I had our fifth and final miscarriage in December. We officially stopped pursuing treatments shortly after that because while I could have physically continued, for the first time in eight years I admitted this was a process that was bringing out the worst in me. I might be very self-assured, but I am also a people pleaser and a proud Type-A personality. Having a baby is literally the only thing I have ever sucked at repeatedly.
I have had every test imaginable run, had dozens (hundreds maybe?) vials of blood drawn, administered injections in my butt/leg/stomach more times than I can count, read medical journals in the wee hours of the morning, had surgical biopsies, cameras put where the sun don’t shine, taken more medications than I can name, been in stirrups under sedation with a room full of people I didn’t know five different times (talk about handing over any sense of modesty)… so while I sucked at it, I did do everything I could. And I sucked at it anyway. Sometimes that’s how this goes.
Pro Tip #1: Unless asked, don’t offer your infertile friend advice about how to get pregnant. Yes, they have probably tried it. Yes, that’s great that it worked for your friend’s cousin’s sister to have sex at the quarter moon upside-down and then eat pineapple for nine days straight. How wonderful. I hope they enjoy the completely coincidental baby that came from that.
I felt so much guilt for what my body was doing to these embryos, and it reached every aspect of my life — mom guilt, wife guilt, friend guilt, employee guilt, patient guilt. If you can think of it, I felt horrible about it. It got to a point where I considered switching medical clinics because I felt guilty for affecting their pregnancy success rates. I felt like my doctors and nurses were “too nice,” and I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew me, and I could just fail alone, without feeling like I was disappointing anyone. This is ridiculous, by the way. You are one of hundreds of patients, and they get paid whether you have a baby or not.
Pro Tip #2: Please don’t ask “Have you asked your doctor…” or “You should tell your doctor…” Yes, they have asked their doctor. Yes, they have told their doctor EVERYTHING, from when their last period was to the last time they had sex. They have called their doctor because their shower was too hot, and they worried it hurt the embryo. They have called their doctor because they were supposed to do their injection at 8 p.m. but switching the syringe needle was confusing, and they didn’t do the injection until 8:06 p.m. There isn’t much you can tell these doctors that they don’t already know. They are million-dollar specialists who went to school for something like 15 years with the only goal of getting people pregnant. They usually don’t suck.
I tried shutting absolutely everyone out and talking to no one about anything pregnancy-related because I thought maybe if people didn’t know anything, they would be less invested when it inevitably failed. I was so broken by this process I didn’t know how to let anyone be nice to me. It was embarrassing for everyone to see me in the same pit of failure, again. With my last pregnancy, I refused ultrasound photos from the very first appointment. I didn’t need another set of photos to add to a drawer full of pictures of failed pregnancies and failed futures. I did go to therapy (because, obviously), and jokingly said I wished I had some medical condition where pregnancy wasn’t advised because then the decision would be made for me, and I could stop, and the therapist asked “Why is your mental health expendable to you?” I didn’t have an answer.
Pro Tip #3: To anyone struggling, see a therapist. Preferably one with infertility experience — resolve.org has recommendations for finding mental health professionals — but anything is better than nothing. You deserve a neutral place to work out the complex things that go with infertility.
More than once I told my spouse, sitting on a bathroom floor covered in towels, that she was only allowed to call 911 if I passed out from blood loss. I knew there was nothing anyone at the hospital could do, and I’d rather risk bleeding out at home than let yet another person touch me. During one particularly bad episode, I conceded and let her call our doctor’s office at night, and they were concerned enough to send a nurse to our house at 10 p.m. since I was being completely unreasonable and refused to leave. When it came to reason and logic, two things I like most about myself, I had none.
Pro Tip #4: You know how when you call literally any doctor’s office after hours and it says, “If this is an emergency, please hang up and call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room”? Yeah. Please do that. I can be a horrible, stubborn idiot. PTL I’m not also a dead idiot.
I did all this while taking my kids to school. Working. Leading meetings and presentations. Grocery shopping. Attending birthday parties. Celebrating holidays. Hosting events. Making sure my kids weren’t affected by everything I was dealing with. It took all the energy I had to try and behave like a normal person when, actually, I was not a normal person right then. I was stuck in “fight or flight” mode with no where to run, and the fight was with my own body.
If you haven’t struggled with pregnancy issues, this is all probably pretty shocking, and the polar opposite of the media parcel you’re sold about pregnancy. If you have struggled, then parts of this may be pretty familiar. I’m sharing this on behalf of all the women who are going through this right now who won’t tell you any of this, but who also really need to be heard and supported. You may ask how they are, and they will respond, “Fine.” But there is a solid chance they are not fine. So be gentle. Be kind. If you know someone going through infertility treatments, and you want to check in, be genuine about it because you might get a “fine” or you might get a whole lot of information you didn’t expect. Please be supportive, listen, and try to not offer advice.
As the person going through it, it so easy to assume that people don’t want to hear about how you’re really doing because the answer is “Not good” or “Things are hard.” No one wants to be friends with the storm cloud in the corner, and everyone wants to try and fix things. It is very human to want to help. But we have a team of highly paid professionals working on this, and they are also failing. Every additional suggestion can feel like another way someone else thinks we should be able to succeed. So, we say, “Fine,” because it is easier than the truth. We slap on a smile and try and not cry at your pregnancy announcement/baby shower/kid’s birthday party, and we hope that if we say, “Fine” enough, eventually we will be fine.
I’m happy to report that I’m finally at a place where I can say “Fine” without air quotes — great actually. All of this information and the weight it carries is something no one would probably guess. Where I am now, and the decisions it took to get here, were absolutely the right choice for our family, but it took a long time, and I won’t ever forget what the years of struggle felt like. So for anyone who is reading this and you are the one who is doing “Fine,” I see you. You can do this. Whatever “this” is for you in your fertility process, you can make it through. You have survived 100% of your worst days so far. You can do hard things. And — open invitation — you can always message me to talk until you truly feel fine. No one should have to deal with someone snuggling their baby as they tell you to eat pineapple and monitor lunar cycles alone. Girl, I got you. Call me.