The agonizing pain behind infertility, not for the faint of heart
- Deep yearning
- Humiliating as a female
- Embarrassing as a Latina
- “Infertility feels like rage when someone says ‘just stop worrying about it and it will happen.”
“You never know what a person is going through, regardless of how much money they make or however great a life you think they’re living.” – Terrell Owens
These are some of the feelings I experienced during my infertility journey.
Trigger warning: IUI and chemical pregnancy (miscarriage); and mention of IVF
What is infertility?
Infertility is the “inability to become pregnant after one year or longer of unprotected sex.” It is so common that in 2010, National Infertility Awareness Week® (NIAW) became a federally recognized health observance by the Department of Health and Human Services.” This year, the campaign is April 18-24, 2021.
“Here are some quick facts: Twelve percent of U.S. women used fertility services between 2006 and 2010, according to data collected by the National Survey of Family Growth. But white women were almost twice as likely as Black or Latinx women to have done so—15 percent of non-Hispanic white women used medical help to get pregnant, while only 8 percent of (non-Hispanic) Black women and 7.6 percent of Hispanic women reported the same.” This is based on the article “Racism and Bias Make Infertility Treatment Even More Inaccessible to Couples of Color” by Angela Hatem.
When conceiving a child isn't as easy as 1-2-3
When your relatives, acquaintances, co-workers, friends (with/without children), strangers, and patients ask you that agonizing, knife to the heart question, “when are you having kids?” This question didn’t hurt me when we weren’t trying to conceive. The question hurt when I had multiple, failed IUIs, even after doing what our infertility doctor says. I didn’t want to over-exert myself after receiving an IUI; I didn’t want to eat/drink or do ANYTHING that hurt the possibility of conceiving. It was all-consuming!
I wasn’t the type of person that dreamed about having children when I was young. I was completely the opposite, just ask my parents. The desire didn’t become apparent until I settled down with my now-husband, T.
I would have never thought that I would want a child so much, until I couldn’t conceive one. It’s embarrassing, alienating, and disempowering to not be able to do something “so naturally” that everyone else can do without even trying.
What can cause infertility?
You see, I knew I was going to have trouble conceiving because my long-time OB/GYN at the time, Dr. Calbert warned me every time I had an appointment. I was in my mid-20s and kids were the last thing on my mind. However, Dr. Calbert (God bless her) would bring it up because she herself had problems conceiving her children so she was trying to prepare me for infertility interventions since I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)/metabolic syndrome (a hormone imbalance). FYI, PCOS has long-term effects besides infertility. Other women may have (un)diagnosed endometriosis, secondary infertility, thyroid gland problems, and so many more reasons according to the American Pregnancy Association.
We were ready to "try" and so our conception journey began
My husband and I finally decided that we were ready to “try” after being married for 5 years, I was approximately 34 years old at the time. We thought we were ready for the conception path ahead but I don’t think either one of us thought that it would take so long. We tried the old-school way of conceiving but then had to add drugs to our routine, how sexy, right? No. I’m not meaning elicit drugs, I mean Clomid or Letrozole shots to the abdomen administered by my amazing husband beforehand. How titillating, I know.
Clomid made me crazy, seriously. My husband said he never saw me this crazy. He said, “if you want to keep trying then we need to try another medication that isn’t Clomid.” So, the doctor prescribed Letrozole. I did better on this medication but it wasn’t a fun ride for anyone with having mood swings and temperature changes (turn down the AC, please – just ask my co-workers 😅).
When reality hits
That first failed Intrauterine insemination (IUI) (pictured below) stings because everyone thinks “I’ll conceive on the first try.” We did conceive, technically, we had a chemical pregnancy (early miscarriage). Even though we never met that baby, it still brought us to tears.
This journey of conceiving was a huge undertaking because we weren’t really prepared for the ups/downs of the excitement of “trying”, waiting on pins and needles for a week to then find out that the time, energy, and money put into this pursuit had failed yet again. I would wake up early in the morning to pee on a stick that said, “negative” just so I could allow myself time to cry before getting ready for work. Many of my friends and co-workers were either pregnant or “trying” alongside me so when they conceived, I was happy for them but saddened for myself at the same time. It was a difficult time but thankfully I had some awesome, supportive friends/co-workers and family like Stacey B. (a God-send), Laura Z. (another God-send), Scott B., Brett, Stacy E., my parents and at last but not least, my Aunt Mary. They encouraged me to keep pushing forward when I was discouraged and let me cry on their shoulder when the sadness was overwhelming.
A curse or just another road block?
After trying and not conceiving so often, your self-talk turns more negative, as least mine did. I felt cursed and was so angry because I had fought for so much by this point that I was like, “seriously, why can’t this one thing be easy for me/us!”
I’ve had health problems all my life, from being born with congenital hypothyroidism that if not caught early on that it would have affected my neurological function, stunted my growth, and could cause physical deformities. Thankfully, my mom followed her intuition and wouldn’t stop asking the doctors to check me because she sensed there was something off about me when I was a newborn. I’ve been taking some form of thyroid medication to supplement the lack of thyroid function ever since. Then, when I hit puberty, I began having migraines (still do to this day), ugh. Late in my teenage years, my OB at the time suspected I had PCOS based on my symptoms – it was later confirmed in my early 20s
Lessons in the infertility journey
The first thing I learned about my infertility journey is to learn everything you can about your diagnosis and possible treatments so you can be a better advocate for yourself. When the infertility doctors are talking quickly, you can ask follow-up questions about what you’ve read to slow them down and let them know you’re invested both in mind and body.
Second, learn to be an advocate for yourself and/or have an advocate with you to help you along the way. Seriously, either advocate for yourself or have someone at your appointments to advocate for you. The last thing you want is to be is so agreeable that you lose your voice to then regret it later. No judgment, I’ve been there. The more you advocate for yourself, you will see how strong you really are, no joke.
Third, take a break from the journey when it gets too overwhelming because the stress and medications could be causing more emotional and physical issues than you realize.
This journey can be long, exhausting, and nothing is guaranteed – such is life so I say this from experience. I know you’re probably thinking, “I don’t have time to take a break.” You do have time and during this time of not “trying”, take care of yourself and go out with the girls, go on a date with your significant other without the pressure of “trying”, listen to music, or do whatever to help take your mind off something you have no control over, like conceiving. I think that’s the hardest part is the loss of control, over your body and possibly over your mind because at this point conceiving is all-consuming, right?
I took a “break” from IUI for a couple of months but I’m not going to lie, I still researched supplements and other conceiving options. I did whatever I could to add/eliminate from my diet that could be causing more hormonal issues. I switched to non-toxic/clean deodorants, body washes, shampoos to prevent external chemicals from absorbing through my skin. This was the easy part sort of but it helped me feel more in control. I tried to start eating healthier but this has always been a challenge because I have a sweet tooth and PCOS is known to cause cravings of carbs, anything unhealthy.
How many fertility specialists does it take to help us conceive?
We/I went to four, yes, four different fertility doctors to help us conceive our son. The first fertility specialist wasted our time in my OB’s opinion because they knew my PCOS required a high-intensive intervention that required medications. The second specialist was worse because we never met him throughout all of our treatments but the nurse practitioner was very nice. I don’t know about you but if I’m paying a specialist a butt-load of money and dealing with something so personal and emotional then I want to at least speak face-to-face with him/her on the first or second appointment.
The third specialist was seen during our “break” from IUI/medications but I learned quite a bit from him (and my friend/co-worker, Laura) about the Creighton fertility method. By the time we saw the fourth specialist, we were at our wit’s end and they were pushing IVF. We told them that IVF was cost-prohibitive so we wanted to keep trying IUI. They worked from our previous treatments with some adjustments and did some other testing like a hysterosalpingogram to figure out any other issues that may be preventing conception.
My breaking point
At this point, I was on edge because I knew in my heart that this was most likely the last specialist we would be seeing. It had been approximately 2-2.5 years at this point so we were growing tired and restless. I remember getting a call from my specialist that I wasn’t pregnant for the umpteenth time causing me to break down at work. I was so embarrassed because I couldn’t control my emotions from the disappointing news and extra hormones flowing through my body. Thankfully, my clinic’s boss, Scott, was so empathetic and supportive that he told me to go home and take some time. I went home and sat in my backyard and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.
A few weeks later in February, I went to eat Mediterranean cuisine with my Aunt Mary during my lunch break from work. It was a lovely day and I really enjoyed catching up with her. She was like a sister, mother, and friend all-in-one and was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met to this day. She had struggled with conceiving as well so this hit home for her. I told her that I was ready to give up on our conception journey but she encouraged me to try one more time.
Our marriage health
You’re probably wondering how our marriage was during our conception journey. Overall, I feel like our marriage got stronger (although it was very emotional). We had ongoing, heart-wrenching conversations about pursuing this time and energy-consuming journey. There were times when my husband was ready to stop but I wasn’t ready so we kept going. He said it’s “my body and I have the final decision when it comes to starting and stopping conception.” He supported my decision either way. This meant the world to me because he knew I was invested but was fine with me walking away from this dream if it meant hurting myself (emotionally) or us in the long run.
Don’t get me wrong, we still had arguments especially during the Clomid days and after “trying” for a year without any success. We both agreed that once our dream/journey became too much for me, our marriage, and even our checking account (we didn’t want to go into debt) then we’d walk away knowing that we did everything we could possibly do.
The last time...
My husband and I tried IUI for the last time in March 2017. We didn’t think this time would be any different than the last several times. However, in April, I took my pregnancy test (and later received a confirmation call from our specialist) telling me…I was pregnant!!!! I was shocked, elated, and scared. “Is this really happening?” kept going through my head. I surprised my husband with the positive pregnancy test the next morning before we started getting ready for work. You should have seen his face, I wish I had taken a picture of his facial reaction 😆. We couldn’t stop smiling even when we tried.
We honestly didn’t think we would conceive this time. So much so, that we actually booked a Caribbean vacation before this IUI. We had to cancel the vacation because that’s when mosquitos were carrying a virus causing microcephaly in unborn babies. There was no way we were going to put ourselves and our baby in danger like that, so we went to Colorado instead. It was an amazing trip!
We waited until I was 6 weeks pregnant before we told family and friends. My parents and Aunt Mary were so upset that I didn’t tell them beforehand but I didn’t want to get anyone’s (especially ours) hopes up. The gift of conceiving after 2.5-3 years was a such blessing.
We had our son, G, in the Winter of 2017. He fills our hearts with joy and we love him more than life itself. We are so thankful for our miracle, G. Learning to be parents of a toddler has been exhilarating and tiring at the same time. I feel our interactions with G are even more special because of the struggle to get him here.
We would love to have another child but considering it took us 3 years to conceive G, I think that time has passed unfortunately. I was considered a “geriatric pregnancy or advanced maternal age” by that point and more so now. We are content with our little family. Thank you, God.
Lastly, I know infertility can be a lonely journey even with a good support system. It can feel like everyone you know is either trying or already pregnant without the struggle (that we know of). Please know that you’re not alone even when it feels like it (trust me, I know). Find some online or in-person support groups because it is different when someone else has gone through it or is going through it along with you. I didn’t do this but part of me wishes I had. Although at the time, these support groups were more in-person than online like it is now so I think that helps. Take care.
Infertility doesn’t define us and we are strong women whether or not we can conceive.
Online Infertility Resources + Support Groups + Podcasts
- Resolve – The National Infertility Association assists both men and women dealing with infertility issues by providing a wealth of current information regarding infertility and treatments as well as access to support groups all over the nation
- The American Fertility Association – A not-for-profit organization committed to sharing the latest news and education regarding infertility, its prevention and treatment, as well as creating a network where fertility specialists and the public can connect. They also share information regarding adoption and other family-building options
- Reproductive Resource Center (RRC) – 10 Great Online Resources for Fertility
- Progyny – Inequality in Infertility: Black, Indigenous and People of Color (POC)
- Reproductive Medicine Associates (RMA) – Supporting Black Women With Infertility: Organizations You Need to Know in 2021
- Oprah Daily – Support groups helping black women through their fertility struggles
- Fertility for Colored Girls (FFCG) – seeks to provide education, awareness, support and encouragement to African American women/couples and other women of color experiencing infertility and seeking to build the families of their dreams. Additionally, FFCG seeks to empower African American women to take charge of their fertility and reproductive health
- The Infertility Sisterhood Podcast – exists to provide empathy (because you don’t have to walk this road alone), encouragement (because there is hope even in the hard stuff), education (because the decisions you make matter) and empowerment (because you have a purposeful path forward)
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