Infertility: What Helps, What Doesn’t
I couldn’t believe how much it hurt. Just that one word, staring up at me from the yellow paper I was to hand to the receptionist at the doctor’s office:
I was in for a routine asthma visit and when I was asked, “Is there any chance you’re pregnant?” I snorted and said, “I wish!” My doctor asked me to elaborate and I told him that we had been trying for 1½ years to get pregnant, but that my period had just started again. He looked at me and said, “You do know that trying for one year without pregnancy automatically earns you an infertility diagnosis, right?” I didn’t know, and for some reason, his unexpected words cut me like a knife.
So there I was, eighteen months of failed cycles, summed up into one neat little word: “Infertility”. Somehow that one word took all my hope and shredded it into bits. It made our hopeful trying suddenly become final and devastating. Without explanation, that one word, written at the top of my chart, wrapped up all my dreams and labeled them, “broken woman”.
For eighteen months I had not cried with each period that showed up. That day I cried. And cried and cried and cried. I cried for a day and then I called my OB’s office and set up an appointment with a fertility specialist. I was one of the lucky ones. Once I made the call, the ball got rolling pretty quickly as far as getting an official reason “why” and being presented with solutions. It would be another almost half year before we conceived.
During that time, I met many women through a blog I had started a few months earlier. These women were also experiencing infertility and some still are to this day. My friends and I have talked many times about the things that have gotten us through and the things that made our loss even greater.
Most of us agree, the non-stop obsessing where we are in our cycles is one of the worst things in the whole journey. Although we don’t want to stop tracking our temperature and cycle days and all the other things that come with trying to conceive a child, at the same time we become almost neurotic when analyzing every possible thing there is to analyze.
We actually find some relief from this obsession at the beginning of every cycle. Once AF (Aunt Flo) shows up and we get over the initial devastation of no pregnancy yet again, we find almost a relief that for one to two weeks, there is nothing to analyze and think over. Then, we hit mid-cycle and we begin the process of temping and recording and charting and graphing.
We use programs like Fertility Friend and we overlay our charts and compare last month’s chart to the current month. We check every ovulation sign there is to check and wonder, Am I ovulating? We pee on ovulation predictor sticks and squint our eyes to see, Is that a second line or not? We wonder, Should I have tested this morning or would it show up better this evening? Then we begin to try to figure out, Would it be better to have sex today or should we wait a day or two and hope hubby’s sperm is better a day or two out in case my ovulation is more noticeable then?” In doing all these things we lose the wonder of spontaneous love making with our husbands and can barely talk to our co-workers because we are turning these things over and over again in our minds.
Once the big “Ovulation” has occurred, next comes the possible-pregnancy-symptom torture: Were my breasts this tender last month? Is that nausea I’m feeling? I think I’m more tired than usual. It’s only five days past ovulation… I wonder if I could test yet?
And then, with that, comes that horrible addiction of peeing on a stick. Stick after stick after stick. By the time we’ve peed on all the home pregnancy tests that cycle, we could probably have bought a new Coach purse with the money we spent on the HPT’s. There is no avoiding this craziness, but most agree, it usually hurts the process instead of helps it.
As if we aren’t are own worst enemies during this time, there are all the comments from other people who know we’re trying. Probably the most hated comment that any infertile woman hates is, “Just relax and quit thinking about it. It’ll happen. Stressing is probably keeping you from becoming pregnant.” There really are no words that address how idiotic and hurtful comments like this are for a woman of infertility. Whether she is still trying the old fashioned way or her and her husband are now in the middle of IVF, there is no possible way to “Quit thinking about it,” and try as one might, even when taking a break for a cycle or two, you are still always wondering, Is this the month for us?
Sally has shared that people telling her she doesn’t have enough faith has hurt her deeply as well. “Just because I have not gotten the most precious gift in the world does not mean I am without faith!” she states with passion. This is so unfair for people to say. It’s as if a woman also has to go through being judged for her spiritual condition in addition to not getting pregnant.
“You’re young. Don’t worry about it,” is another thing that hurts a woman longing for a baby. Both Anna and Jeni agree on this. Being young has nothing to do with whether or not infertility does or does not hurt a woman’s heart. In fact, being young sometimes makes the infertility hurt and raise up a fear factor: “If I’m struggling to get pregnant when I’m supposed to be in my peak years, what does this mean for me when I hit the years when pregnancy becomes harder and riskier?”
Anna also spoke of her hurt within the infertility community when women who had been struggling with infertility for several years invalidated her pain because she had been struggling for a much shorter time. “I can understand how years of this can wear down a woman,” Anna said. “However, just because I’m not in my third or sixth year of this, doesn’t mean that every failed cycle shouldn’t hurt my heart. I should get permission to hurt just as much as any other woman, no matter how long I’ve been trying in relation to their journey.”
All women experiencing infertility agree on the utter frustration and even anger when they people tell them that them not getting pregnant might mean they aren’t supposed to have children. Then why do I have a mom’s heart? a woman wonders when hearing this.
And what about the people who have kids and tell a woman who can’t have children how “lucky she is and she should count her blessings because kids are a lot of hard work!” That is just an infuriating thing to hear when unable to get pregnant. Why people think that makes us feel better is beyond us. It not only makes us feel worse, it makes us wonder why people who are so annoyed and resentful of their kids got the chance at having them and we, who would love being moms, don’t! (By the way, my baby girl is a lot of work but I would never, in a million years, even on the worst day, go back to infertility instead of having her!)
People aren’t the only ones to hurt us. We hurt ourselves. Jeni and I talked about how we have walked the baby sections of stores, shopping and daydreaming, knowing our hearts would only hurt worse afterward. Yet, despite this knowledge, we did it anyways. We didn’t know how not to go there.
“I go one step further,” Jeni shared. “I go on YouTube and watch pregnancy announcements. That really hurts my heart. I need a life.” She says this with a laugh and a tear, all rolled up into one.
All that being said, there are some things that we have all found that have helped us immensely on this journey.
Many of the women, being religious, have found Bible promises to be especially comforting during this time. Promises such as “God is making all things work together for a better purpose in the end,” and “God helps us carry our sorrows,” are clung to with a desperate tenacity that help carry us through each cycle. Without my faith that God was up to something bigger and with more eternal purpose, I wouldn’t have made it through our time.
Many agree that building a support network of trusted friends is crucial. Not friends who will throw clichés and hurtful comments your way, but friends who will cry with you. Friends who know that a Starbucks venti latte or a Cosmopolitan is the perfect thing the day AF shows up, because up until then, you were abstaining in case this was the month. Friends, like I had, who on mother’s day, honor your mom’s heart, even if your arms are still empty.
There are online support groups these days via forums and blog rings. I will never forget the day I got online, started my blog, and joined infertility blog rings. I found more instant support and friends through those rings than I did for any of the other causes and issues that I had joined blog rings for. There is a camaraderie among women going through this, and having each other to get through the highs and lows cannot be underestimated.
Sometimes, some people just say the right things to us in our journey and we will forever be grateful to those people. I found the most helpful things that people said to me were simply the words, “I can’t comprehend what you’re going through. I wish I could make it better but I can’t. But I am praying for you.” That’s all I needed. I didn’t need solutions or advice. I just needed a hug and a, “I’m sorry for your pain. I’ll be praying.”
Sally said that the sweetest thing she ever heard was, “God is holding your baby in heaven for you for just the right and perfect time.” That was a visual picture that has been sustaining her through her cycles.
Infertility is one of the most painful things a woman will ever go through — the most painful for some. We can’t always avoid the things that hurt us along the way, but we can seek out the things that help us along the way. May heaven grant to each of us the joy of holding our precious miracles that are, even now, waiting in heaven for the perfect time to find their way into our arms.