In recognition of National Infertility Awareness Week, we are seeking to raise awareness about this struggle by sharing stories from local moms and a dad who have been in this difficult place, as well as additional local resources to help parents along this journey. Through this series, we hope to provide encouragement for women and men who are facing infertility and perspective for those supporting them in the battle. Thank you to our sponsors, UAB Women & Infants Services, and to each of the contributors to this series — especially the courageous parents who have shared a painful piece of your journeys.
On a gray, drizzly August morning my husband and I were anxiously sitting in the waiting room of a reproductive endocrinologist’s office. A fertility doctor.
Who was I? How was this my life? At 30 years old, I was dressed with hair and makeup done, my husband next to me in his suit compulsively checking his smart phone and replying to a myriad of “urgent” work emails. Weren’t we just in college, going on midnight McDonald’s runs? Staying up until the early morning hours watching movies with friends before sleepily slinking off to early morning classes? No, we certainly weren’t those people anymore. I hadn’t felt like those college people in a long time. But I also didn’t feel like these 30-something’s professionally dressed, seemingly collected on the outside but grieving deeply on the inside. How had this become my life?
My husband and I married young. I had just turned 22 and he was 24. We had our first baby young also. I was 24 and he was 27 when our son was born. Pregnancy had come remarkably easily, my pregnancy was absolutely textbook. I naturally went into labor three days after my due date, and despite a grueling labor process, our son was healthy. Motherhood certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was wonderful. I loved so many moments of watching our precious blue-eyed, blondie boy grow and learn.
Then two-and-a-half years later we had another blue-eyed, blondie boy. I nursed both of our boys for extended periods of time. By the time I weaned our second baby in January 2016 I had been pregnant or breastfeeding for almost exactly five years straight. I was tired. My husband agreed to having some space before having another baby. But surprise! Early November 2016 we were very surprised to find out I was pregnant. My husband was thrilled. I was anxious, but happy that he was so excited.
Sadly, the joy was short-lived. At a routine check-up, three days after Christmas, when I should have been 11-12 weeks along, we found out our baby’s heart had stopped a few weeks earlier. We were heartbroken. The next month, January 2017, my doctor told me we were free to try again. I recoiled at the thought. We weren’t even trying to get pregnant when this happened and now we’re grieving this loss. I couldn’t imagine wanting to try again. That night I went home and talked to Andrew. I asked what he wanted to do. He said it was up to me, but whenever I was ready so was he. I was quickly approaching my 30th birthday, and we already had two children. We had been excited about this baby, so why shouldn’t we try agin? Our oldest child, he was five at the time, was also grieving the loss in his own way. He had been excited too.
That was that. Ok, we would try agin. However, my body didn’t seem to be on the mend as we had originally thought. After a few months of what felt like constant calls and doctor’s appointments, my body seemed to finally adjust. In early June, we found out we were expecting. I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement. My husband was so excited. Of course I felt guarded, but mostly we were thrilled. Sadly, once again, it was all short-lived. I miscarried that baby at just 7 1/2 weeks. Whereas after my first loss I had been sad, but still hopeful, now I was sad and angry. How could things be turning out like this? Would we ever have another baby? Were we done having children? Should we just stop trying and accept that this is what our family looks like? It was all so confusing. I wrestled with deep and dark thoughts and fears. Of course we were grateful for the two healthy children we had, but we were grieving two children we had lost. Had never had the chance to know. Two members of our family were gone.
At my follow-up appointment my OB gave us a few options, and the one we chose was to consult with a specialist. So there we were in August. I had seemingly endless questions running through my mind, “Will this doctor even take our case?” “What if he dismisses us because we don’t have trouble actually getting pregnant?” “What if he does take us on but doesn’t uncover anything?” “Is this just a huge waste of money?” And on, and on, the thoughts went.
Thankfully, our doctor was wonderful. He certainly agreed there seemed to be something deeper going on than just “it happens”. The chance of a woman having two miscarriages in a row is only 2%. He began right away to run tests.
A few weeks later, I was sitting at the park while my boys played and I chatted with another mom I had just met. I looked at my phone to see I had a missed call and voicemail from my RE’s office. “That’s odd,” I thought. “Maybe they’re calling to reschedule my upcoming appointment.”
I listened to the voicemail while sitting on the park bench and heard the medical assistant tell me that my test results were in and some things were not normal. I had a genetic disorder, that had gone undetected, and another issue which required starting a prescription medication right away. She requested I call her back with my pharmacy’s phone number so she could call it in.
Freeze time. There I was in the middle of the park, listening to a voicemail that I thought would be routine, telling me all kinds of information, some of which I didn’t understand, that would change plans for me going forward. I was stunned. I had a mix of emotions. On the one hand I was glad we had some answers and that we would get to form a plan going forward. But on the other hand, no one wants something to be “wrong” with them.
I’m the person who never goes to the doctor. I averaged one sick visit a year. I don’t like to take too much medication, and usually chose to power through seasonal colds or other minor illnesses. But here I was, September 2017, and for the past ten months I had been to the doctor every single month, most months multiple times. I’d had two minor procedures, had countless blood draws, and yeah, there had been plenty of medications along the way, and now more in sight.
We met with our doctor a couple of weeks later and he informed us of yet another issue that had come up. It was a long appointment complete with an ultrasound. We left with our heads swimming in unfamiliar medical terms and the doctor’s orders to try to get pregnant, and if we weren’t pregnant in three months then we’d have to formulate a new plan. I was most definitely overwhelmed.
It had just been two months since our last loss and still only eight months since our first loss. I was terrified to try again. I was still grieving the two babies we’d lost. How my heart ached. I knew having another baby wouldn’t cover the loss of those we’d lost.
Miscarriage is sad. It’s death. It’s grieving someone you didn’t know, and yet were physically part of and bonded to. It’s grieving someone you loved, despite not knowing even basic information about them.
And those deep and dark questions and fears are so real. Wondering if you’ll be able to ever get pregnant? Wondering if you do if you’ll be able to carry to term? Wondering why your body is failing you?
Our story is our story. Your journey with infertility and/or loss is likely different. I can’t offer earthly hope. I can’t guarantee the outcome we all long for. I can’t offer assurance it will “all work out”.
What I have to offer is empathy. Shared tears. A deep understanding of pain. Isn’t that what community is for? Connection and carrying one another when we feel at our weakest. And if you’re someone who hasn’t personally experienced infertility or loss, don’t think you have less to offer to your hurting friends and family. Just acknowledging the hurt and loss is comforting. You don’t have to have the most inspirational or comforting words. Just your presence and acknowledgment of what all is going on goes a long way.
Some women would prefer to keep their painful journey more private, and that’s ok. If you’re unsure of what your friend needs or wants, just ask them. They’ll tell you, and they’ll be grateful you asked.
As we approached the three-month mark, and still weren’t pregnant, I decided to cancel my appointment with my specialist. It was the beginning of December and we were having lots of holiday fun with our boys, with more fun plans ahead. I felt sad we weren’t pregnant and didn’t want to keep thinking about it, and overthinking about it, and talking about it. I wanted a break from the doctors and poking and prodding and planning that we’d been through the past year. I wanted to enjoy Advent and Christmas. I called my doctor’s office and rescheduled my appointment for January.
However, just five days later I was unusually tired. I wasn’t planning to take a test this early because I had been so disappointed and angry the past few months when I’d gotten negative after negative. But something felt different, and sure enough, that mid-December night I called my husband upstairs to show him the positive pregnancy test with literal trembling hands.
We’re now over halfway through this pregnancy. All testing and ultrasounds have indicated this baby is healthy and doing well. And we are grateful beyond words. But there have been moments when I’ve cried, missing those we’ve lost. Wondering why this has been the path for our family, and then once again accepting we may not know why this side of Heaven.
This week as we acknowledge the pain of infertility, consider reaching out to a friend who’s on the journey. Maybe send her a note in the mail, or some lovely flowers, or give her a phone call. When someone lets you know you’re not alone, even though it feels that way, it can help carry the burden, if even for a day.