You're Not Alone - My Infertility Story
I initially wrote this blogpost on March 5th of this year. 9 days prior to the shelter in place and coronavirus quarantine. I was going back and forth about whether to share. I wrote the entire post and when I went to click "publish", I hesitated. So I saved it as a a draft.
Do you know why I hesitated? Yes, because it's personal. But mostly because it's shameful. It is the year 2020, and it is considered shameful for a woman to share her infertility story with the world. Both internal and external shame. External shame in the sense that... there seems to be a lot of unsolicited advice when it comes to sharing. "Just relax and it will happen." "Have you tried this?" "My cousin's sister's friend went on a low carb diet...and BLAH BLAH BLAH." Internal shame because I feel broken at times. Like there is something wrong with me. Like I am not worthy. While I know the stories I tell myself are not true, it can feel overwhelming at times.
Grief is a funny thing. You can try with all your might to avoid it. To walk away. But then you find yourself scrolling through social media and seeing yet another pregnancy announcement, and the tears hit. I have talked to my therapist a lot lately about the concept of grief. About really feeling it. And the thing with infertility grief is that it is a rollercoaster and the grief never really goes away. Of course, there are coping mechanisms that I use to manage it. But the best thing I can do to process through the grief is to feel it.
After I shut my laptop closed and walked away from the blog, COVID-19 hit. And I was notified by my fertility clinic's office that they were halting treatment plans. Well that grief... it morphed from a sad/broken feeling to a pissed the hell off rage feeling. I completely understood why they were stopping the treatment plan. But I just felt angry. There was this burning pit in my stomach and I had to get it out. So after processing for a few days, I whipped out my phone and posted on social media a picture of a negative pregnancy test sharing a brief caption about our situation. Paul turned to me and asked, "Are you sure you want to share? I am good with it, but want to make sure you are too?" I knew the answer. I was ready to share. Ready to unload this 500 pound weight wrapped around my neck that we had been dealing with for the last year and a half. And I also knew that by sharing my story, I was not only speaking my truth... but also making other women feel less alone.
So I clicked "post." And took a deep breath. Nausea coursed through my body. But then I started to read the comments, the likes, but more importantly... the messages I got from other women who were also secretly going through this. SO many others that I had no clue they were experiencing the same thing. But no one was talking about it. (For the reasons I shared above). Imagine feeling this insane sense of grief, but only being able to talk about it with your partner? Having infertility..miscarriages..loss.. and getting up everyday having to smile and force your way through the motions. Without openly sharing it. According to the CDC, 12% of women have difficulty getting and staying pregnant. So take a look at your follower list, because 12% of those women may be going through this.
From the beginning of my journey starting this business, I have preached authenticity. Being true to myself, being true to my clients, and being vulnerable to allow others to know that they too aren't alone. But for the last year, I have kept something private because of the uncertainty and grief that Paul and I were experiencing. And that was our infertility journey.
In August 2017, I went to the doctor to get an MRI done for my pelvis. I had hurt my back/SI Joint and they wanted to run some imaging. I checked the results a few days later and saw that the radiologist stated "polycystic ovaries noted." Having no idea what the hell that was, I contacted my OB and got in a few weeks later to see her. She ran some blood work on me to test my insulin and hormone levels. Both came back normal.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age. 10% of women (or more) have the syndrome. Women with PCOS may have infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods or excess male hormone (androgen) levels. The ovaries may develop numerous small collections of fluid (follicles) and fail to regularly release eggs. These are the polycystic ovaries that the radiologist noted. But my periods were normal. My hormone levels were normal. And so were my insulin levels. So my doctor told me that in order to be formally diagnosed with PCOS, you had to have at least 2 symptoms. I only had the polycystic ovaries, so I wasn't formally diagnosed. She assured me that all is well and I shouldn't worry.
But after a year and three months of trying, I knew something was up. It didn't make sense that we hadn't had success yet. So, I went back to my OBGYN doctor for initial testing for both of us. And all the results... they came back normal. Normal? How can that be possible. Sitting in uncertainty and having no answers felt like the heaviest weight possible on my chest. Intuitively, I knew we had to keep moving forward and pursue seeing a fertility specialist.
So in early February, we got in the car, drove to the specialist's office and shared our history and test results with him. I was waiting for him to say, "It looks normal to me." But within three minutes of analyzing the results, he said, "Hm... looks like you're not ovulating well and you have PCOS." I started blankly back at him for a moment and said.. "What do you mean not ovulating well? As in I can't get pregnant?" And he calmly explained that because of the mild PCOS, my body was not producing enough progesterone to carry a baby even if something initially stuck.
It all felt so scientific and prescribed. Which... in fairness is his job as a doctor. He's the expert and he's looking to find a solution. My mind went blank and everything felt muted. He shared that he felt confident going through an IUI process three times, putting me on several medications, and if the IUI process did not work, moving straight to IVF.
When we walked out of the building, I bawled. A year and three months worth of grief hit me in that parking lot. And a rush of emotions came over me.
In late February/March we went through our first IUI process. They put me on a medication called Letrozole for five days to help me ovulate stronger. I then had to go in for a sonogram to check my follicles, to ensure I only had one ready to mature. Having multiples or twins can be somewhat common on a drug like Letrozole. I then injected myself that night with a trigger shot into my stomach to trigger ovulation. Well..more like my best friend Kourtni did. Because I was terrified to do it myself. The next day, I went into the clinic and had my IUI procedure done. I've had a lot of people ask what that is. So in my very NONSCIENTIFIC words.. this is what happens..
They take a sample from the male... mix it around and wash it- eliminating any dead swimmers. Then they take a catheter and inject it into the woman's cervix. You lay there for about 20 minutes after this super duper romantic experience.
But here's the thing about IUIs... the success rate is 15%. Yikesssss. Which is why people often times have to do it multiple times. So we had our first one in early March which was unsuccessful. We were disappointed, but also knew we had a few more tries.
Last week I got a call from my doctor's office saying that they are ready to move forward with our treatments. I was elated and cried actual tears to the stranger on the other end. So we will try round 2 next month. And if that doesn't work, go for round 3 in July. If the IUI's aren't successful, then we will move to IVF.
I know one day I will be a mom. I have this gut feeling. And I know one day my husband and I will create the family we have always strived to have. I am not sharing this story for sympathy points or to make you feel bad for me. I am sharing it because it is authentically true to what is going on in my life. At this moment. And we live in a world where it's embarrassing and shameful to share our infertility journey. But.. I think there's true power in sharing your story. Letting others know that they're not alone. And accepting where you are at. This is my journey. My story to tell. And my truth.
I'm going to keep blogging about this because I feel like I owe it to the NUMEROUS women who came forward and said they were experiencing the same thing but hadn't told anyone. That they felt lost and overwhelmed and didn't know where to start. If that is you, you aren't alone. There are so many others out there just like you. And we will become mamas someway...somehow. Our road just isn't linear, it's windy with stops along the way.
My business...isn't just a photography business. If you haven't noticed. It's morphing into more of a creative/leadership education entity. I'm not really sure what it is. But I like it. And I'm going to show up and share my authentic life within it. There isn't really a separation between my personal and professional life. Because I want to show up in spaces exactly how I am. And I hope I attract clients who resonate with my message and how I operate. So thank you for showing up. For reading this. And for supporting me.