I was sitting in my OB/GYN’s office waiting to discuss the results of my 20-week ultrasound of our twins. We had just found out we were having a boy and a girl; exactly what I had hoped for. My husband turned to me and said, “We’re pretty lucky,” but before the last word left his mouth I cut him off.
“Well, having to go through a battery of tests and then shelling out a ton of money because we’re ‘unlucky’ says otherwise, but I get what you’re saying.”
Clearly, I wasn’t over the pain of battling infertility. To be honest, I’m not sure if you ever really get over it.
The Ugly Cry
The usual causes of infertility can be broken down into three main categories: male infertility, female infertility, or both/neither. We fell into the latter, being told we were just “unlucky” and had unexplained infertility. Being unlucky for 12 months can really do a number on your mental health.
If you’re under 35, you won’t be recommended for major interventions or testing until you’ve tried to get pregnant for an entire year, because something they never taught us in school (for obvious reasons) is that many things have to go right for you to get pregnant.
The first year of trying was by far the hardest because there were no answers; and when there’s no answers, my mind fills in the gaps with scary thoughts.
By the time I was passed along to a Reproductive Medicine specialist, I had only learned that my tubes weren’t blocked and that the fertility drug Clomid can cause some serious hot flashes! I couldn’t wait to finally get some real answers and some help.
Unfortunately, the only thing we learned for sure is that there was no biological reason we’d been unlucky. We did three rounds of Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), also lovingly known as the “turkey baster method.” Before the third round of IUI, I was contemplating taking a break.
Just making the simple decision to take a break became my first breaking point. I sat on the edge of my bed bawling my eyes out. It was so abundantly clear to my husband that we should take a month off, but I was crying because I honestly didn’t know what to do.
Every decision felt like it was going to make or break my chances of getting pregnant and I couldn’t handle the pressure. I was so tired of it all, but knew I didn’t want to give up.
My husband, as supportive as he was, couldn’t fully grasp what it felt like to be a woman and unable to get pregnant. Why as women, do we feel this innate pressure to be able to get pregnant? We are amazing humans capable of incredible feats, but when faced with the inability to get pregnant, I felt completely useless and obsolete.
And why do we feel like it’s a woman’s fault when men are half the equation? While I wasn’t miserable during infertility, it was one of the most challenging times I’ve ever been through and I cried. I cried lot. I cried after appointments that went poorly, and after appointments that went well. I cried when friends got pregnant and when friends couldn’t get pregnant. I cried for every negative pregnancy test, then lived in “period purgatory” until I finally got my period, and then I cried again.
If it’s possible to cry yourself dry, that’s exactly what I did. By the time I got pregnant, I actually only cried twice; once when I got the call that IVF worked, and then again when I found out one of the twins was a girl. I was all out of tears, even happy ones.
Infertility had numbed me.
I was hopeful and burned so many times I was exhausted. I didn’t even tell anyone I was pregnant until 16 weeks. Those close to me knew I was doing IVF, but for everyone else I wasn’t ready yet to share our excitement. I never told anyone that we were trying to get pregnant, either. I didn’t want the pressure, nor do I think it’s necessary for anyone to know about my sex life, especially when there’s absolutely nothing exciting or romantic about “timed intercourse.”
Because of this, the questions rolled in; “Do you guys want kids?” or “When are you guys going to have kids?” and every variation of that question. I found it helpful to have a “go-to” phrase in these cases. Mine was, “We have a 9-year-old, two Great Danes, and I’m in graduate school, which keeps us busy enough.” I knew it was all well-meaning, and since I had my easy response I didn’t have to worry about going off-script on days I just didn’t feel like dealing with it.
Once I was pregnant with twins, the next round of questions came; “Were you surprised it was twins?” or “Do twins run in your family?” I could have been a jerk about these questions because let’s be honest, people just want to know if you did IVF, but no one will straight up ask that. I just gave them what they wanted and said we did IVF every time I was asked. For starters, I’m not ashamed of it. I take a lot of pride in the effort we put into conceiving our twins. But also, it would end the conversation pretty quickly.
I’m a planner; a researcher; an analyzer. Some may say a “control freak.” Infertility changed all that. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for twins the way infertility did. By the time they were born, I was way more laid back, “go with the flow,” and in a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mode.
During my two years of infertility, I found more things in my life to be thankful for and continually surprised myself with how much adversity I’m able to withstand. I took more baths, talked more with friends, found the healing power of yoga, and spent intentional time outside enjoying beautiful days. I needed these things. It wasn’t always easy to stay positive, but I knew there were a million things that make me happy that don’t involve being pregnant and I should continue to take part in these activities.
I followed the blog Expecting Anything that was a raw and real look inside infertility. The blogger cursed a lot, which I love. In the most unconventional way, I became a fan of The Tonight Show. On nights I had to get up at some insane hour to take a slow injection to the abdomen, I’d watch short clips on my phone to pass the time. Just me and Jimmy Fallon at 2:00 a.m., writing “Thank You Notes.”
Take Care of You
At least half of my friends have struggled with infertility, with a majority of them requiring intervention. Yet despite the numbers, it’s so easy to feel isolated and alone during such a dark time. As much as I didn’t want to talk about it, I chose one friend to share everything with and that was paramount to keeping at least part of my sanity. Your partner is in the trenches with you, but find someone who’s hand you can reach up for when you need some air.
Because I like to control what I can in any situation, it was important for me to know the statistics of what could help my chances. But the reality is that none of it actually matters. Taking care of yourself during infertility is important, not as a means to get pregnant, but because you deserve to be kind to yourself. It can take a long time, and the pain of that time may not simply dissipate with a healthy pregnancy. I didn’t flip a switch once I was pregnant and have all the scars of infertility removed. Those scars run deep.
But I’m so thankful, because it’s those scars that remind me of what I’m capable of and what really matters: finding happiness. Even if it’s not directly in front of you, search for it in every nook and cranny. While you’re in the trenches, don’t lose sight of the happiness around you, your spouse, and all the other aspect of your life that bring you joy.
You deserve every ounce of that joy.
If you find yourself struggling with infertility, read how Everlasting Hope, a ND non-profit, can help support you.