LISTEN UP - The Toll of Infertility
This week is one for which I hold a special place in my heart. Not only is it my birthday week (happy birthday to me!), but it also happens to be National Infertility Awareness Week. Was I destined for this path? Sometimes this particular week in April makes me feel so. But it doesn’t in any way take away from my birthday celebrations. In fact, I’ve always accepted infertility as part of me, and avoided feeling shameful or pained by that… until shortly before our last IVF that is.
See, I used to call myself Femme InFertile. I had a blog documenting my struggles, not so different from this one. The difference was, I chose to accept infertility as a major part of my identity. I WAS Femme InFertile. I was loud, I would raise awareness, I made myself a poster woman of the disease. I didn’t see anything wrong with that, but in reality, I believe I lost pieces of my old self along the way. I became so consumed by my infertility struggles that a lot of what made me ME fell by the wayside. No longer was I dancing, and painting and traveling the way I used to. I still forced myself to do those things, don’t get me wrong, but they lacked lustre. My involvement in these activities was almost half-hearted… forced. Fake it until you make it right!? Wrong.
Through this process, I learned that to truly heal you need to actually do the work. Faking it just wasn’t good enough anymore. When I was living in New York I had the great privilege to meet and worked with an amazing woman named Elaine. She single handedly changed my life. I will always feel a great debt to her due to the path she set me on. She does “reiki” but I put quotes there because really it is so much more than that. Part therapy, part healing, part mentoring, Elaine jumpstarted and guided me on my journey of self-healing that has made all the difference. That’s where my transformation truly began, but the work was just getting started. It takes time, and time I sure had a lot of. I began collecting crystals before working with her, but after our session my interest grew even more. When I moved to Houston one of the first things I did was take part in a past-life regression therapy session, something I had been wanting to do for years. It was INCREDIBLY healing. Various themes came up, some of which related to infertility and some just in relation to life in general. I felt a big shift after that session too. I was then drawn to learning reiki myself and took a two day course. Last week I took second degree to expand my practice even further.
If you’ve never experienced reiki it can sound a bit hokey or “out there”, but those that have had a session know how powerful it can be. Not only did I feel shifts in my body through these experiences, but also my mindset. Although infertility was a big part of my life, I no longer felt necessary to believe it defined my existence. Being infertile wasn’t my purpose. Living authentically, honestly, and wholly while coping with and working through infertility WAS. I wanted to chose positivity and changing my name from one with a “negative” term (infertile) to one of encouragement (living for the moment, and embracing each day fully) meant I could better embody my new set of beliefs. Infertility can be all consuming, but I learned it doesn’t have to be that way. As difficult and painful as the journey was for me and my husband, when we were able to acknowledge and appreciate the ways in which it facilitated our growth both as individuals, as well as as a couple, we found the journey much less frustrating.
Reaching this state of understanding and peace with our journey, we decided we would pursue a final IVF transfer. To say our final experience was different from all others is a gross understatement. Using affirmations and positive thinking to help us BELIEVE, we found a way to hope again. When coping with infertility for years and years, that hope can be hard to muster. We shared our journey more openly than ever, launching our YouTube channel as a way to reach and touch as many others struggling with infertility by being honest about the process and our experiences. I don’t want to pretend it was easy, as infertility and IVF never are, but we really felt in control of our well being through the process for once. Whatever way it went, we knew we had the strength and the tools to cope. Most of all, we had each other.
Infertility changes you, but in some cases it can be for the better. For us we’ve learned a lot along the way, but the one thing we weren’t prepared for was how it would change the way we coped with pregnancy. Prior to our success, I ignorantly believed infertility ended with a positive pregnancy test. I believed that once I finally got pregnant I would be like all other women and be able to relate to the average woman… the average mother. When we got our first positive test, I learned how untrue that was. To try and explain adequately the emotional turmoil of the first number of weeks to someone who hasn’t struggled to conceive can be very hard. All women worry in the first trimester of course. But what I couldn’t (and still can’t) make others understand is that for someone who’s body failed them so many times before, those early months are pure agony. Joy, fear, anticipation, disbelief, uncertainty, hope, and impatience are only a small number of emotions I cycled through. It truly took time for me to believe I was not only pregnant, but also that this pregnancy COULD end in a baby in our arms. Being part of the infertility community you become a lot more informed about all aspects of the early stages of pregnancy. You undergo blood tests for blood beta hcg levels every two days and look for doubling rates, you go for weekly ultrasounds starting as early as 5 weeks to see if theres a sac and fetal pole, you know target ranges for fetal heart rate and analyze fetal crown rump lengths and sac sizes. You know this all matters and you know where your baby stands before the average pregnant woman even has her first ultrasound! It is virtually impossible to sit in joy with this new glorious life budding within you. There is too much fear of the various possibilities to do so.
The unfortunate truth here too is that once part of the supportive infertility community (the only women you’ve been able to talk to openly and honestly through the process), becoming pregnant means your main support system channels often close. This is certainly not always the case, and my personal experience has not been so, but I’ve seen it happen to many others and understandably so. In my instance, I chose the route of sensitivity and that may be why I continue to have the support when I’ve truly needed it. Knowing first hand how painful it was with each passing cycle to see others be successful and to always be the one left in the dust, I didn’t want to impose my joy on anyone hurting. So the little pieces of joy that I did have, I repressed in a way. No longer was I only just guarding myself, but I was guarding others too. This can be a large burden to bear, but I always felt (and continue to feel) that empathy and maintaining status as a supporter for this community was more important to me than being supported. But the truth is, women who are pregnant after infertility need support too… and sometimes it can be hard to receive from those who don’t fully understand the journey you’ve been through to get there.
Infertility Awareness Week is important to me. I never want anyone, in any stage of their journey to feel alone and ashamed. Infertility is so much more common that people realize, and being confronted with it can be both shocking and overwhelming. The more we talk about it openly, the more understanding and aware those who aren’t struggling can become. Infertility is a disease, and unfortunately pregnancy can’t erase the years of heartache that have been experienced. I am an infertility survivor, but I will carry my infertility journey as an imprint on my heart for the rest of my life. And for that I am not ashamed. I am proud.