There have been so many times in my life in which I have stuck my foot in my mouth. You have more than likely heard this story before, but if you would’ve asked me 15 years ago about when I was going to have children, I would’ve point blank stated that my plan was to be married by 24 and have a baby by the time I’m 26. I have to laugh while typing this because I think back to how I “knew everything” despite never seeing what it can be like in the real world. To be honest, up until I was in my early 20s, my whole life had been planned out and gone according to plan with only a few bumps along the way. I met my husband randomly one night while out for drinks. It turned out that we both grew up around the same town, went to the same high school, and knew so many of the same people. We were married 2 years after we met. I was working as an RN in an intense but rewarding surgical and trauma ICU. We moved to Cleveland, OH for a year after we were married for his job. We enjoyed our time in Cleveland exploring all the events, food, and drinks that the city had to offer. I had started graduate school and we were doing all the things that we had said we were going to do. We moved back home when the year was up, and I graduated a year later. We finally thought, “Okay, this is it. We are ready to start a family.” I mean I didn’t want to be an “old mom”, but I thought before I turned thirty would be ideal. The thought of having an issue trying to get pregnant never even crossed my mind. At the time, I didn’t know anyone that had any issues. I was in my naive bubble, deep down I knew it, but I was comfortable in there.
First step, I downloaded my ovulation tracking app. I input all my cycle information, and off we went. I was in good spirits for the first six months or so of trying to conceive and didn’t really start to worry that there may be an issue until a year went by. To place a time frame on things to make the story easier to follow along, we started trying in October 2016. By the fall of 2017, I knew it was probably time to seek an expert’s opinion. By this time, I wasn't in such good spirits anymore. I spent many nights frustrated, confused, and tearful. My emotions were all over the place. I went from devastation and sadness to just down right pissed. I was the person who on the outside was loving life and always down for a good time, but on the inside, I was an emotional disaster. To be fair, I was still able to get out of my head at times and have fun, just not as often as before. It was hard to talk to anyone about how I was feeling because, quite honestly, I was embarrassed by all of it. Infertility is also not a topic that I felt comfortable discussing freely with even my closest friends. Feelings of frustration consumed me at times, but I truly felt that it was a crucial stage of the grieving process for me. There were times when I felt like if I would open up social media and see one more pregnancy announcement, or one more person would ask me if I was sure that we “knew how making a baby works”, I was going to lose my ever-loving mind! I told myself that I needed to get to a place in which I stopped comparing my life to others. “Their life is their life, it’s not my life.” I can honestly say that I never fully got there, but I had moments in which I was at peace with things knowing that all of the other aspects of my life had exceeded my expectations.
So, after procrastinating for fear of the unknown, I finally went to see an infertility specialist in the beginning of 2018. I was clueless to all things infertility related. To make a long story a little bit shorter, I spent 2018 taking hormones and going through 4 IUI (intra-uterine insemination) procedures. For those that are wondering what the process of IUI actually is, I will briefly explain. IUI started, for me, by starting a medication, Femera, to help improve egg size and quality/quantity. Then, once I would have at least one “good egg” (determined by ultrasound) during a cycle, I would inject a medication that caused me to ovulate. Once I was ovulating, the fertility clinic would injected my husband’s sperm specimen into my uterus in hopes that it would fertilize the egg. Unfortunately, all four of the procedures throughout the year were unsuccessful. The feelings that I had felt each month for the prior few years had intensified with each failed procedure. I was so confused. I vividly remember being out to dinner with friends after finding out that my 4th IUI had failed. I made many trips to the bathroom that night to pull myself together so that no one could see the sadness in my eyes. Infertility can be such an awkward topic of discussion, so I felt that it was best to just keep these failed procedures to myself. However, this caused me to be in my head quite often. Why am I unable to get pregnant? I try to make good decisions. I try to be nice to people. We were responsible and waited until we were fully prepared for a child. Why is this happening to me? The self-pity was setting in. I never understood what infertility entailed prior to going through it. Honestly, I didn’t even know what I was getting into, and this was probably more of a blessing. I treated 2018 and the year to follow as a business. It was all a check list. Once I failed a stage, I was checking it off and moving onto the next stage, never looking back. Most days, I felt numb. Without even knowing it, I had completely shut off any emotion as a defense mechanism. Now many people who know me personally, know that my life outside of infertility is pretty wonderful. It isn't perfect by any means, but its full of lots of love and support. During this time, I sometimes lost track of this fact. I am telling my story in hopes to help others to know they are not alone. Sadly, so many people experience many of the same experiences that I have experienced. My intention is not for anyone to feel sorry for me, as I know there are things that can happen in this life that are so horrible that I can't even begin to wrap my head around. I have since learned that life is all about perspective, but in these moments, I was sometimes blinded to the world around me, so consumed in my own troubles.
I decided to get a second opinion after it had been a year with the local fertility clinic and we still didn’t have any answers. I went to my second opinion appointment in January 2019 and had an answer immediately. Essentially, my egg quality and quantity were 10 years older than my actual age. This fact, paired with a few other issues, was a very hard pill to swallow; but we finally had the answers we had been waiting for. The doctor kindly let us know that the chances of us ever conceiving and having a healthy embryo on our own were slim. In vitro fertilization (IVF) was essentially our only hope. So, onto the next box on my checklist I went. At first, I didn’t know how I felt about IVF. From a religious standpoint it initially felt almost wrong to me, like I was trying to play God. And to be honest, I don’t know if it was that I struggled with the concept of IVF, or if it was more the fact that my path had led me there. I am saddened that up until now, we have kept our infertility story, specifically IVF, a secret from most people due to fear of judgement and well, we are typically very private people. IVF, in my opinion, is the most amazing and mind blowing scientific and medical advancement; but it can also be a terrible process to have to go through both mentally and physically for a multitude of reasons. After talking with a few friends who have gone through the process as well, I have realized that IVF feels different for everyone. For me, it wasn’t terrible because of the hundreds of injections, the endless blood work and appointments, the periods of the “wait and see”; it was terrible because it made me feel that I had failed at the most amazing human ability that so many others are born with the capability to do. I was unable to produce a child on my own, and this fact alone tore me down mentally. It was heartbreaking, and at times, I truly hated myself. I am so thankful for a few close friends and family that were by my side through the years, but I am most thankful for my husband who, to a fault, always remained positive and optimistic. Without him (and his obvious donation to the cause), it is hard to say if we would have our son today. There were many times I wanted off the roller coaster ride that I never asked to get on in the first place. Even though he wanted a child of his own just as badly as I did, he never pushed me to go through anything that I didn’t want to. He just simply reminded me that no matter what I decided, he would support me, and we would get through it together. I am unsure if many men will be reading this post, but for any partner that goes through this process with their significant other, just being there and showing support speaks volumes.
Today, I have a whole new perspective of IVF than I did when I was deep in the process. It’s hard for me now to say that IVF was terrible because it gave me my proudest accomplishment and the greatest joy of my life. In February 2020, it made me a mom. I have a beautiful, on the go, ornery, fun-loving boy that I would move mountains to protect. Truth be told, I still find myself over a year later, in tears and holding onto him so tight thinking there is no possible way that I will ever regret anything that I went through to be able to hold him in my arms. I am one of the lucky ones that finally saw the light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel. I have a few friends who have not been so lucky and my heart breaks for them. There are no words to describe how grateful I am that IVF was a possibility for us. As cliché as this statement is, one has never reigned truer in my life. Everyone has a different journey when it comes to starting a family, and I have had to learn that. Do I have self-pity at times that I more than likely will never get pregnant on my own? You bet I do. Do I think that women who have an easy time with it should feel guilty for not struggling? Absolutely not! There are so many paths in life to take to get to where you want to go. Sometimes the paths are paved, and sometimes they are the kind of roads that you need to replace your shocks after driving on. Either way, if you can find the positives, although sometimes buried so deep you are sure they aren't there, surviving the journey can be the most rewarding experience.