The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 11, 2013

Expecting the unexpected

Couple chooses to 'unmask' infertility

By Lisa Shrewsberry
Lifestyles Editor

BECKLEY — Vibrant 30-year-old Megan Constantino possesses a naturally sunny disposition, a husband she describes as “absolutely hot” and a successful career as a publicist to authors.

Add to the near perfect equation the 5,000 miles she’ll log in the air this week between a Caribbean vacation and an appearance on a nationally syndicated talk show, and her scenario is

enviable.

But Megan isn’t promoting a new client with her television appearance; the “big opportunity and challenge” she and spouse Frank believe God planned for them includes broadcasting their struggle to conceive a child.

What Megan calls her “flaw,” she’ll discuss openly before 2 million viewers, to be aired at a yet undetermined date. The audience is small by comparison to how many women share her obstacle — a population of 6.7 million (CDC data for U.S.). Ironically, in the case of the Constantinos, problems “expecting” couldn’t have happened to a more expectant pair.

’Tis the season of Silent Night and nativity — when birth assumes the status of miracle. Inside the lives of those the miracle of conception eludes, babies are reminders of personal fragility. Pink and blue are no longer innocuous. Pictures of newborns, shower invitations, blank pregnancy tests — sources of joy for most — are distress symbols to those in twos who would consider three to be anything but crowded.

Holding strongly to the faith they believe brought them together a decade ago as Christian school students, the Constantinos have made theirs a two-part journey — of timeless faith and modern medicine — in overcoming Megan’s condition.

“There is a mixture of being proactive and of our relying on God. My heart is open to His voice saying, ‘No, Megan. A baby is not in your plan.’ We are young in this journey, but every time we try and it fails, it’s heartbreaking. We are very fortunate we have our faith in God to rely on,” Megan says.

Under the category of the physical, they are set to begin their seventh round of demanding fertility treatments to create the ideal hormonal conditions for Megan’s ovulation.

To those who don’t know, but who mean well, Megan and Frank both gracefully handle questions of “when are you two going to start a family?” To popular commentary “Just relax,” Megan reminds, “Relaxation has nothing to do with my ability to produce eggs.”

She and Frank are drawing upon the strength generated by transparency, hoping others bearing the same cross will relate and take courage.

“I have all the faith in the world that we will have kids — we have a very strong desire,” Frank says. “What’s been hardest for me is seeing Megan go through this. She’s everything to me.”

“I’ve seen Frank’s baby pictures; I see him with our dog,” Megan explains, always lightheartedly but with a detectable hint of sadness. “The biggest ache I have is not so much for me; I just know how much of an amazing father Frank will be.”

Another cause for impatience, a close second to wanting Frank to be a dad, is Megan’s fear of being known as “the old mom.”

For both, the clock ticks loudly. “At this point, we’ll be in our 50s when our oldest leaves home,” Frank points out.

Among the disadvantages to be debated, there have been advantages to their delay. The Gen-Yers have had enough freedom and disposable income to travel to 25 countries; their goals since marriage were to live, see and do before settling into roles as parents. Megan had a nagging suspicion they might have trouble conceiving, remembering an ER visit as a teen when diagnosed with a ruptured ovarian cyst, indicative of conditions which can be related to infertility.

Although still in her 20s when she discovered the potential problem after a solid year of trying to get pregnant, Megan was encouraged by physician friend Dr. Tiffany Thymius to not waste time and to seek treatment early.

A visit to the ob/gyn showed Megan suffers from a condition known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), or also as Stein-Leventhal Syndrome. The PCOS Foundation estimates 5 to 10 percent of women childbearing age suffer from PCOS and less than half are diagnosed.

“It’s typically a problem for heavier women. I was what she called her ‘Skinny Poly’,” states Megan.

Polycystic ovary syndrome is an imbalance interrupting the delicate hormonal concentrations necessary to stimulate egg production and conception. The cause of PCOS is unknown, but the condition is treatable and women with PCOS can conceive and carry a pregnancy to full term.

Added to their solid medical support system is their extended family, a tremendous source of strength, says Megan.

“They know we hurt and they pray for us; they have held me when I cried and encourage us to keep up the good fight.”

Treatment has given Megan a new perspective on pride, which she claims to have lost, even with family.

“Sometimes, it borders on TMI (too much information). I never would have dreamed 10 years ago that I’d be getting off the phone with my mom to have timed intercourse. ‘Mom I have to go. Frank is home and today is ovulation day.’ Mom says, ‘OK, go make me some grandbabies.’ But that has made it easier — being honest and open.”

Having progressed far enough in their journey to want to reach out to others going through the pain of infertility, the best advice, they agree, is to keep faith and to seek medical treatment early.

“Infertility doesn’t have to be a secret. It’s a disease, a medical condition just like diabetes. It can be treated,” Megan states.

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com