Sometimes with infertility you feel like you can’t stop crying over what you’ve lost. Sometimes, though, tears can be the dotted line to hope, and then unexpectedly a completely new clarity on life.
This is what happened to me and how I went from a devastating infertility diagnosis to discovering so much about myself and how I could learn from what happened to me, particularly with the critical relationships in my life.
As for so many who deal with infertility, my life completely changed with horrible news at my OBGYN’s office.
“Your Anti-Mullerian Hormone is undetectable. You have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR),” my OBGYN said.
Time stood still.
He told me I had DOR, meaning my remaining egg supply was low, in fact it was much lower than it should have been at my age of 35. My undetectable AMH (Anti Mullerian Hormone) is also thought to reflect my lack of ovarian reserve. My Antral Follicle Count was also very low.
I couldn’t control the tears as I walked out of his office that day. Nothing would ever be the same.
My husband and I made an appointment with an RE (Reproductive Endocrinologist) and completed two back-to-back egg retrievals, as time was of the essence with my diagnosis. We retrieved only one egg each time, but fortunately had two embryos. The first embryo transfer was unsuccessful and the second resulted in miscarriage. Months later, my husband and I found ourselves right back where we started, with no embryos. Though we weren’t back where we started emotionally, physically, mentally or financially. By this time, our souls were crushed and our hearts were broken. We feared our dream of having a family might never come true.
We still dreamed of becoming parents and the possibility of my being able to carry the pregnancy of our baby with a genetic link to my husband was important to us. We told our RE we wanted to move forward with an egg donor.
Our hope was renewed with a path to parenthood via egg donation. Thanks to the amazing gift of egg donation, a beautiful embryo was transferred and became a baby who is now an unendingly special part of our world.
My infertility diagnosis and all that followed, pulled the foundation of life out from under me. Through my tears, we rebuilt our lives. I am different. My relationships are different.
My infertility affected more relationships than the one I have with my ovaries.
My Relationship with Myself
Infertility made me a warrior.
People have called me sensitive many times in my life. People don’t equate being sensitive with being strong. Even I didn’t equate being sensitive with being strong.
When I received my infertility diagnosis and learned I would need IVF, I wondered if I was strong enough to get through it.
It’s difficult to explain the process of going from a “regular person” to an infertility patient. As an infertility patient, you feel like an object being examined beyond belief. Any sense of modesty is soon lost. You enter a world of many tests, unknowns, and questions where control and predictable outcomes are impossible. As a type A person who is fairly private, this was a definite struggle for me.
Infertility and going through IVF took control of my life.
Endless blood draws, research, shots, pills, vitamins, patches, IVF calendars, RE appointments, acupuncture appointments, therapy appointments, naturopath appointments, waiting and more waiting, heartache, disappointment, loneliness, embarrassment…shame.
Through the darkest days and over time, infertility taught me things about myself that will remain a part of me forever.
Infertility taught me there are many life elements outside of my control but I am resilient. Infertility taught me that even in times of complete heartache, I remain hopeful. Infertility taught me that during test after test and shot after shot, I am brave. Infertility taught me that even though I’m sensitive, I am not weak.
My Relationship with My Spouse
In an unexpected way, infertility brought my husband and I closer together.
Infertility changed my marriage and my relationship with my husband.
Like many newly married couples, we dreamed of starting a family right away. Our bright-eyed lens on life was soon shadowed by something we never imagined, the harsh reality of an infertility diagnosis.
Together, we worked our way through my feelings of self-blame and his feelings of helplessness. The majority of couples never face these challenges while trying to have a baby, infertility takes an immensely heavy toll on a marriage.
In our journey to become parents, we accepted we would never have a fully genetic child. This is something no one imagines when getting married and dreaming of a family.
Though mentally and emotionally depleted, we still showed up for each other every day, we were a united team in it together. My husband remained 100% supportive and by my side at all times, all the while going through his own grief. Through it all, I learned more about my husband’s ability to love me unconditionally than I ever could have dreamed.
In our journey to become parents, we accepted we would never have a fully genetic child. This is something no one imagines when getting married and dreaming of a family. Though mentally and emotionally depleted, we still showed up for each other every day, we were a united team in it together.
My Relationship with My Friends
Infertility showed me how to be a better friend.
While going through our IVF cycles, my husband and I reluctantly fell into a new reality. A world of isolation and self-protection.
Our friends didn’t understand what we were going through and the outside world became extremely triggering. It was very difficult for me to be around children, it was painful to see photos of other people’s children, and it was unbearably hard to receive news of pregnancy announcements. This type of pain is so deep that many couples going through infertility often avoid certain social situations as a way of coping.
Many friends didn’t understand what I was going through and truthfully, they never will. Some of those individuals are no longer friends. Tough times tend to draw people closer or create more distance.
As time moved forward, I began to be more mindful in how I show up for friends when they are going through tough times in life. Drawing from my own experience with infertility helped me understand how to be a better friend when it really matters to someone.
My Relationship with My Doctors
Infertility taught me to be my own advocate.
I used to think of doctors as experts who had my best interest at heart.
During each annual exam with my OBGYN in my late 20s to my early 30s, I shared that my mother had challenges conceiving as well as early menopause and I was concerned about what that would mean for my fertility. During the majority of those years, I was single and not ready for a child, however, I knew I wanted a family in the future. I wanted to be prepared for potential issues I might face when I was ready to have a baby. My OBGYN told me I wouldn’t know if I had any issues getting pregnant until I started trying. She told me she’d just had a baby at 40 and not to worry.
Years later I would request my medical records and see the notes she made on my chart at each of those appointments. One year: “Questions about fertility in 30s.” The following year: “Check POF.” The following year: “Mother had early menopause.”
She dismissed me. She didn’t hear me. She didn’t educate me on my options. She failed me.
I didn’t leave it at that, I gained something from her letting me down. I learned to be my own advocate, because no one else will fight for me as strongly and smartly as I can for myself. I now have no hesitation respectfully disagreeing with or questioning a doctor, getting a second opinion, or changing doctors.
Life lesson learned the hard way, though one that applies not only to infertility but many medical situations.
My Relationship with Other Infertility Warriors
Infertility introduced me to a sisterhood.
I never thought I could walk into a group of strangers and immediately feel at home.
Sisterhood. Thankfully I found Resolve, The National Infertility Association, and connected with the local support group in my area. I met women who got it, they understood this path. I met women who I am still friends with today, years later. Whether it’s in-person, online or both – we can find these other women and a place for ourselves.
No one has to suffer through infertility in silence, women or men. It’s important for all infertility warriors to know that we are not alone.
Infertility taught me there are many life elements outside of my control but I am resilient. Infertility taught me that even in times of complete heartache, I remain hopeful. Infertility taught me that during test after test and shot after shot, I am brave.
My Relationship with My Ovaries
Infertility made me accept my reproductive system.
Many of us grew up with a vision in our mind of what we thought our child would look like and certain features they may inherit from us. We think about the perfect mixture of our physical traits and our partner’s physical traits.
Egg donation removed our genetics from this equation and it wasn’t easy to reconcile with that loss. There is no playbook on how to process the realization that you will never visually see yourself or your family in your child. Unless someone has been through it themselves, they can’t truly understand. The loss is profound and must be grieved. The grieving process is like the loss of a loved one, but it’s a loved one you’ve never met.
I don’t blame my ovaries; my ovaries have been through a lot. They’ve been called names and labeled: diminished, poor responder, failure, insufficient, empty.
Through all of the years and tears, they remain a part of me. I don’t blame them for my infertility. I don’t blame them for not producing an egg for me to have a genetic link to my child. I don’t blame them for my early menopause. I don’t blame them.
I learned to accept my infertility. This was part of my healing process and opened the door to a level of complete self-acceptance I likely never would have otherwise had.
Relationship with Lawmakers and Insurance Providers
Infertility inspired me to use my voice for others.
My infertility diagnosis took away the ability for me to have a child with my genetics.
Infertility is a disease recognized by the World Health Organization. Do lawmakers and insurance companies care that I was diagnosed with the disease of infertility? Sadly, many do not. Our insurance did not cover infertility. On top of dealing with the mental, emotional and physical pain of going through IVF, to worry about the financial aspect is almost unimaginable. Unfortunately, it’s reality for so many couples.
This is one of the reasons I began advocating with Resolve on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. by lending my voice to be one of the hundreds who are pushing for greater access to fertility care in the United States.
Infertility gave me confidence to tell my story to help others who will come after me.
My Relationship with My Child
Infertility gave me more than it took from me.
My infertility and loss of genetics is not my child’s burden to carry, however, it did shape our family-building story. Without my infertility and the gift of egg donation, I would not have the child I have today, who is my everything. There is not one single day that goes by that I don’t think about how grateful I am.
I agree with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine that disclosure to donor-conceived individuals is strongly encouraged.
To help my family and others share their special family-building story, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of writing a book. I wrote Happy Together, which has turned into a collection of six books to help introduce young children to the family building concepts of IVF, egg donation, sperm donation, and embryo donation.
I am not the same person I was before my diagnosis, but I am not defined by my diagnosis. I have taken a disease and turned it into a passion. My hope is that through advocacy and awareness, infertility and various family building stories will be more openly discussed.
I think back to 35-year-old me, sitting in the doctor’s office and receiving news that would leave me in uncontrollable tears. I wish I could give her a long hug and tell her that it won’t be easy, but she won’t break.
The path will not be as she expects, but once the path becomes clear, she won’t be able to imagine it any other way.
She will find and redefine herself and her relationships. She will be loved unconditionally, she will join a sisterhood, she will use her voice for good, and she will love her child with all of her heart. She and the people around her will be better for her having gone down the hard road.
Julie is a proud mother through egg donation and author of Happy Together, a children’s book collection of eight family-building stories. She’s passionate about helping others with infertility and advocating for increased access to care. She loves spending time with her family, reading, writing, and being outdoors. To find out more about her books, check out: www.happytogetherchildrensbook.com
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