoption book that would be shared with expecting mothers. We found out that a mother on base was quite interested in us as a potential family for her baby, and so (through our social worker) we answered more questions for her about our situation. She let us know a few weeks later that we were her first choice to adopt her baby. At about this same time, my husband got transfer orders for Korea and our marriage imploded. I tearfully went to my social worker and explained about the pending divorce, and to please let the birth mom know of our change in plans. Three weeks later I received a call from my social worker to please come in, he had something for me. It was a letter from the birth mom to me, asking me to consider adopting her baby as a single woman. She was so moved by my diagnosis and desire to be a mom, she was convinced I would be a wonderful mother. I was shocked, stunned, and o-so-tempted…but fairly quickly made the decision that now just was not the best time for me, and that her child deserved a more stable and complete family.
I went through with the divorce, dated some, and found the love of my life and got married a second time at 23 years old. We talked about adoption some, but it wasn’t really the right time, we were busy doing other things. His brother took up the slack in the family, and we quickly had 2 nieces to love on and spoil. We had a few friends with young children, but not many. My brother then got married, and added 3 nephews to the mix. And we continued to just kind of avoid the subject of adoption – we knew we weren’t in a good situation for it at that point – housing, jobs, career aspirations and whatever. In the back of my mind I thought – well, if we don’t do this adoption thing by the time I’m 30, we probably won’t ever. I still WANTED to be a mother, but I was filling my life with other stuff. I was working, volunteering with local 4-H and youth stuff, and we still weren’t at a place financially where we could consider spending several thousand dollars to “buy a kid through adoption”. If someone OFFERED us a child, approached us to be adoptive parents – we would have probably jumped at the opportunity, but we weren’t putting any effort into looking. At one point I shared the experience of a pregnancy and live birth with a close friend I was working with and loved the experience, but it was also hard because I knew I could never have that same thing. We drifted apart after Becca was born – or rather, I subconsciously pulled away from the friendship because I couldn’t reconcile my own feelings of “why does she get to have a baby and I don’t?”
As I got closer to my self-imposed deadline of 30 years old, I started to think…well, before 35 maybe. I still wanted to be a mother. I thought I would be a good mother, but the planets weren’t aligning to make it all possible. About this same time, we made a big move from Colorado to Idaho, and pretty much turned our lives upside down. New house, new jobs…and a conversation or two about adoption. But we never really looked into it. As we settled into our new life, we realized we were pretty content with our situation, and decided that we did not need children to make our lives complete.
I have no doubt that had I been able to get pregnant and have children, that I would have been a good and loving mother and my husband would have been a good father. I also firmly believe that had we taken the steps to pursue adoption, or even surrogacy – we would have been good parents. But that isn’t how our life played out.
I’ve always believed that God has a plan for our lives, and that everything happens for a reason. Being diagnosed with a congenital form of infertility changed my life. It took away options, closed doors, and caused many tears and much frustration. But it also gave me opportunities that I might not have otherwise pursued. In the last few years, increasing my involvement in the MRKH community, sharing my experiences, mentoring young women, has all given me a purpose greater than myself. I was thrilled to be able to start the Courageous Project, and raise money for the Beautiful You MRKH foundation. I love having the chance to celebrate and empower women with MRKH and their families, and to show that everyone’s journey is just a little bit different – embrace your differences and do what feels right for you
would like thank Chrissy and Lee for the opportunity to guest blog here. But even more, thank you for sharing your own journey to bringing Bram into our world. Your willingness to share your journey, the highs and lows, the technical and financial has benefited so many infertile couples! You inspire me, and I’m sure many others, to look at all the different paths to parenthood and how to plan around the obstacles that are thrown in our paths.
In my case, I wouldn’t say that my husband and I consciously chose NOT to be parents, but it was the default setting, and we just never bothered to log in and change those settings.
Bram's Birth Story
Ways to Save Money
Things not to say to IPs
Tips for newly diagnosed
Mothers with MRKH
Our Gender Reveal
2000- Chrissy dx w/ MRKH
2002- Chrissy & Lee meet
2007- Chrissy & Lee Marry
2009- Chrissy 'hysterectomy'
2013- Awarded Cade Grant
7/3/14- IVF egg retrieval (5)
1/18/15- Embryo Transfer (1)
9/29/15 - Bram born!