What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
My mother got her period when she was 9. At 13, I still hadn’t had my first period. That’s fairly uncommon. Women tend to get their periods close to the age their mothers do. We thought something was amiss and went to a doctor. Without doing anything too invasive, he couldn’t find anything wrong and just assured us that while women usually get their periods when their mothers did, it wasn’t a hard and fast rule. That winter, I did get my period. From day one it was painful, long, and unpredictable. When I was 16, I had a period that did not quit. Although my periods commonly lasted 7-9 days, at day 9, I was still bleeding, in fact, I was bleeding heavily and was worried I was losing blood. We went to my doctor who sent me to a gynecologist. To stop the bleeding, he put me on 3 birth control pills a day. 4 days later I went back and then started the testing. After 2 weeks of x-rays and various tests, I found out I had PCOS or Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. Happy to know what was wrong, he then went through the litany of issues I would have, might already have, and could have in the future. He told me about the hormone issues, he told me about the weight issues, he told me that I’d have to be on the pill to keep things in check, and then the final blow… it would be next to impossible for me to have my own kids – my case was just too severe. At 16 I had learned that the very thing that made me a woman, was dysfunctional and broken. This was the early 90’s and back then, a case like mine was a death-sentence for pregnancy. Very quickly, I got used to the idea of adoption. I made my peace with it, I had to.
How has it made your life worse? How has it made your life better?
My PCOS made my periods incredibly painful and still makes me struggle with my weight. I use the term “my” intentionally as not every woman with PCOS shows the same issues or has the same struggles. I’ve known women with PCOS were thin as a rail. I’ve met women with PCOS whose periods were fine, but who found themselves in ER whenever their cysts burst - something I’ve only experienced once, thankfully. I went through 6 different kinds of pills before I found one that worked for me. “Worked” meant minimal pain, minimal side-effects, and as close to a regular length of time as possible. Not every pill will work for every woman. Of course, the elephant in the room – infertility and not being able to conceive my own child was crushing. All that being said, PCOS gave me a kind of perspective that other women might not have. This part of my body doesn’t work right – but what does? What about my body is functioning and functioning well? It meant that I didn’t criticize myself as some other women did. My body is larger than most and I’ll never be a size 8 no matter how many sit-ups I do or how many green juices I drink. My hormones - even on the pill - will only cooperate so far. This isn’t something that can be healed or fixed. However, there is a kind of freedom in this knowledge.
When & how did you realize that you were going to be able to carry on after infertility/miscarriage?
When I met my now husband and we knew things were serious and that we were going to be married, he suggested that it was time I see another gynecologist and get a second option. After all, it had been ten+ years and things always change in the medical field. He was right. I went to a different gynecologist and was told that, of course I could have kids! What antiquated thinking… it might take some time, but I had a uterus and I could have kids. To be honest, I had spent such a long time being convinced that I couldn’t, I really didn’t believe him. I was skeptical, incredibly so. I think my skepticism changed when, without trying, without any intervention, I got pregnant. I was more shocked than anything. I was on the pill, I had PCOS, we hadn’t even started trying and somehow, I was pregnant? It seemed impossible. Of course, mother nature had other plans and I miscarried only 5 weeks in. We weren’t ready for a kid yet, and while yes, it was sad, it was also astounding and gave me a hope that I never thought I would have. If I could get pregnant on the pill, with PCOS, without even trying, then when we were ready and were really trying, we just might get what we wanted.
What have you learned through this experience?
That there are women worse off than I ever was. I can’t tell you how many times I went to the fertility clinic before work, at the crack of dawn, for my various tests to see women who were struggling in ways I never did. Some were younger, thinner, and healthier than I was, but worst off. Some were older and so determined that you could feel the desperation for a family rolling off of them. But the woman I’ll never forget was young Hispanic woman with her husband and mother in tow. My husband I were there at 8AM and we didn’t leave until sometime after 11. The three were still there. Together, through bits of conversations, and watching the woman’s mother going in and out of the labs we realized what was going on… whatever the issue with the young woman, she was categorically unable to get pregnant or keep a child. Her 50-something year old mother, instead, was going to carry for her. Our experience was never that extreme and never would be. Perspective is a powerful thing when going through something like this.
What do you hold on to for hope/courage/strength on your bad days?
When we were going through it all, my Doctor, my Husband, and the extraordinary nurses got me through it. These doctors and nurses have seen it all. More than anything, the exhaustion of getting blood tested every other morning, taking pills that made you loopy, pills that made you tired, being told your levels weren’t quite there yet, that was the hardest part. My husband was amazing through all this - he listened to every complaint and was there to hold my hand or come with me if I asked him to. Bust mostly, he was there to assure me that no matter what the outcome, we still had each other. I can happily say my bad days are behind me, though. All I need to do is look at my son and bad days don’t exist.
How do you feel about your experience with infertility on your good days?
They’re all good days now. Did it take an entire year of testing before we could even start trying? Yes. Did it then take two years of further testing, medications, shots, labs visits, specialists, and try after try? Yes. But we got what we wanted and not everyone can say that. As I said, perspective is a powerful thing.
In three words describe yourself before/during/after miscarriage (in miscarriage specific situations)?
Before = skeptical
During = amazed
After = hopeful
In what ways has your experience with infertility/miscarriage changed you as a person?
I was never the healthy kid. A severe asthmatic as a child, I was in and out of hospitals weekly. I was allergic to everything. My immune system was shot thanks to the antiquated asthma medications I had to take as a child. I got everything that was going around… colds, coughs, fevers, I even got whooping cough in college. I was used to my body not functioning properly. Adding PCOS to list felt par for the course. My body does not cooperate. My body does not work like the average woman’s. My body aches, wheezes, and bleeds a little more than most. My body also carried my son to term, though. My body nursed him. My body, with all its issues and problems, satisfies my husband. And for all its faults, my body has seen me through everything and gives me a perspective that other woman might not have. I have a stupid quote that I love, it’s the kind of quote you see on a mug and chuckle at, “Thigh gaps are for Flamingos, eat the cupcake.” It’s difficult to be vain and happy in my body. It’s not a size 10, hell it’s not a size 14 and never will be. It won’t let me run a marathon, it won’t even let me run to the corner. It will always get the cold that’s going around and it will always be in some kind of pain. But I’m here. I have a life with a husband that loves me and beautiful son that smiles all the time. So, I eat cupcakes because despite the various obstacles that I faced and still face, I’m here and life is pretty great.
How have others responded to your infertility situations? Has it impacted your relationships? What are some things you’ve been told that have been helpful/harmful?
I had a boyfriend before my husband who broke my heart when he found out about my PCOS. I was shocked really… it wasn’t the inability to have kids that freaked him out, it was that I was somehow unhealthy and not “perfect,” (not that I ever was Lord knows!). I was crushed as he left me for something I had no control over – none at all. Other than that, I can’t say that I’ve ever had a negative reaction from someone. When I speak of it, people tend to fall into two categories: either they’re surprised, or they too can relate because they have similar issues, or they know someone with similar issues. It really is just so much more common than anyone thinks it is.
Tell us about you. What are your hobbies/passions/pursuits?
I’m a foodie at heart. I went to culinary school and had every intention of being pastry chef, but once again, my body wouldn’t let me. I have two slipped discs in my spine and standing hunched over a table all day would have been impossible as I found out in school. No matter! I cook for myself, family, and friends love every chop, stir, and whip. I’ve also written a book that I hope to get published… not holding my breath of course, but it's written and I continue to tinker to make it as good as possible. If I could live a life of writing and cooking I’d be thrilled.
What is your favourite quote?
Although I mentioned one earlier, I have an actual favorite quote from an unlikely source: Dolly Parton. “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.” Ain’t that the truth!