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Infertility

Navigating and healing from the aftermath of infertility.

Connect with Rebekah on Instagram for inspiring content focused on being childfree by chance at @RebekahReclaimed.

How long did you spend trying to get pregnant? Did you try any medical interventions?

We tried for four years. We started trying on our own and changed our lifestyle so that both of us would be as healthy as possible. I have PCOS and do not ovulate on my own. Even after a 50 lb weight loss, I was still not having cycles unless medicated.
 
We went to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) when I was 33 because we didn’t want to waste any time. We started out doing a few cycles of Femara with trigger shots and timed intercourse. After that wasn’t successful, we moved onto IUI’s with medications. After several IUI’s, we then moved onto IVF. Our first round of IVF was “successful,” but ended in an early miscarriage. I waited 6 months before doing another round and that round was not successful either.
 

How did you know you were ready to stop trying?

After our second round of IVF, I just told myself that everything was fine and that I didn’t need to deal with my grief. I pretended that life was perfect and just went back to business as usual. That led to me having what I call a “mental break.” I began having panic attacks almost daily. I wasn’t able to function at all. It’s like my body was there but my brain wasn’t. I was lucky enough to have an amazing therapist who did very intensive work to help me through this time.
 
My husband and I decided to take a year off completely from treatments. During that year, we traveled and had so much fun!  We made career changes and several updates to our home. We finally got back to being us! The thought of going back down the infertility road now just makes me anxious. I truly love my life the way it is and I don’t feel like anything is missing the way that I once did. When faced with the decision to try again, I just don’t feel the drive to go there at all.
 

What resources, support, or other things were most helpful in making the decision to stop trying and to help you work through grief? 

My therapist said something that really changed my perspective on what my life should look like. She said:

Imagine you spend months and months planning a trip to Bali. You read all the books on Bali, you’ve bought the perfect clothes, your itinerary is planned, etc. Bali is the only thing your heart is set on and no one can tell you that any other place would be just as amazing.

Now, let’s say your plane has to make an emergency stop in Alaska. Due to the weather conditions there, you cannot get out for at least 1-2 weeks. This is definitely not Bali. You didn’t read the books on Alaska!  You didn’t pack for Alaska!  Frantically, you have to decide.

Do you make this the adventure of a life time or do you waste that precious time and only think about Bali?

Perhaps it’s because I’m so in love with travel, I don’t know, but this analogy hit home for me. My husband and I were so disconnected. Our relationship was so strained. I was constantly on hormones, constantly obsessed with what I was putting in my body or what I wasn’t. I was stressed from getting from one appointment to the next on top of working and being exhausted, and not sleeping well, when all he had to do was jizz in a cup a few times. I was full of anxiety, I was angry, I felt slighted. He became only a means to a baby to me and I took a lot of that out on him.

So taking some time off and reconnecting gave me the chance to see that I already had all that I ever needed. I have the best husband ever, family and friends who love me, the ability to travel and read and do volunteer work. That is all something I’ll never take for granted again because I feel like I came very close to potentially losing it all.

How long after you stopped trying did the shift from mostly grief to mostly at peace with your situation happen?

It took about a good solid year. The grief will never completely go away. I think there will always be the, “what if,” factor. Baby announcements can still shake me up but I don’t carry it constantly anymore. Now I genuinely am happy for those who become mothers and just want the best for them and wish them well. 

Are there changes you made in your life that you wouldn’t have made if you had become a parent? 

I believe so. I openly speak out about infertility now. I am very open about my journey and I like to give the perspective of what life can look like when your plan B becomes your plan A. It ain’t all that bad! I am more aware of how I am growing and I do things that I love and make time for myself and my husband above all else.

What are the aspects you appreciate most about your childfree life?

I have a lot of freedom. My husband and I live life on our own terms and I think we are able to really hone in on aspects of our marriage and ourselves that we want to work on. We plan to do a lot more travel and many more updates to our historic home. I am singing again and I did not have time to do something I am so passionate about when I was going through treatments. I am not sure I would have the time and energy to do a lot of the things I do and plan to do if I had had children. 

Are there aspects of your identity you had to shift in the transition to a childfree life?

Absolutely. I always just assumed I would become a mom. I think it wasn’t ever really presented to me as an option in life. As a little girl, one of my first memories was getting a doll at Christmas that would wet its diaper after you fed her a bottle. I was over the moon! I mean didn’t all little girls grow up to become mommies?  It sure feels that way!  It was like becoming a mother was just fulfilling my destiny.

I don’t think I ever thought there was any other life for me. So now I have to change what that life looks like. Sometimes it’s challenging because I feel like the odd man out. Most of my female friends have little ones or plan to. So what kind of organically happens is we see each other less and less and we have less in common to chat about. So that has been challenging. But, I have found wonderful friends online and in real life who are childfree by chance (for many different reasons). I enjoy our conversations and time together so much. We really help each other grow and cheer each other on, much the way I am sure most new moms do.

If you could wave a magic wand and have a baby in your arms, would you do it? Or do you prefer your current life?

I prefer my current life. This is a question that I have asked myself a lot over the past 6 months or so. I can honestly say that I don’t even think about my future as a mother anymore, unless you count my 3 cats and new puppy 🙂

What advice do you have for women who have just made the decision to give up their dream of parenting? 

You can absolutely have an amazing and fulfilling life after infertility. It’s scary because it looks different. It’s scary because it can feel lonely. It’s scary because society puts a whole lot of shit on you that you didn’t ask for. But so is motherhood.

We don’t always get to choose which path life takes us, but we do get to choose whether or not we want to rock it and make it the best it can be. I choose to boldly rock this new life and just keep making me the best me that I can. I hope somewhere along the way I can help someone see that this choice is a real choice, and can be a very beautiful and meaningful one, as well. 

Interested in sharing your childfree by chance story through Chasing Creation? Drop me a line through my contact page.

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It’s strange to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. Sure, over the past few years I’ve become a little rounder, have a few more wrinkles, a stomach littered with surgery scars. But I’m talking about something deeper. The experience of seeing your reflection and thinking who the hell is that?

This started a few years ago when chronic pain and infertility invaded my life. I’ve always had terrible periods but the pain moved from a few days a month to constant. I was also feeling betrayed by a body that left me with a negative pregnancy test every month. I was surrounded by health and vibrancy. Pregnancy announcements from friends whose bodies so easily complied. Those who could plan travel without having to ensure the dates didn’t align with their period. So breezy, so carefree.

I was in a therapy session when I realized how much anger I had toward my body. I heard myself saying things like: it’s broken, it doesn’t work, I hate how it looks, I hate how it feels, it can’t do the thing it was evolutionarily designed to do, it hurts all the time. That’s when I noticed the word I kept using, “it”.

My body had morphed from being part of me into a separate entity. Some thing I was shackled to that was intent on torturing me. This thing that kept finding new ways to bury me in grief.

Memories of my surgical photos appeared. A uterus covered in fibroids. Endometriosis splattered across my insides. Black cysts filling my ovaries.

And I felt compassion.

Compassion for myself. For my body that’s working so hard, despite disease. A body that allows me to enjoy my hobbies, pursue my passions, touch the ones I love, see the beauty of nature, listen to music, taste amazing food, travel.

I decided to stop being at war with my body. To start seeing it as part of me again. To learn how to feel comfortable and at peace in my skin.

I’m not quite there yet but I am finding ways to learn to love my body again. I thought I’d share a few with you in case this is something you’re struggling with too.

1. Check your negative self-talk.

Replace negative thoughts about your body with messages of love and appreciation. If you find yourself focusing on what your body can’t do, identify five things it allows you to do or does well. Guided meditation can be a great way to help you flip the script. A quick Google search will lead you to free meditations focused on loving your body, some even focus specifically on chronic illness.

2. Listen to what your body needs.

Are you feeling tired? Having a bad pain day? Do what you can to give your body what it’s asking for. Maybe you need more sleep, a long bath, a new heating pad, a day to rest, or to modify your diet. Instead of pushing through pain and fatigue, give your body what it needs to heal.

3. Find ways to pamper your body.

Book a massage or manicure. If funds are tight, find a friend or partner, look up some videos and learn how to give each other a kick-ass massage, free of charge. Have scented bath salts, oils, and candles on hand for relaxing baths. Indulge in your favorite food or dessert. Whatever pampering looks like to you, do that.

4. Reconnect with your sexuality.

Infertility and chronic illness can wreak havoc on your sexuality, and I’m not just talking about sex with someone else. I’m talking about your ability to feel sensual, connected to your sexual energy. If this is something you’ve lost, start identifying ways to reignite that spark.

Buy a new vibrator. Find some good erotica. Buy some sexy underwear or a satin robe. Explore your body. Listen to Prince. Focus on how things feel instead of how you look. Find ways to feel less stress and more in touch with your creativity. I recommend the book Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. If you’re still feeling stuck, consider seeing a sex therapist.

5. Get moving.

Find time each day to move your body. This could be anything from a walk or gentle yoga to strength training or dancing. Whatever it is, make sure you’re using your body every day. Feeling your blood flowing and your heart pumping is an immediate way to feel connected to your body.

6. Keep working toward pain relief.

If your infertility was caused by chronic illness, you may still be living with daily pain. While it may not be realistic to think you will ever be completely pain-free, make sure you’re doing what you can to minimize it. Do your research and become an advocate for your health. Doctors often dismiss women’s pain so you may have to find a doctor who specialized in your illness. Keep trying.

If you are experiencing pain during sex or have pelvic pain, consider seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist. I also love the book Heal Pelvic Pain by Amy Stein, which outlines a program you can implement at home. I also recommend episode 81: Pain and Illness of the Unf*ck Your Brain podcast on how your experience of pain is impacted by your thoughts about it, and how thought work can help.

7. Make your outward expression match your inner identity.

When you’re going through something as traumatic as infertility, your appearance may not be a top priority. For me, I found myself throwing on whatever jeans and t-shirt were clean, rarely wore makeup, and opted for a quick ponytail. Not that any of those things are bad, but I’ve always had a lot of fun dressing up and was sad to lose that part of my identity. For me, changing my hair, makeup and wardrobe is a fun way to express who I am to the world.

The past few months I’ve been inspired to reinvent my outward expression by playing with my appearance. I’ve gone platinum, started growing out my hair, bought a few fun summer outfits, got a new tattoo, and have been trying out new makeup looks.

This idea of outward expression is going to look different for everyone so there are no rules here. Think about what aspects of your appearance sound fun to play with and start experimenting.

Infertility sucks. But you’re past that now.

It’s time to forgive your body. It’s time to practice self-love and self-compassion. It’s time to get your swagger back.

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you get there, so when you see your reflection in the mirror you recognize the beautiful babe staring back at you. The one deserving of love. The one who has survived trauma. The one who is resilient. The one who is strong. You.

How about you? Did infertility make you feel disconnected from your body? How have you been working to heal your relationship with your body? What’s worked for you?

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This Mother’s Day, let’s hold space for those who are grieving.

You can show online support for those who are feeling blue this Mother’s Day through the Blue Mother’s Day campaign in two ways:

  • Use the hashtag #BlueMothersDay along with loving, supportive content; or with your story to raise awareness.
  • Draw a blue heart on your hand and post the photo on your social media channels. You can also download the #BlueMothersDay graphic to use on Facebook and Twitter.

Click here to download the #BlueMothersDay blue heart image.

Why is Mother’s Day a trigger for grief?

Mother’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to show appreciation for the mothers or mother figures in your life, but it can also be a heartbreaking day for many. There are a lot of different circumstances that can cause grief on Mother’s day, including:

  • Mothers who have lost children
  • Those who have had a miscarriage
  • Those experiencing infertility
  • Those who are childless not by choice
  • Mothers who have given children up for adoption
  • Those who have lost their mothers
  • Children who have strained relationships with their mothers
  • Mothers who have strained relationships with their children

For those who are grieving, Mother’s Day is a reminder of what they don’t have or have lost.

Why Blue Mother’s Day?

Blue Mother’s Day is an opportunity to support those who are feeling “blue” on Mother’s Day. From strangers wishing them a “Happy Mother’s Day” to social media streams filled with reminders of their loss, grief triggers seem unavoidable.

By participating in the Blue Mother’s Day Campaign, you can hold space for those who are grieving, including yourself. What does it mean to “hold space”? According to Adam Brady at the Chopra Center:

Holding space is a conscious act of being present, open, allowing, and protective of what another needs in each moment…To hold means to embrace or encircle someone or something in your grasp. Physically, this might take the form of a hug or the cradling of a hand in yours. But you can also embrace someone non-physically with your intention, attention and energy.

Space refers to the immediate environment you are sharing with another. This, too, may be the physical space of a room, but more frequently refers to the mental and emotional environment you are in with others. Put together, these words embody the principle of surrounding the environment with your awareness in a way that provides comfort and compassion for all.

By participating in the Blue Mother’s Day campaign, you can hold “digital” space by contributing online content that supports those who are grieving. Imagine the difference in experience if those who are grieving could use one hashtag to find messages of support, love and acceptance on Mother’s Day.

How to Participate

You can show online support for those who are feeling blue this Mother’s Day through the Blue Mother’s Day campaign in two ways:

  • Use the hashtag #BlueMothersDay along with loving, supportive content; or with your story to raise awareness.
  • Draw a blue heart on your hand and post the photo on your social media channels. You can also download the #BlueMothersDay graphic to use on Facebook and Twitter. 

Click here to download the #BlueMothersDay blue heart image.

Here are some other ways you can support those who are grieving on Mother’s Day:

Does Blue Mother’s Day take away from Mother’s Day?

Blue Mother’s Day isn’t meant to take away from Mother’s Day or imply that it shouldn’t be celebrated. Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to show appreciation for the mothers or mother figures in your life. By all means, celebrate!

The purpose of this campaign is to recognize that not everyone finds joy or feels like celebrating on Mother’s Day. For those who are grieving, it creates a separate online space to acknowledge that grief, easily find messages of love and support, and create community.

Add your voice by participating online this Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 12, 2019.

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I used to be infertile. According to Jean and Michael Carter, authors of Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again, “you can stop being infertile even if you are not fertile.” That “when a couple is no longer ‘trying to get pregnant’, they are no longer infertile. They no longer have the medical problem called infertility.”

I have a lot of books I want to review but I’m starting with this one because it played a monumental role in helping me see a path forward after infertility.

Who should read it?

Anyone who feels they are reaching their limit for how much they are willing to sacrifice in trying to create a baby. Whether that’s time, money, physical or mental health, or energy. Maybe you have run out of options for fertility treatments or aren’t willing or able to pursue the options available, but the alternative of a childless life is terrifying to you. Maybe you stopped trying to get pregnant or gave up on your dream of motherhood a long time ago but find that you can’t move past your grief, and infertility and childlessness is still dominating your identity. Read this book.

While the main audience for this book is those who are infertile, it also applies to those who are childless by circumstance. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, check out Jody Day’s list of “50 Ways to Not be a Mother.”

Lastly, this is a great read for those who want to support a loved one who is moving from infertility to a life without children and you’re not sure how to help or don’t understand why they are making the decision to stop trying. Read this book.

The gist.

The main theme of Sweet Grapes is that “you may be able to transform yourself from childless to childfree, from a life defined by what you don’t have to a life defined by the opportunities that living without children can bring…there is hope that your infertility crisis can be resolved and you can get on with your life, even if you don’t end up with a child.”

If you’re in the midst of infertility and are holding on to the hope of a baby, this idea probably terrifies you. Those of us who end our infertility journeys broken and babyless are the worst nightmares of those who are still trying. In the midst of infertility, you need to believe the odds are in your favor. However, if you are getting to a stopping point you absolutely need a new dream, something new to hope for. The authors propose that the “decision to live childfree is not giving up hope but finding hope once again, the hope that you can have a good life without children.”

Sounds easy, right? It’s not. The authors recognize that “infertility is one of the most traumatic experiences you can endure.” The transition from childless to childfree is hard and your loss and grief won’t vanish completely, but you can create a new vision for a rich and satisfying life that is waiting for you, even if it looks different than the one you originally planned.

In the book, the authors propose a four step process to move from childless to childfree that looks like this:

  1. You begin with a need for something better, and a hope that you can find joy in life again. Also important at the beginning is an awareness that choice is possible, that childfree is possible.
  2. You search yourself for any decision blockers and work to reduce or eliminate them. It is necessary to grieve for and accept the loss of your fertility before you can work on living childfree. But even with acceptance of the loss, there are other blockers that could obstruct your decision making.
  3. Then you do the real work of making a choice. You communicate, and through communication you search out ways to redefine your life according to the potential gains to be found in living without children. You try on the idea of living childfree and see how it fits.
  4. If you find that living childfree feels right, you commit to it by registering the decision and living out the benefits that childfree offers.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is it includes an amazing section on step two: working through grief. This was helpful for me because so many resources on grief specifically focus on death. “Infertility, however, is what one psychologist calls a deathless death. What makes infertility so painful is that there are so many focuses for grief: every trip to the doctor, every pregnant woman we see, every month when the period begins.”

I appreciated that the authors included so much information on moving through grief because to me it seems this is the most challenging aspect of coming to terms with being childless. The book includes a few different grief models outlined by psychologists Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and John Schneider, and how they apply to an infertility crisis specifically. They also talk about the importance of actively working through grief instead of getting stuck in it, and how this can make all the difference in making peace with your situation.

For example, denial, in Schneider’s model, comes from the defense mechanisms of holding on or letting go.

Holding on is a strategy by which people attempt to cope with a loss either by ignoring it or by trying to direct their energies in another direction. Letting go…is a strategy through which people try to cope with their loss by minimizing that loss as much as possible. They convince themselves that what they have lost is not important anyway…Both holding on and letting go are normal responses to pain of a loss or a potential loss. It hurts and we want to limit the hurt. However, when people rely too much on these coping mechanisms, they become stagnated in this phase, unable to take their grief any further. The problem with this is that while we are holding on or letting go, grief cannot run its beneficial course. You can’t grieve as long as you deny that there is a loss.

The book also talks about two concepts that many in the infertility world might say they no longer have: choice and control. In Jean and Michael’s opinion, living childfree requires making a conscious choice. The alternative choice is trying the next treatment or taking steps to adopt. Those who don’t choose anything becoming what they refer to as drifters, “people who don’t decide to stop treatment, they just don’t bother to go the the doctor any more. They don’t decide not to adopt, they just never get around to it…they don’t decide to live childfree; they remain childless.”

So what does it mean to choose to live childfree? “It means embracing your childlessness as a positive state, as an opportunity for growth, as a path to greater achievement and happiness. It means no longer defining yourself in terms of what you don’t have. It means changing failure into success, negative into positive. It means reclaiming the energy that allows you to be yourself again.” It’s passages like this that make me love this book so much. Wisdom from those who moved past their infertility crisis to create a rich, beautiful life without children.

Other topics in Sweet Grapes include: dealing with regret, how to prepare for not having children in a pronatalist society, finding new outlets for your maternal instinct, planning for old age, what reactions you can expect from family and friends, adoption, and redefining your identity.

The pros.

The authors, Jean and Michael Carter, do a fantastic job of incorporating their own story as well as research studies, relevant theories, and advice. The writing duo is a married couple who experienced infertility and, when their journey didn’t end with a babe in arms, decided to move to plan B by embracing the benefits of not having children.

This book was written in 1998 so it was ahead of its time and one of the first to focus on how to move forward when infertility doesn’t end with a baby. While there are more current books out there, this one is unique in how it frames the concept of transitioning from childless to childfree.

I bought this book while I was planning a second IVF round, but didn’t read it then because the idea terrified me. The thought of getting to the end of my infertility journey without being a mom was too painful for me to consider. But, as my endometriosis pain got worse and it became clear that another IVF round would do too much harm to my body, this book helped me make the difficult decision to stop treatment. It was a godsend because it gave me hope, a new vision for a happy and fulfilled life without children.

If you are still trying to get pregnant but are realizing you may be reaching the limits of what you can sacrifice in hope of a baby, read this book.

The cons.

This book was written in 1998. Because of that, it does feel dated at times. The terminology, societal context, research, and statistics all reflect that. I would love to see an updated version.

My second issue with the book is it’s very repetitive and a bit disorganized. The authors have a few ideas they obviously loved and keep repeating them with slightly different wording throughout the book. A few more rounds of edits and reorganizing some of the content would have improved readability.

Favorite quotes.

“Instead of being unsuccessful parents-to-be, we were very successful nonparents. Failure was no longer the major theme of our lives.”

 

“According to this medical definition, infertility is a very specific and limited condition. It doesn’t mean that your marriage is infertile or that your life is infertile.”

 

“We realized that choosing to live childfree is just as ‘successful’ a way of resolving an infertility crisis as having a biological child or adopting. It is not a failure or resignation to fate, instead, it is an affirmation of who we are and of our ability to live full, productive, happy lives because of who we are. We discovered that we don’t need children to be a family.”

 

“There is more than one way to ‘cure’ infertility. One is by becoming fertile, having a child of your own genetic structure. That’s the cure we all hope for during our infertility workup and treatment. But there is another cure, too: by no longer wanting to get pregnant. One way to effect this second cure is by putting your dreams of a biological child behind you and deciding to adopt. Another way is by discovering that for you, life without children can be rich and satisfying, and thus you no longer want to have children.”

 

“There is no equation in which three romantic dinners equal one wet kiss on cheek. On the other hand, if there are some benefits to living without children, why not take advantage of them?”

 

“I am learning that I am limited as a person only as far as I allow myself to be, that my happiness does not depend on having children. I must let go of what I do not have and concentrate on what I can become.”

Have you read Sweet Grapes: How to Stop Being Infertile and Start Living Again? What did you think?

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Month 35: Broken

I’m laying on the couch, in too much pain to move. I’ve been here for two days. The skin under my heating pad is scalded bright red from using temps too high for too long, but it’s the only thing that helps. Any pain relief I had from surgery is gone. I’m starting to really hate my body. It’s broken. I’m broken.

I’ve been free falling the past two months, plummeting into a deep, numbing, depression. I cry daily, unexpectedly. I’m alone most of the time and avoid talking to anyone. It’s difficult to get out of bed. I don’t recognize myself.

I ruminate on whether I can get through another IVF cycle. I picture the syringes full of hormones being pumped into my body. Hormones that feed the disease and amplify the pain. Can I really let myself hope again? Sacrifice more of my time, my energy, my body? Hell, I’m barely getting through each day right now. Every mundane task feels like an unconquerable feat.

The alternative, a childless life, is equally terrifying.

Month 39: Reproductive Endocrinologist, Take 2

As soon as I walk into the office, I panic. I try to give my information to the receptionist but my voice and hands are shaking, tears are forming. I finish with the front desk and take a seat in the waiting room. I text my friend. Waiting at the RE’s and am almost in tears. I don’t know if I can do this. She responds with the exact words I need to hear. You don’t have to do this. You can leave. I don’t leave but appreciate the reminder that I’m here voluntarily, to get information.

A few minutes later I’m sitting across from the RE. “I have all the info from your previous clinic. Let’s talk about your options” he says. I tell him how much pain I’m in, about my surgery. “All my doctors have told me the IVF meds don’t have much impact on endo and fibroids, but my pain got so much worse after my last cycle” I say. “Well, of course the hormones are going to impact your endometriosis. If you decide to do another round of IVF, plan on having another surgery right after” he responds.

Month 40: Therapy

I’m at my therapist’s. For the last few weeks I’ve been leaning towards not doing another IVF cycle, but it feels so final. It’s my last chance at pregnancy. I’ve also scheduled an appointment with an endo specialist to try to figure out why I’m still in so much pain. “The RE wants me to repeat all of the bloodwork and do another HSG before I make my decision. Part of me wants to see where my AMH and FSH levels are. My body is such a mess, I bet they’re really bad. If they are, it would help me feel better about not doing another IVF cycle, because the chances would be so low of it working.”

She was quiet for a minute, then said, “Whenever I hear you talk about another cycle, you always sound like you’re looking for a reason to not go through with it. If you decide not to do it, you don’t have to justify it to anyone.”

This touched on a common theme of our sessions – pregnancy at any cost. Although I hadn’t been Mormon in almost a decade, the teachings around motherhood still rattled around in my head: You are a sacred vessel. Your purpose is to bring children into the world. You will never know happiness unless you have children. Everything else you accomplish is meaningless. Logically, I knew this wasn’t true. But it was so ingrained that it was hard to dismiss entirely.

It was also bringing up a whole mess of weird emotions, like guilt and shame. I felt guilty that I was ready to give up. Guilt that my parents and inlaws wouldn’t have grandkids by me. That I couldn’t give my nieces and nephews cousins. That I couldn’t make my husband a dad. Shame that my body is broken. That I’m not strong enough to keep trying.

And one question haunts me: how much do I have to sacrifice to prove to everyone, including myself, how badly I want to be a mom? Have I done enough? Have I sacrificed enough of my time, my mental health, my body, that no one can doubt how badly I wanted it?

“Sometimes, I just feel like I can’t do it anymore. Like I can’t sacrifice my health for this minuscule chance that a second IVF round will work,” I say.

“That doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s okay to put your health first,” she says.

This triggers something in me and I start sobbing uncontrollably, primally. She’s the first person to say this to me. To tell me that it’s okay for me to stop, that I’ve given everything I’m willing to give, and that’s okay. It’s okay that I want my health and my life back more than I want to hold onto the sliver of hope that I can get pregnant. And that this doesn’t make a bad person.

Month 41: Endo Specialist, Take 2

It’s official. I want my life back more than I want to hold onto the dream of a baby. I have a consultation with another endometriosis specialist and this time it’s different. I am ready to make a decision based on my health alone, fertility be damned.

I tell the doctor my history – the surgeries, the IVF cycle, the recurrence of symptoms.

“Why did they do IVF on you?” he asks, irritation in his voice. “Between the endo, fibroids and polyps, that was irresponsible. No wonder you feel terrible. I have no doubt it was the fertility drugs that put you in my office today.”

I’m a little taken aback because every other doctor has been dismissive of my questions about how much damage the fertility drugs could do.

“I want to do whatever I can to feel as healthy as possible. What do you recommend?”

Month 42: Surgery #3

I’ve been trying to get pregnant for 42 months. 42 cycles of hope and despair. I’ve seen hundreds of negative pregnancy tests during that time. Today, I take my last one.

I’m in an exam room being prepped for surgery. “Any chance you could be pregnant?” asks the nurse. “No” I reply. “Well, we’ll need a urine sample to be sure.” She hands me the little plastic cup and I head into the bathroom. I can’t believe this is how it ends. It seems like a cruel, sick, joke. I think of how excited, how full of hope I was that first month trying, running out of the bathroom waving the little plastic stick around while I waited for the little + sign to form.

This is the last pregnancy test I’ll ever take.

A few minutes later my husband is stroking my hand, kissing me on the forehead. I blow him a kiss and tell him I love him, and am whisked away to the operating room for my hysterectomy.

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Month 22: You Have Endometriosis

“Tell me about your periods.”

I’m at my first appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist. “They’re heavy, I have spotting for a week before, a week after and sometimes mid-cycle. My cramps and lower back pain are so bad during my period it’s debilitating.” I’ve told this same thing to dozens of doctors over the past 20 years but they all seem unconcerned and uninterested.

“It sounds like you have endometriosis.”

Wait, what? This is new. Endometriosis had come up as a potential diagnosis every time I Googled my symptoms over the years but I always assumed there was no way I could have it. It sounded serious and I was sure a doctor would have told me by now if it was a possibility.

Five minutes later, the doctor is inserting the ultrasound wand into me, checking my uterus and ovaries. “Yep” she said, “see these brown spots that look like chocolate chips in your ovaries? These are cysts filled with old blood. You definitely have endometriosis. You’ve got less than a 1% chance of getting pregnant on your own, but 60% with IVF.” She is cold and austere as she relates this life-changing information. Come on, you could at least fake compassion.

I spend the night crying and Googling endometriosis. Terrified and trying to process that I now not only have a reason for my infertility but also the debilitating pain I’d lived with for decades that was always dismissed by doctors. I was at a new crossroads: pursue IVF or find the best treatment for my endometriosis.

Month 29: Surgery #2

It’s twelve days before Christmas and I’m lying in my mom’s guest bed. I’m in my hometown, over 2,000 miles from my own bed. Six small incisions litter my stomach. The one beneath my belly button has a small tube running from my pelvic cavity to a small plastic ball housed in a tiny little bag slung over my shoulder. I’m grateful for this little tube because it’s delivering liquid pain medication directly into my body where the surgeon has cut into organs and tissue.

I’ve spent the last seven months reading medical journals, books, blogs, posts in Facebook groups, and anything else I can find to learn everything I can about endometriosis, treatment options and how they affect fertility. It’s taken seven months because it’s so damn hard to find accurate information.

It turns out the best most obgyns can offer is birth control (not a great option if you’re trying to get pregnant), Lupron (a nasty drug with horrid side effects), or ablation (an ineffective surgery that puts women into a revolving door of more surgeries when symptoms inevitably come back). After months of research I finally zeroed in on the current gold standard for endo treatment: excision surgery, a procedure practiced by only a handful of specialty surgeons. It has the lowest rates of recurrence, and the top surgeons tout the fact that many of their previously infertile patients are pregnant within a year of surgery. Two birds with one stone.

I’ve had consultations with three specialists in the past few months but ended up choosing a doctor in my hometown that was in-network with my insurance (something that proved to have the rarity of a unicorn among excision surgeons). When I awoke from surgery yesterday my husband showed me internal photos and a video of the surgeon explaining what he found and what he removed. A fibroid the size of a lemon along with some smaller ones from my uterus. Polyps growing inside my uterus. Endometriomas (cysts caused by endo) from both ovaries. Adhesions (sticky scar tissue) that were gluing my left ovary to my uterus. Endometriosis from numerous places in my pelvic area. No wonder I’m not pregnant. My insides are a mess.

I am in pain but am feeling something more terrible and oh-so-dangerous for infertiles: hope. I am so full of hope.

Month 33: IVF

I’m staring out the window as trees sway back and forth in the severe winds that are consuming our yard. Neighbors are losing power and I’m ruminating on the thousands of dollars worth of drugs in my fridge. An IVF cycle is timed like a perfectly choreographed dance and there is little room for misstep. Including keeping medications at an exact temperature. What will I do if my fridge loses power? My mind has been running through every scenario where this could get messed up. I’m one of the unheard of lucky bastards that has full insurance for IVF. Still, it’s not lost on me that this is a $25,000 cycle and if I can’t stay in sync, I’ve blown my chance. Maybe my last chance.

My alarm buzzes. 7:00pm. I take out my new bible, a spreadsheet meticulously detailing times and doses for my morning and night shots. I set out tiny bottles and place a syringe next to each. I double check the dosage, fill the first syringe, and slowly stab the needle into my belly. I repeat each step with the next tiny bottle.

My stomach is tender from the dozens of needles it’s seen this week. Every day it swells a little more as the injected hormones trick my ovaries into expanding follicles to the size of grapes. The hope is that each follicle will contain an egg. A microscopic egg. An invisible speck holding my last chance of pregnancy.

A few days later I’m at the fertility clinic, talking to the anesthesiologist. Everything has been building to this moment. The consultations, testing, blood draws, ultrasounds, anxiety, calls to the insurance company, emails to my nurse, shots in my stomach, swollen ovaries and belly, have all been for this. The egg retrieval. In a few minutes, I’ll be in a medically induced slumber while a doctor puts a needle into my vagina, through my vaginal wall and up into my ovaries to collect whatever eggs are there.

I’m so nervous and when I’m nervous, I start talking. “Have you ever had a case where the guy wasn’t able to produce a sperm sample?” I think of the room next to ours where countless men have been given a cup and porn and are asked to stay there until the cup has something in it. For me, everything is medical and done to me. For the guys, they’re asked to come on demand in a sterile medical clinic. It sounds beyond awkward.

But this is an indispensable piece of the choreographed cycle. A fresh sample has to be produced at this moment in order to inseminate those newly harvested eggs. An inability to perform could mess up the entire cycle. “No, but we’ve had a few who were so nervous they left for a bit to calm down and then came back.” I thought about my Mormon upbringing, and the staunch no-porn ever policy that permeated. “Do you ever have religious guys who won’t go into the room?” The nurse thinks this over. “Yeah, we did have one guy who made us take all the magazines and videos out before he would go in.” She’s quiet for a minute then adds, “We also had a guy who stole all of the magazines when he left, just walked right out with a huge stack. I wonder if it made his wife second guess trying to have a baby with him.” I was mulling this over as the anesthesia began to kick in and everything faded to black.

When I come to, I’m in a recovery room wearing a plush bathrobe and slippers. My husband is there holding my hand. My mind is fuzzy but within seconds hones in on the only thing in the world I care about right now, “How many eggs did we get?” I ask the nurse. “Seven”, she answers. Seven. Not great. Could be worse, but not great.

The next day, an embryo starring version of the Hunger Games begins as I eagerly await the calls from my nurse letting me know how many embryos are left.

Day 1: “Good news, all seven of the eggs fertilized!” Yay! I wasn’t expecting this because it’s typical for a good percentage of eggs to not fertilize. Off to a fantastic start.

Day 3: “All seven are still going.” Holy shit! 100%! We must make the healthiest, most amazing embryos ever. I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

Day 6: “Five of the embryos have dropped off. We just have two left to send for genetic testing.” Oh, man. This is not good. This is really not good. Please, please, please, just let me have at least one that makes it.

Day 14: “Neither of the embryos are viable.” I’m shaking and tears are running in streams down my face. No. No! This can’t be happening.

It’s been almost three years since I started trying to get pregnant. I’ve had a lot of excruciating moments but never once considered that my journey could end without a baby. I have IVF benefits, I’m under 35, my doctor seemed sure of success. IVF was the thing you did that worked after everything else failed. It’s a procedure so meticulously designed, so medically exact, so invasive, so expensive, so state of the art, of course it will work. But it didn’t.

All the consultations, diagnostic testing, blood draws, ultrasounds, anxiety, calls to the insurance company, emails to my nurse, shots in my stomach, swollen ovaries and belly, needle through the vagina, emotional mayhem, all of that was going to be worth it because it would end with a baby in my arms. My baby. But my uterus is empty. I’m actually in worse shape than when I started because I had put so much hope into this procedure, was so sure that it would work, that my heart is now empty too. My body is broken. My mind is broken. My heart is broken. That enrapturing little tease, hope, has fled.

Continued at My Infertility Story – Part III

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