I should have: a 13 yr old; a 12 yr old; a 10 yr old; a 9 yr old; and a 8 yr old.
My story might not be as dramatic as others’ but it’s my story. I am a Type 1 diabetic, something I’ve dealt with for the past for 30 years. I always dreamed with a big family, as I'm the only female of 5 children- I wanted to keep the tradition alive.
Well, after my 4th miscarriage, I was numb and done. I didn't wanted to talk about children or pregnancy. As a military spouse that proved impossible, as every woman in my husband's command was either getting pregnant or giving birth. We did fertility treatments back to back, but I never got a chance to carry any of my children. I had to experience most of these traumatic experiences alone, husband was deployed or on training.
My fifth pregnancy started out the same way the others had- I found out at 6 weeks, and again, my husband was in training, I remember sitting at the clinic, anxious as you can imagine. My head spinning, my blood pressure climbing, my blood sugar is insanely higher than ever. And yet, I was pregnant and continued to remain so. I was more terrified that excited at this point, trying not to get my hopes up. I feared losing this baby, yet I had a thin layer of hope that this baby would make it into may arms this time.
And this time, she did! She was a preemie and tiny but she did! Strong and feisty, she survived in my womb for 34 weeks. Again, my husband was deployed, and there were many doctor appointments and specialists, but my pregnancy was peaceful overall. And it was through this pregnancy that we determined why I had all of the previous miscarriages. I have a chromosome disorder that affected my ability to carry my pregnancy to term.
When my baby was 6 months old, I found out I was pregnant again. This time I was less scared, thinking that the issue was behind be, now that we had answers. I could start planning my big family again! Yet at 9 weeks, another miscarriage. Again, a broken heart, yet this time I couldn't crash on the couch and cry my eyes out- I had a 7 month old baby girl to be strong for. I had to smile so I can see her smile back up at me!
My beautiful daughter is now 9 years old. Since my last miscarriage, every month I cry, every month I hope, every month I think next month will be it, I'll have another baby in my womb, I'll hear a heartbeat, I will feel a kick. I still have that thin layer of hope.
Julie Potter is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an Infertility Warrior. She knows that infertility sucks and she’s doing her part to help others dealing with it through individual and group counseling. She herself is navigating secondary infertility, giving her special insight into what her clients are going through. Read below to learn more about Julie and her experience and head to her website to learn more about what she offers. I suggest starting here: http://infertilitycc.com/blog/5-ways-to-grieve-a-negative-pregnancy-test
1. You started the Infertility Counseling Center after being diagnosed with secondary infertility. Can you talk about what this process has been like for you?
Waiting for years to have baby number 2 was really hard for me. After 4 failed IUIs (Intrauterine Insemination) I thought I had hit my lowest point. But then I had 2 failed FETs (Frozen Embryo Transfers), and those were some of the most difficult experiences I’ve had. After that, my husband and I decided to take a treatment break for a while, which was very healing for me. During that time I started seriously thinking about starting a practice where I could help others who had gone through those emotionally difficult experiences. I knew I always wanted to run a therapy practice; the MSW (Master’s of Social Work) program I attended had a clinical focus, and I spent hours providing therapy, which I loved. I’ve always wanted to return to that, and everything seemed to fall in place. I knew that with my training/education/professional experience, and my personal experience of struggling with infertility, I could help others. That’s my hope: to help other people experiencing infertility find the peace I’ve found.
2. What's it like to treat others with infertility as you experience it yourself?
I’ve always thought of myself as pretty emotionally stable. I work very hard to deal with my emotions in the ways that work for me so that it doesn’t spill out into my work and my relationships with others. I’ve written a blog post about ways to deal with a negative pregnancy test, and those suggestions are what I do for myself whenever I feel the need to grieve.
3. As someone who has experienced infertility and secondary infertility, I know it can be tricky to navigate secondary infertility when you've already had a child. Can you talk a little bit about what that's been like for you?
Secondary infertility is really tricky! It took us a while to get pregnant with our daughter, so I was always worried that we would have a hard time with our second. But I had no idea that it would take 4 years of trying! I felt guilty whenever I talked to my infertile friends about my infertility because I already had a child. I worried that they would be thinking “stop complaining, you’ve achieved the dream!” I also got a lot of comments from others, like “time to give your daughter a sibling” or “how much longer are you going to wait until you have another?” Those thoughtless comments are hard for anyone, but I almost felt more invisible. I felt like everyone around me assumed that we were making the decision to not have more children, which led to very little support, which was very hard for me. I had to tell my close friends and family about our infertility, no one assumed it. But after being open with others, I’ve found a great deal of support.
4. You run groups for people going through infertility, can you explain what that process
Yes, I provide infertility grief therapy groups and pregnancy loss therapy groups. Although there is a great deal of support people receive by participating in these groups, it’s not just a support group. We explore the emotions that surround infertility and pregnancy loss, how that affects each group member individually, and how they can learn to cope with those emotions in a healthy way. The goal is to process the grief, and turn it into something that’s not quite so ugly and painful. Just like individual therapy, but with a group of individuals that understand each other and can provide additional insights and support.
5. Your site states, "infertility sucks." I couldn't agree more! Why do you think people are often
reluctant to get help for something that really sucks?
I think, especially with infertility, there are a lot of people that think they can deal with this on their own. Most people have probably been dealing with it on their own for a while. It’s such a private issue, they probably don’t talk about it often. And I think it’s really hard to overcome that mindset and allow others to help. Also, not a lot of people talk about infertility. So, there might be people that don’t realize that there are others that know what this feels like and that can help.
6. What do find yourself saying most often to your clients?
Give yourself permission to grieve.
7. What would you like others to know that might be reticent to seek help from a professional?
Therapy is not for “crazy” people or for people with such severe mental health concerns that they can’t function in life. It’s for everyone. It’s a safe place where you can meet with a caring professional who wants to help. Who wants to listen. Who wants you to live your best life. Why wouldn’t you go talk to someone like that?!?
Tim Antonides is a writer and teacher who lives in suburban Vancouver with his wife Monica and twin sons. His debut novel Rain is a family drama about a couple’s desperate quest to have a child. Though Tim’s insightful work is written from the male perspective, anyone who has been there can relate. Raw but hopeful, I believe it should be required reading for anyone experiencing infertility.
Find the novel here: Rain
Connect with the author:
Rain: A Novel, is the most honest portrayal of infertility that I’ve ever read. What motivated you to write this story?
After my wife Monica and I experienced our first failed IVF cycle, I began to scribble notes in a journal. It began as a way to document what we were going through, but it ended up becoming a vehicle through which to process the profound and confusing emotions that erupted during the remaining four cycles we did: the hope, grief, anger, bitterness, envy, and everything else that came with the entire process. Those notes became a short story, which eventually became a novel. In the end, my motivation became two-fold: To write a great story and to take the reader into a world that isn’t talked about very much, particularly among men.
How close to your own experience was Rain?
There are elements of my own experience that have influenced the novel, for sure. This is especially true of the emotions that Mitchell experiences and struggles with. Other than the scene where Mitchell is humiliated by his English teacher, none of the events are purely autobiographical. Rather, they are a blend of fictionalized events and characters, though many of them are loosely based on reality. Like Mitch and Sharelle, Monica and I went through five IVF cycles. I also have a brother and sister-in-law who went through IVF at the same time as we did, though I get along much better with Rob than Mitch does with Trevor!
The story is told from the male point of view, and Mitch, the protagonist, is flawed but well meaning. After the prologue, we meet him as a teenager. How did you decide to weave his past into his present throughout the novel?
I’ve always been fascinated with the ways in which our past experiences shape who we are today. I wanted to create a novel where echoes and whispers of the past affect the now. One of my mentors, the author Connie May Fowler, calls Rain a book about monsters—monsters that haunt our dreams and threaten to undo us. As a child and teenager, Mitchell is pursued by the monsters of inadequacy, self consciousness, a hallway bully, and his father. As an adult, the monsters become the failure to conceive a child, the inability to accept that he is enough as a man, the fear that his wife no longer loves or accepts him as he is. The monsters have changed form, but they are very real. By echoing particular imagery in both past and present, particularly with respect to water and the memory of specific words and gestures, a unifying thread started to appear. A lot of this appeared subconsciously as I wrote, so it’s almost like I can’t take credit for it…
Would you ever consider writing from Sharelle’s (Mitch’s wife) point of view?
I actually did a fair bit of experimentation with that idea. I toyed with the idea of writing the book from two alternating points of view, Sharelle’s and Mitch’s. Monica and I have been very open with each other about how we felt and what we experienced emotionally during our IVF journey. In the end, I didn’t feel I could do justice to Sharelle’s perspective. Maybe because I had so much that I wanted to say from a male perspective. However, I think it would be an exciting and completely different adventure to write this story from Sharelle’s point of view.
You divide the novel into parts of the IVF process (stimulation, retrieval, etc.) They perfectly parallel the emotional process of going through IVF. Can you talk a bit about that parallel?
I love that you had that reaction to the structure of the book! I agonized for a long time about how to organize the chapters. I was pacing the living room one morning thinking about it, and the idea jumped out at me. What if I could use the stages of the IVF process to structure the story? I wrote down these stages and started going through the manuscript to see if it could work. Honestly, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. It worked perfectly! In the Stimulation section, there is a very strong theme of Mitchell’s desire for love and acceptance (sexual, yes, but so much more than that). In the Retrieval phase of the book, Mitch begins to retrieve memories of his father and grandfather that start to create meaning for him. There is then a transformation and a new clarity for him that grow in the Incubation phase of the book. Finally, there is a need for him to replace his old life with a new version in Replacement. And Genesis, the final phase? Well, I won’t spoil that for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet…
You do a wonderful job of portraying how quickly and deeply relationships can be affected by infertility, can you talk about this aspect of the couple’s journey?
Thank you! As I’m sure your readers can attest, infertility exposes every fissure in your relationship. Insecurities and fears (some of which you didn’t even know were there) suddenly come popping to the surface. The world has been turned upside down. What you thought would be a natural and joyful phase of your life is suddenly withheld from you, completely out of your control. Mitch and Sharelle are no different. They are each trying to keep themselves together while remaining strong for their partner. As the IVF process unfolds, they both become weaker—trying to keep the other afloat as they themselves tread water. I think that’s a pretty common experience, and it can really take its toll.
What do you want people to walk away with after reading Rain?
The writer part of me wants them to be truly satisfied with having read a wonderful novel. For me, any really great book I’ve read lingered long after I’ve finished. I also like books that make me laugh and tear up at the same time. Initial reviews of the book are showing me that Rain is such a novel. Readers have shared with me that they wanted to go back because they feel could get even more from another reading.
The “infertility-survivor” part of me wants them to walk away with heightened empathy and a deeper understanding of how profoundly difficult the infertility journey is. That every month can be a journey through the grief cycle. That we all need to listen, fertile and infertile, to the stories of those for whom having a child is a terribly difficult and sometimes impossible reality. This might sound strange from a writer but I think we can all use words more sparingly and just listen.
A couple of weeks ago, I shared a blog post from Carrie Alexander at The Tired Girl. Here is my interview with the mastermind behind the hilarious blog and her touching and relatable posts…
When she’s not writing for her blog, The Tired Girl, Carrie Alexander spends her time: petting her dog; avoiding yard work; sewing things with straight lines; overbuying cardigans; staring at her husband; working full-time from home; and finding ways to make dinner using the least amount of dishes possible. Carrie graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Public Relations from and currently works with teachers across the country helping create successful blended and online programs.
The Tired Girl is where you can find Carrie’s Thank You Hormones series: http://www.thetiredgirl.com/p/thank-you-hormones.html
Find her on social media at: Facebook and Instagram
Reach Carrie directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The title of your blog section about your infertility experience is "Thank You Hormones." Can you explain why you chose that title?
It came from a place of deep bitterness! Which I assume is where lots of good ideas come. My whole life was lined up for me to be a mom. Everything was ready to go. But these hormones would not cooperate. I want to cuss about it – they would not fucking cooperate. I looked like the picture of health and yet every month – nothing. As we got deeper in to the world of infertility I felt like my body was my biggest enemy. It was like talking a bad employee into doing the most basic tasks – this body was what I needed to create a healthy life and this body, and specifically the hormones, were making me a crazy person and making a crappy situation exponentially worse.
You think you feel bad on a normal month of hormones – well once you spend THOUSANDS of dollars to inject crazy-inducing drugs in to your body, you really feel like shit. I was so raw – I just needed these terrible words and thoughts out of my body. I was not embarrassed about how I felt, and I guess because I already had a blog I pressed publish. Then when people responded it felt like my world got smaller - I connected with others that had similar grief. And people that would have never known what was happening had a front row seat to my feelings.
I took the ability to comment off of the posts, because I didn’t even want there to be a way for people to say anything. I didn’t need approval or disapproval and I didn’t want empty comment boxes. This wasn’t about other people, as jerky as that sounds. These were my thoughts – read them or not.
I was in so little control of my body that the one thing I could control were my feelings and how I chose to share them on my blog. “Thank you hormones” is what I would say to myself when I was feeling particularly shitty. But one of my favorite sayings is “where there is crisis there is opportunity,” so though I originally said “Thank you hormones,” sarcastically, it began to mean genuinely thanking the good things emerging from a place of frustration.
How did you first know you were dealing with infertility?
I started to worry after my second unsuccessful round of Clomid. My mom and both my grandmothers had been plenty fertile, and I had always been regular. I took birth control for 13 years because of my painful periods, but I had never heard the word endometriosis. I blame my doctor for that – sometimes there are things to blame and I blame him for part of this – he should have fucking educated the young women that were in his examining room. Just use the words to tell them what they may be experiencing. As soon as I told him I had such terrible periods he was like “No worries girl – I got you. Here are drugs.” And I took them.
So, after I was off of the birth control for a year and didn’t get pregnant he did recommend a fertility doctor. I am thankful he did that at least.
My grandmother had the “dye test” 50 years before and she got pregnant right after that – so I didn’t think too much of it really. My first of month of Clomid I thought I was going to die – ha! If I only knew how much worse it was going to get. The Clomid made me so uncomfortable – so much pain – and I was starving. I would stop at Taco Bell on the way home from work – and that was not in my character. I thought I’d be eating for two in no time. So that was the beginning of this new me of pain and comfort eating and a new world of infertility treatments. The weight start coming on little bits at a time and after the second round of Clomid (another miserable experience), I was like “well shit.”
What happened once it was determined?
It was a slow burn. Just one test after another. We had the post coital test three times to make sure everything really was good there. I did about four rounds of Clomid and then we ramped to IUIs. Because the infertility was not definitive, it was like my motherhood was right around every corner. Each month, each test, each vitamin, and anecdotal story was taken into consideration. “Gin and tonics.” “Doggy style.” “Just relax.” “Raspberry tea.” “Take a trip.” “Give it time.” “Acupuncture.” “Pick a fight.”
About a year in I became depressed. I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time. But I would cry almost every night when I’d get home from work to get my sadness out before my husband came home. I wanted escapism. I wanted a different life than trying to get pregnant. I didn’t want to continue this torture and I didn’t want to stop either. I felt stuck. After a few months of the crying I decided if I didn’t feel better in a few weeks I would tell my doctor. But the school year ended and I had the summer to relax. We bought a new house. I was surrounded by love and happiness and so thankfully the sadness let up.
I did get more clinically depressed a few years later though. After our last round of IVF the hormones just kind of stuck around and this mixed with the grief I felt over the death of our beloved dog. The grief was debilitating, and months later it sill gripped my body. Where I could feel the hormones dissipate in the past it didn’t happen in the same way. I had zero successful coping mechanisms. Frankly I was a mess. Turns out jamming needles full of hormones had lasting effects on me and I was cooked. I went on antidepressants and felt better. I had to do the work of solving the infertility puzzle for my own heart. But the antidepressants gave me a break from the sadness. I also gained another 15-20 pounds. But I wasn’t fucking sad!!! Just chubby. Good times.
You had planned to adopt-can you talk about what happened?
It’s a classic story where a woman decided to keep her own baby. Ha!! But the details to that point were painful, of course. A mutual acquaintance put us together. She was quite young – couldn’t even drive when she got pregnant. We got her on Medicaid, and into a great doctor so she could deliver at the best hospital. I took the day off work each month, drove hours, to take her to every doctor appointment because no one in her life would. And every time I spent the day with her I would come home and cry (are you sensing a pattern here – I. AM. A. CRIER.) It was such an emotional rollercoaster. I needed her to love this baby inside her enough to take care of it. And I needed her to love it enough to give it to us. That was a lot to ask of a person. Also, I could sense that she didn’t like me – for reasons I understood. It was tough.
My husband and I decided to decorate a nursery though – we wanted to be prepared, optimistic, and it gave us something fun to do. Joe said something like, “It’s going to be shitty if she changes her mind, but we might as well be prepared.” And he was right. Decorating the nursery was so much fun. I sewed beautiful curtains and focused on lots of details that had meaning to us. It was such a pretty room and it made me happy to put it together, because the idea of taking this little being home was frankly terrifying. Again – so many things I didn’t have any control over, that it felt good to have something of my own in the process. I won’t go into all of the details. The plans for baby showers, the name we picked, the ways we protected ourselves, the ways we didn’t, the reasons we didn’t think we need to protect ourselves.
A week or two before she was due she changed her birth plan and I knew it was over. I talk about this in my blog. She did change her mind after the baby was born. The care that we showed her and the lack care of she took to tell us was painful. Are you sensing a pattern here too? THIS. WAS. PAINFUL. I came to peace with it though and came to peace with her. I was like a zombie for a few weeks but she would have had a hole in her forever. I understand why she kept her own baby and I don’t blame her for that. It worked out the way it was supposed to.
My feelings about adoption are complicated and even though I am happy to cuss I don’t want to offend anyone with my adoption views. We had a second failed adoption after that, but it wasn’t as personal as the first one, but that part of me just closed up. I am not interested in people telling me I should have tried harder. This is my story. And I was done with that.
My advice if you are looking to adopt – is to go through an actual agency or get a really good adoption attorney. Our attorney just floated along. The social worker that was involved was nowhere to be found when our birth mom delivered a baby at 16, and her own mom who did nothing to take care of her, in fact was crying for her to keep the baby. Where the fuck was her support? Not to talk her in or out of it, but to help her. So, make sure you have LOTS of support for you and birth mom. Don’t assume everything is cool – make sure professionals are very involved.
You write that you “have improved as a human through this process.” Can you talk more about that?
My heart is softer where it used to be so more black and white. I am more understanding of people, situations, and the idea that people struggle with something and still have to go to work every day. I am so much less judgmental about the choices people make. I am a liberal person politically and socially, but I was still judged about things I didn’t know anything about. Now I take a beat when I start to rant about someone in my brain.
I also have a calmness about painful things in a way I didn’t before. I am softer but I am also stronger. I used to say things like “Oh I could never do that.” And fill it in with some non-thing – well guess what – I can do a lot of shit I didn’t know I could do. I am so much stronger physically and mentally than I ever knew. And that makes me know that other people are stronger too and it helps me find ways to support them. I know how bad I felt when certain things didn’t go our way and because of that I am much better – I think – at helping friends with their own kinds of grief. There is no hierarchy of pain or grief. If it hurts you then it’s important and I understand that firsthand.
I don’t regret any of it. I like the new (chubby) me. I am strong and have perspective and will be able to go through the rest of my life having a better understanding of what it feels like to struggle with something. I like the person I became through this misery! I don’t want to go back. But I value my pain.
What has been the most helpful as you’ve moved through this process?
Two things have undeniably made all of this ok.
One is the love of my husband, my family and friends. Every time there was a setback, I never felt alone. I have this image of a fence of loved ones around me and Joe, and they keep getting closer and tighter until we are in a permanent hug. That is corny, but that’s the truth. I am loved and I feel it. Everything feels a little better when you are with others on a journey.
Secondly, being able to vent in my blog gave me a way to create words in my mind to categorize a situation. Instead of feeling empty when we had to abandon a round of IVF,and I had to stare at $5,000 drugs in my refrigerator. I would start narrating it in my head. I guess I created my own reality show in a sense. It made it artistic instead of just flat out horrible. I ultimately created a coping mechanism that worked for me.
I am smart and I am a fixer. And I could not fix this. It was a level of frustration that made me want to produce blood curdling screams. I COULD NOT FIX THIS. It was a totally unworkable puzzle. It didn’t matter how much I wanted it. It didn’t matter that sometimes I felt like my chest was being crushed because I wanted my husband to be a dad more than anything. This was not a movie where we would work hard and then we would get what we wanted. As the years went on and the options got smaller and smaller and I was getting worn thin I realized that it doesn’t matter if you work hard, you ‘deserve’, you want – we don’t always get what we want. And life just keeps going.
I imagine you have gotten one million questions and comments about your no-kid status. You write in one post, “Bottom line: It’s cool, you meant well.” What is the best (kindest, most thoughtful or helpful) thing someone has said to you…and the worst (most ignorant)?
I think someone asked me once if I was going to be ok. It was the way she said it – like this thing happened to you and will it define you? It felt strong the way she said it, because I’m not sure it would be the nicest question if it were said in a different way – so I know that’s not that helpful. But it gave me the place to say that I was strong. Am I going to be okay? I AM okay. It felt good to say it!
The worst to me, even now, is when people imply that we didn’t try everything we could have. Maybe we didn’t want it enough. I can see the look in their eyes or a sound in their voice. In the same sense the other person asked and it felt okay I think we can just sense people’s intentions. We know who is loving and who is judging. But even when people are insensitive I don’t believe they mean it- they just have no idea. They haven’t gone through something like this. So, then I see them as naïve little dears. And I feel weirdly superior. Like I’ve seen shit – and they don’t even know!! Ha!
What do you want to tell people who ask you “when are you going to have kids?”
I tell them that we tried really hard, and it wasn’t meant to be, and we are good. We are happy and we filled our life up in other ways. This is hard for some people to grasp and others are just fine with it and are happy to move on. And then I usually quickly ask them something to just start talking about them.
I have found that making jokes about how much money we have saved or how much sleep we get makes us look like selfish dicks. And being ‘sad’ just to respect their life with kids is annoying for everyone. So, I do not editorialize much – believe it or not. I do not belittle a life with children and I do not want to sound forlorn. No one wants to be with someone like that – I don’t. And though this journey is all mine and my husband’s - I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone. But I still don’t want to be a drag to other people.
How has your husband dealt with this process?
It was tricky for him in ways that were so much different than mine, obviously. For every doctor visit, hot flash, internal ultrasound, acupuncture visit, and rage-cry I had, he had to watch someone he loves suffer, while dealing with his own grief and frustration. He watched his young, slim, happy-go-lucky wife gain weight, age from grief, become depressed and become irrevocably different, and still he had to change his view of what his life was going to entail.
I wanted a baby so badly for him and he wanted it so badly for me. I know a lot of marriages suffer through this process, but that wasn’t us. We were literally always on the same page. When I wanted to take a break, so did he. When I was ready to ramp up again, so was he. We saw how much we worked for each other and so I think we are even closer because of it. But that being said, it was hard for him. People asked how I was doing. People emailed me. He didn’t get the same support. We have friends that have wrapped us tight in love (see my corny imagery above) but this process wasn’t as acute to him in other people’s eyes. He never complained about any of that – I just know that had to be tough – to not have an outlet. He is an exceptional writer and he wrote a few things about the process that were beautiful.
I think as this process progressed it made me want a child of his even more. I loved him even more. Which it made it more painful Waaah! Ha!!
What would you say to someone in your position if they are thinking, “now what?”
Well even though I don’t want to be responsible for other people I do love to pass out advice – I can be bossy.
We made decisions that made sense to us. And those decisions could be totally different than yours. So, don’t listen to me! You do you.
I have a friend that did everything up to IVF and then she was like ‘no.’ She and her husband didn’t spend all the money we did and they never looked back. Everyone has their own path and of all the things I can judge about I do not judge others fertility/infertility path. Once your feet are in stir ups, you get shots that burn like fire, you throw up when you are coming out of anesthesia and you get a negative pregnancy test then there is no judgement from me.
We had a goal – no regrets. We wanted to feel like we tried everything and could and be at peace if it wasn’t meant to be. And we feel like we tried or worked to consider everything. We weren’t interested in jeopardizing our finances beyond repair, my body slowly became a non-issue, and my desire to have a child from our own bodies created a perfect storm where we were happy to take a break. And that break never stopped. Everything about the process is such a slow burn. There were very few big moments. It progressed at glacial speed. We never really officially said “enough is enough.” It was all so subtle.
One of the trickiest things about infertility is that my life looks different than I thought it would. At first I was annoyed that I wasn’t going to get to plan for a baby because we were adopting and we didn’t know if we’d get to keep it – it wasn’t really ours. But then I realized – who the fuck cares if I don’t get to have baby showers and feel it kick and blah blah blah – get over it – I was going to get a child – that is all that mattered. AND THEN when things went deeper and I realized I probably wasn’t going to be a mother at all I really had to change my mindset. I wasn’t going to go on a college tour with my own children. I was not going to be a mom to human children.
My life was going to completely different than I planned.
And it was going to be ok.
We made financial decisions about our careers we may not have made if we’d had children.
We bought a smaller house.
We embraced our real life.
We didn’t wish that things were different.
We are active participants in our life.
We worked to have a baby and now we work to have a great life without children.
We tried really hard, and it wasn’t meant to be and we are good.
We are happy.
Amira Posner is a fertility counsellor in Toronto, Ontario. She works with individuals and couples who are struggling with infertility. Amira facilitates the Mind-Body Fertility Group at Mt. Sinai Hospital.
She is also a mother of three miracles.
For more information,
and find her on
Twitter and Instagram.
After four months of trying to conceive our second child, intuitively I knew there was a problem. After five months of trying to conceive, my anxiety was so high that I managed to get us an appointment at the fertility clinic.
At our initial consult, the doctor told us that we had showed up early. He was very hopeful for us since our daughter was under two years old and we had conceived her effortlessly. I remember the doctor also commenting on a palpable tension he could sense between my husband and me. This doctor was so on the ball. My darling husband wasn't ready to be at the clinic. He didn't think we had a problem. Well, after an hour discussion, we all agreed to start with the doctor's help and proceed slowly.
And so we did.
The first month we spent getting the fertility testing done. Initially, everything came back great. All my hormones levels were perfect, the sperm analysis was good, my heart shape uterus was not a concern. A couple months more passed, but still no pregnancy.
At this point, we started with intervention number one, the in uterine inseminations. The first one we did naturally, followed by two more treatments with ovarian stimulation medication. Three more months and no positive pregnancy test.
It was at this point that my husband's DNA fragmentation test came back. It wasn't good. This is when things took a turn and we were advised that we were dealing with a male factor issue. My husband was referred to a urologist and we were informed that In vitro fertilization was the best option to expand our family.
In June 2009, we started our IVF treatment. My protocol began with one month of the birth control pill, followed by several days of injectables. In the end, we had four embryos.
On transfer day, I was both nervous and excited. We decided put back two of the four embryos. Two weeks later, we got the best news ever. We were pregnant. The treatment worked.
Nine months later we delivered our beautiful twins.
How did you first know you were dealing with infertility?
We got pregnant almost right away when we started trying for a family, but unfortunately that ended in a miscarriage. After the miscarriage, we tried and tried but couldn’t get pregnant again. It was somewhere between 9 months to a year after the miscarriage that we started working with fertility specialists.
What happened once this was determined?
So began a long and difficult journey. We got a bunch of testing done, spoke with multiple Reproductive Endocrinologists and went right to IVF, as I was diagnosed with low ovarian reserve. Our 2 IVF cycles didn’t work and left me gutted. We picked up the pieces as best we could, consulted with a couple more clinics and decided on a clinic closer to home. We attempted 2 more IVF cycles but didn’t get the medications right and they both ended up quickly turning into IUIs. We then decided to try some more IUIs because I seemed to respond well to them. I lost count, but we tried maybe 7 or 8 IUIs until I finally got pregnant, about 4 long years after my miscarriage.
What was the medical process like for you?
It was all-consuming – it felt like we were on this rollercoaster ride and just had to hang on for dear life-throughout all the highs and then the inevitable lows of each cycle. It was tough to keep pushing along through everything: the shots, the medications, the research, the conversations with doctors and nurses, the emotional ups and downs, and to not lose ourselves in the process.
Did you try anything beyond medical interventions?
I tried acupuncture and herbs, which I enjoyed. I tried a lot of things – baby aspirin, DHEA, COQ-10, royal jelly, guaifenesin. You name it I probably tried it.
What was most helpful?
The acupuncture helped, I think. I also went to see a therapist, which REALLY helped me work through and process some of the grief, and helped me to let go and loosen my grip. I was trying so hard to will this to happen and to control the present and my future, which is of course impossible. It helped me to see that there are many ways to be a mom and have a family.
It was also really helpful to talk to people, get on message boards, read stories and hear from others going through this process. It can feel so isolating with so many people suffering in silence, but remembering that you are not alone and, for me, reading others’ stories and talking about it when I felt comfortable did help.
What was the most helpful/supportive thing someone said to you or did for you?
I think just being there to support me – there isn’t really anything anyone could SAY that would make it better, but just having a friend to lean on and someone who could bear witness to your struggle. To be there to talk, cry, not talk, take a walk or watch a movie, etc.
What advice would you give to someone about to begin the process of infertility interventions (medical or otherwise)?
I think the most important thing is to do your research and be your own advocate. I was told 3 times that I should use donor eggs, and ended up conceiving with my own eggs on a clomid-only IUI cycle (the lowest ‘intervention’ type of cycle I did). Also, in one cycle, the doctor looked at the size of my follicles (via ultrasound, before ovulation) and wanted me to do the trigger shot that night. At this point I had some experience with follicle size, and I told him I thought we needed to wait one more day so they could get a little bigger/mature a little more. We ended up waiting, and I finally got pregnant with my son on that cycle. The whole field of assisted reproduction is evolving, and is as much art as it is science, so you will find lots of differing opinions and lots of ways to do things. Do the research and talk to as many people and doctors as you can and be your own advocate through this. When you are first starting out, they really don’t know how your body will respond, so they give it their best guess and then tweak from there. Taking notes and being involved in the process is really important!
Written by my husband, Zander, this is the most personal post I've published thus far. It's his account of our experience with infertility. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do and please share with any partners you know currently going through infertility.
Admit it, fellow husbands, you stabbed your wife at one point or another. It’s fine. I’ve been there. Don’t turn yourself into the police.
This wounding on an emotional level, of course, hurting our wives sometimes the only release for the impotent rage marriage can bring. I have felt this anger. You have, too. Because you are only human.
But one day you might find yourself about to plunge needle into flesh, and I will tell you there is a moment when you will hesitate, when your arm is raised, your thumb depressing the plunger clawed in your shaking hand, your wife, face-down on the carpet you have not vacuumed in a month, eyes closed and face averted because she will not witness needle pierce buttocks. You will hesitate because this is an unnatural act. You will hesitate because husbands should not drive cold steel into the flesh of the women they love.
And then you will take a breath, maybe two, and you will do it anyway, and when she cries into that filthy carpet you will remind yourself you do this for love, this pain, this violence. And later, after weeks or months or years, maybe, just maybe, you can laugh about the time you stabbed your wife in the back.
In 2008, my wife and I decided to have a child. Or, perhaps, she decided and I agreed to do my part for the immediate benefits that entailed. Five years married and we were still dropping money on condoms, popping birth control like candy, and unprotected sex possesses a certain appeal for any man. Now, almost a decade later, I cannot recall with any clarity why we decided to start a family then. Only a few friends had children already, most of those living elsewhere, no pressure from our families. (Well, maybe from our mothers, but when is that not the case.) I am not old, or so I tell myself, so difficult now to fathom quite how young and naïve we were. A friend’s upcoming wedding led to prolonged debate about whether my wife should remain on birth control, because we wanted to enjoy ourselves, not be the dowdy pregnant couple huddled in the corner while everyone drank champagne and danced. (This maybe six months away.) A cruise to Alaska we “won” at a charity auction (Yes, alcohol was involved. Quite a bit, actually.) became a gift to my parents, because why explore that vast and magnificent peninsula with morning sickness. (This jaunt perhaps two or three months away). They saw a bear wandering the streets of Juneau. A normal occurrence there, I am sure, but it has been decades since I’ve seen the same in North Carolina, or Idaho, or California, or any of the innumerable places bears exist but hide from me. I would have liked to see that bear. No, we could not explore Alaska, and we would refrain from the more raucous wedding festivities, because we would be pregnant by then, or at least she would be and I would play the dutiful husband.
Things were great at first. Like newlyweds again, coupling perhaps even more than that first year. Surely this would benefit our marriage. Or maybe just me. She was nineteen when we met, and we married young, so young that now we laugh at the foolish children binding themselves in their twenties, the irony not lost on us. Every marriage stalls at some point, either because of work, or money, or family, or, more simply, because of the passage of time. Passion, like gunpowder, burns as hot and bright as it can but expends itself faster the hotter the flames. Ask anyone married for a decade or two and they will confirm this truth. Our marriage still a happy one then, but the extra sex didn’t hurt. But as the months wore on without success, passion dimmed, rose-colored glasses fogged, and the reality of our situation became both obvious and opaque, because we knew we could not get through this alone.
Less than a year passed before we explored fertility treatments with her OB-GYN, and later, when those initial medications proved ineffective, with a local fertility clinic, a partner in which a family friend since retired. At the time I considered this premature, yet another sign of my wife’s impatience, but now, all these years later, I remember my wife’s absent menstrual cycle, the stress this elicited, which, in turn, only delayed its arrival, this absence cumulative and self-perpetuating with each passing day. That I can write of my wife’s menstrual cycle perhaps proof that the ordeal brought us closer in ways that would not have happened otherwise, maybe even that I have matured from the arrogant prick I once was. (And can still be, truth be told).
The precise order and names of those medications blurred now, drugs like Chlomid and Ovidrel creeping out from where I banished them with other memories I have willed into absence. Those months and years, among the darkest of my life, ranked up there with the tragic deaths of family and friends. Because those events, so horrible, involved a cutting-off, an absence, life divided into what came before and what came after. While this, on the other hand, just dragged on and on and on in an endless barrage of doctor visits, and long drives to pharmacies without notice because we needed one more pill, one more syringe, and we needed it that night, the stock of every pharmacy within a fifteen-mile radius depleted for some reason. Which drugs, in the end, did not work anyway. And tears. And tears. And tears. No pleasure comes from witnessing the woman you love crying then screaming then crying again when the pregnancy tests come back negative again and again and again, those little blue strips appearing for everyone but you. I hate pregnancy tests.
I will mention now that we were not having a lot of sex without ovulation. Not much point with assured failure. You will learn to hate sex, the scheduled, clinical nature of this act you used to enjoy suffered without pleasure, pursued only with purpose. Your teenage self won’t believe you – you might not even believe me now – but this is truth. Sorry.
Some advice – disassociate yourself from everything. Be there for her but divide yourself so you can leave it behind later. Here’s why:
You learn to walk on eggshells. You learn, too slowly, the topics to avoid – playgrounds and weddings and schools, any topic even remotely connected with the concept of “child.” Understand that friends’ pregnancies spark days of depression, your only solace that hers live far away, in other states, other time zones, their swelling bellies more abstract than if she ran into those budding mothers at Starbucks every day. Tell yourself you are strong, because stoicism is what men do. Become the rock against which the waves break, permanent and enduring and implacable. Given enough time, though, the water will force itself into the rock, seek out the fissures and hammer until the slab splinters and cracks and falls into the sea.
You will try to hide this – she has her own burdens, after all – you will try to swallow the anger and the fear and the sadness, but one day you erupt, lash out at her, at the doctor, at the drugs that don’t work, because it’s not your fault, your sperm count is above average and motility superb (angry now because you know what this means) and you scream at each other, cry at each other, and then you’re lying next to each other, wishing your room was large enough for a king-size bed so you weren’t pressed back-to-angry-back. And then, somehow, sleep will come, and the next day you will start all over again.
You complain to your wife about masturbating in a cramped, dimly-lit room at the fertility clinic, this the room’s sole purpose, relieved and ashamed you brought your iPhone because no magazines or videos wait for you. Your eyes averted as you exit because all the doctors and nurses know what you just did. Meanwhile, your wife undergoes procedures of increasing complexity and invasiveness. IUI, IVF – the acronyms so anodyne you ignore the cost on your wife, your wallet, just hope that this time, this procedure, will work. This will make me a father. This will give me my wife back. Maybe.
I do not mean to sound disingenuous, but in so many ways I have left that part of myself behind which experienced these things, at least as much as one can. I forced myself to forget the drugs we used, my awareness of my wife’s menstrual cycles and progesterone levels, because I wanted to move forward. Even the procedures foreign to me now, like something learned in high school and forgotten again when no longer of use. You can teach yourself about them all. I am not here for you in this. Some hurt we remember, return to again and again, because it made us strong, because we measure ourselves by those moments, because we honor the people we have lost through memory. And other hurt, well, we cannot allow ourselves to repeat. And I was just the husband.
I put off writing this for years. Procrastination had nothing to do with it, just a desire not to recall that time. Memories – writing this evoked a few, none cherished, interred moments better left unmolested. But never embarrassment, then or now, and I still commiserate with friends who underwent similar fertility issues or harder circumstances. Because there should be no shame in bringing life into this world, a task difficult enough without someone making you feel lesser simply because time between the sheets with your wife doesn’t work. (Roll her over? Thanks for the advice, asshole.)
IVF worked for us. I should tell you that now. We have a son, six years old, a rambunctious, sly, convivial, curious, implacable child, prone to tears when he loses his favorite toy (R.I.P, orange lizard), rage when he does not get his way, silliness when he gets too little sleep. A normal six-year-old boy, though we often convince ourselves smarter than his years. All parents do at one point or another.
One day I will tell him, a young man then in possession of a clear mind, mature enough to understand he hails from love, not science. Perhaps he will not care, though. Perhaps this the new normal. Since our experience I can count the friends on one hand who have not dealt with fertility complications. Or another way – of the six men who attended our annual steak night, a rotating crew of fathers pretending they’re not really getting older, five could have penned these words just as readily, our individual experiences differing in some respects but ultimately alike. Perhaps I just know too few people, or perhaps I just know the unlucky ones, though, in the end, we all were given what we sought. Maybe we are lucky after all. Most of us, anyway.
We have a daughter now, too, a different kind of miracle, a blond, curly-haired beauty born without fear. When we decided we wanted a second child, or maybe just forgot how difficult those first few months of child-rearing can be, we wasted no time in returning to the clinic that gave us our first. But it was too hard. The memories were too sharp, the scars too deep, and it took only one cycle, I think, for us to abandon our efforts. We had a child, a gift, who needed our love, our strength, our best, and we had only so much to give. So we said one was enough, at least from needles. We kept trying, lost a child along the way, just a month-old bean, long enough with us to feel that loss you never quite forget. And then the months passed, and my wife was pregnant a third time, and after enough time passed our daughter arrived.
Even now I don’t understand why. Maybe it just took my wife longer to wean herself from birth control after the stuff coursed through her system for half a lifetime. Maybe the medication primed her body, wakened her womb from its slumber a little later than normal. Maybe we just needed to give up, let go, our desire for a child the stressor that kept pregnancy at bay. I believe stress thwarts us in so many ways. I believed it then and I believe it now. Try telling a woman who craves a child more than oxygen to relax. You won’t get far.
I won’t lie - being a parent has its downsides, though I have always found it more boring than difficult. This, perhaps, because I am the backup parent, or they’re still young enough not to have real problems. My wife, I am sure, would disagree with me, since she spends far more time with them. If Hell is other people, children, after enough exposure, are its ninth circle. They are my children, and I love them, so I can say that and still meet my gaze in the mirror. If you haven’t cursed at your children, or at least let the words cross your mind, you are either lying or a far, far better person than anyone I know, certainly better than me, which is probably a pretty low bar anyway.
No angels, these two, no different from any children in this regard. They scatter food across the table and floor, spill milk and juice and water over couches and chairs, stuff candy wrappers and half-eaten croissants under ottomans and between books and under blankets. They jam Play-doh into kitchen drawers and decorate the pale shades of our walls with marker and crayon and once, when we walked away for the briefest of moments, poured an acrylic-based paint Hadean-black across our windowsills and floors. That required some touch-up. They poured molasses on the floor (why do we have molasses, dear?) and spread honey and syrup across the counter whenever we pull either from the pantry. They track mud and dirt in the house and once, to our endless delight, chased my wife around the dining room table with a translucent snakeskin shed from a creature as long as they were tall. Not a lot of rats around here. They jump on and off beds and couches and chairs and coffee tables and benches. They vomit and cough without covering their mouths, eat boogers and scratch bare bottoms and defecate in bathtubs and on floors and themselves and, sometimes, us. (It happens. You’ll see.) They run outside naked when our neighbors walk by, urinate in bushes and on sidewalks when we do not pay attention (and, sometimes, when their father encourages this). They laugh and they cry and they pout and they scream at volumes no human should achieve. They want one more cookie, one more story, one more push on the swing, one more piggyback ride, and one more minute, and one more minute, and one more minute, and we give it to them because this is life now. And, most days, we love it.
I still snap at them, however, as prone to rage as the next father, when I am too tired, or they are too silly, or for any of the innumerable reasons why parents lash out at these humans crowding the world at half-height. When the moment has passed, though, I remind myself how and why my son is here, that I almost did not have a daughter. I am petty, and selfish, and impatient, and dismissive, and cruel, and yet he is here, my son, the boy who almost was not, and when I look into his eyes that my wife calls brown but where I see that touch of green he and I share, or I tangle my fingers through my daughter’s curled blond hair softer than feathers, I tell myself this moment will not come again, these children will remain for only as long as they can, and that I should relish the moments that slip through my fingers like so much sand. Sometimes, when I am the man I want to be, I do. I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man, and it is because of our son, what we endured to bring him into our lives, and our daughter, who helps me see women as I always should have, that I try. I am not perfect, and I fail each day, but every now and again, when the stars align and I am luckier than I deserve, I get it right.
Maybe these words will help, you men out there with arms raised, needles in hand.
I want to tell you everything will work out in the end. I want to tell you that you will forget the thirty or forty thousand dollars, or more, every time you gaze into the eyes of a child as beautiful to you as mine are to me. But I can’t. I don’t know whether the drugs will work, or you will need a surrogate, or an egg donor, or to adopt, none of these a failure, for you or your wife. Remember that.
I hope you get there. I hope you find yourselves deluged with soiled diapers and tea parties and dinosaur costumes. I hope for you
what was given me, gifts like my son, my daughter, the former standing beside me as I first write these words, wailing for me to finish so I can read of dinosaurs and insects and the other beasts of the night that fascinate him to no end. So I will.
And if you are so lucky, when the time comes, as it will, that you seethe at that squealing brat crawling beside you, remember it took more strength to create this child than you need now. So relax, friend, take a breath, pick up a mop, put on some rubber gloves, and get to work, because, if nothing else, at least you got to stab your wife and get away with it.
On Monday, I posted Kristy's essay from her blog, Prosecco and Palm Trees (click here if you haven't read that yet). Below is her account the experiences that led her to write that post. Kristy's bog can be found here: Proseccoandpalmtrees.com.
How did you first know you were dealing with infertility?
I got married to my husband at 34 and had been anxious about starting a family because I was a bit older. So, when we didn’t conceive in the first half year, I went to my OBGYN. Given my age, to be safe she sent me to a fertility specialist to do a hysterosalpingogram (HSG). That’s a test where they basically run dye into your uterus and scan with an abdominal device so they check to see if your fallopian tubes are properly connected to your ovaries, among other things. I went into that appointment thinking it would be but a routine pit stop to getting a script for Clomid and it would be easy, peasy. Before I stepped off that table, I learned that I had a unicornuate uterus and only one of two ovaries was connected, and I would have a very difficult time conceiving on my own.
What happened once this was determined?
We booked a follow up appointment as soon as possible, and we decided we wanted to go straight to IVF. Given that only one ovary was connected, IUI wasn’t a great option, and we didn’t want to waste any time. After my first round of blood tests, I found out that I also had a terrible egg reserve which made the possibility of successful IVF or any other procedures much less likely.
Did you try medical interventions? If so, what was the medical process like for you?
We had an IVF procedure on the books within 5 months of my initial diagnosis, which amazingly resulted in my first pregnancy. Sadly, that pregnancy ended before the end of my first trimester. We continued fertility treatments throughout the end of that year in Orlando, but ran into failures in egg retrieval and transfers, so we decided to try one of the world’s most well known doctors in Colorado. We had to undergo more rounds of testing, had equal success and failures there and no resulting pregnancy, so we headed back to Orlando to continue trying. In all, I think we did 8 IVF egg retrievals and countless attempts at IVF implantation. Given my uterine condition, we can only handle transferring one embryo at a time, so our likelihood of success each round was much less than the average IVF patient. After 3 years of trying with no success, we thought perhaps I wasn’t able to carry, so a close family friend kindly volunteered to be our gestational carrier (commonly known as a surrogate, but GC’s use the biological mom and dad’s embryo and a true surrogate uses her own eggs). This resulted in a long-awaited pregnancy, nearly 2 years after our first loss. We were overjoyed and couldn’t believe it was finally happening to us. I finally let my guard down and began to enjoy the process as we neared the 2nd trimester. But again, fate struck and we lost pregnancy number 2 at 12 weeks. While I didn’t have to endure the same process physically, emotionally I was a disaster and I felt sadness for our dear friend as well, because I didn’t want her to feel any sadness either. As we were waiting for her to try again (because she is a super hero), it took a bit longer than expected because she had some medical procedures, so I decided to try with one of our remaining frozen embryos- just to take a shot. By some miracle it worked! His name is Maxwell and he’s now 17 months old. I carried my beautiful boy to 37 weeks with not one complication, and he’s absolutely perfect.
Now to properly answer the question, this was the first time doctor visits and medical procedures didn’t go my way. I became a huge worrier, constantly scared that we would get bad news from an IVF procedure, I would be diagnosed with a new terrible condition, or that something was wrong during my pregnancy. I learned to become my own advocate, to educate myself as much as possible, but at the end of the day, before it finally worked I had to finally give into the process and accept that doing my best (whether it resulted in success or failure) was enough, and that no amount of worrying was going to help us get to our end goal any faster. That being said, I couldn’t even start to look at an ultrasound during my pregnancy until I knew that they had already heard the heartbeat. For the first 6 months of his life, I didn’t let a day go by without taking about 100 photos because I was convinced he was going to be somehow taken from us, it seemed too good to be true. I didn’t sense that I went through a stage of postpartum depression, but I see very clearly now that I struggled through my own form of PTSD from our fertility treatments and years of losses.
Did you try anything beyond medical interventions?
Before our last successful IVF transfer, I also tried acupuncture and cupping, which are both becoming much more mainstream in the fertility world. I find it to be very peaceful and calming, and I’m convinced it made a huge difference. Some clinics now actually have acupuncture specialists come into the office as part of standard protocols.
What was most helpful?
I think the most useful type of thing to say to a friend or family member going through something like this is, “You don’t need to say anything, because I understand you might not want to talk about it, and I don’t really know what to say, but I want you to know that I love you and I’m thinking about you all the time. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you along the way. We are here for you, whatever you need.”
What was hardest for you during this time?
It’s probably easier to hit a couple near the top of the list.
How did your partner deal with this process?
He just tried to stay at the helm of the ship, slow and steady, unwavering in his belief that things would be OK. On some of my down days I would get frustrated that he didn’t seem as upset as I was, but I see in hindsight that he was just trying to stay positive for the both of us, and that positivity was much needed. I think he realized much earlier than I did is that we can only do our best, and be there for each other then things didn’t go as we had hoped.
What was the least helpful thing someone said to you?
“Have you ever thought about adopting? Wouldn’t that probably be a good idea to get that process started? Wouldn’t that be easier at this point?” Adoption is no easier, just different. I’ve learned a great deal about adoption through the fertility boards I was a part of on Facebook, and it is something we have seriously entertained. That being said, each couple needs to go through their own process to find what is right for them at that point in time.
What was the most helpful/supportive thing someone said to you or did for you?
“Call me day or night if you need to talk, or cry, or just call me and we will sit there on the phone with each other and say nothing at all together. I’m here for you”
What would you like others to know about your experience?
It is OK to grieve for a miscarriage and speak of miscarriages publicly. It is a death, a loss, and as a mother you feel a responsibility to that child whether or not there is anything you could have done differently. Do not be ashamed, do not beat yourself up. Love yourself and give yourself time to heal. It is a process.
What advice would you give to someone about to begin the process of infertility interventions (medical or otherwise)?
My husband and I have always worked hard and were able to accomplish most things we set our minds to, but it seemed that having kids was a whole new roller coaster of which we had absolutely no control. We were several years into our IVF journey and though I felt like I couldn’t give up after all this time, as there was nothing I wanted more, I also felt like a fool for continuing to try when all I saw was failure after failure. People start to ask if you will adopt, they ask when you will accept that you might not have children, to just enjoy what you have. While you want to tell them why they are wrong, inside you secretly wonder if they are right and doubt your choices.
While licking my wounds from yet another failed embryo transfer a few years back, I didn’t know what we should do next, if anything, and one morning I saw an interview with Jimmy Fallon on the Today show about the birth of his daughter, who was exceptionally candid in sharing their journey to have a child over the course of 5 years. He captured so many feelings my husband and I shared about our own journey, and how hard it was seeing others so sad and disappointed for you. But his excitement about his newborn daughter was simply intoxicating, and he encouraged those going through the journey to build a family to keep trying, and eventually, somehow, you’ll get there. He said, keep trying! I promise, “it’s the most worth it thing…” That video will still make me cry if I watch it today. In the darkest days when I felt like giving up, I would go back and watch how his eyes sparkled when he spoke and how amazing it all was in the end. I saw that they got there eventually, and it was so helpful to know someone else had been where I was, and they were now on the happy side.
Find a community to support you, find others who can relate to what you are going through. Whether it is a supportive on-line fertility group or a friend of a friend, it helps to have someone that speaks your language and understands what it is all like. And like Jimmy said, keep trying, I promise you, it is the most worth it thing. You’re already one brave warrior momma if you are reading this – you’ve got this! Now go!
How did you first know you were dealing with infertility?
Early on, my husband and I got pregnant very quickly, but it turned into a blighted ovum. So, I had to have a D&C. We were 34 years old. After that, I started having pain every month that I had never had before. I saw several different OB/GYNs before I moved on to an infertility specialist. Whenever I raised my concerns that things didn't seem right, I was told, "You got pregnant once, you'll get pregnant again." Your typical, "Don't worry," pat on the head sort of a thing. I felt a little crazy like I was just being obsessive for no reason. Then, after about a year of trying to find an answer, I did find out that I had endometriosis. That started the long journey towards trying to have a child through IVF. First, I had surgery for endometriosis. Then, several IUIs. I was traveling to the Midwest a lot for work, so I started seeing a physician in Chicago and trying to do a lot of it long distance. Which was quite stressful. I then moved on to IVF and had several cycles that didn’t even make it to egg retrieval. The ones that did, I had a chemical pregnancy on one and the other I woke up to find out that no eggs were retrieved. It was just a constant stream of bad news. The issue really came down to the endometriosis and how it had affected my body. I had very low AMH and over the years my FSH started going up. At some point it became very clear that, if this is going to happen, I'm going to have to do donor eggs. It was total of about five years by the time we were pregnant with our son through donor eggs. And he's just everything I could have ever hoped for. It was a hard process getting to the place of first accepting my own infertility, in addition to the financial burden and everything else that goes along with it. Then, having to accept that I was going to have to go a route that I would have never expected. When I was growing up, have a child via egg donation was not something that I was aware was even a possibility. So there was a lot of grieving and learning during this journey.
Did you try anything beyond medical interventions?
I went to acupuncture for years. She was a huge support through the process. A lovely woman and it was helpful in gaining a sense of calm. And to feel like I was doing something when I didn't have control over the medical process. It was an enjoyable experience. I also took many, many supplements. Drank a lot of wheat grass. I was willing to (and did!) try everything I came across in hopes of having a child.
What about the medical process? What was that like?
That was tough. I felt such a lack of control and the process felt like I was on some type of assembly line. Then add to that the financial implications of it. Insurance didn't cover any of this. Which meant that my professional life was suddenly being dictated by what would make me the most money vs. what would be the most rewarding. The medical process was an overwhelming time for me. So much of your life feels like it's out of your control anyways when you're going through infertility, and then you feel like you have these medical professionals that hold all the keys to you getting what you so desperately want yet you have limited time with them and they are so busy that you question if they really are paying attention to your situation and whether or not you are getting the best care possible. I did have a really positive experience with my doctor in Chicago, even though I ultimately wasn’t able to continue working her long distance. When we first sat down, she listened to my story, and then she got out a piece of paper and started drawing. She said, "These are all the paths to becoming a mom." It was so meaningful to me because up to that point, every conversation with medical professionals was strictly about the next step. The next test. The next procedure. She took the time to acknowledge my heart’s desire and showed me the big picture – I could become a mom one way or another. Even if it wasn’t the way I was originally planning. And then we got down to the next step.
What was helpful during this time?
The biggest help was having a group of women that I could share and go through the journey with. When you go through the medical process there are so many tests, so many acronyms that you have to keep track of. Hormone levels. Follicle size. Uterine lining thickness. Unless I was talking with someone going through or who had gone through the same thing, I just spent a lot of time explaining stuff that went over people's head. You’d watch their eyes gloss over from information overload and it only added to the feeling of loneliness. It was so very helpful to have a group of people that you could say, "So, my estrogen came back at this today," and they knew exactly what that meant and they knew how important it was to me and how it impacted my next step. Then there’s, of course, the emotional aspect of it as well, - I could vent and share my frustrations with women who understood. That was a huge help. Also, having a medical professional that knew how important my end goal was. To help me step back, understand the process better and give me the big picture. I think that's a piece that's just sadly missing a lot of the time.
What was the hardest part for you during that time?
Watching life go on with everybody else. No one in my current circle of friends and family had gone through or was going through what I was experiencing. There were all kinds of births that were happening during this time and you watch those kids grow up over time and you think, "Any minute now I'm going to have a child that's going to add to this picture." Then the calendar pages fly off like in a movie. That was probably the toughest piece, because I think, for my husband and me, there was always a feeling of, "Success is going to be right around the corner." You don't prepare yourself for how long of a journey it ends up being.
How did he deal with the process?
At the beginning it was, "Next time, next time. No worries. We're okay. We're young." Then, as the time drug on, it became more of a reality of how hard it was going to be. For him the hardest part, I think, was not being able to do anything about it. Eventually, my doctor in Chicago said, "You know, your husband hasn't really been run through a lot of tests. You have and we know you've got some stuff, but we need to see what is on his end." I was dreading sharing this with him. I thought for sure he was going to say, "Ugh, I don't want to go through all of this." But he was actually thrilled because he finally felt involved! Until then, he was watching it be done to me. It was a very frustrating experience because there was nothing he could actually “do”.
What was the least helpful thing someone said to you?
The least helpful was, "You need to relax." That phrase, in some variation or another, gets thrown around a lot. It’s about as helpful as telling someone who is upset to calm down. Yes, managing stress and relaxing is a good thing to practice. But, no, that will not in and of itself result in a baby. Going on vacation, or forgetting about getting pregnant for a while might be good things to do at some point in the journey, but it’s not THE fix. I take a lot of issue whenever I hear someone say, "If you would just relax. If you would just learn to cope with it better." That doesn't mean that you're going to have the end result that you want. It's not keeping you from getting pregnant, the fact that you're stressed out. And it makes you feel like it’s one more thing you are failing at!
What's the most helpful or supportive thing someone said to you or did for you?
I had so many wonderful people on the journey. I think probably the most helpful was hearing that when the time came, I was going to make a wonderful mom. I think that helped to ground me and remind me why I was doing this. Because sometimes I just felt like I was going through the motions and I stopped even expecting something good to come out of all of the interventions. After a while it just felt like I was attending doctor appointments and doing all these things just for the hell of it. To be able to hear that my goal was a worthy one and that I would make a good mom would help remind me of the why I was doing all of this.
What would you like others to know about your experience?
That even if things don't go the way that you dreamed that they would, the love that you experience makes it all worth it. It doesn't have to be that perfect route. In fact, the imperfect route makes it infinitely more meaningful.
What advice would you give to someone about to begin the process of infertility intervention?
Prepare yourself that the journey could be a longer one than you expect. You can easily get to that place where you think, "Well this will be the magic bullet." You're living life from one treatment to the next and you never fully have time to grieve something not working because you're jumping right back into the next cycle. Then you find that time has passed. Start with the clear understanding that it could be a lot of interventions until you get to where you need to be, and prepare for that marathon versus a sprint. You want to get your support system in place and definitely learn from other people’s stories and journeys. Begin with the end in mind, so to speak. If you want to be a mom, figure out why you want to be a mom and that will help you to keep going and to make the right choices.
I had just turned 30 when my husband and I started trying to get pregnant. I had no idea it would be such a struggle! At the time, I didn’t know of any friends who had dealt with infertility. Also, my husband was 27 and I was only 30, so I never expected it would be a problem.
To be honest, when I was a young woman, I didn't want to get married and didn't want to have my own children. I always joked that I would be a career woman and "hire a surrogate" when I wanted to have kids. But, after I got married, my mind and heart changed, and I began to desire having my own children.
Reading others' stories, I am SO incredibly thankful our struggle lasted only one year. My Ob-Gyn was able to do a lot of the infertility testing, in order to delay going to a fertility expert. So, even though we didn't go to a fertility expert, we went through all of the embarrassing and painful tests given by the experts.
As we struggled to get pregnant, I realized I was having feelings of worthlessness. I couldn't believe it! I was the first person to attend college on my mother's side of my family, and the second to obtain a Master's on my father's side. But while feeling very accomplished professionally, I honestly felt like less of a woman because I couldn't conceive. It was embarrassing and humiliating, because it was obvious we weren't getting pregnant. We had been married for 4-5 years and family, friends, and acquaintances were curious. When we were going through infertility tests and treatments, it felt like such an invasion of privacy by well-meaning family and friends who kept asking us questions. I also reached out for support and found none. I tried our church, and the response I got was "You're welcome to create a support group and run it yourself." I needed care - I wasn't looking to take care of others and add to my plate while we were struggling. I know that sounds selfish, but I was in emotional pain and just couldn't muster the strength to do it. I avoided friends' baby showers and anything having to do with kids during this time. It was just too painful. Also, my husband and I argued a lot. While we both wanted to get pregnant and have children, I think my husband considered it more of my problem than his, which just made me feel worse.
My lowest low, I was on my last cycle of Chlomid and thought it had failed (again). I tearfully called my Ob-Gyn and reported this to him, and he said "Ok, I'll refer you to a specialist." I broke down crying with my husband and sobbed "I'll NEVER be pregnant!!" Well, I actually was! I went on to have fraternal boy/girl twins. I have never taken pregnancy for granted since our struggle.