“They whispered to her ‘you cannot withstand the storm,’ she whispered back ‘I am the storm.’”
I was always taught that if you work hard enough, you will succeed, and you can get what you want. So, in my job as a teacher, my relationships, my life, I always worked hard, enjoying all life has to offer. It wasn’t until I encountered fertility challenges that I realized these rules don’t always apply. As my husband of two years and I decided we wanted to start a family, we immediately envisioned nurseries and starting a new chapter. After four months off birth control, and the start of ovulation kits and precise timing, we still were left with nothing. So of course, as I was taught, I kept working harder. Doing every single thing during my fertile window to get the result we wanted. Another few months went by, and finally, after seven months we saw the positive on the pregnancy test.
I used to look back on that moment with such self-loathing, when we embraced, took a picture of the test, even opened a nice bottle of wine for one more last glass and looked to the calendar for when we could tell our families. I hated myself for the blind optimism. How idiotic was I to think everything would just work out? Four days later, we had a miscarriage. Miscarriage, no matter how far along you are, is traumatizing. Along with the literal life leaving your body, your trust in your own body, god, the world is lost a bit as well. You find ways to blame yourself, for me it was the glass of wine and the hot yoga class I took when I didn’t know I was pregnant. Now, looking back with even more distance, I don’t feel that same hatred for the girl who thought her journey was over after seven months, there is nothing wrong with being happy and celebrating when things are easy, I hope only the easy path for all.
A few weeks after the miscarriage, as the pregnancy was still naturally leaving my body, my younger sister announced she was pregnant. Never in my life have I felt more conflicting emotions. I was happy for her, that it was easy for her to get pregnant, and I knew that her and her husband would make excellent parents. At the same time, my insides burned with jealousy and resentment. Why her and not me? Hadn’t I endured enough? After our miscarriage, we heard a lot of “it is common and good news because it means you can get pregnant” and this is something we truly believed.
More determined than ever, my husband and I continued our relentless attempts, but after another six months, nothing. When you live your life by each cycle, each day of the month feels like an eternity. You work your way through a cycle of hope and then eventual despair. One of the most difficult moments was when we decided it was time to see a fertility specialist. It was in this moment that I realized that it didn’t matter how hard we worked, we needed help. After a pretty painful HSG test, joining a support group, endless tests, acupuncture, and finding a doctor we felt ok about, the real battle began.
The more you know, the more you know. And wow, I had no idea about the fertility world and all the possible scenarios one can be afraid of. Much of me was in disbelief that the entire world wasn’t aware of the injustices surrounding infertile couples. Starting a family should be a right, not a privilege. I didn’t know how insurance companies work to not cover you and leave you with only difficult decisions about your finances and your health. How one in eight women are dealing with fertility issues, walking amongst us, silent warriors. How many journeys do not end with a child. How had I been walking around so blind for so long? Well here I was, starting with clomid and IUIs and trying to not get too hopeful. Hope is what saves us, but also what hoists us up so high that when we crash, it is often hard and fast, leaving us breathless.
Once I started fertility treatments, I decided that I was no longer ok being silent. I let my friends and family in on what was happening. This is my biggest piece of advice, let others in. I was carrying this burden around, on my shoulders, in my body, in my heart, every moment of every day and to let people who loved me help me carry the burden truly let me take a breath and realize how many other aspects of my life I was grateful for. During our second assisted cycle we added Gonal f shots. If you have to get injections, I suggest letting your partner help you. This brought us even closer. He took on the burden of learning how and doing it each night. Together, we faced the raging storm of needles and hormones and pills and inconvenient doctor’s appointments. We were pushed to reshape how we saw our journey. Our timeline, expectations for how my body would react, and mindset around what patience looks like had completely changed.
By some miracle that I still don’t fully believe, after almost two years from when we decided we wanted to start a family, our second IUI worked and I was pregnant. As we navigated those first 12 weeks after finding out, I realized what an impact fertility challenges had on our lives and how much it changed the fabric of our relationship and how I was now different too, more cautious, but also stronger. Fertility takes all the parts of your life you try to control, throws them in the air, and makes you so off balance it is impossible to grab hold of anything as you are just trying to steady yourself. Fertility challenges truly is the perfect storm. It effects your finances, your work life, your sex life, tests your relationship with your partner, your family and friends, and most of all, your relationship with yourself. In many ways I felt my body failed me. Never having as much as a single broken bone, I always trusted that if I took care of my body, it would take care of me. As a small whisper in the back of my mind said “you cannot withstand the storm” of this process, of the hormones, the physical pain, jealousy of those that got pregnant naturally and quickly, the self-doubt, the deafening silence of society towards those going through this, something in me kept going.
We never gave up, so you could say that the whole “work hard and you will succeed” rule stayed true, but really I think it was luck and perhaps something else. I know how lucky we are to have gotten a positive after only two medicated IUI cycles. But, there was something else along with this luck that is hard to put my finger on. It has something to do with the hope that never fully left me as we made our way through. Hope can backfire and leave you feeling defeated, but ultimately it is worth it because, just as devastating things like fertility challenges happen, good stuff happens too, and sometimes, if you are lucky, even a miracle like a successful clomid cycle.
To the child that grows inside me today, I fought for you before you even existed. I know, now more than ever, what being a mother is about. I was strong for both of us and I will continue to be for every cycle of our lives.
To my husband, who I thought I already loved everything about, when it was go time, you showed up, stronger than I could ever have imagined. You have helped fill the hole that my fertility issues left, with something more, and for that, you are more of a man than most.
And to all my TTC sisters still battling their own storms, my heart is with you always. Perhaps not throughout every moment of your journey, but every now and then as that voice whispers “you cannot withstand the storm,” whisper back and consider that perhaps you are the storm.