The Business of Hope: Part 5 of 5


It's hard to believe that our first little one is due this week!  I'm so excited to meet her (and evict her) that I can hardly breathe sometimes! (Of course, that also could be because she has her feet firmly planted in my lungs...) 
Because this week is so different from every other, I've also chosen to write about something very different.  
This week I'm posting a 5 part series about my experiences being diagnosed and treated for infertility.  I can't lie - it's personal and somewhat painful to share. But I also feel it's incredibly important to create an open dialogue about the topic (something that is strangely lacking or taboo) and share the experience in the hopes that those who don't know much about it can become more familiar with the journey and those who are going through it are reminded that they're not alone.  
Friends, as you read this, please do so with an open heart and mind.  Please know that the intentions are not for pity or grandstanding but for a greater understanding of something that is still so isolating for so many.

Click Here to Read Infertility, Part 1
Click Here to Read Infertility, Part 2
Click Here to Read Infertility, Part 3 
Click Here to Read Infertility, Part 4

Infertility, Part 5                                                                              

Surrender & Rest 

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water or watching the clouds that float across the sky, is, by no means, a waste of time.” – Sir John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury

We had reached the summer.  I sat in Dr. Shapiro’s office again feeling subdued but at peace with our decision.  I needed a break.

After months of hormone treatments, three IUIs, shots, tests, bloodwork and completely clinical sex, we had run through our options.  The next step was In Vitro Fertilization.  This process would involve a whole new set of hormones, shots, procedures and, ultimately surgery.  I just wasn’t up to it right then.

I felt like a complete and utter basket case much of the time – my life had become entirely about the process and I had lost sight of me.  I dreaded the phone ringing because I didn’t want to talk to friends or family about how things were going.  I found it hard to take care of my body because I was sick much of the time.  Scott and I, while incredibly close in some senses, had also lost a very precious part of our relationship that included spontaneity and passion and joy in just being together.  Every week meant several hours in the car going to and from the clinic with way too much time to think.  And there was a financial toll to pay as well.

That didn’t mean that we had given up on IVF or the pregnancy process.  I just wanted to detox a bit and have a few months of rest.

Dr. Shapiro got up and gave me a huge hug.

“I think rest is a good idea.  And, if it’s what you still want, I’m going to make you a mom,” she said.  “You just tell me when you’re ready.” 

I told her I’d see her in the fall. 

. . . 

While I did catch some static from people regarding taking a break, for the most part, people were incredibly supportive.  They had seen the changes in me too.  And the call was a good one.

Scott and I had a great summer.  Nothing major happened – it was just nice to get back to normal.  We went on picnics with my dad and spent a week in Myrtle Beach with my mom.  I was finally able to get to the gym regularly or go kayaking on a nearby lake while Scott fished… just regular stuff. 

The break also gave us the opportunity to discuss the next steps.  We planned to try IVF in the fall but there was no guarantee it would work.  Our best friends had had great success with it and now have a beautiful little girl who is the light of their lives – but their difficulties were very different from ours.  If the quality of my eggs was compromised, the chances for success were much lower.
I knew from watching my friend go through it, that IVF wasn’t an easy process either and I didn’t want to have to go through it indefinitely if nothing I was producing was viable.  So if it didn’t work, then what?  That brought us to the topic of adoption. 

My husband is adopted, as is one of my best friends, and I have always been a proponent.  It comes with a whole new set of stressors and risks, however, and we decided that the details could be discussed AFTER we moved forward in the fall.  It was nice, though, to finally feel like we were swimming in a direction together instead of just treading water and splashing at any driftwood that floated by. 

IVF and Mysterious Ways

It was the end of summer and we found ourselves in the waiting room at Dr. Shapiro’s office again.  We were the first appointment of the day and we were a little early.  Scott still held my hand.  The plastic ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus still sat next to us.  The light was still bright and the nurses wonderfully warm and cheery.

A week earlier we had come back to reconnect with the doctor and start the In Vitro process.  We had started the weekly blood work, gone over all of the forms and gritty details: the drugs and shots in the belly, the surgery itself and the risks and possible outcomes.  We had decisions we had to make and today was the day we were supposed to be there to make them.  But first there was some paperwork that Dr. Shapiro had to look over.

We heard her enter and greet the nurses.  They had a quick chat and the head nurse handed her our file.  It was quiet for a moment.  And then there was a shriek.

Beautiful Dr. Shapiro, in her stylish outfit, white lab coat and teetering heels rushed around the corner with tears in her eyes.  Scott and I were already on our feet.  I ran over to her and she embraced me.
Scott was grinning.

Against all odds, we had gotten pregnant.  On our own.  No drugs, no procedures.  A healthy egg had somehow found its way into the mix and decided to do its thing.  (I think the threat of getting pulled out via surgery might have encouraged it along).  We had found out 4 days after our first IVF appointment.

We did have our visit with the doctor that day, but the conversation was much different than the one we had anticipated.  Instead of needles and hospitals and potential health risks, it was about hormone supplements (yep – can’t get away from them) and monitoring myself and the baby over the next few months (as I was still high risk).  Though the next couple of months wouldn’t be the “normal pregnancy” that other people knew, the fertility part of the process was over for us (at least for the time being).

. . .

I don’t know why our infertility fight ended up the way it did – why we didn’t have to go through In Vitro.  And there’s no guarantee that, should we decide to try for a second child, we won’t have to go through the process all over (it’s not as though the problems with my physiology disappeared or changed).  But many people aren’t so lucky.

Many will go through round after round of IUIs, hormones and IVF.  Many will suffer through miscarriages – a pain I can’t even begin to imagine.  Some will never realize their dream of bearing children personally.  And strangely, when I think of these people, I sometimes feel guilty that things ended up the way they did for us (yes, I know that’s not entirely rational). 

Since the beginning of the process, I’ve become much more vocal about it.  And as I have, people have come out of the woodwork to talk to me - people who have gone through IVF, are thinking about IVF, or simply have abandoned the journey because of the difficulties or the feedback they’ve gotten.  Almost every one of them says the same thing: that the mess of emotions that comes with being infertile is made worse by the fact that the subject still seems so misunderstood and so weirdly taboo.  And every time I’ve heard that, it’s made me more certain that I needed to share our story. 

Obviously, it’s still going to be different for everyone, but I think the more dialogue there is regarding the topic, the more the feelings of isolation will subside; the more understanding there is, the less pain will be caused by possibly well-intentioned but thoughtless comments.  My goal in writing this is simply to raise awareness and to encourage compassion.  For people to recognize that they are NOT alone or damaged or doing something shameful by pursuing fertility treatments. 

Infertility is a common thing, and we, as a society, should be able to support people going through it, just as we would someone dealing with a disease or a loss - with kindness, empathy, open hearts and words of hope and encouragement.  And maybe a model or two of a woman’s reproductive system. 


A Few Tips on Coping with Infertility

1. Lose the guilt.   Spending any time on thoughts like "I should have started sooner" or "I shouldn't have been on birth control" (or any other such "reasoning") is toxic and counter productive.
 Infertility is a medical issue and placing blame on yourself or your partner is nonsensical. Think about it: would you waste time on this kind of thought process if you had been diagnosed with Lupus or Crohn's?  Of course not.  Infertility is a condition, not a choice.

2. Educate yourself.  Read as much as you can (there are some links at the bottom of the page for support groups and information).  Talk to doctors.  Discuss it with people who've already been through it.  It IS a big scary issue, but it becomes much more manageable when it's not a big scary unknown (not to mention there's a LOT of misinformation out there).  Researching the topic, treatments and potential outcomes gives you back some control. 

3. Find a support system.  Hopefully this starts with your partner (though, if they're not willing to learn more about the issues, you may need to find a different starting point).  Help a friend or family member become educated so that they also know how to properly encourage you (try to find someone that's open minded and empathetic).  If you're not comfortable talking to friends or family, look for support groups (there are a lot of them out there - this is not an uncommon problem) and don't feel weird about it.  Infertility already brings with it a sense of isolation - combat it in any way you can. 

4. Give yourself some grace.  Infertility causes true emotional crisis.  You will find yourself fine one second and a total and complete basket case the next.  That's okay.  Allow yourself that room.  If seeing friends with their kids is difficult, make your excuses and don't feel guilty. Invited to baby shower?  Decline and send a gift.  It's completely reasonable to step away from situations that make dealing with the emotions you're already going through harder.  

5.  Find other things to focus on.  It can be easy to lose yourself while you're going through the fertility process, learning more about it or simply struggling through the emotions.  Don't.  Whether or not you have a child (through adoption, fertility treatments or otherwise), You Are Still You.  You are not defined by being a parent.  Focusing on the non-parental aspects of your personality can provide you with renewed strength and safe harbor in the midst of this emotional storm.  So join a gym, volunteer, take up a new hobby - anything that brings you joy and mental diversion.

A Few Tips for Friends and Family 

1. Show compassion.  Treat someone dealing with infertility as you would someone who is dealing with a death.  Infertility is a death of sorts and it comes with the same wide range of emotions - anger, confusion, emptiness, guilt, grief.  The best thing you can do for someone is to simply say "I'm so sorry.  If there's anything I can do..."  (That said, try to avoid pity.  Pity implies a sort of condescension or judgment that can add additional feelings of guilt or resentment.) 

2. Skip the platitudes.  I'm not sure if there was anything I hated more than hearing "If it's meant to be, it'll happen."  While the intended meaning may be one of peace, the actual message is much more damaging.  Think about it - it sounds like you're saying that if someone is unable to get pregnant than they must not be meant to be a parent.  Considering there are thousands of really lousy, inept, uncaring parents out there who, frankly, don't deserve kids and, conversely, thousands of loving, deserving, kind couples who would give anything to have kids and take care of them, the logic not only doesn't hold water, it's also offensive.  

Furthermore, spouting manufactured cliches seems dangerously close to a brush-off.  If you simply don't know what to say - then say that!  Trust me, the person dealing with infertility doesn't know what to say (or think or feel) either.  

3.  Keep the advice to yourself.  "You just need to stop trying so hard" or "The minute you stop thinking about it, it'll happen" or "You should adopt/try IVF/look at being a foster parent..."  They may be well meaning, but they're not even remotely helpful.  

First of all, "trying so hard" and "thinking about it" are actually NOT causes of infertility.  While stress can be linked to problems getting pregnant, if you've been diagnosed as clinically infertile, there are bigger medical issues at work.  And these statements place the blame directly on the people who are already struggling.  The underlying message is "you're preventing yourself from getting pregnant." Does that sound even slightly uplifting to you?

While discussing options may seem like you're being open-minded, it's actually a very personal decision and one that your friend or family member may not be willing to or ready to discuss.  I promise you, they know about the options, and if they want to discuss them or get your opinions, they will come to you. 

4.  Listen.  Sometimes the best way to be a friend is just to sit quietly with someone and listen without judgment or interjection.  When someone we love is hurting, we all have the overwhelming desire to "fix" the situation.  But the truth is, we can't.  By allowing your friend or family member to simply say what they need to say or feel what they need to feel, you give them back a small sense of control.  You validate their feelings and help them find their own footing again.  There is tremendous power in the ability to listen.  

5.  Remind them they're loved and supported.  Sometimes the best thing in the world is just to hear someone say "Whatever way it happens, you'll be an amazing mom" or "You're an incredible person and you deserve nothing but happiness" or "I know this process is terribly hard on you.  I hope you know I'll support whatever you decide to do."  When my best friend was going in for IVF, I sent her an email just to let her know that I thought she was an amazing person and that I was with her for wherever the journey led.  I didn't comment on what I thought she should do, or that I thought the procedure would be successful... I just stressed that she was strong and beautiful and supported.  She sent back a note almost immediately that read "Simply loved.  That is how you make me feel."  That's what I was going for.

More Reading: 
Infertility, Part 1 
Infertility, Part 2
Infertility, Part 3 
Infertility, Part 4 

Helpful Resources 

RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association
Etiquette for Family & Friends (How to Support): RESOLVE 
Daily Strength, Online Infertility Support Groups
Main Line Fertility  Dr. Deanna Brasile

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
**This article is strictly our experience with infertility and not meant to be read as medical advice or fact.

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