20 Sep How infertility and IVF is the best thing to ever happened to me…
“To my future bump…I hope you realise that I did all this for you…”
These were the first words I ever typed into what was the beginning of my blog and happiness project. 18 months ago, I started writing. 18 months ago was when I started taking targeted, strategic action towards being a happier person. 18 months ago was when I found out that the dream and vision I had for my future would look slightly different from what I imagined. Infertility has the potential to be the most gut wrenchingly difficult experience that a woman or couple will go through. 1 in 6 couples will experience the varying emotions and feelings that come with struggling to conceive a child. For the next few minutes you will read about my story. My story is so different from everyone else’s and what I feel and go through everyday is not entirely like the next woman. Some women are years into their journey of infertility and/or IVF, some have just begun to notice that things are amiss. Every woman faces different highs and lows and takes from it only what they can. This, however, is my story of how my infertility shook me in a way that almost turned my whole life upside down but how I used it to be the best thing that ever happened to me. This is a story of how I learned to become grateful for my inability to conceive a child as planned. A tale of how I learned to embrace obstacles as opportunities I would have never otherwise experienced. This story will inspire you to choose contentment, happiness, acceptance, forgiveness, love, connection and ultimately – vulnerability over the barrage of noise that comes with life challenges.
Infertility isn’t as uncommon as you think. 1 in 6 couples will have trouble conceiving and for a variety of reasons. Women battle endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and so on. Men can have low sperm counts, testicular problems or “lazy” swimmers. Couples can have everything “normal” yet are challenged by “unexplained infertility.” People are experiencing barriers all the time yet we don’t talk about it. Many couples hide their battles and suffer in silence, buying their time until they post their pregnancy announcement on Facebook or Instagram. Meanwhile, they can be snapping at each other, crying into their pillows at night and dying a little more inside every time a friend announces a pregnancy around them. Sharing our experiences with infertility can be so taboo! In the beginning, I only shared my woes with my close friends, with every month, every negative pregnancy test and every “I’m sorry” phone call I have received, I started to tell more and more people. With every act of total vulnerability, I have experienced mounting support and love. That is why I decided to open up and share my story with the world. Not for attention, but because you never know what or who may come your way to offer support or how your story can encourage another. Sometimes I feel like I am grasping at straws with how to deal with this stuff. I just know that no infertile woman or couple should go through this experience alone. It is my mission to get women and men talking to each other about these issues that someone you know will most likely be going through.
I knew something was amiss with my body long ago. I went through a period before I met my husband where I knew that my body wasn’t functioning properly. My friends used to laugh it off when I said to them, “I have a feeling I am going to have trouble having kids.” When they asked me why, I replied that I had never had “a scare.” Many laughed and said that just meant that I was careful. I shrugged this off back then. But when I look back on it now, I marvel at how intuitive I was. When last year, I finally saw a number of specialists, I discovered that a lifetime of ongoing stress had shut of the function of my pituitary gland, meaning I no longer cycled naturally and had the hormones of a prepubescent 11 year old. There is nothing like the harsh reality of knowing that my past experiences could have now affected my ability to have a child. I was forced to painfully unpack the stress of my childhood, the way I internalised the grief after losing my mother and the ongoing chronic stress I endured after the abandonment by my father a few years ago. All of which was very confronting especially as it shone a light on how I still lived my life in such a way that was not conducive to the zen life I needed to have! Every individuals diagnosis is different, some is genetic, some is linked to lifestyle and some is unexplained. It was very overwhelming for me to find out that mine was most likely due to things that had been lumped on me from a young age and well beyond my control. Equally as heartbreaking was my connections to wanting to be a great parent in the absence of my deceased mother and to prove that I was nothing like my father.
What I have observed since facing this challenge (and blessing!), is how little people know about infertility. I marvel at how many people asked me (and still do!) “now, when’s the baby coming?” This is like a punch to the stomach everytime someone fires this dreaded question. I think that if more people understood how common it is for couples to experience infertility, they would stop asking such a deeply personal question. I too have been guilty of asking this before I knew I was reproductively challenged but now know much better. I am now deeply honest with anyone who ever asks me, to which I reply “1 in 6 couples don’t get the luxury of deciding that outcome.” I know people don’t mean to offend or hurt another’s feelings when they probe with this question. But I just know there has to be a better way of going about it. My husband and I get asked so often now, that we just flash each other a look of sadness and hope mixed into one. After we have remained silent or I have had the courage to explain our reality, Matt will pull me in for a hug everytime and whisper “it will happen” and we plaster our game faces back on, dreading the next time someone brings it up.
Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. Now bare with me in the paragraphs that are to come as they are going to share with you the pitfalls of infertility, but I promise you – I have a positive endnote! To date, I have plunged needles into my abdomen approximately 160 times. I have dragged myself into the pathology clinic for around 80 blood tests. I have been poked and prodded internally with an ultrasound at least 15 times. I have made it to the point where I have taken a pregnancy test 6 times following 28 days of every hormone you could imagine – all of which were negative. I have had 10 phone calls from a very apologetic nurse or doctor to give me the bleak news that a cycle has been unsuccessful. I have grown my ovaries from the average size of a walnut to one that isn’t dissimilar to a grapefruit. I have had eight eggs collected during day surgery, five fertilised and three frozen. A month later I had one transferred back inside me. The agonising 2 week wait drags on and isn’t made worth it when the news at the end isn’t what you envisioned the whole time. Every month, I have sobbed into my husbands chest and then the next day I have slapped on a brave face only to begin the process all over again a few days later. I have seen the utter disappointment on my usually positive husbands face and been witness to him desperately trying to cheer me up and prime me to go through it all again, as he watches helplessly from the sidelines.
Without rain, there are no flowers. Infertility has a way of shining light on many areas of your life, but in particular your relationships with your partner. Obviously, with ongoing heartbreak and grief, my marriage took a big hit in the beginning. Not only do you feel like a mad woman on hormones, but every little bit of intimacy is sucked out of the equation. When “baby dancing” is ordered by a doctor or scheduled, it loses its edge. Romance becomes a chore, and you feel fat, gross and like a wobbly pin cushion. In the beginning months, my husband and I clashed as we tried to process the negative results each month. I wallowed in grief while my husband tried to distract me and keep me smiling. I felt like my pain was going unacknowledged and all I wanted was to be heard. Coupled with the fact that not many other people knew, we were totally isolated and lonely. One month, my husband and I were both away for work and it so happened that my ovulation date fell around this time. It meant that when we were finally reunited in sunny Byron Bay, we had 12 hour window when the lead up should normally be four days. What was meant to be an amazing, restful getaway turned into anxiety attacks and hours of my husband trying to get me out of bed, wiping the tears from my face and begging me to carry on as we were due to attend a wedding that day. The harsh reality of infertility is that husbands/partners feel so helpless and try to do everything in their power to keep women afloat, and often get forgotten themselves.
People don’t know what to say when it comes to IVF and infertility. It becomes hard to constantly hear how you “need to relax” in order to fall pregnant. While I appreciate that people do the best with what they have and they default to the age old stories that they know or have heard from a friend, telling a woman going through IVF to stop treatment and “go on a holiday” is far from helpful. Everyday we are acutely aware that stress is not good for a prospective pregnancy, but it is mighty hard to escape it. It is the first thing we think about when we wake up and it is what keeps us awake at night. Telling us to “stop trying” and then we will fall pregnant like a miracle a few months later is not a viable option for us at that time. While your sister-in-law may have done IVF 4 times and fell pregnant naturally the 5th time is an amazingly positive outcome for them – it is important to note that every woman is different and we are not all going to have the same outcome. I’m me. I’m struggling. All you need to do is listen and offer an ear, help or support – please PLEASE don’t compare women. The only thing we have in common is our species and our sex – everyone is vastly different. Support and empathy is all we need. In the past 18 months, my perception of the world, my values and my priorities have changed. I literally do not have the emotional capacity to take on some tasks, think too far into the future or know what is coming in the next few weeks. With every cycle, you think “could this be the one?” and start planning for 9 months down the track. You imagine your due date, what clothes you will wear and fantasize about your new life. This anxiety, wishing and consuming of my thoughts has meant that I could not be there for friends like I used to. I have had to put my wellbeing, my marriage and the potential to have a baby before others and this has meant that people have been disappointed in me or written me off probably thinking I am too selfish. Times like this make me so bitterly disappointed in the challenges that I have faced as it has meant that I have hurt others. Infertility changes you – for better and for worse.
Be proud of all the scars in your life. Each one holds a lifetime of lessons. Infertility is the best thing that has ever happened to me. A bold fucking statement I know!!! After a few failed cycles of ovulation induction and cycle tracking, I almost crumpled in a heap. The looming prospect of IVF meant that I was petrified. IVF seemed like the end of the road to me. What if it didn’t work? I knew going into it, that I had to change the way I was thinking if I was going to make it out the other end with my sanity, my marriage, my friendships and some semblance of a life. I started my happiness project in an attempt to find joy in my life and this was honestly what got me through everything. Whilst battling IVF and failed cycles, I have somehow managed to find gratitude for the whole experience and the obstacles I somehow learned how to overcome. Without my infertility, I would have never mastered what it means to be thankful for what I have, I wouldn’t have put in place measures to improve the quality of my marriage, like being more affectionate or showing proofs of love. I wouldn’t have worked so hard to see more of my family or connect on a deeper level with my friends. Perhaps my biggest achievement in this time was my ability to forgive my father for his past behaviours and others in my life who i thought had wronged me. I have learned to take days off and how to prioritise self care. During this shitty time, I signed up to be a health coach and have seriously upskilled myself in all areas of wellbeing. I would have dont none of this had I not seen such a strong inherent need to heal myself. I have repaired so many areas of my life, not only to have a better chance of falling pregnant, but so I could be the best mother possible and not repeat the pattern of my parents.
Before Alice got to Wonderland, she had to fall. Throughout this process, a time which is meant to be the hardest of my life, it has been the best and most wonderful year to date. My husband and I have built a marriage that will last the test of time. We have been through the works, yet we now communicate clearly, with love and from a place of deep and rich understanding of each others perspectives. My relationship with my family has only continued to blossom. I share anything and everything and they do the same. I see and speak to my relatives and my in-laws more than before and value their place in my life. My friends have always been there for me, particularly since I lost my mum. But ever since going through this, I truly see the magnitude of what they do for me. They have moved mountains to make sure that Matt and I are together during that “peak time” of the month, they have changed flights for me and lent us their bedrooms! They call me, check in on me and drop anything to be there when I am falling apart – over and over again. All of these wondrous people are still there for me, even after I have been self-consumed and irrational.
I recently attended the Tony Robbins seminar in Sydney. On ‘Transformation Day’ we had to let go of our most limiting belief. I identified that mine was ‘I will never be truly happy without a child.’ After what seemed like hours of visualising how this belief would impact my life in 10, 20, 30 years time. I became harshly aware of how letting this rule my life could cost me my marriage, my relationships, my career and my happiness if I let it ruin me. A secret to happiness is letting every situation be what it is, instead of what you think it should be. I am already most of the way there and proud of the fact that I have already healed years of previous trauma whilst battling issues with my health. This gives me the strength I need to carry on and know that there is a bigger purpose for why this is part of my life. I decided that my choices needed to reflect my hopes, not my fears. So I have established a IVF and Infertility Get Together group here in Canberra. I think supporting other women and getting theirs in return is a way forward throughout what can be a dark process. I learnt a big lesson when waiting in the waiting room ahead of my egg collection. Five worried, sad and anxious women sat in silence. Probably plagued by some internal dialogue. I simply turned to the woman next to me and asked her how she was feeling. What this simple action did was open every woman up in that room. We quickly shared our stories, our diagnosis and our fears. Within half an hour, we formed a sisterhood. Fostering support brightened a shitty day.
It is true that if you want to fly, you need to give up everything that weighs you down. I can’t wait for the day to come where I can announce my positive results with the world and finally become the wonderful parent I know I can be. If you or someone you know is suffering from infertility and requires support, please reach out to me or seek the support of others. We can’t do this alone and we shouldn’t have to. No matter what issue you face in life, the light at the end of the tunnel is that you can put in place measures to make it your biggest and best teacher. I wouldn’t take any of this back for it has made me the best version of myself I could ever have imagined that I could be.
Baby dust to everyone.