A Journey With Infertility
This guest post is by Brooklyn Lowery. She is a writer at heart and journalist by training. Brooklyn and her husband, Jon, are dear friends of Laura’s husband and Laura. We are honored to have Brooklyn share her story on First Time Mom.
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Sometimes, there simply isn’t a reason.
Sometimes, no amount of doctor’s appointments, or Internet searches, or well-meaning advice, or prayers, or pineapple cores (yeah, that’s a thing), or stress-reducing techniques, or dietary supplements, or dietary restrictions, or, or, or…
Sometimes, you just can’t have a baby, and, sometimes, infertility doesn’t come with an explanation. What it does come with is endless questions wrapped up in a tornado of emotions.
[Tweet “Sometimes, you just can’t have a baby; sometimes #infertility doesn’t come with an explanation.”]
Let me pause here because I want to be clear about something: My journey through infertility is not everyone’s journey; it’s not even my husband’s journey. So what I’m going to relate isn’t meant to tell you how to feel or react or handle your own experience. I just hope that it offers those of you going through it some degree of comfort and strength and those of you who have never experienced infertility some degree of understanding as to what someone you know could be going through.
And, make no mistake, someone you know is experiencing some form of infertility. It’s simply too common — but too uncommonly talked about — for you to NOT know someone.
Our Story of Infertility
For me, infertility meant that I simply wasn’t ovulating. No ovulation, no baby. Seems simple enough, right? But infertility is actually a whole range of situations that includes women who don’t ovulate, physiological issues (such as blocked Fallopian tubes), men with low sperm counts, and, in general, the inability to “get pregnant despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year for most people and six months in certain circumstances,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Some definitions also lump the inability to carry a pregnancy to term as a form of infertility.
So, like I said, you probably know someone who is dealing with some form of infertility.
We fell under the “six months in certain circumstances” group because we were young (30 and 29 when we started trying) and because my cycles were highly irregular and made it obvious something was wrong. Receiving a quick diagnosis likely happened as well because we lived in Massachusetts at the time, a state where insurance companies are required to cover infertility treatments so doctors are quick to refer obvious infertility patients on to specialists.
Very quickly, and without really knowing what we were getting into, we fell headfirst into the world of reproductive endocrinology and assisted reproductive therapy in early 2012.
As overwhelmed as we were, looking back, I think some of our friends in which we confided were even more overwhelmed. I mean, many of them were easily conceiving and having these beautiful babies while our journey involved mind-numbing doctors’ visits and procedures.
The medical care we received was deeply compassionate and never came with pressure to do any procedure or test with which we were uncomfortable. There are lots of ethical questions that arise when you start talking about reproductive therapy, and there are lots of preconceived notions out there among people who have never walked the path. Trust me, we had them, too. Turns out, we were wrong on many counts.
So, if I may, I want to share some of the truths I learned along the way. These aren’t necessarily universal truths — but they are my truths and, having talked with other women who have walked through this valley, I believe they are at least somewhat common.
Your infertility does not define you.
Our journey was relatively short — with medical help we conceived about 19 months after beginning treatments — but during those 19 months I often struggled with feeling like I somehow wasn’t woman enough — or, worse yet, that I was failing my husband — because my body wouldn’t cooperate and do that one thing that I most equated with being Woman. The truth is, our bodies are frail and imperfect and they don’t always work the way we wish they would; none of that means you failed.
[Tweet “#Infertility does not define you as a woman. #truth”]
Remember that your infertility (or fertility, for that matter) does NOT define you. You are no less a woman or wife or daughter because your body didn’t get the message that you want to have a baby. If you’re struggling with these feelings, please repeat this as many times as you must until it sinks in: I am fully Me and fully Woman and fully loved by my Lord regardless of infertility.
Make love, not baby
We journeyed through infertility in Massachusetts and were blessed to have insurance that paid for medications and lab procedures that make infertility treatments cost prohibitive to the average couple in most states. That said, getting pregnant quickly loses its… ahem… sex appeal when everything is scheduled, analyzed and lab-based. Even if you aren’t undergoing medical treatment for infertility, nothing kills sexual intimacy and joy for a married couple quite like “failed” sex month after month.
If you are going the medical route, you likely already understand how the act of getting pregnant can lose its magic. Over the course of our treatments, I injected myself with hormones nightly for weeks at a time; underwent countless ultrasounds (probably hundreds); had pints of blood drawn; and, in perhaps the most un-romantic “making a baby” moment ever, held my husband’s hand while a nurse injected sperm directly into my uterus in a procedure called intrauterine insemination (IUI). I relate all this to encourage those of you journeying through infertility, whether going through medical treatments or not, to cling to the joy and intimacy that is meant to be part of your marital relationship. Don’t let “making love” become “making baby.” Do your best to remember that a baby is a physical manifestation of the union between you and your partner, but the union will always come first. Fight to keep that union at the forefront of your relationship. You have no way of knowing where your infertility journey will end, but keeping your relationship with your partner strong will matter a great deal no matter the outcome.
Your friends may just not get it
As I mentioned earlier, there are a ton of ideas out there, many of them wrong, about what infertility involves. Sometimes, there’s a fairly simple surgical procedure that corrects a physical issue, sometimes a few pills can kick things into gear and sometimes things are much, much more involved.
And, in many cases, medical treatment simply isn’t an option.
Regardless the circumstances, it’s easy to feel like EVERYONE around you is having babies while you wait, hope, pray and plead for what seems like it should be so easy to achieve. As you go through these months, share your story. If at all possible, confide in your friends and let them support and pray for you. We found that, in general, our friends desperately wanted to support us, but often needed some guidance when it came to how to do that.
So, speak up. As much as you’re able — and I know it’s sometimes hard — tell your story. It is, after all, your story. It’s your life in that season and your truest friends want to know where you are and what you’re going through.
For friends and family who don’t know what to say
All you can do is listen and withhold your judgement as your loved ones who are experiencing infertility reveal their story — or don’t — to you. Unless you’ve asked, don’t assume your friends are freezing embryos or undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF). We learned early on in our journey that the field of reproductive therapy is vast. There are myriad steps that can occur before a couple ever gets to the point of making a decision about IVF. In our case, we went through 19 months of treatments and never underwent IVF, but if we had, that would have been our choice to make. For the record, there are, in fact, IVF options that don’t include freezing or discarding embryos.
Most importantly, be sensitive. That doesn’t mean that you should hide your joyful pregnancy announcement from your friends going through infertility or not send them a baby shower invitation. It simply means to be thoughtful and compassionate. More than likely, the friends you know going through infertility want to be overjoyed with you and want to celebrate your pregnancy, but they might also need a chance to process the information before they jump into the celebration. There were definitely moments during our journey that it was hard to smile through another pregnancy announcement from our friends — but we got there. We always got there, it just took time and, sometimes, a few tears.
Infertility hits couples in their hearts and in their heads and in their relationships — both with one another and with their loved ones. It’s a medical condition and a life situation that can drag on for years. If you’re going through it, my prayer for you is peace and deep connection with the people you love — your spouse first and foremost and your support system secondly. More than that, I pray that all of us, infertile or not, recognize that our value and our worth is wrapped up in something far greater than whether we do or don’t have children.
[Tweet “#Truth: Our value and our worth is not wrapped up in our fertility.”]