1. What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
During my senior year of high school, I was eating breakfast at a local fast food chain with some friends, when I suddenly had the urge to vomit. I distinctly remember thinking, “I’m pregnant”. But at 18 years old, following a recent breakup, the idea was entirely too serious to entertain. Rather than take a pregnancy test, I carried on as if that moment had never happened. I drank with friends one night. I chain smoked cigarettes. I lived my life as I had before – focusing on high school drama and gossip and struggling to get a B in my AP English class. A few weeks later, I started bleeding. Heavily. I thought my period was just very heavy because I had skipped a month. Or was it two? I couldn’t entirely remember when I had even had my last period. When I started bleeding through tampons every 20 minutes, I realized that there might be something else wrong. Rather than face my mother, admit that I might be miscarrying, and ask for help, I decided to just “wait it out”. Then in the middle of my math class, I realized I couldn’t wait it out any longer – I was in excruciating pain, and bleeding through my clothes. I called my mom to pick me up and she immediately took me to a hospital. I had a D&C that day.
I blamed my miscarriage on the fact that I didn't even acknowledge the possibility of a pregnancy that day at breakfast. Having a baby at 18 would absolutely not have been ideal and I wasn’t trying to get pregnant. I was just a stupid teenager. But for someone who has always wanted to be a mom, the idea that I may have done something to cause a miscarriage haunted me for a long time. I always feared that I would have difficulty getting pregnant or sustain a pregnancy because of it.
When my husband and I got married in 2016, we started trying for a baby on our honeymoon. Every month I thought it would be “the” month. After 11 months of trying, with no success, it seemed my fears had been proven true – we were not going to get pregnant without medical assistance. We were diagnosed as “unexplained infertility” although I was told I have polycystic ovaries without the “syndrome”. We jumped straight into medicated IUI, hoping our struggle would finally end. After two failed IUI’s we began IVF.
I remember meeting with our RE to discuss IVF, our chances, and cost. We were told that we were excellent candidates. We left the appointment elated. It felt like we were finally on the right path to our baby. IVF was a whirlwind. I responded incredibly well to all of my medications – every step of the way, every outcome was nearly perfect. My egg retrieval, and subsequent embryo development went incredibly well. My frozen embryo transfer preparation was excellent – perfect lining, perfect embryo, perfect everything. When they transferred our beautiful, already hatching embryo, I sobbed on the stretcher as they wheeled me back into our room. I was so overcome with emotion, so relieved, so incredibly happy and hopeful. This was going to work. This was it.
Ten days later, I found out our embryo failed to implant. I’m not sure I have ever felt such sadness before. I don’t quite know how to describe it. It is so hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through it before. To allow yourself to believe that your heartbreak is finally going to end, only to be more heartbroken than ever, is absolute hell. Everything that we had worked for had led to this moment and it was not what I had been daydreaming about. All of the shots, all of the money, the diet changes, the vitamins, the tears, the pain, the mood swings. All led to this negative pregnancy test. My miscarriage haunted me – had it been my one and only chance of having a baby? And I ruined it? Would all of my subsequent embryo transfers fail? Was there something else WRONG with me? How could I ever try again?
It took almost two months and some therapy to get me into a more positive place. As I write this, we are in preparation for our next FET. At times, I have felt so incredibly guilty and ungrateful for allowing myself to wallow in sadness when we are technically considered “lucky” within the infertility world. My doctor was able to retrieve 33 eggs and we have 8 PGS normal embryos. We had a failed transfer, but so what? I know many others who have had failed IVF cycles – with no embryos to show for all of their mental, physical and emotional anguish. We have 7 more chances at having a baby; how dare I feel so sad? My therapist has helped me to realize that I shouldn’t compare my sadness to anyone elses, and so I shouldn’t feel guilty. It is difficult thing to try and be compassionate with yourself while dealing with infertility but I know that these feelings of sadness and longing don’t discriminate, so it is best to allow myself to feel them. However I have also tried to gain some perspective – I can’t imagine the heartbreak that some women have had to endure. I feel very lucky that we have the opportunity to try again.
2. How has it made your life worse? How has it made your life better?
Infertility has affected every aspect of my life in both negative and positive ways. Most days it’s difficult for me to even see babies. Some days it’s hard for me to get out of bed. I’ve gained 20 pounds, I’ve let my work suffer, and I’ve lost some friends. But the friendships I have now are stronger. My relationship with my family is stronger. And my marriage is on a completely different level. I knew my husband was a special man when I met him, but going through all of this together has led me to appreciate him in a way that I’ve never thought possible. We were strong the day we got married, but he has really made me understand the meaning of “for better or for worse”. He is an amazing husband and even better human being.
3. When & how did you realize that you were going to be able to carry on after infertility/miscarriage?
I’m still working on that. At least for myself, for the time being, I don’t think I will feel complete until I have a healthy baby in my arms. But infertility, as well as life, is unpredictable. You don’t know what the universe is going to throw your way and so I may have to adapt as time goes on.
4. What have you learned through this experience?
I have learned that I am stronger than I ever could have imagined. Every step we have taken to have a baby has been the one that I thought would break me, yet I have continued to walk, even if I have had to stop for a little while to rest. I have learned that people are generally well intended, even if they don’t think before they speak. I have learned that I need to nurture the relationships that are important to me and to let go of the ones that are not bringing me any happiness, or that are dragging me down. I have learned that family should never be taken for granted. I have learned to advocate for myself: in my friendships, in my career, and with my health. I have learned that self care isn’t always bubble baths and pedicures, but being forgiving of myself and saying “no” when I feel overextended. I have learned patience.
5. What do you hold on to for hope/courage/strength on your bad days?
I think of all of the strong women I know who have gone through hell and back before bringing home their babies. Or all of the strong women I know who have decided that they’ve had enough of fertility treatments, or disappointing outcomes, and moved on with their lives gracefully, knowing that they are enough with or without a baby, and that they will live happy lives regardless.
6. In what ways has your experience with infertility/miscarriage changed you as a person?
Certainly at times, my miscarriage and infertility have made me a more bitter person. I’m not always proud of the things I’ve thought or said throughout this experience. But I think it’s also helped me to become a much more empathetic and caring person -my heart goes out to each and every woman who is struggling to become a mother. I want to do anything I can to decrease the stigma and taboo surrounding infertility. Sharing my story has been one way of doing this. Women feel so much shame surrounding their difficulty to conceive and they shouldn’t. I hope that in speaking out, I have been able to reach other women who may be feeling that loneliness and shame – to let them know that they are not alone.
7. What is your favourite quote?
A passage from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho:
“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”