Most couples never expect to have trouble with starting a family. After all, our parents talked to us about the “birds and the bees” and our teachers made us sit through that awkward sex education class in school, both making our young minds believe that having sex just one time would result in pregnancy. Then you get older and are ready to have a family and come to realize that there is a lot more to getting pregnant than just having sex. There is this magical time in a women’s cycle called ovulation; there is a short 24 hour window for the egg to be fertilized; there is a 20-25% chance for even a healthy couple to get pregnant each month, etc., etc., etc. All of this comes as a shock since we spend so many years trying not to get pregnant and now that you want to get pregnant, you realize that it is actually a lot harder than you thought, and for some, now that you’re trying to get pregnant, you can’t. I was one who struggled and struggled to get pregnant!
Our journey with infertility
My husband and I experienced quite the journey with infertility. My gynecologist had always been honest with me about her concern that I may have trouble getting pregnant due to my irregular, and beginning in my early twenties, a lack of menstrual cycles. When we started trying to get pregnant, I didn’t track my ovulation or anything special; we didn’t even consider and quite honestly know all of the variables involved in getting pregnant. In our case, one of the biggest variables was missing in our equation: no period + no ovulation= no pregnancy.
After a few unsuccessful months and the knowledge that I would probably have a hard time getting pregnant, I saw my gynecologist and she placed me on a medication to induce my period, Clomid, to help me ovulate. The only result of this was a moody, hormonal Me (Clomid and I were not friends!) We proceeded by meeting with our reproductive endocrinologist and long story short, endured three intrauterine inseminations (IUI) and four in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. It was our seventh treatment that resulted in our daughter.
Infertility has changed me in more ways than I could have ever imagined; some for the good, some for the bad, and some for the ugly.
The ugly and the bad of our infertility journey
- Poor emotional health and jealousy: When being told my husband and I had a 2% chance of conceiving without infertility treatments, I knew we were in for a bumpy road. Looking back, I wish the road was just bumpy, instead of the massive boulders that constantly crushed my emotional health. The longer our battle with infertility remained, the lesser able I was to savor the great things and enjoy the fun in life. I had reached the lowest point I had ever been in my life. I was consumed by sadness and had to consciously work on being happy. I was extremely bitter and jealous of any woman with a growing belly or a new baby.
- Severe pre and post-natal anxiety: Fast forward to my pregnancy. Being told after our seventh infertility treatment that we were pregnant was the most incredible feeling I had ever felt. I remember the day I got the call from our nurse like it was yesterday. I could restate all of the details of where I was, what I was wearing, what I was doing; it was a magical moment. Around 20 weeks into my pregnancy, I developed insanely intense prenatal anxiety. I had been through so much heartache and pain to get pregnant that when I finally did, of course I was beyond excited, but also terrified that this dream I was living was going to be taken away from me at any moment. I incessantly worried that I was going to lose our daughter and affirm my fear that this goodness was indeed too good to be true. The anxiety was crippling. Thank goodness for my amazing husband, my incredible friends and my wonderful medical team who filled me with encouragement and always stood by my side no matter how far off the beaten path my anxiety had led me! While I am a worrier by nature and a mom (worrying is innately in a mom’s DNA), I still find myself worrying about my kids all the time, but I can happily and proudly say that I conquered the hormone-induced anxiety once my daughter turned six months.
- Resentment: Even after the two miracle children I feel so lucky to have and to hold everyday, I have to be honest and say that I still get a little resentful when I hear about couples who get pregnant their first month of trying or the “oopsie” that accidentally happened. I wish I didn’t think this way and I am definitely not proud of this, but the “scar tissue” of infertility and the emotional, physical, and financial challenges we faced to have a family might always remain.
And here I shine the light on the good
- Freedom from concern with body image and a renowned love for a squishier mid-section: Prior to our conception journey, I was so healthy that I was unhealthy. I obsessed about and restricted calories relentlessly. I beat my body up with immense amounts of endurance activities. I ensured that I burned off as many calories as I ate during the day. The number of workouts I did in a day was dependent on what I ate the day before. If I had splurged on a dessert the night before, you better believe I would work out twice the next day to “make up for it.”
My infertility diagnosis was hypothalamic amenorrhea; this is a big ole’ fancy word for the absence of a menstrual cycle. Yep, that was me…I went years without naturally having a period. My reproductive endocrinologist believed that my low body weight and the high amount of exercise I engaged in were the culprits to my inability to have a period as well as conceive. When we started our infertility treatments, I was told to not do any activity that raised my heart rate over 140 bpm and to gain weight. Doing this was a complete lifestyle change. I had to change my identity and to this day, I am so fortunate for this. Even though I am about twenty pounds heavier and have a little more dessert than I probably should, I am healthier today than I ever was back when I thought I was being “healthy.” No longer am I obsessed with how thin I am, or how long I can run or ride a bike. It is freeing and lovely to be okay with having a little extra cellulite and a squishier mid-section.
- Appreciation for it all: I had prayed and begged for dirty diapers, sleepless nights, and shirts decorated with spit up for so long that when this dream came true, I was so thankful for all of it. And because of this, I had such a fresh perspective on the grueling newborn nights; nothing could take the smile off my face and the flutters in my heart!
- No more fear: After visiting the infertility clinic about every two days for blood draws and receiving three shots a day for around two years, my fear of needles quickly dissipated. Today I can say that I am no longer fearful of needles, which is huge for me considering I was the girl who had to be “tied” down for a blood draw in the past!
- My lifesaver: I believe that everything happens in your life for a reason. If infertility hadn’t reared it’s ugly head in my life, I would have never gained one of my dearest, best of friends. Shortly after meeting our infertility nurse, my husband said “you two are two peas in a pod!” Our relationship started with paperwork describing my treatment regimen and blossomed into a cherished friendship. To this day, I call her my lifesaver because she has always kept me afloat through the hardest times. I feel incredibly blessed to have her and her family in my life.
- My amazing friends: And speaking of friends, thank goodness for my friends who I appreciate even more today than ever because of how they stuck by me and gave me endless support throughout my battle with infertility. While at the time, none of my friends had gone through infertility or could relate to what I was going through, each of them always reassured me that while they may not always know what to say, they will always be there to listen. They never let me give up, nor gave up on helping me get through the hard times. And poor things, they heard the irrational thoughts, doubts and fears, my anxiety stirred up, but never once complained. Girls, you know who you are—I love you!!
- Two incredible gifts: As I said earlier, I believe that everything happens for a reason and I know the reason we never conceived in any of our six infertility treatments was because we had an angel waiting to come into our lives and bless us with our son. Infertility gave my husband and I two of the best gifts we could have ever asked for, our birth mother and our son.
You are not alone!
I end by hopefully providing support and empowerment to those going through infertility and those who know others going through infertility. For those of you going through infertility, I am so sorry and yes, infertility just plain sucks!. I am not going to tell you “ohhh, it is all part of the plan” because although I am a devout Christian, I’ll be honest in stating that my faith was terribly strained during our bout with infertility. As each cycle failed and the hope in my heart dwindled, I couldn’t bare to hear people tell me “God is in control or this is God’s will” because what I heard them saying at that time was basically that God didn’t want me to have children. While this has proven to be so far from the truth, I was unable to relax in those words while battling the heartbreak associated with repeated failed infertility treatments.
I am also not going to tell you “don’t stress…just relax and you’ll conceive” because I remember people telling me this and I wanted to go buck wild on them. Are you serious; what about going through infertility is relaxing?!?! But, what I will tell you is that you’re not alone. It is important that you deal with it in the way you feel is best, whether that is keeping it to yourself, or sharing it with those in your life. There are so many unpleasant things associated with infertility, but surprisingly (and admittedly very hard to see while in the trenches of negative pregnancy tests and tears), there are also positives that are often recognized following the aftermath. One positive that I had to remind myself of even during the darkest of days was that it is a blessing to have so many options available to help us become moms. Never ever ever ever ever give up and never lose hope…you WILL be a mom—never doubt that!
For those who know people who are going through infertility love them through it. Take extra effort to just listen and be there for them. There is nothing anyone can say to make someone going through infertility feel better or lessen their pain of failing to conceive. Instead, take extra effort to listen and be there for them. Assure them that they can cry to you, lean on you for comfort, and depend on you for a good laugh or a fun night out, is the best way to support a friend going through infertility.