Bertha Tillman always dreamed of having the picture-perfect family.
But at age 15, she was diagnosed with endometriosis and three years later with polycystic ovary syndrome, which weakened her uterus and prevented ovulation, respectively. And she was told she couldn’t have children.
However, in 2002, she and her husband, James Tillman, learned she was pregnant with their first child. “I think we were in shock,” she says. “You go from people telling you (that) you can't get pregnant, that it was definitive.”
One day, while using the bathroom, she saw blood and knew something was wrong. The fetal membranes had ruptured and she was immediately admitted to the hospital. Two days later, Joshua Rhyan Tillman, their 22-week-old fetus, died prior to delivery.
James Tillman was shocked. Bertha Tillman felt guilty, that she had disappointed her husband and believed he would leave her. “That’s part of the guilt, I guess, and you carry that,” she says. “And I guess society's perception of a woman is that she's not 100 percent a woman if she cannot carry a child.”
But for James Tillman, children were merely an option. Besides, he already knew about her condition before they married. “So, I understood that when she got pregnant, it could happen,” he says. “It wasn't planned or anything. So, I think that's one thing that helped me out.”
Hopeful for another pregnancy, they started a six-month fertility treatment a year later taking the oral medication Clomid but with no success. Next, they tried hormone injections including Pergonal, which increased their out-of-pocket medical expenses from $600 to $6,000 a month. Soon, Bertha Tillman was pregnant with twins.
But a routine medical checkup would show that one of the fetuses had no heartbeat. A subsequent genetics test also showed that one had developed more chromosomes; the other had an abnormal genetic deformity that would lead to stillbirth rendering the pregnancy unviable and fatal to Bertha Tillman. “So, we had to terminate,” she says.
They tried again for three years intermittently to no avail. "And we just stopped because you have to give your body a break. You have to give your marriage a break,” she says.
Although they have yet to heal from their traumatic losses, the tribulation has made their marriage much stronger. And they continue to cope using online support groups.
“It's helping that we're talking about it,” says James Tillman. “There’s still hope.”