I typically do not write personal blogs about my own life experiences and myself but since it is National Infertility Awareness Week, I couldn’t help but to use this space and this platform to bring awareness to this topic and share my own personal struggle. So please #listenup! It is all too common to suffer from infertility alone, but I soon realized the longer along I was in my journey and the more I talked about my struggle, the less alone I felt and the more support I had. Once I overcame the denial that there was a problem, the shame that came with not getting pregnant right away and feeling like something was wrong with me, I would bring up the topic to anyone and everyone that would listen to me.
What I learned was, most of the women I spoke to, also struggled with infertility themselves. In fact, the majority of the women I talked to shared that they became pregnant by way of intervention. With 1 in 8 men and or women that suffer from infertility, I often had a lot more in common with the more and more women I spoke to. This actually made me feel some sort of relief that I wasn’t alone and hope knowing something worked for them. It is all too common and as a community of women, we need to share our stories, start asking questions, and start listening to each other. The more we listen, the more we empathize and can support each other. I hope to educate you, inspire you, and bring awareness to the topic for you.
Infertility is not an easy topic to talk about. It takes courage, vulnerability, and strength. Typically infertility is a personal struggle experienced behind closed doors, alone and silent. When you suffer from infertility, you may feel embarrassed, ashamed, broken, fearful, angry, and confused. Not being able to conceive a child is a painful, living nightmare repeated over and over again in a repetitive monthly cycle of emotions. When the average person thinks of infertility, they think of a woman or a couple that does not and cannot have children. But what about the not so talked about secondary infertility sufferers out there? According to the National Survey of Family Growth, more than 1 million couples experience secondary infertility.
According to www.resolve.org, secondary infertility is “defined as the inability to become pregnant, or to carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children. The birth of the first child does not involve any assisted reproductive technologies or fertility medications.” According to www.thebump.com, “a recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) estimates that there are more than 3 million US women with one child that have a difficult time getting pregnant again — or even carrying another baby full-term. The NCHS also estimates that 800,000 women with a child are unable to conceive again after a year of trying.”
Infertility is known to be a disease or condition of the reproductive system often diagnosed after a couple has been trying for a baby for six months (over 35) or one year (under 35) or if the woman has suffered from multiple miscarriages. Who wants to share the most intimate part of a relationship with the rest of the world, especially if there is a problem? No one wants to feel like something is wrong with them and be stigmatized. It’s often not until you are suffering yourself do you want to glean as much as you can from others as well as soak in as much support from them as possible.
We became pregnant with our daughter the first month we tried. At the time I was proud, but now that I’ve been on the other side, I feel a tremendous amount of guilt for my prideful joy of accomplishment. At the time, my husband and I were both in shock of how easy pregnancy seemed to be and we were elated. We were told by family, friends, and doctors that we were not the norm and that most normal couples, on average, can try 6-12 months to get pregnant and it not even be considered a problem. We felt very blessed. I have had friends that suffered from infertility yet I never fully could understand what they were going through. I didn’t know what to say or how to help. IVF seemed so rare and so foreign and something I couldn’t comprehend at the time. Now I know more than a dozen women that are close to me that have undergone IVF, some with failed attempts and some with success. And I was kicking myself for not freezing eggs a decade ago when I was younger and single – just in case.
A little over a year after our daughter was born, we decided to try for a second baby. I went and got my teeth cleaned, had my mammogram, and did all the things I could to prepare my body for another baby. I just assumed that since we got pregnant so quickly the first time, we would get pregnant just as quickly, the second time. I even went out and bought an “I’m Going to Be a Big Sister” tee for our daughter. Granted she was only wearing 12M clothing at the time and the smallest shirt I could find at the store was 24M. I still bought it thinking it would shrink in the wash. Little did I know that 24M would be the closer to the size she would actually need.
The first month went by and it didn’t result in a pregnancy. I was so dumbfounded. What happened? What did we do wrong? I had never received a negative test before and wasn’t sure how to feel. It was normal, right? I kept telling myself that no one gets pregnant the first time. We just got lucky the last time and we were the exception, not the norm. Granted, we did not give it as valiant an effort as we did the first time, we just kind of thought it would happen. We would just have to try harder the next month.
We tried again for five more months. Because of my age, I didn’t want to waste a lot of time so I started going to an acupuncturist once a week and starting to research a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE). I started receiving multiple blood tests and even had a Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) to see if my tubes were open. All of my blood tests and HSG results came back with nothing wrong.
The sixth month we tried, I became pregnant. I miscarried less than a week later and was heartbroken. I decided it was time to see a specialist. Even though I was paying top dollar to have an excellent PPO, my insurance didn’t cover anything infertility related, so the initial consultation alone was over $300, and I was resentful because I was only partly convinced at the time that something was wrong. We had my husband checked, and everything looked great on his end – but the confusing part was that everything looked not only good, but great on my end, too. How could everything look so perfect on paper but not result in a pregnancy? We even had genetic testing done and everything came back normal. The RE basically told me that she couldn’t find any reason why I wasn’t getting pregnant and that her recommendation would be to keep trying on our own for a few months without any intervention.
For every month that passed, I became more and more anxious and felt more and more old, broken, alone, and hopeless. I desperately wanted more children and a sibling for my daughter. Friends, family, and random strangers would ask when we would have another baby almost everywhere we went. Don’t you want her to have a sibling? – they’d ask. A lady ringing up my groceries one day confronted me by basically telling me I was a bad mother and a disservice to my daughter because I wasn’t giving her a sibling. So, even though she was a stranger ringing up my groceries, I told her we’d been trying for quite some time with no success. She said, “JUST RELAX AND STOP TRYING.” If you’ve dealt with infertility of ANY kind, you know these are the last five words you ever want to hear. My last response before walking away was, “Well I can’t stop trying all together, because then I definitely won’t get pregnant.” I left the grocery store in tears, heart pounding, wanting to scream obscenities at the top of my lungs. How dare this woman not only judge me but dive so deeply into my personal life and have no compassion for the pain I was going through.
The next month I started a round of Clomid, hoping all I needed was a boost. This was the most inexpensive and least invasive way I knew to help. I ended up doing two months of Clomid at different doses and still no pregnancy. Both my OB-GYN and my RE were optimistic that because I got pregnant the previous month, that I would get pregnant again. And even though I miscarried, they said, it was a good sign that I got pregnant on my own. My RE and my OB-GYN would say “You’ll get pregnant, we know it, we just don’t know how and we don’t know when.” Due to the cost and the heartache, I stopped getting acupuncture and took a month off. I wasn’t sure I had it in me anymore to keep trying. The worst part is seeing, what felt like, everyone else around me with a big baby bump. Why was it so easy for them? Why them and not me?
Infertility started consuming my life. It was all I thought about and all I talked about. My goal was to take a proactive approach and not a passive one. I wanted answers and the best care possible. I read and read and read. After numerous hours of research and talking with friends that were going through something similar, I decided to get a second opinion from another RE, that was not only personally recommended to me by my radiologist that knew my history with breast cancer, this RE had stellar ratings and the highest IVF results in my area. By this time, I literally had been poked and prodded multiple times and had every blood test and reproductive test imaginable. So after another $300 for a second consultation, I was told that nothing was wrong with me and that we should keep trying on our own for a few months. What?! Did I even have an infertility issue? Was it just a matter of time? Was I just being impatient? Was anything even wrong with me? Was I infertile or not? Was this unexplained infertility? One of the hardest parts was not having anything to blame it on.
I felt so defeated. I felt so helpless and out of control. I prayed and prayed and prayed. Why wasn’t this working when it was so easy the first time? I was a few years older, but did that really make all the difference? Nothing else had changed. I started getting in my own head. Because I had only been trying for six months before the pregnancy/miscarriage, the RE said she couldn’t technically diagnose me with secondary infertility and that trying for as long as we had been, even at our age, was, in fact, normal. Deemed normal or not by doctors, the suffering I struggled with inside was the pure and raw pain of an infertile woman. The constant state of fear that I was living in was real.
My husband reassured me that it would just take some time and thought I was probably just trying to force it and bought me a book titled “The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant.” I had friends telling me, “if it doesn’t happen it wasn’t meant to be.” I would even hear, “well at least you have your daughter. Some women don’t have any kids at all.” Then the guilt and shame would set in on top of my depression and self-loathing. My heart truly breaks for any woman/couple that cannot conceive a child. It only makes secondary infertility that much trickier to experience. But if a person has never suffered from infertility, in my opinion, they cannot truly understand or comprehend what it’s like and often mean well, but say something that only sounds insensitive to the tender heart of the sufferer. This is why it is just as important for women who haven’t struggled with infertility to also ask questions. What do you say to a family member or friend that is suffering? I’ll be honest, I didn’t know until I was one of them.
My life felt like it was falling apart. My stress levels were on fire. I was a rollar coaster of emotions. The first week of the month was a waiting period (pun intended), the second week was filled with anxiety because there is nothing worse than when you’ve been trying for a while and it’s ovulation week. Ovulation week is so stressful. Then you wait, again, for close to two weeks. Testing day is probably the day I dreaded the most each and every month. Negative. Negative. Negative. This is when the sobbing takes over for a few days. You can barely get out of bed. You feel like the world is over. Then you go though it all again, month after month. Not only does infertility take an emotional toll, it takes a physical toll, and a financial toll.
It has now been one year since we started trying. It’s been a challenging year to say the least filled with degustation and uncertainty. So finally after getting multiple consent forms notarized, and more tests done (including one test that was not even needed and was ordered incorrectly), and spending a lot more money, time, and endless effort, my husband and I decided to try an Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). My RE said she’d try three rounds before having to proceed with IVF. The first month I did everything perfectly. By way of ultrasound confirmation, I had plenty of eggs (enough where my doctor told me I had the amount of eggs of a woman 10 years younger than me), I was getting acupuncture again on a weekly basis, and I was on a very strict fertility boosting diet. I was more optimistic than I had been in months. This had to work, right? No. My RE told me that I had “a perfect cycle” but to me, a perfect cycle would have ended up in a pregnancy, but it didn’t.
I keep telling myself that every month is a new month filled with new opportunity. Each month is filled with short breath of optimism and hope and a brief time where you feel like “this is going to be the month.” You know no other way but to keep praying and keep trying. Each month is a new chapter and a new beginning. The story isn’t done being written and the next chapter is about to begin.
One Year Later: As you know, after the second month of intervention we became pregnant. Was it the IUI or did we get pregnant naturally? We will never know. We are just overjoyed about our miracle baby boy that was born in November 2016. He turns 5 months old tomorrow and is healthy and happy. Not a day goes by where I don’t remember my struggle and how fortunate we are to have a happy ending to our story. There is hope.
If you struggle with infertility, please seek resources in your area. Please visit http://www.resolve.org/national-infertility-awareness-week/home-page.html for more information. There is support out there for you. You just need to allow yourself to let go and seek help.