I started early

Myth:  You waited too long to have kids.

When I started the infertility process, I thought I might have a few problems, as I had some gynecological issues throughout my life, but we assumed I was fine. After all, we started trying to have a child when I was in my early twenties. Infertility isn’t something that arrives on your doorstep according to age. It’s not in a box for you to open on your 35th, 40th, 45th birthday.

At 23, I was undergoing an infertility workup. By 25, I was pursuing IVF. Yes, my husband was older, and had a number of issues, but some of the infertility issues were mine, even in the middle of my peak childbearing years.

While infertility is hard at any age, it’s very difficult for those in their 20’s. Your peers are either just starting to have children or not quite ready yet and it’s hard to impress upon them how much this process impacts you. Strangers believe you have time, you just need to wait, but you don’t want to wait anymore than the woman who is trying to conceive in her thirties does.

I was lucky enough to get involved with infertility support groups when I was cycling, but often felt judged, like the other women resented my presence. It took a while to impress upon them that I too deserved to be there, no matter my age.

It’s harder to be younger, because it’s a common belief that you shouldn’t have any issues in your 20’s. When you do share that you have problems, people encourage you to give it time. Time doesn’t always help, and in our case, continuing to wait damaged our chances even more.

Please don’t assume that people waited too long, and that’s why they can’t have children. Many women experience primary ovarian failure at a young age, other people have issues unrelated to age. Starting a family is such a personal issue, and when they start or didn’t start doesn’t always matter in their fertility story.

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childfree and childless

Myth: Living child free is a choice, and they never wanted children.

I used to think this. I didn’t have access to many childfree women in my life. I have an aunt who was a stepmother, her and my uncle chose not to have children together. I have a cousin who decided she didn’t want kids because her husband didn’t want them.

As I reached adulthood, and got married, everyone I knew had kids, or was trying for them. I didn’t know a single woman who didn’t want kids. I know they were out there, but not among my friends and family.

When I first got involved with Resolve, I met some incredible women. Some of them were childfree, a term I didn’t yet understand. I saw them as childless. In my head, I thought, they ended up this way. If they really wanted children, they would have found some way to have them. I meant no disrespect, I just didn’t understand how they came to that decision. I assumed that since they ended up without children, they didn’t want them bad enough in the first place.

I apologize to every childfree woman I’ve judged.

I regret thinking this.

I know this is a thought that crosses some people’s minds when they meet me. There’s no need to explain myself, but I still feel like I should. I want to impress upon the world that I wanted children, desperately. That at one point, my life absolutely revolved around it. I want to tell them that I tried, I did infertility treatment, I started an adoption, I considered ALL my options. I have chosen not to pursue children, but this doesn’t mean I didn’t want them. I did. I love children, I just couldn’t keep trying and failing.

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unsuccessful

MYTH:  People think IVF always works.  Everyone who uses it is successful and has a baby.

We had started our testing and were hopeful for results that showed we just needed a little assistance.

I remember getting the semen analysis results, sitting in an exam room, nervous as can be. Being told by his urologist that we had somewhere between a 0% and 3% chance of getting pregnant on our own.

Ouch.

I was NOT prepared for that news. When we took that information back to our reproductive endocrinologist, he informed us that the results of the SA, paired with my own test results definitively meant that IVF was our only real chance at getting pregnant.

Gulp.

We knew we could not afford to do IVF right away. We had no insurance coverage for anything fertility related and were struggling to pay for office visits and ultrasounds. We switched insurances, waiting 6 months for a waiting period and doing the IUI’s that were covered under the plan. We still had to pay out-of-pocket for the drugs, but it was far reduced from the full cost. Meanwhile we saved for IVF, knowing we may only be able to afford one go at it. We saved, borrowed from friends and got a partial grant to move forward.

It didn’t work.

First I overstimulated and the cycle was canceled. We started again next cycle once I was recovered from the OHSS. I had 21 follicles removed during a painful egg removal where I woke from the anesthetic. We had 12 viable embryos after our pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. We put back two, left the rest to freeze.

The 10 we meant to freeze didn’t make it that far. Neither did the two we put back. I was not pregnant.

It didn’t work.

I was young, with “good” eggs, we had enough of a sample to pull sperm from (a miracle for us) and I did everything I was supposed to as far as aftercare and resting. I went in for my beta, holding out hope, clinging to it desperately.

It was a negative, a failed cycle.

IVF may increase your chances, but it is not a guarantee. As a patient, we know this, but the general public loves to perpetuate the idea that it’s a sure thing.

We continued the process, doing IVF a total of 3 times. All failed. It is not a sure thing. Let me tell you what it is. It is an expensive process. It is physically exhausting. It is emotionally taxing.

IVF may give a patient a chance at attaining pregnancy at a rate higher than they would have by trying to conceive at home, in private, but it’s still just a chance. I’ve done IVF and I have no children to show for it. I was unsuccessful, and while many people have taken this road to parenthood, there are a number of people like me, who did IVF and didn’t get a baby.


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Privacy has a price

Myth: “I don’t need to talk to anyone about this.  It’s private.”

Obviously, I value my privacy, after all, this is a mostly anonymous blog. I am willing to share personal things under a cloak like this, or if I feel my experiences can benefit another. However, I don’t always want to share everything with the world.

In my family growing up, we learned to put on a happy face and let people know we were fine. Sometimes we weren’t, but we knew appearances and people’s perception were important. It was drilled into us that we were a reflection of our parents and shouldn’t share the things that would embarrass them.

I married someone who was much like this. You don’t talk about personal things, medical issues, financial problems and so on. So, when we started trying to conceive, we told no one. We thought it might take us a little while and didn’t want to answer questions. Then, we discovered the true extent of our infertility crisis. We told no one. Through testing and treatment, we did it alone. Absolutely alone, only sharing with the friend who would be our ride home from egg retrievals and embryo transfers.

After my first miscarriage, we told my parents. They were full of platitudes and hurt our feelings indirectly, so we told them no more.  His parents shared with us their beliefs about those who go through infertility and how they are “going against God” so we decided to tell them nothing.

Throughout ultrasounds, overstimulation, IVFs, miscarriages, we told no one. We said nothing. We valued our privacy so much that we cut ourselves off from any support we might have gotten. I believed we were saving ourselves some grief, but looking back, I think we were adding to it.

He didn’t want to admit to testosterone problems and a lack of sperm, for fear of what people would think. I didn’t want to admit to fertility troubles and multiple pregnancy losses for fear of what people would say. So, we told no one.

Eventually, I found Resolve, and we leaned on strangers who understood for support. We finally told people, though not those close to us. Coming out was hard, at the end, and both good and bad things came of it. I won’t say you should tell everyone, but you should tell those who will love and support you.

You’ll need it, doing it alone is so much harder.


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the strong one

Myth: “I can’t let her see how upset I am that this cycle didn’t work.”

This myth is listed under Male Infertility, but I think it applies to each person dealing with infertility. Men often feel the need to be strong, to be the one who will not crumble under disappointment.

I remember going through treatment and being crushed with every failure, devastated by each miscarriage, so disappointed each time another obstacle was placed in the way of parenthood. I fell apart often, being very emotional, in private. My ex never let me see that pain. He kept up the positive attitude, sharing the hope he had with me when I felt like I had none left. He never broke down, never lost his temper, never cried.

At some point, I doubted his desire to be a parent. I figured there was no way he wanted it as much as I did since he never seemed upset when it didn’t happen. I knew in my heart that he was upset, but I couldn’t understand why he didn’t show it to me.

I think bonding over those losses, those failures would have helped us on our path. We often felt disconnected because I was grieving and I thought he was not.

Men are allowed to be weak. I can understand not crying in front of your buddies, or not sharing with your coworkers, I get not wanting to lose the proverbial man card. But, when your woman is crying on the bathroom floor because another cycle has ended in a period, not a baby, you are allowed to cry with her.

It might help her more than you being stoic and strong.


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I wasn’t being punished

Myth: A higher-power is telling you that you should not be a parent.

The myth I want to tackle is the only one I couldn’t convince myself of. I was happy to dispel the misinformation most of my family and friends had about infertility, and adoption for that matter. I had the intelligent comeback to quips about a celebrity’s surrogate or a distant acquaintance’s fertility. I educated myself to know the ins and outs of reproduction. I learned all I could about infertility, causes, treatments, outcomes, but I couldn’t learn this.

My inability to get pregnant without medical intervention, my husband’s severely low sperm count and inability to produce testosterone, my inability to carry a pregnancy to term, these were not punishments. For a long time, I felt like they ALL pointed to the fact that I shouldn’t have children, that God meant for me to stay a childless woman. I took this as retribution for every bad thing I had ever done.

It still stings that my mother said all the things you don’t want to hear after losing a pregnancy. It hurt that my friends thought that if I was meant to be a mother, it would have happened. I’ve forgiven them for this but it’s harder to forgive my own feelings.

This pervasive myth is, for me at least, the hardest to hear.

Infertility is a disease. While some who struggle with it have none, many have diagnoses to show for it. I could rattle off the ones that affected us, but it would take too long. Parenthood isn’t predestined. Whether its medical treatment you pursue, or alternative therapies, or surrogacy or adoption, they are valid paths to parenthood, just like conception that happens without help.

I have chosen not to pursue parenthood. It took a LONG time to decide this. It took failed IVF’s, multiple miscarriages, a failed adoption, and a cancer diagnosis (and subsequent treatment) to come to this decision. Unfortunately, it was one of the puzzle pieces that led to my divorce.

I still have days where I struggle with this. I was the most nurturing maternal young woman you could hope to meet. I longed for a child, and prayed and hoped against hope, but it didn’t happen for me. This wasn’t because I am a bad person, or because God didn’t trust me with a child, or because I was lacking some necessary personality trait.

I just didn’t become a mom. That’s OK. It’s hard, sometimes, but it is OK.

What is infertility?

Learn more about National Infertility Awareness Week

If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, please explore the resources Resolve has to offer. The organization and my work with them was a lifesaver as I went through this process.

downward spiral

I’ve struggled with depression on and off throughout my lifetime.

There are times I feel it lift, a relief swells around me and I have the ability to breathe air deep into the bottom of my lungs. No longer is there a grip around me, I relax, letting go of the weight on my chest.

In other moments, seemingly out of nowhere, my heart races as I’m plagued by anxiety. Tears come in waves, enveloping me entirely and I cannot catch my breath. I hear myself cry, and it’s like hearing another person’s sobs, because the sound that escapes is so foreign, so unlike what I think I sound like.

Sometimes, I can feel that moment slip into another. The crying subsides, to be replaced by an emptiness. Perhaps I cannot cry anymore, but I believe it’s more likely that somewhere inside I decide to stop the torrent of tears. I don’t want to weep, I don’t want to feel weak, or helpless or sad. Instead I try to feel nothing. I don’t think I ever accomplish it.

I can never purge these feelings, the same way I can never empty my mind.

I look back on the happiest days I’ve spent, trying to recreate that feeling. I look ahead, at all the things I’m looking forward to. Yet, neither helps, I still feel stuck and sad and trapped inside myself. I know it’s unhealthy, I know I shouldn’t have to struggle, but I am unable to help myself, and help in other forms is not something I can do, right now.

Luckily, the spiral ends within a few days. I hit the bottom of it and begin the journey back up, a bit at a time. I do the things that heal my heart, I try to find things to make me smile, things to make me enjoy my day a little bit more. I ask those closest to me to listen, to help, to embrace me.

I climb back up and hope the next trip down is off far in the distance.