The 1 in 8: My Journey with Infertility

I am the 1 in 8. The 1 in 8 who had trouble getting pregnant or sustain a pregnancy. Chances are you also know at least one other 1 in 8 and you may not even know it.

When I was younger, I spent years doing everything I could to prevent a pregnancy because I was taught that It was easy to get pregnant. So I protected myself. For years. During that time I changed careers, went back to graduate school, graduated, started my new career as a licensed mental health counselor and got married. So the “natural” thing to do was to throw out what we used for protection and to start TTC (trying to conceive).

My husband and I tried for many, many months, which turned into years.  For years we tried to conceive and each month, my cycle came. My doctor kept telling me to take pregnancy tests.  Throughout this journey I must have taken over 100 and they were all negative. 

I was to the point where I refused to take them anymore because I feared the disappointment. Meanwhile my family members, friends and coworkers were getting pregnant within one year of trying, some even within the first month.

After one year of TTC, my doctor prescribed Chlomid and that is when “scheduled intercourse” started for my husband and I. Nothing kills the mood like someone writing on a calendar when we can have sex. I was on Chlomid for 3 cycles and I had some of the worst side effects I could have imagined.  I cried to my doctor and told him, “I wasn’t myself.”  Little did I know that I would be making this statement for the next 2 years. 

My doctor referred me to a reproductive endocrinologist. I had a lot of negative feelings about myself when I was making the appointment. Some of the thoughts I had included, “What is wrong with me?” “Why is my body failing me?” “Is my husband disappointed with me?” At the same time I also felt hope because there was less pressure now that our situation was in the hands of professionals and they were there to help and support us through this difficult journey.

My husband and I were trying to stay hopeful as we were waiting for the consultation appointment. We were finally able to take a deep breath because our issues were in someone else’s hands. Little did I know how much my life would change, physically, emotionally and mentally.

I remember how nervous and happy I was while we were driving to the appointment. We talked excitedly about how our family would change. Then I walked into the facility and everything did change.

What I noticed was all of the women waiting for their appointment. They all sat with their heads down looking toward the floor. No one was talking. Not one person made eye contact. I remember my husband telling me he did not think we were in the right place.

No one really talks about what happens when you are seeking services for infertility. The day we went for our consultation, I was poked and prodded. I had 14 vials of blood drawn and an internal ultrasound immediately.  My husband had to provide a sample and we were discussing all of our finances to a complete stranger. The doctor told me there was no reason I could not get pregnant, diagnosed me with unexplained infertility and wanted to immediately start an invitro fertilization (IVF) cycle. We were not prepared for any of this. We were supposed to get answers at this appointment. What do you mean my diagnosis is unexplained infertility and this cannot be fixed?

We decided to start with intrauterine insemination (IUI) and our plan was to do 3 cycles before we considered IVF, much to our doctor’s disapproval. This started a year of going to the clinic for ultrasounds and blood work every other day and daily hormone shots, up to 4 per day.  I also had 2 procedures done during this time for additional testing. Both came back normal, which I was happy about but also frustrated with. We went through cancelled cycles, negative pregnancy tests and my emotional and mental state decompensating. My husband could not help me with the needles and could not take time off from work every other day to go with me to the clinic, though he wanted to.

What no one tells you is how lonely and isolating this time is. There is so much shame, anger, guilt, disappointment, frustration, hopelessness, anxiety and depression that goes with this journey. No one wants to talk about it. I did not know anyone else who went through this at the time because no one wanted to admit that they too had the same feelings I did.

I did finally get pregnant. I remember feeling happy initially but then I had a rush of different emotions. I felt robbed of not having that magical time of getting pregnant “naturally,” taking a home pregnancy test and then surprising my husband with it.  I felt numb during most of my pregnancy. We had recently moved about 45 minutes away from our friends and family, I had the worst morning sickness everyday, was diagnosed with placenta previa and was on a modified bed rest.

After my son’s birth, I did not feel that overwhelming joy and happiness that other mothers talk about. I felt overwhelmed, sad, had difficulty breathing, I felt as though something terrible was going to happen to either myself or my child.  I was light-headed, and I worried excessively about what might happen in the future.  I started having daily panic attacks, my hands would go numb, and I had horrifying thoughts of harming my child or seeing my child harmed.

For months after my son’s birth I suffered in silence. I did not want to admit to having the negative feelings I had for fear of being judged, being labeled as “crazy” or misunderstood.

I did go to my family, husband and friends for help but none of them had ever experienced the symptoms I had. They tried so hard to support me as best as they could but even I did not know what I needed. When I finally got up the courage to ask my medical providers for help, they minimized my symptoms and told me to socialize more and re-engage in my hobbies.

I finally talked to a nurse practitioner who also went through infertility treatments and she explained to me that I had a chemical imbalance, diagnosed me with Postpartum Depression and offered to prescribe medication.

Once I started medication I started to feel more like myself. It was a slow process but I was finally able to care for myself, which I had been severely neglecting.

Today my son is almost 3 years old. He brings so much joy to my life! I did not know if I would ever feel this way, and my husband is the most amazing father. I do wish I knew more about what this experience was going to be like, getting pregnant using a reproductive endocrinologist. When one has anxiety, having options is important to feel like one has some control. Would I have made different decisions, knowing more about what to expect and having the options explained to me? Absolutely.

 When we are pregnant, we worry about what the delivery will be like but no one ever told me to prepare for after you are home with the baby. Some things I would want other mothers to know from my experience is how important it is to make preparations at home after the baby comes. To engage in self-care daily, how helpful engaging in therapy is especially if there is one who specializes in maternal therapy, starting or restarting medication, joining a support group or play group, seeking alternatives for childcare, exploring my feelings about motherhood and sharing them with my husband and taking care of myself physically.

Once I had to courage to ask for help, being honest (sometimes brutally) about how I was feeling helped me tremendously. I struggled for so long with my symptoms, out of fear, that it came as such a relief when I surrendered and accepted that I needed help.

Practicing mindfulness techniques daily has helped me so much when I am feeling anxious. I use them at home, at work, even in line at the grocery store. With PPD, we worry about the future and using mindfulness techniques help me feel like I am in control of my thoughts. I can decide when I want to allow the intrusive thoughts in, and when I just do not want to deal with them. I learned to advocate for myself and learned that just because someone is a doctor, that does not mean that they can predict the future. I DID get pregnant with IUI despite the doctor telling me only IVF would work for me.

I replaced distorted thoughts with positive statements. When I thought, “No one understands what I am going through” I learned to change the statement to, “It is okay that not everyone understands what I am going through. I still have a real illness that is treatable, even if other people don’t know anything about PPD.”

My husband and I are both very vocal and upfront about our infertility and postpartum journey. My husband was also negatively impacted and he is more aware now when other men are struggling. We tell people that we had similar experiences, we try to normalize their feelings, we offer support and resources.

If you can relate to any of this, tell someone. There is support out there. You do not have to keep feeling this way.

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Alaina Bullock

Alaina Bullock is a psychotherapist that specializes in maternal mental health in Clifton Park, NY. Alaina is passionate about emotional health for mothers throughout the parenting journey.

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