Infertility

Unexpected Inquiries

Well, the day finally came. My four-year-old asked the dreaded question. Nothing to do with body parts or sex. My husband and I have always used anatomically correct terminology with her and have welcomed any question. However, until last week, I was hoping to have glossed over this particular topic. In fact, I had just had a conversation with my supervisor about her not inquiring. “Mom, when are we going to have more babies in this house? When I grow up, who will be with you and daddy? I want more than three people to live in this house.” GULP!

As much as I wanted to rush through this conversation, I knew I had to slow it way down to address all of her questions, and more importantly, acknowledge her and join with her in her sadness—along with mine. My daughter was my husband’s and my second IVF attempt and our chances with ICSI were only about 15%. I had always dreamed of a big family and longed for lots of children. Nevertheless, my body chose another path and after a grueling 8-month health deterioration, at the age of 38, I had to have a hysterectomy.

Back to my four-year-old, through our tears, I explained that mommy and daddy were only able to have one baby—which just so happened to be the best gift ever! I explained how she was conceived. I had many times before, but I believe her processing and the timing of her questions were different this time.  I said that an amazing doctor took one of my eggs and one of her daddy’s sperm and put them together to create an embryo and then implanted that embryo back in my uterus where she grew and grew and grew until her birth. She asked why we couldn’t do that again because she wanted to play with a baby. She knew only women could carry babies but didn’t understand why this woman could not. I spoke with her about my surgery, etc.

We spoke about having friends to play with and share toys. I do not know what all she was able to process and fully understand. I’ve always spoken to her as if she understood all that I was saying. Babies are born with all the emotions that adults have. They just can’t verbalize and express them the way adults can. And sometimes even adults can’t fully express our emotions in an appropriate or sound way. I’m grateful that my daughter was able to share her hurt and pain and ask the hard questions. I’m equally reminded how my infertility struggles and journey has never gone away. It’s always there. There are times when I’m able to go about my day and a thought pops up and it has no affect. There are times, however, when a wave of sadness washes over me. It’s in those times I must grieve and recognize this void and longing that will never be filled. Do those emotions mean I’m ungrateful for my daughter? Absolutely not! Quite the opposite. By going to and visiting that dark place, I gain my strength back. As Brené Brown writes, “When we acknowledge our pain, hurt, and grief, we get our power back.”  I, for one, would rather eat and tackle my pain than be eaten and tackled by it.

If you struggle or have struggled with infertility, reach out and talk about your pain and experience to a friend or therapist. Tell your story to a trusted person who uses both of their ears. Find someone who does not judge, shame, pretend to have all the answers, or wants to ‘fix’ you. You are not broken. Your body is not a defect. If you need help conveying your feelings or story in a way where you feel validated, heard, and/or understood, I’d love to work with you, and have you own what’s rightfully yours. Infertility is such a unique suffering and struggle. I encourage you to walk this journey with someone and not in isolation.

Inside The World Of Infertility (Part II)

Like death or any hard topic, it may be difficult to talk with someone who is going through a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infertility. We tend to go blank when we can’t ‘fix’ a problem. Here are some ways to be helpful and not so helpful during this painful grief and loss for someone.What would be helpful to say or do:

  1. Listen
  2. Say, “I’ve been praying or thinking about you.”
  3. “Hi.”
  4. “You’re not alone.”
  5. “I’m here.”
  6. “Here is my favorite meal.” Make sure it is in a dish or foil pan so they will not have to keep up with washing/returning the dish/bowl.

What would NOT be helpful to say or do:

  1. “There’s always adoption”.
  2. “You still have time”.
  3. “You’re still young”.
  4. “It will happen”.
  5. “You can always try again.” Or “Are you going to try for another?”
  6. “You’d be such a good mom/dad”.
  7. “Let’s pass all of our estrogen and eggs to ________.”
  8. One up the person’s grief story.
  9. “I remember when we couldn’t get pregnant and they couldn’t figure it out. It would have been better for them to have said we were infertile.” (All the while they have children or even if they do not, see #8).
  10. “I was reading about women’s eggs greatly reducing at 40.”
  11. “Everything happens for a reason.”
  12. “If it’s meant to be.”
  13. “At least you have 1. Be grateful for that!”

Believe it or not, I heard every one of these phrases, and occasionally, still do. Before spending time with someone who has lost a baby, had a miscarriage, is going through IVF, or is struggling with infertility, become educated. Ask yourself, "Is what I’m about to say helpful and sensitive to the other person?" This is an issue that cannot be 'fixed' or 'changed.'If you would like to discover ways to talk to a family member or friend about their grief and loss around infertility, miscarriage, or stillbirth, reach out for help. Having an experienced professional help bring direction to your emotions as you express to your friend or family member that you are with them through this part of their journey would empower you to strengthen your bond with them. Also, processing through your own guilt, grief, and shame will help you to become stronger more well balanced individual.

Inside The World Of Infertility (Part I)

April 21st begins Infertility Awareness Week. For some of us, 1 in 8 to be exact, this reminder is more than a week long. It’s a daily, monthly, yearly, and lifetime struggle of awareness that our bodies aren’t doing what we need it to do. Few things are more heartbreaking and devastating to a family’s dream than getting a call from the doctor telling you that you and your spouse are unable to have a baby without IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). It’s a deep pain that hits the core and while, over time we manage, the wound never goes away. There are constant reminders, insensitive comments, and endless personal questions that come with infertility. Not to mention the financial investment, the physical and emotional pain, and the stress of timing the injections, blood work, pills, and implantation to the minute. It literally is a direct science!I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. My husband and I were celebrating our one-year anniversary in Dakota Beach. We had been gifted with a condo and were thoroughly enjoying the nice breeze and view of the ocean from our room when my doctor called me.  He said, “Melissa, your tests came back along with your husband’s. I hate these phone calls. I’m sorry to say that you won’t be able to conceive without the help of IVF. And even with IVF, the numbers don’t look good.” Instantly I stopped thinking and breathing. My mind was going a million miles a minute and shut down all at the same time. I apologized and asked him to repeat what he just said. He simplified and said, “These test results are showing us why you’re not getting pregnant.” He then gave me a name of an IVF specialist and encouraged me to call right away.Infertility does not discriminate. It happens to anyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and SES. It even happens to therapists! Infertility can’t be wished away. It’s a grief and a pain like no other. And although everyone who struggles with infertility has their own story, feelings, and emotions surrounding events that only happen to them, there’s a special bond between those who share an IVF and/or infertility story.So, what do you do if you or a loved one has just learned you have infertility or continue to struggle with your empty womb or the waiting?

  • Listen to your physician. If they are not supportive and empathetic, find one who is. You need a good compassionate doctor who will walk with you in this journey.
  • Be kind to yourself. Take time to grieve. You have suffered a traumatic loss. Surround yourself with nonjudgmental and non-fixer people. You need to be able to express your feelings and be validated—not judged or fixed. Infertility is not a problem that can be solved. Some people believe that if IVF works and you get pregnant and have a baby—poof, you’re fixed! All is well. This is not the case. Yes, it is a happy and amazing miracle. But there are so many emotions,feelings, and hidden pains that need addressing.
  • Remember you are NOT broken. Just because there’s a part that may be labelled ‘dysfunctional’ does not mean you or your personhood is.
  • Find a therapist who will help you with coping skills to alleviate your suffering. Not take away the pain, but help in lessening it, help you in your grief, work through unmet expectations, and help manage anxiety if you are going through the IVF process. Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out for help.

Holiday Grief

The holidays are fast approaching. Turkey, family, trees and tinsel. “Children laughing, people clapping, meeting smile after smile...” That is, everyone who isn’t grieving, of course. The holidays are the hardest for those mourning the loss of a loved one, a shattered marriage, or a miscarriage. While everyone’s singing their “FA LA LAs”, people who are hurting just want lots of silent nights so they're not reminded of how unhappy they truly are. Or even worse, having to pretend they have moved on or ‘gotten over’ their baby dreams and Hallmark movie carriage ride romance.How will you nurture your grieving soul this holiday season? First and foremost, be gentle and kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to not celebrate. Yes, you read that right. If putting the tree up only feels like daggers to your heart, leave it down this year. If seeing Baby Jesus with his new mom displayed in a nativity set pierces your empty womb, keep them tucked away this year. Caring for your soul is more important than keeping up with traditions. Whatever does not promote healing and nurturing, leave it in its box this year. It could also mean that you need to leave a chair open and/or a place set for mom or dad to remind you of their love amid their physical absence. Light a candle or start a new tradition. Put the tree up in a new space or room and change up the lights and/or ornaments. Have a jammie day and stay in to watch movies or bake.Grief manifests itself in so many ways. While there is no right or wrong way to handle grief during the holidays, give yourself permission to decide what’s right for you as well as to change your mind. If you said ‘yes’ to a party or a dinner, and then you feel a wave of pain or sorrow hit, call and cancel if that is what you need to do. Reach out if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes volunteering can help your spirits. However, make sure staying busy isn’t a way to leave your grief unattended. I would encourage you to find a therapist to help you process your grief if this is your first holiday season alone without a spouse or partner, divorced, or childless. Surround yourself with people who love you and care about you and your well-being MORE than family traditions. After all, we are in the Season of Love, and that includes loving yourself.

Infertility Awareness Week

 You’ve dreamed and planned for it for years. Maybe even discussed and picked out baby names. You’re finally in a place where you want to be a mom and dad. 6 months goes by, then a year. All around, friends are getting pregnant. Except you. The ovulating kits keep showing you’re ready. Time continues to race by with every month telling you that you aren’t pregnant. You and your partner go to the doctor for some tests. The phone rings. Life stands still. In one brief moment, your dreams are dashed and you and your partner have now just become a statistic. 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility. 1 in 8.This week is Infertility Awareness Week. For some, this is not just one week of an awareness. For some, it’s living, breathing, and facing every single day that your body isn’t doing what it’s ‘supposed’ to do. There is so much ambiguity wrapped around infertility: A disappointing hope. The anxiety of longing to prepare for a birthday, not knowing if a funeral service for broken dreams will need to be attended. Will IVF work? Wrestling with questions of faith, God, morality, and endless emotions.What do you do if you or a loved one faces infertility, miscarriage, or a still-birth?

  • Reach out for support via an infertility support group or a compassionate listening friend. Remember that you are not alone. 1 in 8 struggles with infertility.
  • Give yourself permission to grieve and wrestle with your emotions. If going to a child’s birthday party, attending church on Mother’s Day, or being at a baby’s baptism is too much and too hard, give yourself permission to stay home. Nurture your soul. Allow your heart the space it needs.
  • Seek a therapist who will provide you with the safe space you need to grieve, work through questions, be okay and honest with your desires, and/or help you create a next-step plan for your journey.

*A great book about one woman’s journey through her infertility is: “Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility” by Elizabeth Hagan.