How did you first know you were dealing with infertility?
I had been married for 5 years by the time I was 27 and honestly wasn't sure I even wanted kids. Then, what seemed like overnight, I decided that I "must have kids NOW." About mid-July, I went off the pill and my periods just stopped. I figured it was related to being on birth control since age 15 and assumed my cycle would eventually return on its own. 6 months later, still nothing. I scheduled an appointment with my gynecologist, who immediately referred me to a specialist. Apparently, the next step in her care would have been to prescribe me clomiphene (chlomid), but as she had never given it to anyone without a cycle before, she felt it best to refer me to a higher level of care. I am grateful that she did so, believing it saved us from added months of frustration.
What happened once this was determined?
March 23, 2009 I had my first meeting with a doctor at the Center for Reproductive Medicine. The process started out very slowly. I began with shots to induce follicle growth, and for the first several months, literally nothing happened. No follicles grew, nothing was stimulated. I remember staring at the ceiling while I waited for the nurse and just praying that something would be seen on the ultrasound screen.
What was the medical process like?
When I finally started responding to the medication and had some follicle growth, I had some hope that this would actually work. But then there was always something that went wrong. Every time there was an ultrasound or blood was drawn, I'd have to wait until later in the day for a phone call, which was excruciating. I never knew if that phone call would bring good news, meaning that we could proceed; or bad, meaning that we would have to cancel that cycle. My first IUI failed which was not helpful for my faith in the process. My next IUI was going to transfer to IVF because it looked like that was the optimal decision. But hours before the procedure, I got a call that my progesterone level was too high and so we had to cancel the cycle all together. My doctor eventually advised me to take time off from trying and travel, to give my body and mind a break, and I am grateful that he did so. It was much needed. After that break, I started IVF. I was given a very detailed protocol for what to expect every day, starting on Cycle Day 1. There were very specific instructions and had I not gotten used to the process of timing and shots the previous couple of years, I would have been terrified. Regardless, the first time I received my order of medications, I was overwhelmed. But, by the time I reached the IVF regimen, I knew to take it one day at a time and employ every coping strategy I could for my anxiety. Not that I was very successful with this-I was not fun to be around that month.
What did you try beyond medical interventions?
I tried everything that I thought would help. I had a few acupuncture appointments, and while I do believe such treatments can be helpful, I just couldn't relax in there and began to get anxious about upcoming appointments. I found this to be counterproductive so stopped. I tried putting weight on my thin frame to see if that would jumpstart things. Several months and 10-15 pounds later, still nothing. I got massages, which I think really helped me to reduce stress. I also found myself returning to my faith, attending mass and praying a lot more. However, the single most helpful thing for me beyond medical treatment was my therapist, no question. As a therapist, it seems obvious I'd say this, but I truly think her support enabled me to decrease my overall level of stress and gave my body a break from the havoc my anxiety was likely wreaking on it. I could unload on someone who understood where I was coming from and didn't have to apologize for being so emotional about something that not everyone could understand. She specialized in infertility and the fact that she "got it" made me feel understood and that in itself was comforting.
What was hardest for you during this time?
It seemed as though all of my friends either had a kid or were getting pregnant during my years of infertility. Every time a friend called, I held my breath waiting for the "I'm so sorry, but I'm pregnant." Which made me feel like a jerk, as though I would be upset for their joy, or jealous. I am not a jealous person by nature and I never felt it was about me in those moments, but it sucked feeling like I was being pitied. Feeling left behind was another weird experience. I had this gut reaction when others told me about their pregnancies that felt like I was being left out or left behind and that we'd never be able to catch up.
What was most helpful?
People that didn't offer advice but just validated how I was feeling and told me that it sucked. People who asked me how the treatments were going and actually asked questions as opposed to just being polite. My therapist was the most helpful because she let me explain what was happening medically, complain, and vent emotionally. She gave me strategies to deal with those emotions, so I felt proactive.. I am also forever grateful to the doctors and nurses that treated me during this period of my life. They were so kind, compassionate and thoughtful. I truly felt that they were rooting for me. Two in particular I will never forget (in addition to my doctor), were the nurse who took my blood on what seemed like a daily basis from 2008-2010, and one of the head nurses, who always made me feel hopeful. The support of my family and friends, who allowed me to wallow when I needed to and offered me kind words and love, always. My husband, though, above all, who saw me through some very dark days.
What would you like others to know about your experience?
That it feels all consuming and there is little else I could think about during that time. That it is not just about disappointment and sadness, but a continued sense of loss and loneliness. I felt desperate at times, sure I would have to resign myself to being a childless couple. We talked about it several times, trying to steel ourselves for what felt like a forgone conclusion. This feeling came monthly for those years and it never got any easier, in fact, it got worse. Because the longer we tried and failed, the further away the possibility seemed. I think it’s difficult and near-impossible for others that haven’t experienced infertility to understand. And those that I have met that have just “get it” and we have an immediate shorthand and appreciation for one another. It’s a club that we don’t want to be a part of but that we are relieved to not have to be the only members.