1) What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
As many other women can relate, when I look back at my thirties, I see that my infertility journey has been a constant presence for almost seven years now, and a life changing experience that I will carry with me forever.
Shortly after Cameron and I got married in 2011 we started trying to conceive. I was 32 when we started our family building project, and my husband was 40, and we thought it was going to be easy. When I was a young adult, learning about sex ed and women’s health at an all girls school, our cohort was always told “to be careful not to get pregnant.” Nobody ever told me how difficult it could actually be or about the risks of delaying childbirth. After all, it was easy for both sets of our parents, generations that were used to having kids in their twenties.
After a year of trying to conceive we decided to get a medical opinion and were referred to a fertility centre for treatment and testing. I was diagnosed with low ovarian reserve. We started with intrauterine insemination and that did not work. We decided to move straight to IVF. We were scheduled to start our first round of IVF the early summer of 2013, however at the same time I was losing my father unexpectedly to cancer. My gut told me I was not ready and that I needed time to grieve his death. In doing so, I had no idea the magic of miracles was already at play and the cycle of life was moving in our direction. That fall we started our Cycle One and ultrasounds showed limited progress with only two mature follicles. We were told to cancel. We went against the odds and the doctor’s advice and said no, let’s keep going. Clinicians were pleasantly surprised to find we were able to make two healthy embryos, and I was scheduled for a transfer. One of our two embryos became a healthy baby boy. Today our son Theodore is 4 years old.
We never thought success would come on the first try. When it did, we figured our second cycle would be a walk in the park. Years went on, cycle two became cycle three, and cycle three became cycle four. Some cycles even yielded more embryos than our very first, but egg quality was becoming a recurrent theme with my increasing age. Secondary infertility settled in. We changed clinics and started going to a clinic in Toronto. While there we found out that we would have never gotten pregnant naturally when we first started. My husband’s test results showed male factor infertility issues on top of my own. This clinic had a very strict day 5 only transfer policy. This made the bad news of no day 5 blastocysts both times a little easier to take. For the fifth and sixth cycles there was no transfer to be done. I didn’t have to live excruciating two week waits, and we got a little money back in our pocket too.
Now we are preparing ourselves emotionally, logistically, and financially for treatment in Colorado in the early spring. This will be our third clinic and last treatment now that I’m 39, and I can finally say that I have come to terms with that and that it’s ok.
2) How has it made your life worse? How has it made your life better?
It has made us overanalyze our situation from all angles. Questioning our choice to invest so much money, energy and time in recurrent treatments when we have a beautiful boy who is growing up so quickly right before our eyes. The emotional strain on our marriage at times has been very hard, and the pain of constant failures has made us resentful towards each other during our darkest moments. While it was reassuring to know infertility for us was really a shared health problem, at times we would take turns with the blame game. We found and find balance in our mental health by going to couples counselling and leveraging our own personal opportunities for therapy and most importantly self-care. That strain, however, coupled with insane thoughts at times has had us seconding guess our decision to have more children. But love and time with each other and our small family prevail and keep us believing.
I have no regrets because this journey brought us our healthy boy.
3) When & how did you realize that you were going to be able to carry on after infertility/miscarriage?
I have never known any different. I keep carrying on no matter what life throws at me. I’ve always felt it important to stay standing and keep going especially during periods of adversity. I suppose the loss of my father taught me that, the rough patches we endured in our marriage, transitions with my husband’s work, a failed political campaign, moments of anxiety and depression...our family doesn’t let failure define us. We let it make us stronger because for all those tough moments we have a lot of light in our lives. When we got married and we realized we were facing infertility, I said to Cameron: “If you are all God ever gives me I’m still the happiest woman alive”. Then God gave us Theo. That same philosophy holds even more true with him in our lives. We are forever grateful to be his parents and have our small family.
4) What have you learned through this experience?
To listen to your body, heart and mind. We are all worried about those biological clocks, however treatment must be well timed for everything else you have going on in your life: children, family, pets, work, exercise, home projects, and travel. Those things should not be put on hold because they are the constants in our lives, gifts we must continue to appreciate and nurture. In other words it is important to keep living. I think it’s important to celebrate life and all it has to offer, even your friends who are having babies and you aren’t. Keep paying it forward. When we found ourselves stressed as result of other aspects and goals in our lives, or juggling too much, we would hold on moving forward with treatment. We did not let fertility define our existence, nor did we sacrifice other beautiful life experiences because of it.
To be open. Being transparent about our journey has brought me close to so many amazing women who also struggled and who are part of my circle today. From the start of my very first cycle, having the support of two women, a fellow alumna/mentor through my sorority Tri Delta, and my cousin helped me understand what both failure and success could look like. Both of these women lead incredible lives and are women to look up to regardless of their outcomes. These and other new friendships became my rocks and constants through my multiple treatments. Through sharing my own experience I have also been blessed to help some of my closest friends and other new women through their journeys.
To accept what is in your control and what is beyond it.
5) What do you hold on to for hope/courage/strength on your bad days?
I look at our son. I breathe and I remember that maybe there is a different story out there waiting waiting to take shape of our lives.
6) How do you feel about your experience with infertility on your good days?
Grateful. Investigating our inability to conceive was the smartest thing we ever did.
7) In what ways has your experience with infertility/miscarriage changed you as a person?
It has made me more humble and understanding of others. I have learned that perception is just that. An image and idea that we have in our mind, but never the reality. Everyone has a story. These stories have also helped me personally, accepting that this year marks our final treatment.
It has inspired the second phase of my graduate work. I am close to completing my Doctorate in Population Health at the University of Ottawa. I am studying the self-disclosure and communication dynamics between IVF patients and their peers and how their patterns and processes cultivate social support. I love what I do and listening to the stories of other women has become a form of mutual inspiration for all of us. I am so lucky to be listening to them. When patients share their journey with someone who understands it, the conversation is so natural and personally motivating for everyone involved. I have learned that while these friendships take on so many unique forms they all share a constant--the power of unconditional care and love.
8) 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?
Mostly with interest, curiosity, and words of encouragement. People find it interesting how I have made it an area of research and encourage me to keep giving back to the community that has given me so much.
Others have said things that strike our raw emotions like:
“God knows his business”
“You should be happy you have your one”
“Maybe you shouldn’t enjoy that glass of wine”
Unhelpful comments make us smile a little and also inspire us. Just like mental health, there is a lot of work to be done in the infertility literacy movement in Canada.
9) Tell us about you. What are your hobbies/passions/pursuits?
Our family is very engaged in politics. That was one of the reasons why my husband ran provincially in 2018, and we are hoping to advocate for funded treatment across Canada. Government does not understand the strain that young families are under emotionally, physically, and financially and what is at risk. Canada’s population growth is on the decline, and immigration has eclipsed the natural birth rate to account for any growth we have seen in our country. Women are being encouraged to chase their dreams and focus on careers. For most women those dreams are not unidimensional and include finding love and starting a family. Who is there to help us ease the financial burdens of treatment and become a mom? When women are having more babies the society as a whole benefits.
Tennis. That is one thing I’m looking forward to being consistent with post treatment. On and off treatments have had me on hiatus from consistently improving my strokes because of the risk of twisting my ovaries. I want to get back out there with my doubles partner and teach our little man how to play!
10) What is your favourite quote?
There is an old saying that says “It takes a village to raise a child.” The version that holds true in today’s modern society is that it takes a village to start a family.