Today is the beginning of a new year. A time to reflect. A time to pause. It seems weird, since the older we get, the quicker time seems to pass. But a beautiful thing about time passing is it has an effect on an individual. Correction. Time passing doesn’t always feel like a beautiful thing. But whether we embrace it or not, time passing is inevitable.
Time continues to flow and we can be like that pebble in the bottom of a riverbed and soften with the ever flowing current. Or we can decide to impart our own barrier up against it all and become like a dam. Prevent it all from passing freely.
It seems trivial to talk about a dam and a pebble in the bottom of a riverbed but I wanted to illustrate this opposing thought. On any given day, I feel like the pebble or the dam. And on most days, you can find me relating to both. From a very a dark place, I experienced acute pain and grief that I felt like the immovable dam. Guaranteed to stick there forever. Life was seemingly passing away from me before I even had the chance to grasp it. Was I even understanding what was happening? Did I care? Why couldn’t things just fix themselves? Why me? Does anyone really care?
Two and a half years ago, my husband and I made a decision. A decision that would vastly change the trajectory of what we believed was a neat and tidy life. We decided it was time for another baby. Boohoo right? Like oh, you poor soul. You already had one child, so why could you not just be happy and be done with that. But in my mind, we were on track. On track for 2 babies before 30. I married my high school sweetheart. We lived in a town not too far from where we grew up. This was it. We made it. Yet, life has a funny way of working out.
Nearly a year into trying, I realized something was wrong. I experienced fear. I began getting debilitating abdominal pain. I went to the ER twice. I saw 2 different doctors diagnosing me “this” and “that.” But I knew something was off. Fast forward to two days before my little sister’s bachelorette party, and I was having semi-urgent gall bladder surgery. My gall bladder was completely shot. Quick recovery I thought. No more worry about that pain. Onward and upward to our perfect plan! But 2 months passed. I went to see my OB. She agreed to “fast track” our plan. 3 rounds of “fast tracked” baby making. And nothing. Now it was time to get REALLY serious.
We were referred to a reproductive endocrinologist. Nothing could really be wrong, right? We were 29 and in good health. Sure, I was a little on the petite and smaller side. But let’s get real. We’d already had a baby. And whenever we wanted our son, we thought about having a baby, and he appeared. And now that baby is a healthy preschooler.
Then the glass shattered. It shattered into tiny shards all over the floor. Into pieces so small I didn’t think I’d truly ever be able to piece them back together or heck, even pick them back up again. I’ll never forget the phone call. I felt hot and cold and angry and sad and disillusioned and bewildered all at the exact same moment. “Hi, Rachel. This is the nurse from Dr. J’s office. Uhhh sweetie, your labs came back and things looked good except—– except for one. You have low AMH and what we think is premature ovarian failure.” I was at work so no puddles were had at that instant.
I just remember trying to pull myself back together enough to treat my patient. (I’m a physical therapist by trade.) I got home and if you ask me about the summer of 2016, I’d tell you it was spent on the floor in my bedroom staring at our century old oak trees in our backyard for countless hours, crying, yelling, cursing, calling friends, talking to someone or anyone or not one person in particular. What now?
Oh dear reader. There was more to that “what now”. We grappled with these life decisions that only 2% or less of the population had to deal with. (And if you ask me personally, I’d tell you it feels on any given day more like .00001% of the population deals with this.) We were dealt the infertility card. The crushing, unrecognizable diagnosis of infertility that friends, peers, strangers, coworkers, and occasionally a distant relative wouldn’t be able to comprehend.
If you’ve researched infertility, you will know that it is often times paralleled to a cancer diagnosis. A diagnosis where you are free floating. Where there is no escape, but you are simply a recipient of the medical world. You hope and pray and beg that the medical field can solve your life altering condition. Except the difference. The very real difference between infertility and cancer. With cancer, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, and even your sometimes sociable friends on social media, will support you with ready made meals, cards, flowers, home visits, phone calls, or offering sometimes to hold your hand through the endless doctor’s visits. And rightfully so. I do not wish cancer on my worst enemy. Both of my grandparents and my uncle have battled this horrific disease. I pray that one day very soon, we will have the information to cure this. To beat it so that when people talk about cancer 20 years from now, people will ask “what is cancer?”
But with infertility, you are utterly alone. There are no people holding your hand along the journey. That’s a private matter they say. That thing of procreation you do behind closed doors, and surely it’s none of my or Jane’s or Sue’s business, right? Well, you tell me.
If someone told you that your hopes and dreams you’ve had since you were a child couldn’t happen, would you want some support? To be able to talk about it? How can you even begin to talk about it? Well let me answer that question. You most certainly can. And before I complain about how mistreated and unfortunate things have been for me, let me make it clear. I have a VERY supportive family. Like rock solid. Without my husband, my mom and dad, my sister, my brothers and their perspectives, things would be woefully different.
But with people I trusted or people I thought sort of kind of “got it” at the time, I’ve been let down. “Why don’t you just adopt?” or ” Well at least you guys have a beautiful son.” Or some of my absolute favorite things I’ve received from friends or people I know– Complete silence. Like completely ignoring a giant elephant in a tiny room of ants. (ha!) Maybe this horrific life altering event you’re experiencing will just go away if I don’t bring it up anymore. If I don’t speak about it, it doesn’t exist. Trust me, this did not help, but made me feel somehow like I was not enough or important to that particular person.
I bring this topic up not to shame anyone, but to enlighten you, that this is in fact a very painful, isolating journey that few people understand. But each one of us has the power to change. To ask “how are you?” To empathize. To give a hug, an ear even. Not to understand it fully or to make it right but just to let the other person know you’re here.
And what no one tells you about infertility, is that it’s experienced all anew on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis (depending on how long you’ve been an infertility veteran.) It’s experienced when you see the woman in line at the grocery store with her evidently pregnant belly. When you drop your son off at preschool and you are 1 of 2 moms in the school that day that has only one child. When people remind you regularly “Oh things were easy with 1 kid. You just wait until the 2nd one comes! It’s a whole new ball game.” When you receive your 5th baby shower invitation for the year and it’s only February. Any time you log into social media–you’re taking your life into your own hand’s people, which is why I’m not on Facebook and sparingly use Instagram. It’s experienced during the holidays. It’s experienced on birthdays–great another year has passed! On Mother’s day, on anniversaries of losses or bad news days. Or sometimes, it’s experienced just because it’s Monday and life is hard and you don’t want to have to face the harsh music of reality. The music that life seems to have seamlessly passed by for so many others, but you’re still here waiting, wondering, wishing, and even begging.
So when people ask me now, how are you? I can honestly say it depends. It depends on what things or people have crossed my path that day. But luckily for me, I have a little more grit and a little more faith and a little less “heart on my shoulder the world is out to get me” perspective. And whether I was ready or not, this was merely only the beginning of my story.
I pray this sheds a bit of light on the lonely and often times very dark road of infertility. This is just the beginning of the early parts of my story and more is still to come. But I leave you with a few resources that were like an oasis in a desert. A quiet space in a busy, whirling world of confusion and disarray. One is an infertility community that is made up of some of the absolute strongest women I will ever “social media” know.** And the other is a podcast dedicated solely to bucking the mainstream medical approaches to women’s health and infertility. I encourage you to check out both.
**The infertility community requires a sign in, but you can listen to the podcasts without joining, just search “Beat Infertility ” through whichever way you listen to podcasts.
More to come, friends. Thank you for taking the time to read this.