Heartbreak and Hope: Dealing with infertility

Sometimes the most important topics are the hardest to talk about. I think infertility is really high on that list.

Did you know that about 10% of women in the United States will struggle with infertility? So why aren’t we talking about it? Well, because, it’s really, really hard.

That’s why I’m so honored that Jacqueline offered to talk to me about her fertility journey. If you are struggling with fertility, I hope, in reading this, you’ll find some strength from Jacqueline’s words and realize you are not alone. And, for the rest of us, I hope we’ll learn something about how to be there for our friends and family in this very difficult journey.

Caitlin: So, Jacqueline, first of all, thank you for talking about this issue that I know isn’t easy to discuss. Can you start by telling us a bit about your journey with fertility?

Jacqueline: My journey started about eight years ago. We had been married a few years and had decided that it was time for us to start a family of our own.

A year and a half later, when trying on our own hadn’t worked, I decided to talk to my ob-gyn and asked a few questions. My doctor started me on the process of just checking everything out and seeing if there were any medical issues.

All the tests kept coming back good. Neither of us had any issues. They could find no underlying reason of why we weren’t able to conceive. That was great news.

The doctor suggested that we see a fertility specialist to move things along. We discovered that our insurance covered a good portion of the infertility procedures, which was wonderful. The costs are quite high for both the procedures and the prescriptions.

We had just gotten started when we learned that our insurance was changing carriers. No more awesome coverage! Yikes. We had to move fast so we jumped right into IVF. We basically had to put all of our eggs into one basket, so to speak. One shot.

During this process we also got accepted into an IVF trial so we were fortunate enough to get two shots. Two baskets, Ha!

Unfortunately neither procedure worked. It was a very quick and  head spinning process. We were back to square one.

We moved on to doing IUI next, which was a little more manageable when paying out of pocket.

Caitlin: What kind of emotional toll does that take?

Jacqueline: It’s definitely a roller coaster. Because you go through so many different stages. You start your cycle and you’re both really pumped. You’re like, “This is it! I feel good!”

In the beginning I had to give myself shots of hormones, sometimes twice a day.  Your body is so full of hormones so quickly that it definitely puts you into a crazy brainfog after the first week of shots.

My husband felt very helpless during this process. He knew what a toll it was taking on me.

I often had to take a lunch bag with my dosage in to work. I kept it from my bosses and co-workers. You have to give yourself shots the same time each day and the syringes have to stay refrigerated at all times. I would give myself shots in the ladies room and sometimes in my car. I felt a little like a drug user on occasion sneaking around. (laughs)

The doctors keep close tabs on you during this process and you are in the office almost every other day getting blood work and ultrasounds.

Oh, and they want you to relax. “Don’t stress out,” they say.  Easy to say, not so much to do. After all of that, they do the procedure and you have to wait two weeks to see if you’ve conceived. When the two week mark would start to get close I would tell my husband “Oh my gosh, this might be it. This might be it. I feel good. I don’t feel like I’m getting my cycle.”

And then you do. It’s definitely a heartbreak. You just kind of…. ugh.  I can’t explain the feeling. It was just heartbreaking for both of us.

When you include your family in on it, you feel like you’re all rooting for the same team so it was kind of like, “Ah crap, now I get to tell everybody that it didn’t take.“

So, eventually, I stopped telling people when I was doing cycles. It kind of trailed off after a while. It got a little harder each time it didn’t happen and I thought, “You know what, that’s okay if I don’t tell them.” Because they’ll be thrilled when we say, “We’re having a baby!”

So, it got to the point when that I stopped including my mother in on it because I know that she was having a hard time. It’s just as heartbreaking for a potential grandmother as it is for her daughter and I know she didn’t want to see me hurting. Eventually, I just kind of started keeping it closer to home and it made it easier when people stopped asking because then I didn’t have to say out loud that it didn’t happen again.

And, I would cry. Not always, but it was sometimes just a thirty second cry and you’re kind of like, okay, I’m all right. Put your big girl pants on.

So, it was like nonstop. You’re still on the hormone surge and then you get your cycle, and you’re back at the doctor, you’re not even okay yet with the fact it didn’t work and they’re already talking about the next one.

So, you kind of zoom into the next one and you do it all again. Occasionally I was just too exhausted or the numbers just weren’t good and we would have to take a month off.

Caitlin: Why do you think this issue is so hard to talk about?

Jacqueline: You know, I’m not really sure. I think part of you is kind of surprised that you haven’t been able to conceive and why it’s hasn’t been easy to do. I always thought all it took was going off of birth control and having a few glasses of wine with the hubby.

I think talking about it is tough because you don’t know how to bring the subject up in common conversation. You don’t want to get that head tilt and “Aww” expression. That’s a killer. My husband says it makes him want to throat-punch somebody.(laughs)

A close friend of mine had made me her confidant in her infertility journey. She had gone through it way before I ever began my journey. She had kept me pretty close in her struggle. I am happy to say she was blessed with a beautiful little girl.

So, even though I knew about that, I still thought as soon as I went off birth control pills I would get pregnant the next month. You need other people to talk to.

The frustrations and heartache that a couple can go through each month… you both have the same feelings. We would try and stay positive for each other. My husband is my rock, but it is good to vent to a friend when you need to let off a little steam. It saves your sanity.

After I had finished my IVF rounds and had moved onto IUI, I found out that two of my girlfriends were going through the same thing. One of them was even going to the same doctor! That was a real wake up call for all of us. We saw each other every week but nobody was talking about it! Once we started the conversation it was such a relief to know that we all felt the same things and were having the same struggles. It was good to laugh about the insanity too. It makes it all a little easier to swallow.

Caitlin: Do you still feel disbelief that you’re going through this?

Jacqueline: As many different processes that we went through, IVF, IUI, um, yeah. I am still surprised that nothing has worked. I still have hope. I’ve never lost that, but I do have to say, it’s frustrating. I gave up coffee, I gave up chocolate, I gave up sugar, gluten, alcohol, ate only organic, you name it, to make sure that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I read up on everything to educate myself on alternate reasons for infertility. So, there’s still a little disbelief that you feel like you did everything right and everything that you could do and nothing happens.  It’s definitely frustrating.

Caitlin: Since you last did IUI, what’s been the gameplan?

Jacqueline: We kind of took a break.  After years of trying and years of fertility, we were both kind of numb.  It took us a while to get back to the point that we were ready to try again.  It got to be a lot mentally and the hormones were taking a toll on my body. We both decided that I would benefit from a break and a detox. I felt like I was beating my head against a wall.  It was somewhat of a relief because there wasn’t that constant pressuring and wondering. So that was a good thing to do for both of us.  Now, I get fertility acupuncture treatments and we are just having fun trying on our own.

Caitlin: Tell me about acupuncture.

Jacqueline: I actually went at first for allergies. It was suggested that I not take any over the counter medications during fertility treatments to better my chances. This also led me to learn more about my body and to look deeper into what I was eating and into my environment. I am very proactive about my health and have actually become more mindful of how I treat my body whether its food, sleep, exercise- its all related to your total body health. I wanted to know that I was giving myself the best chance that I could to conceive. My husband joined me in this process, I could not have done it without his support. I am currently seeing a fertility acupuncturist and she prescribes herbal supplements that support the fertility process. It’s a holistic approach, I am so much happier with this approach.

Caitlin: What are your thoughts on adoption?

Jacque: I’ve always thought adoption was a great option for anybody. When it come to us as a couple, we were so concentrated on conceiving ourselves, it wasn’t something we really talked about or really looked into. Recently, we have started to look into it. We sent off for information to a couple places that were suggested. One issue we have had is the fact that the adoption agencies suggest that you should come to grips that you are most likely not going to conceive on your own before starting the adoption process.  I’m not sure either of us are there yet.

Our doctor also suggested an egg donor, as another option.  It’s hard to wrap your brain around what to do next when neither of us has a clue. Usually one of us is stronger when the other needs a hand up. Right now, I think we both feel a little lost in the process.

Caitlin:  You mentioned earlier that you had met some friends who were also dealing with infertility. Have they been able to have children yet?

Jacque: Yeah. Actually, all of them were lucky enough to conceive! It just kind of happened one after another after another. And some of them are even on their second child now. It’s wonderful. Everybody had kids now.

There’s nobody who is still in our boat. I do feel a little bit like we are on our own little island now.

But, fortunately, I couldn’t be happier for any of them. Like, serious tears when they told me they were pregnant. Because you know how it feels… the JOY they must have felt when they got the thumbs up that they were pregnant.

Caitlin: Do you think it was hard for them to tell you?

Jacque: I hope not, but I can imagine if it were me telling them, oh god, yes. Yeah.

I’m thrilled for them, but I can see where telling somebody who is dealing with infertility that you’re pregnant would be really hard.

Caitlin: It must be hard for you to hear, even though you are genuinely happy for your friends.

Jacque: I can’t lie, it’s a weird emotion. You’re elated that your friend is pregnant and then time goes on and maybe a baby shower comes up and you’re out shopping and you’re wrapping the present or something silly like that, and I’ll start crying.

It happens like that. It’s not a direct sadness, it’s more of a trigger. It’s really hard to put into words. And it’s not directed to the pregnant person or the baby or anything like that. It just brings up a sadness. It’s just really hard to explain.

I just think that it definitely helps to talk about stuff. It helps the soul I think, to let it work through the things it needs to work through.

And I think it’s hard to articulate to your friends or family what you’re feeling or what you’re trying to say, but if you kind of just sit down and talk, it’s a wonderful thing. You’re not burdening them. They genuinely care, as you do for them.

Caitlin: What do you think is the best thing people can do to support someone they love who is dealing with fertility issues?

Jacque: You know, that’s a really hard question. I found that for myself, there was a fine line between letting people know what was going on and keeping it a secret and that’s why I didn’t tell a lot of people because I was trying to keep my emotions out of it. That didn’t work.

So, I think that probably if you know somebody that is going through fertility, just let them know that you’re accessible to talk to. Be there for them in a gentle way and be mindful of the person’s feelings.

Though you may have good intentions, don’t bring it up at a party. I’ve had people corner me over the dessert table and start asking me a million questions. There is a time and a place, and that’s not it.

Caitlin: Yeah, I guess people don’t really know how to act sometimes with the tough stuff. You don’t want to pry, but then at the same time, you don’t want your friend or loved one to think you don’t care. It is hard.

Jacque: It is tough. I wish I had the answer. I supposed gently checking in is a nice thing.

Caitlin: What advice would you give someone who is dealing with infertility?

Jacque: Be your own advocate and do your own research. If you decide to go to an infertility clinic, research your doctor and ask around. You need to have a good support group with your doctors and know that they care about you, that you’re not just a baby notch on their belt.

If you are considering going the holistic route, the same thing holds true.

With your spouse or partner, good communication is important. I know sometimes, as the woman, I felt alone and that was tough for him. Your partner is going through it with you, don’t forget that. Maybe not physically, but they are going on the same ride as you are and it’s important to know that they’re there for you and to let them be there for you.

Caitlin: What have you learned about yourself in this process?

Jacque: I realized that I have a lot of drive when it comes to doing what needs to be done. I’m not the wuss that I had thought I was. It’s been a lot of hard work. I mean, when you give up your morning cup of coffee, that’s tough! (laughs) We have both learned that we are a strong couple and we can make it through anything.

We will make wonderful parents, God willing.


Have you struggled with infertility? Any words of wisdom to share?

Image credit: Corey Taratuta