It seems like every time you turn around it’s National [fill-in-the-blank] Awareness Day/Week/Month. But this is one that is very personal and important to me. In fact, I started to plan this series of posts right when I first began this blog several months ago.
Last year during National Infertility Awareness Week, my husband wrote an incredible blog post sharing our infertility story. It chronicles our six-year journey to have a family, including six rounds of fertility treatments, a miscarriage and ultimately two of the most incredible blessings I could have ever asked for. He provides a lot of great resources and information about various medications and procedures we tried. My telling of the story is going to focus on the emotional side, the side of the story that was unique to me.
My journey was lonely. At the time, I didn’t realize how many women struggled with infertility. No one talked about it. It wasn’t until after we’d had our children that we realized how many others had gone through this struggle before us. That is why I want to share my story. I want women who are struggling with infertility to know that you are not alone! And I want women who don’t struggle with infertility to be sensitive to the possibility that a dear friend or relative might be facing fertility challenges.
Attempt Number 1 = Success!
I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) at 23, before Matt and I were married and long before we wanted to start a family. Infertility rates for women with PCOS are extremely high, but before the age of 35 fertility treatments can be very successful and many women with PCOS can conceive just by taking oral medication. That was the story with our daughter; it took us nearly two years of trying, but we did eventually did get pregnant naturally. It was a frustrating and somewhat discouraging process, but we were still young and I was finishing up graduate school, so my biological clock hadn’t been ticking too loudly yet.
Attempt Number 2 = Not So Much
When Avery was about two and half, we decided it was time to start trying to have a second child. My OB/GYN immediately prescribed clomid and timed intercourse. While totally less invasive that future treatments we would try, the hormones made me feel crazy. And let me tell you, there is nothing that sucks the romance out of your marriage faster than timed intercourse. After two months of trying, I was tired of the weight gain and the acne (which took their own toll on my self-esteem), feeling irritable all of the time, and the complete lack of romance in our marriage. I needed a break and I could sense that Matt did too. It was December, so we decided that we would try again after the holidays.
But in January, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. So we decided that we would hold off on additional rounds of hormone treatments until after her surgery and initial rounds of treatment since I was flying back and forth to Boston and providing emotional support as best I could from Texas.
Attempt Number 3 = Miscarriage
When we started trying again, we picked up right where we left off with the clomid and this time there was a pretty little plus sign on that stick! But it wasn’t meant to be, and two days later I miscarried. I found myself in a really difficult place emotionally. My OB/GYN told me that miscarriages are incredibly common (some statistics suggest that 1 in 4 women will have a miscarriage in their lifetime), but it felt different for me. Many women who have a miscarriage go on to successfully conceive again within a few months, but I knew that wouldn’t be my story because I had struggled for years with infertility.
I felt like a failure. I am a woman; my body was created to grow tiny humans, but I couldn’t. I grieved the loss of a child that no one ever knew except me, and I dwelled in a despair that I may never have another child. Matt struggled to understand why I couldn’t just be delighted with the beautiful, amazing, smart, funny and sassy child we already had together, which made me feel emotionally distant from him and compounded my feelings of guilt that I couldn’t be happy with the family God had already blessed me with. I couldn’t explain this need I had inside me; I knew in my heart that our family wasn’t complete. To complicate my own emotional matters, the weekend that I miscarried, my brother-in-law and his wife announced to the family that they were expecting their first child. I was so consumed by my own misery that I couldn’t be happy for them. I found myself avoiding family gatherings, Facebook and Instagram, because I simply couldn’t face their joy. In hindsight I can see that the situation was awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved, but at the time I simply couldn’t see beyond my own feelings of failure and discontentment.
We knew that the next step was a fertility specialist, but we decided to hold off for a few months because of a family vacation we had planned and a speaking engagement I had scheduled in Australia.
Attempt Number 4 = Success!
As many of you know, the next steps in fertility treatments are more invasive and more expensive. This time I was giving myself daily injections of hormones, which meant adding weight gain, breakouts and irritability to the feelings of frustration, humiliation, guilt and despair I felt on a daily basis. The effort to keep my emotions in check at work and in front of my family was starting to take its toll and I felt like I was at the end of my rope.
I will never forget the feeling I had or where I was standing (on the median of University Drive trying to cross four lanes of traffic) when the nurse from the fertility clinic called me with the good news. I was one of the lucky ones; it only took us two rounds to conceive our son.
In a couple of days, I will share Part 2 of my National Infertility Awareness Week series: What I Want You to Know. In the meantime, if you are in the middle of your infertility journey or have come through the other side like my husband and I have, please find a way to share your story with someone this week. It is so important for us to provide a safe place for women to talk about the extreme emotional challenges of infertility.