My Experience With Infertility: 3 Women Share Their Emotional Stories
Many women spend a large part of their teens, 20s and sometimes 30s trying not to get pregnant. So, imagine the disappointment and shock that comes when you kick the pill to the curb and throw caution to the wind, only to realize that it’s a lot harder to conceive than anyone ever told you. In technical terms, you are considered “infertile” when you don’t become pregnant within one year of having regular unprotected sex. And while you might feel alone if you’re struggling with infertility, it’s quite common: 10 to 15 per cent of all couples experience it. The causes range from age to decreased sperm count to chemotherapy to ovulation disorders like polycystic ovarian syndrome. But sometimes there is no reason for infertility at all.
Thankfully, some celebs are using their platforms to benefit others: Chrissy Teigen and Kim Kardashian (amongst others) have openly discussed their difficulties with getting pregnant. Sure, it can be difficult to relate to a Kardashian and a supermodel, who likely don’t struggle with footing the bill of fertility procedures. But whether you yourself are finding it difficult to get pregnant or know someone who is, here, three womens’ emotional experiences with infertility.
My husband and I were together for nine years before getting married. I was in my early 20s when we met, working an unfulfilling job with less than ideal hours. We would get married when I had a better job with more stability and better hours. I went back to school and a year after graduating, we bought a house and a year later we were engaged. We got married nine months later and wanted to start trying for a baby after our honeymoon, which we had planned for nine months later.
I was 32; my husband is a few years older. We began to try like many others: I was tracking my ovulation based on suggestions from my doctor. We tried diligently for three months, then I stared tracking my temp and using ovulation predictor kits—still no luck. I started seeing a naturopath and going for acupuncture approximately five months after we started trying to conceive (TTC). I started supplements and a variety of additional vitamins. After about nine months, I went to my doctor who assured me that sometimes it takes up to a year for some, and this is completely normal.
My doctor referred us to a fertility clinic and I had my first appointment 13 months after our journey had started. It was one of the larger “farm-like” clinics. We were unhappy with their care and switched clinics. When I found out that we might not be able to conceive, I was devastated. Carrying a child, being a mother, is the only thing in life I have ever been certain of. As a child, I said that I would have two children by 25 years old and I would be a single mother if need be—pretty hilarious as I was nowhere near ready for parenthood at 25.
We tried medication, Clomid, for three cycles. My hormones and all other markers seemed great. No major issues seemed present with husband’s specimens. Unexplained infertility was the diagnosis, as we did two IUIs and one vaginal insemination. Then we moved onto injectable medication (my body didn’t respond as well to this as it had to Clomid, but nothing of any real concern). IVF was the most stressful. I had worked a second job to raise funds to afford the treatment and the stakes were much higher. It also provided the most info, which was helpful. It was after my first IVF cycle that evidence came to light to suggest that there may be some concerns with my eggs. I got pregnant, but it was a blighted ovum [fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall but does not develop into an embryo or is an embryo but stops developing]. I found out at seven weeks and miscarried at 12 weeks while on holiday (that’s a whole other story). I ended up in emergency, and then it took a week to complete. It was a pretty horrific experience on many levels. I have never been pregnant before or after this.
When I found out that we might not be able to conceive, I was devastated. Carrying a child, being a mother, is the only thing in life I have ever been certain of.
In my experience, all treatments result in a roller coaster ride. There is the hope and promise that treatment brings. The treatment process itself is stressful for me: going for blood work and ultrasounds and fitting that in with my work schedule; taking meds as prescribed; hormonal changes due to medication, etc. I’m trying to stay positive and keep hope alive, but inevitably I get the signs that my period is coming and then it arrives. It’s a constant up and down with every new cycle.
There’s also a lot of advice that comes with telling people you’re TTC. I think that, generally, people are not mindful that not everyone wants children and not everyone can have children. I’ve had people tell me to adopt (I don’t think I could survive the registration/screening process at this time and my husband is very attached to raising a biological child). I’ve had people tell me to just enjoy my childless freedom. I’ve had people tell my husband and I that we really have to have kids because it’s the greatest—not knowing that we’ve been struggling to start a family. People tell me to throw myself into my role as an aunt (biological and otherwise), and this is great advice, but it doesn’t fill the hole in my heart and my desire to parent a child of my own. People suggest that I should be thankful and grateful for all the great things in my life—often people who have had children themselves. Once again good advice, but not always helpful to hear.
The final stages for us are that we are about to start our second and final round of IVF next cycle. If this is not successful, this will conclude our treatment. I find coping with infertility to be a great strain on my mental health—it’s consuming and it feels like it’s always at the back of my mind. It’s hard to plan and live life because, what if I get pregnant? It feels like you’re living in limbo. It’s been a great strain on my marriage. My husband has made peace with the fact that we may not be parents, but this is more difficult for me. My husband is supportive, but I’m not sure how much more our marriage can withstand. I regularly engage in self-reflection and try to unpack my attachment to being a parent. I’m sure I’ve been influenced by societal norms. I also feel that I’m so driven and stubborn in most areas of my life and I just can’t let this go until I have exhausted all options. Of course, I also feel attached to the idea of loving and nurturing a little human through life.
I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by a strong social support network who are able to have faith when I have lost mine and pick me up when I’m falling apart. It is inspiring to see the strength and support that women can provide to one another—I’m not sure where I’d be without this group of wonderful ladies. To be honest, I’m at a stage where it’s hard for me to see optimism and inspiration in my story. I’m very much in the thick of things and I’m approaching the end of my journey. There is some peace in this, but also desperation.
Rana Florida, CEO Creative Class Group
I grew up in a strict Jordanian family and the thought of pregnancy before marriage was taboo. So when you finally meet the right man and are in a great place in your career, like many women now in their mid-30s, we don’t realize that it’s almost too late. I love my family and I come from a big family, so it was always important for me to have children. But I did not have an easy time getting pregnant; I went through medical testing like a lab rat. My entire family was fertile—I have like 1,590 cousins, my mom had six children and both my parents come from large Jordanian families. So I just assumed pregnancy would not be an issue. I was healthy, ate well and exercised regularly. So after six months, when it didn’t happen, I started to freak out.
I went to a fertility clinic and started, like everyone else, with just hormone therapy, then accelerated to IUIs (intrauterine insemination), then to IVF. We moved and I had to register with a new doctor and clinic and start the lab testing all over again. Even though I had all my medical files (which is a nightmare to try to get), I had to go through it all over again. Same response: Everything looked great; I was generating great eggs. We tested the embryos, we flew my husband’s sperm across the U.S. to lab after lab, but everything came back fine. We were told it was just a numbers game and to keep trying.
I was doing this while still working full time and setting up residence in Miami and New York. I was taking needles and drugs to Australia, Dubai, Japan and Korea. I was setting up monitoring while on the road for business at clinics all over the U.S. TSA officials needed paperwork for needles and liquids. I did several rounds of IVF—fresh and frozen—over 8 years. I tried in Miami and also at NYU, and, again, the testing, records and paperwork all needed to be replicated. I even had to transfer clinics in the middle of a cycle because my father’s cancer had progressed and, in fact, we had to do a transfer the morning of his funeral in Michigan.
Knowing that I might not have a child left me frustrated, annoyed, mad, sad, angry and hopeless. It was very difficult to talk about, because every cycle, everyone would want answers. And, of course, they were all supportive and loving, but after I finally got pregnant, only to find out it was ectopic a few days later, it became too much to have to explain. Some people prefer the support system and I completely understand that. But I found that it was easier to just stay positive and hope for the next round.
Knowing that I might not have a child left me frustrated, annoyed, mad, sad, angry and hopeless. It was very difficult to talk about, because every cycle, everyone would want answers.
It’s a funny thing when you’re trying to get pregnant, you get lots of interesting advice. My mother was convinced it was the flying, and that was the only reason I was not with child. A friend of my husband’s swore by using raw eggs as a lubricant. Other friends suggested new research on white wine and infertility. I was told to try acupuncture, blood-sucking leeches and the ancient village medicinal method of cupping, where they light a match and put cups on your back to create a suction, thus circulating the good blood. But all it does is leave burn marks and welts on your back.
My patience persisted, though. Now, I have a six-month-old baby girl who is so amazing. I’m so in love with her. I’ve completely forgotten about the stress and the nightmare of it all—and pregnancy was no easy ride, five straight months of nausea and vomiting. I lost 10 lbs and had a vanishing twin. But when I hear her laugh every single morning, it’s sheer joy.
If I have any advice, it’s this: know your clinic’s statistics for live-birth rates. You don’t want to spend the time, money and have to take all the hormone drugs if the clinic has low scores. Whether it’s the embryologist, or the doctor, there are clinics who have much more experience. And the birth control pill should have a surgeon general’s warning on it: Don’t use this past the age of 25 if you want to get pregnant, as your viable egg supply is quickly declining.
In today’s modern, busy world—my husband working at a new job, me working in a physically demanding professional environment, buying our first home—we had our hands full. We tried to conceive naturally for a year, but we couldn’t just drop everything, take time off work and jet-set to the land of paradise for a month to “try” all day and all night.
We got referred to a fertility clinic, and the first appointment was methodical, like an orientation: This is where you line up, doors open at 7 a.m., swipe your card, line up here to get your blood work. Next you wait to be called in for your ultrasound, then you pee, then get your internal exam, wait for the doctor, go see the nurse, learn how to inject yourself with these drugs, pay the bill, go to work, go home, take these meds, come back tomorrow.
Welcome to your new life. Say goodbye to mornings of pressing the snooze button, hitting the gym before work, grabbing your morning coffee. Be prepared for lineups as long as Costco’s. Like in the Hunger Games, every man (or in this case, woman) for herself. Don’t bother with mascara (you’re just going to cry it off anyways). Concealer? You’ll learn to wear your new dark under-eye bags loud and proud. Hair done in the morning? You’ll be lucky if you wake up early enough to shower. Hormones are exhausting! Your wardrobe turns over to all things loose so your injection sites don’t get irritated. Fertility appointments happen on weekdays, weekends and stat holidays; there are no exceptions.
Being a young, healthy woman, I had plenty of follicles. Mine just didn’t grow large enough in size to turn into a plump 2 mm-sized egg to fertilize. Being a Type A, hyper-organized individual and a perfectionist, I quickly adapted to my new routine, but I did not adapt well to the hormones. After starting and terminating multiple cycles attempting to grow one, maybe two, perfectly plump eggs, my body only responded in extremes: Either nothing happened at all or I was reacting to the drugs in such a way that I would have ended up like Octomom. This method was obviously not working for me. I became so good at the needles, I didn’t even feel them. It was how they reacted with my brain and emotions that was so uncontrollable and terrifying.
After months of noticing a cyclical pattern of extreme highs and lows (I’m talking glass shattered, hair falling out, screaming, uncontrollable lows), we named this new alter-ego “Ursula.” It took such a toll on my relationship with my husband, our relationship with one another and with friends and family. I forced myself into isolation. In a hormonal Ursula state, I stopped looking at my husband as that loving, supportive, caring person I married. He became that extra body in the house when I wanted to be alone. He became that person who was dealt the better card. He became my punching bag. I wanted him to hurt so he knew how much this process was hurting me. He was the person I tried to blame for all of “this” when I was tired of blaming myself. Yet I was the one who wanted to keep going. I refused to throw in the towel.
I lay awake all night worrying because of the financial and emotional stress I had put on us. I would verbally abuse him without a single logical thought of what I was doing. I was out of control and could not get a grip. I began to hate myself for what I was doing to the one person I care about most. I hated myself for not being able to naturally do what every women is “supposed” to do. I hated the process. I hated how my body reacted to these drugs.
I forced myself into isolation…. I stopped looking at my husband as that loving, supportive, caring person I married. He became that person who was dealt the better card. He became my punching bag. I wanted him to hurt so he knew how much this process was hurting me.
Onto phase two: IVF. Welcome to the strongest dose of hormone injections your body can—or—can’t tolerate. Growing your ovaries from the size of walnuts to the size of grapefruits, resulting in your hip bones expanding, growing as many follicles into eggs as possible and having them removed, which leads to nasty side effects of, in my case, an 18-pound weight gain of water retention over three days and my hair falling out by the next morning. Ursula was back and the hormonal outrages were scarier than ever.
I’ve learned through this process that the fertility community is a private one. Everyone feels some form of shame, violation of privacy and degree of isolation from other females who conceive naturally or succeed in fertility treatments. I hope through telling my story that I can make others who have gone through it not feel so alone and educate those who have made ignorant comments like, “Well, maybe if you eat a burger you’d get pregnant,” to shut the fuck up.
Our first round of IVF didn’t take. Our second one was a success. PREGNANT! Once the reality kicked in, it was the happiest I’ve ever felt in the last 11 months. I loved my husband more than I could have ever imagined. I looked in the mirror for the first time in almost a year and loved the person I saw. “I freaking did it!” Days later, I left the house being the confident, vibrant, happy person I forgot I was. I arrived at the clinic feeling like a champion that morning. The nurse taking my blood that morning made me feel like superwoman. I called my husband to express my excitement for the journey that lay ahead. I was in love with life all over again. Until that afternoon, when a phone call changed everything. It was the heartbreak I never thought I could feel. Game over.
Was this experience worth it? Debatable. Would I have changed anything? Nothing. We can peacefully put our heads down at night content that we know we tried every possible option and kept trying when I promised myself I was done. As a woman, I feel a very in touch with my intuition. Mine tells me that I will, in fact, carry a child and I am meant to be a mother with both non-biological and biological children. Natural pregnancy is just not in the cards for me right now. That’s OK. It’s something I’ve come to terms with because I know it will happen when timing is in our favour.
(This story was originally published on April 26, 2016.)