“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” – Pema Chödrön
My story is about how I’ve slowly come to the realization that secondary infertility—and with it my “falling apart”— has been, in a bizarre way, the best thing to ever happen to me.
It has guided me towards figuring out who I am as a woman, a mother, and a wife on a much deeper level than I ever would have come to know had I not been forced by this experience to examine every single aspect of who I am and why I want a second child so badly. This path of extremely deep soul searching has led me to try and determine: What does it mean for me to be happy? What does it mean to know myself and allow life to unfold as is?
My story is about beginning to understand that nothing is actually “wrong,” even while dealing with infertility.
I have been married for just shy of ten years. Both my husband and I lost our mothers to different types of cancer, straddling our wedding—his mother passed away six months before and mine six months after. It was within this sea of grief that I became determined to have a baby.
I felt that the universe owed me a baby to make up for all of this pain it had just dealt me. It was naive and silly to think that way, but that was truly what I believed at that time. I bought all the famous baby-making books and like the Type-A student I am, followed them to the letter. We conceived in the first month. I was elated but made the rookie move of telling everyone.
Shortly thereafter, I began spotting, then bleeding, then miscarried. I was absolutely crushed. The feelings of despair were beyond anything I could have imagined. As per the advice of my doctor, we waited two months and on our second attempt we became pregnant with our son. It was a normal pregnancy, though after many hours of natural labor I had to have an emergency C- section. (We found out later that he wasn’t descending because the cord was wrapped around his chest.) But he was born and healthy and we were elated. If only I knew then how lucky we were.
I willed myself to continuously move onto the next step—never stopping to acknowledge, process, or mourn the losses. My identity was that of being tough and simply powering through.
Fast forward two years later. I had turned 38 and felt like it was now or never so we started trying for our second child. That’s when this secondary infertility journey began, which has included five miscarriages resulting from both transfers and natural pregnancies and seven failed IVF cycles, each failing in a more spectacular and unexpected ways than the previous. I’ve done all forms of miscarriage management (natural, medical, and D&C,) multiple protocols including high-stim antagonist, microdose lupron, and mini-stim. I once did a fully natural awake retrieval for one egg (that was a one and done for me), have had all the immune testing, and tried all the drugs including intralipids, prednisone, and lovenox. I’ve had a laparoscopy and multiple endometrial biopsies to look for endometritis and endometrial receptivity.
After three years of failure with my own embryos, I was ready for donor embryo. It wasn’t a big decision for me, but my husband was less on board. It was not an easy time. Meanwhile, he had a partial hip replacement from a decades-old wrestling injury. I was standing in his hospital room bathroom after his surgery when my doctor called to say that my donor was an amazing responder. We moved ahead with her that month.
THIS was supposed to be “the one” with a PGT-tested young-donor-egg embryo transferred with full immune support. My betas were super high, more than doubling. We saw the gestational sac and then the heartbeat, so I relaxed a bit. I even did that thing I had never, ever allowed myself to do and bought a baby girl onesie. Then I started bleeding and at the eight-week scan there was no heartbeat.
And that was that. I miscarried on my 41st birthday. This was my last miscarriage while trying for a second child. It was my fifth miscarriage in a row.
This moment was the beginning of my spiritual journey.
Until that point, I had been managing the infertility process intellectually, through my instinct to research nonstop. I willed myself to continuously move onto the next step—never stopping to acknowledge, process, or mourn the losses. My identity was that of being tough and simply powering through. For three years, month to month with no break, I tried to hide my profound hurt and disappointment through knowledge-gathering. I thought if I could understand and play the “numbers game” I could control and manage the outcome. Turns out, it doesn’t really work that way.
With this miscarriage I now faced the realization: “I transferred a PGT-tested, DE-embryo with full immune support and I still haven’t cracked the code. I haven’t fixed or solved anything.” I had failed.
My marriage, my parenting, and my internal sense of self had stopped mattering to me. I was so shocked I didn’t cry. I told my husband that there was something seriously wrong with me. I am unable to feel anything. I was deeply and fully disconnected from my mind, emotions, and body.
We cannot will, force, cajole, or bribe our bodies to cooperate. What we can do is stop fighting the inevitable feelings of sadness and grief and just allow them to be there.
This was a particularly dark moment, and my acupuncturist, whom I had been seeing for the whole journey and was my “spirit guide” for all things infertility, told me I needed to take some serious time off. She assured me then, and continues to assure me now, that it is possible for me to walk away from this journey fully content in who I am and what my life is- with or without a baby.
At her suggestion, I signed up for a seven-day healing retreat for “transformation and development.” I know there are many types of healing, meditation, and yoga, retreats but this one made the most sense given where I was mentally at the time. I knew virtually nothing about it but had nothing to lose. All I knew was that I would spend seven days completely cut off from the outside world (they take your phone when you check in). I hoped it would help me process the grief and become reconnected to my inner self.
Without giving too many details, (they ask participants to respect program privacy,) what I can say is that the program put me back together. It was the most intense, beautiful, and challenging week emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually that I have ever experienced. I spent the first few days fighting waves of internal resistance–all of my internal voices telling me this was complete bullshit and a waste of time.
Then I spent the next few days just sobbing, for hours at a time. It was like the pent-up failures that I had never processed and had been shoved somewhere all came out at the same time. It was truly an emotional purge. And then, around the fifth day there was this moment of amazing clarity. I had this feeling of such emptiness and space in my head. All the internal voices were quiet and I had an incredible moment of calm and contentedness. It was fleeting, but I was hooked. By the end of the seventh day, I walked away with a completely new lens with which to approach infertility and how to live my life. This was the beginning of a tectonic shift for me.
I began to look at why I was striving for this baby and at my pattern to power through every loss without stopping to process. Was it really true that having this baby was the only way for me to be happy?As I meditated on this question, I began to realize the flow of thoughts and feelings through my mind are not “me.” There is a “me” beyond that is unaffected by the rollercoaster of infertility. In order to tap into this place of quiet and calm, I stop to pause throughout the day and “drop in.” I take a beat and remember who I am beyond the overwhelming and out-of-control feelings. With this realization and these tools, I have found it much, much easier to continue fertility treatment.
We cannot will, force, cajole, or bribe our bodies to cooperate. What we can do is stop fighting the inevitable feelings of sadness and grief and just allow them to be there. Removing that internal fight cuts the suffering dramatically. If we hope for presence and compassion in each moment, and simply accept what is, we can begin to remember that we are not broken.
Though my husband and I have not agreed about much of this baby-making journey, we are now aligned for one last try. We will take this opportunity with a new doctor, with new information from an ERA (which twice confirmed pre-receptive) and with a much lighter immunology protocol. (An ERA is Endometrial Receptivity Assay, which is a biopsy of your uterine lining to look at specific 248 genes which show if your uterus is ready to receive the embryo on the specific day that the biopsy is taken. There is a short period of time called the “window of implantation” which is when the embryo will more likely, but not always, attach to the uterine wall. If you are transferring outside of the window, either too soon or too late, it can result in miscarriage or no pregnancy. We suspect that in the past I was transferring at the wrong time.
But, who knows if this is correct? One of three things will happen: It will work, it will be another miscarriage, or it won’t implant. Only way to know is to do it.
Through the work of letting go and surrendering, which is certainly not fun or easy, I have come to a place where no matter what happens I will be able to accept and move on with my soul intact. I can eventually be at peace no matter what life serves up.
Rachel Shapiro lives with her husband, son, and puppy in NYC. She is the Arts Director for Manhattan's K-12 public schools. She is a former Juilliard-trained classical violist, teaching artist, and professional educator. After four years of personal experience, she has become a self-taught expert on all things infertile. Learn more about her and what she has learned at PatientsandPersistence.net.
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