My social media feed has been a lie. Behind every selfie, family photo, and posts of professional and personal accomplishments is a woman silently grieving an initiation into a club that no woman wants to be a part of.
This isn’t exactly a secret club by any means.
In my previous life, I was a medical journalist. I have lost count on the number of stories I’ve told about infertility and pregnancy loss. I’ve cried with women and have pushed for answers from doctors on their behalf. Never once did I imagine that I would walk in the shoes of a woman whose body is failing at the very thing it is intended to do.
Photo via Carla Roberts
And my body did fail, many times. The first miscarriage would come after 8 unsuccessful months of trying to get pregnant. When I did get pregnant, I miscarried only a few days after the positive appeared on the pregnancy test. A chemical pregnancy. I have never felt so betrayed by my own 33-year-old body. I was so angry that I went to the gym and forced my body through a defeating workout. My heart was broken.
Two months later, the test would turn positive yet again. I successfully carried the pregnancy to term and delivered a healthy (and now rather spunky) little boy. We waited 18 months before trying for another baby. If I had known then what I was about to go through, we would have called it quits after one child.
I was 35-years-old and considered geriatric in the obstetric world. When we were unable to get pregnant after six months, we went through the grueling and rather expensive fertility workup. At the same time, fertility drugs were introduced. First pills, then injections and IUIs. I managed to get pregnant after treatment in early 2017. I wish I could say this is where the story ends, but sadly, an ultrasound at 7 weeks showed no embryo. A blighted ovum. If I close my eyes even today, I can still see the empty gestational sac in my mind with the doctor’s words, “Sorry, there is no baby” in my heart. We were crushed. Since my body still believed it was pregnant, a D&C was ordered and less than 24 hours later after that devastating ultrasound, I was walked into an operating room to terminate a dream.
I recovered quickly, and my cycle returned a month later. We would embark on another round of pills and injections. My body did not respond well to the treatment and I soon found myself with a rising fever and incredible pain. The treatment caused an ovary to swell; the fever was the first indication of a life-threatening infection that was caused by fluid from the ovary spilling into my abdomen. I had never been so terrified in my life. When I didn’t get pregnant, the doctor had no clear explanation of the ill-fated fertility treatment except that “these things just happen.”
I would find myself looking at yet another positive pregnancy test two months later. When I was six weeks along, I miscarried again.
Defeated, I opted to stop treatments and move on with my life as it was obvious I was not destined to carry another child. The physician pleaded for a chance and just shy of my 36th birthday and now 12 months into trying to get pregnant, we underwent another round of fertility drugs. My body again had a hard time with the treatment but succeeded and I was again looking at a positive pregnancy test.
At this time, I was really done wasting time on tears. I put the pregnancy test back in a drawer and walked away. It would be a few days before I told my husband and nearly two weeks before I would tell the reproductive clinic. I initially refused blood work and ultrasounds to confirm the pregnancy. To be quite honest, I was terrified of the results. Around this same time, I was exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. I found myself having nightmares and ongoing panic attacks. Even as the pregnancy progressed, I was still scared. I cried in the car before every ultrasound and refused to tell anyone that I was pregnant. There would be no pregnancy announcements on Facebook, nor gender reveals. For 39 weeks, I merely just held my breath. I finally exhaled in May of 2018.
Six weeks following the delivery of my second son, I found myself crying at the doctor’s office. I tried to explain to my obstetrician that I could not shake the grief or sadness from the losses. She took my hand and softly explained that through this fertility journey, I never had time to grieve. Since my husband and I were done having children, I could finally start to heal. Currently, I’m working with a therapist to address the trauma I experienced. I’m told it is actually pretty common for women to experience PTSD symptoms following a miscarriage. I still have flashbacks to the miscarriages when my period starts and just recently asked for pills to stop my periods altogether. To my grieving soul, bleeding represents failure.
The medical community has made incredible strides in research for cancer and other debilitating diseases. It is curious that fertility continues to elude doctors like a ghost in the darkness. In the meantime, the sisterhood of infertility continues to grow. Admittedly, it’s not fair, especially during these precarious times we are experiencing as women. The current discourse is that women must be strong and resilient as sisters, mothers, aunts, and wives. During my fertility struggles, these hats could only hide my tears.
There is a bright spot to this narrative. Well, aside from the birth of yet another spunky boy (they get it from their father). During my disastrous fertility experience, I found myself at a sort of crossroads with my life. I could either let infertility define who I was as a person, or I could shift my focus to the things that were more important. So, I started to create an infertility bucket list with a promise to myself that I would tackle the items on this list, regardless of the outcome of this fertility journey. And while my fertility chapter has since closed, the list I created has opened a new chapter, and this is a journey I am excited to embark on as a woman.
Here are some of the items on my list:
- Write a book
- Complete a Half Ironman Race
- Read 7 new books every year
- Partner with an organization or network to bring awareness to infertility and miscarriage(s)
- Write a children's book
- Serve on a committee or with an organization
- Rekindle relationships I damaged during my fertility battles
Would you make an infertility bucket list? What would you put on yours? Let us know in the comments on social!
Help knix the stigma by sharing your story. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #FacesofFertility and show your support with a custom-designed semi-permanent tattoo.