As some of you may already know, it's National Infertility Awareness Week. To anyone who is struggling, we are here to share your stories, listen to you, and bear witness. You are not alone, even if it may feel that way at times.
We are honoured to post Carrie-Ann's story this evening. If you want to learn more about her journey, please read her blog post found through this link:
Carrie-Ann, thank you so much!
1) What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
The day we went to the hospital for our second ultrasound, I was so excited. I knew in my heart that I was having a girl. I’d had several dreams about it, and while I told myself I didn’t secretly want that and I couldn’t know it… I felt sure. We were in high spirits waiting for our turn. When my name was called, I happily climbed onto the table, already used to lowering my pants and lifting my shirt. The technician told me not to worry if she was silent for a while as she had to check on lots of things. She showed me the baby’s organs which looked absolutely perfect. Fingers, toes, no penis… and then she left the room. I still hadn’t asked about the sex of the baby.
We waited for five long minutes. My husband asked why she’d left and I assured him this was probably just standard procedure. When she came back, she said listen and we stared at her as for the longest sixty seconds of our lives as she clicked on her screen, only to show us nothing. Finally, she turned to us and said the left side of the baby’s heart was smaller than the right side. We were silent; we didn’t understand enough to react.
Is it serious? My husband asked.
As far as anomalies go, it’s not banal, she replied.
She then told us that we would need to go see a special prenatal anomaly nurse. I had a hard time asking my next question, choking on my tears, until finally I managed to eek out, “Did you see if it is a girl or a boy?” She hadn’t checked, she said. She checked and said, matter-of-factly, “It’s a girl.”
I was in pieces and sobbing. I knew. But I also thought I knew she was perfect and healthy because of the strong, bubbly kicks I was sensing whenever I sat still.
The details of her heart condition weren’t explained to me that day. For five days, I cried a little but mostly prayed, felt optimistic, and told my baby girl that I loved her and everything would be okay. We started calling her by her name that weekend, encouraging her to be a strong little warrior like her mama. I practiced yoga, I sang to her, a song that breaks my heart when I hear it now… Little darling, little darling, you’re mine.
The prognosis was not good. Her life expectancy was not good. The cardiologist wouldn’t give us her opinion, and said it depended on our personal philosophy, which meant nothing to me as a philosophy teacher. I thought, does she mean ethics? Or religion?
We aren’t religious. We believe in science, and science was telling us she was going to have a shitty life. That our lives would revolve around hospital visits and surgeries. Is it weird that eugenics crossed my mind a few times? The idea that I was giving up a badly manufactured baby. That I was wrong to long for perfection?
I don’t want to say it was an easy decision because it was the most painful decision I have ever had to make. However, it was a pretty obvious decision for us. We had talked about many scenarios before deciding to get pregnant, while trying to get pregnant, and during the first trimester, when you’re at the highest risk for miscarriage. We had even talked about what to do if the baby was born intersex. We covered a lot of ground, so deciding to terminate the pregnancy was the more straightforward part of it all. Discovering the baby was not healthy and going through with the termination was inexplicably difficult. And after the fact… I think I make that decision again every day.
2) How has it made your life worse? How has it made your life better?
The fact my husband and I are enduring this heartbreak together, and that we are supportive of one another, leaning into one another and not blaming one another… is a small miracle. I am short-tempered even when I‘m not hormonal, and he isn’t the most communicative guy. But we manage to be kind to one another, and to let each other be however we need to be. It’s ironic that I can see now, no longer pregnant, what a great team we are. While I was pregnant I worried that we weren’t a strong enough couple to be wonderful parents.
As for how it has made my life worse… well… I think I will have moments of pain and anguish for the rest of my life. Grief comes in waves, reveals itself under layers, and peaks it’s head out unexpectedly. This is the result of loving. I think the fiercer you love, the more it hurts.
3) When & how did you realize that you were going to be able to carry on after infertility/miscarriage?
One of the ways I am dealing with my grief is by writing about it. In the days before and the week after I gave birth, I wrote an essay telling my story and posted it on my Facebook wall. https://heycarrieannk.com/home/2018/3/25/the-only-way-out-is-through
We had told so many people we were pregnant because once we heard the heartbeat, we thought we were out of the woods. To have to call every person individually was overwhelming. Beyond that… I felt like it made sense to let the world know I had just been through a trauma so that if I chose to avoid socializing for a while, or if I raised an eyebrow, or gave a caustic reply to someone who asked me when I’d have a baby (which, I think we all agree, no one likes to be asked), it would be seen as justified. I wanted some community support and boy, did I get it. I received an overwhelming number of comments on the Facebook link to my blog post, private messages, and emails. People were talking about it outside of that as well Having so much support is incredible. Having friends who don’t shy away from the subject or act awkward when I start to cry is necessary.
4) What have you learned through this experience?
I have learned to ask for what I need and not to be shy about telling people what I don’t need. I’m always quick to dole out this advice, especially when it comes to romance – your partner isn’t a mind reader! But it’s a lot harder to tell your dad not to call you, or tell your best friend that you don’t want company, or tell your aunt that you definitely don’t want soup. It was absolutely vital though, and I am grateful that people (mostly) listened. I had to say it over and over: I need space, and I need quiet. I had to tell well-meaning friends and family that this was my situation and I would deal in my own way and in my own time. It’s hard to say no to people, particularly when you’re a people pleaser. I spent fifteen years working in the service industry and it’s in my nature to accommodate others. But I was honest with myself about my needs. I didn’t shy away from examining the deep well of pain that was and still is there. I think I know a little bit more about myself and what I can handle.
5) What do you hold on to for hope/courage/strength on your bad days?
My husband has been incredibly supportive. He never runs from me when I want to cry or be held or when I get angry about the unfairness of it all. He hasn’t looked away from me for a moment. He is my rock. We are stronger for having been through this together. But as for faith… I have none. I used to think there was some guiding force, that the universe was intelligent and that if you focus your energy on something you can have it. Now I think everything is random. There is no explanation. Each moment is just what it, good or bad, and I won’t fool myself into thinking I can control it.
6) How do you feel about your experience with infertility on your good days?
Like it’s not all that I am, a poorly-made baby-making machine. Maybe like there is hope to have a healthy child to love one day. And when I am feeling really calm, I want to say to my daughter:
Little darling, I miss you all the time. I wanted you, and I loved you, and I let you go. It hurts every single day. I would give anything to rewrite this script, to carry you in my belly another 19 beautiful weeks, to see you fully formed, to have you to worry about and to love. I miss you all the time, and I carry your heart in my heart.
7) In what ways has your experience with infertility/miscarriage changed you as a person?
I have an enormous respect for nurses and the resources they provide. I talked about this a little in my blog post, but even after I published it, I got a call from a nurse specializing in grief who came to our apartment and sat with us for more than two hours to help us explore our feelings and to provide resources for therapy. In my opinion, nurses will never get the credit they deserve. As caregivers, the work they do is mostly behind closed doors. They are the backbone of the healthcare system and have amazingly deep wells of compassion. I am in awe of nurses.
😎 What are some things you’ve been told that have been helpful/harmful?
I felt really angry during the few days I was still pregnant but knew I’d be terminating my pregnancy. A lot of people said things and did things that set me off. It was a good distraction from the pain of what I was truly going through. I recognized it as such and rediscovered my dark sense of humor. Some things are too hard for people to process so they have aphorisms and platitudes and euphemisms to help themselves handle the bleaker aspects of the human condition. That’s okay. But it doesn’t work for me. I have to live my life honestly.
You know Yogi-tea? They have these little fortune cookie type sayings on every bag, like “everything happens for a reason” or “rainbows require rain” or “thank you, universe!” All that feels like bullshit to me. Everyone means well. A lot of people have told me that I can try again, that this was meant to be, and that it sucks. I want to say… fuck off. You did not have to make the conscious decision to end your child’s life, okay? It was horrible. I did it out of compassion for her but it kills me that I did it. Life is chaotic and there is no rhyme or reason to it. When it sucks, it’s fine to just admit that it sucks. There’s a line from a movie I love, In Her Shoes, when Toni Collette is crying because her lover cheated on her with her younger sister. Her friend tells her that it’s not worth her tears and Toni shoots back, “You know, Amy, I'm sure you're right... But sometimes I wish you'd just say, "Boy, that sucks and I'm really sorry it happened to you."
9) Tell us about you. What are your hobbies/passions/pursuits?
Yoga is helping me get through this. To get to know my body again; to not resent it. Teaching yoga has helped me find common ground with other people suffering. I taught a class a few weeks after giving birth and told my students the truth – that what I teach comes from my personal practice, that this is physically and emotionally where I am at right now, and that we can use our experiences with loss, with suffering, and with anger to compassionately reach out to others. One of my favourite mantras is may all people everywhere be happy and free. I know I’m not the only one suffering. I wonder how others manage if they don’t have the support system and the willingness to live their experience as I did or the courage to write about it… How will they get through it?
I studied ethics and the irony of making a medical decision as a former TA of biomedical ethics was not lost on me. I have graded hundreds of papers on a woman’s right to choose, so I’m also fascinated with myself as a subject. I can look at my situation from so many angles, and really dive in. The only thing I can do is live it, be honest, and accept what is – what else is there but escape?
But escape is necessary sometimes, and I have found that in my kitchen, and my husband has found that in cleaning. Looking after ourselves and each other is how we show love. Getting creative, telling jokes, letting ourselves be distracted… It’s okay to experience joy. It’s surprising at first… I mean it was very surprising how much my mother and the nurses and I laughed in the hospital… but it’s just life. Messy.
10) What is your favourite quote?
There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines, so she climbs down and holds on to them. Looking down, there are tigers below. She then notices a mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life. -- Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape