There is an urgent knock at the door, “It’s time!” We slip quietly into the next hospital room. The husband is kneeling at his wife’s side, stroking her hair and whispering to her. Her eyes are closed and she is breathing deeply. We are motioned to sit. A powerful sense of calm and anticipation fills the room. I gaze at my husband and wonder at this beautiful and surreal experience. Before I know it, she is here! The nurse hands me our baby and I hold her gently and protectively against my chest, her skin against mine. My heart floods with emotions. I whisper silent thank yous and gaze down at her sweet face. It was worth the wait.
Eight years, dozens of practitioners and procedures, over one hundred appointments, and one thousand needles/injections – all without success or answers. It was undoubtedly the most frustrating and difficult time in my life. No matter our propensity to optimism and happiness, all of us will face some kind of adversity or struggle in life. Struggling is part of living and being human. It is the way that we move through our difficulties that matters and can come to define who we are.
Perseverance and Patience
While each of our struggles is different, mine is infertility. With 1 in 8 couples experiencing infertility, it is likely you know someone who is facing this. My wish is that my story will give hope to those couples, and provide insight for others to understand and support them a little better. My story is one of perseverance and patience; of my determination to become a mother and how I eventually got there.
Originally from England, I came to the USA in 2005 to teach skiing in the mountains of Utah. With my younger students I sang to them on the chairlift and they’d ask wide-eyed “Are you Mary Poppins?” I love children, and while starting a family wasn’t in my immediate goals, it was something I knew I wanted to do eventually. Several months into my winter sojourn I met my now-husband on the slopes. We spent the first few years of our marriage in an exciting whirlwind of travel and adventure, and then decided we would like to start a family. I was 32 and he was 35. To us, this still seemed young. (Although statistics tell us that fertility declines first gradually and then more rapidly as a woman moves from her early to late 30s.)
Multiple years, doctors, medications, and tests later, all of which came back with a frustrating diagnosis of ‘normal’, we still had not reached our goal. The doctors recommended we try IUIs (Intrauterine Insemination) next and if necessary later IVFs (In Vitro Fertilization), and this would give us a good statistical chance of success. Over the next 6 years we went through 4 IUI and 6 IVF procedures, transfering a total of 9 embryos. We were able to get pregnant twice, but miscarried both times. We were devastated. It is tough to face disappointment month after month, year after year, try after try.
There are so many messy emotions surrounding infertility – blame, shame, sadness, inadequacy, jealousy. It is said that the psychological impact of experiencing infertility can have emotional stress levels similar to cancer. Not being able to conceive a child can bring you to question your own woman/manhood. How can you seem broken and yet move through life feeling whole? It takes incredible inner-work.
Bravery in Vulnerability
My husband and I made the decision to be open about our infertility struggles. At first I had some apprehensions about being so open, but I have learned there is great strength and bravery in vulnerability. I started a blog. It is cathartic for me to write, and I want to be a voice for those who don’t feel able to share, to normalize infertility, and reduce shame. I have heard from others that reading my words helped them feel understood, hopeful, connected. As author Tahir Shah shares: ‘Stories are a communal currency of humanity’.
I am fortunate to have built a wonderful community of friends, who have helped me process my emotions and offered me support. Over the years, many of these friends got pregnant and had children (some easier than others), while my husband and I watched on and waited. We hoped, prayed, and wished that our time would come. To see the elusive smile on the pregnancy test, to see my tummy swell, to hold a child in our arms, and lay them in the crib we had built in their nursery years ago. We learned how to live through waiting – to enjoy each day and be in the present moment. I remember reading that most of our worry is about the past or future (and 90% of what we worry about never happens), so if we focus on the now, that is where peace and happiness resides.
When We Stop Struggling, We Float
There are many other lessons I learned through this difficult time, including: grit, grace, and gratitude, as well as how to let go of control and just be. The struggle of infertility can be exhausting and in the words of author Mark Nepo ‘When we stop struggling, we float.’ Maybe most importantly, I held the faith and ongoing belief that I would become a mother. There is incredible power in this.
Two years ago we were deciding whether we could face another round of IVF (it would be our seventh)! We had 4 embryos remaining from prior egg retrievals and we wanted to give them a chance for life. But with our recent pregnancy losses in our minds and still not knowing what the problem was, we were apprehensive. Then a wonderful friend stepped in and offered to be a Gestational Carrier (GC) for us. We would use our embryo and the baby would be 100% genetically ours. ‘Our bun, her oven’ as our doctor described it.
It was the most beautiful, selfless, and generous offer. But it was also hard for us all. I had to mourn the loss of carrying my own child and learn to be ok with allowing someone else to help me do something I can’t, which is difficult and very humbling. We also witnessed our GC and her family’s sacrifices. We are forever grateful to her and the amazing gift of love in carrying our baby. Without her, we would not be parents.
Our beautiful daughter, Elle Sarah Marie, was born in April 2019. She just turned 1. Our long journey to have her is not lost on us. My husband and I have both grown so much as individuals and as a couple, and every day we feel thankful for her being here. We speak of our hopes and dreams for her. To teach her amongst other things to be: strong and resilient; curious and compassionate; faithful and fearless; generous and giving; to look for the joy and humor in life; and not only accepting of differences, but to celebrate them, including that family can come in many different ways.
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