Infertility, aka Unwanted Childlessness

So we experienced a first trimester twin miscarriage back in January 2019. It was awful, but we remained hopeful – the midwives cheerfully waved me along after my post-miscarriage appointment; “see you in a few months!” they said with a conspirational wink. Our therapist pointed out that we had no reason to believe that this would happen again, or that we would have any trouble carrying a pregnancy to term. We were young, healthy, had gotten pregnant with no real effort, etc. etc.

The first year

The first couple of cycles of trying after the miscarriage were full of adorable naivete. I listened to a ton of pregnancy podcasts. I learned about postpartum care, chose a birthing center, stocked up on cheap ovulation & pregnancy tests (these are my favorite). Each cycle, I was convinced that I was pregnant and then crushed to learn that I wasn’t. It was confusing. Six, seven, eight months went by with nothing but increased anxiety to show for our attempts. We chalked it up to the stress we were under for various other reasons. We also observed with a dose of dry humor that the universe was working decidedly against us – we attended a disproportionate number of weddings in 2019, and for 5 months in a row my fertile window happened to coincide with some couple’s wedding night. But as a year crept up on us – the period of trying that would officially earn us an infertility diagnosis – I became extremely ansty.

And alone. It felt like my peers were either effortlessly becoming pregnant or not remotely close to thinking about childbearing. I didn’t tell anyone that we were trying so hard to try, and found it really hard to talk about with my husband. I felt so betrayed by my body. One of my biggest reasons for pushing through eating disorder recovery was to restore my natural cycles so we could have babies. On particularly bad days, I felt like it was all for naught, even though that was far from true.

Becoming officially infertile – and several twists

In Feburary, we started seeing a reproductive endocrinologist. We did a cycle of follicular ultrasound monitoring with them to check for PCOS and to see if I would be a candidate for medicated cycles. We paid hundred of dollars to learn that I did not have PCOS and was ovulating perfectly on my own, which I already knew, but never trust the patient right? Feeling unsatisfied, unheard, and a little turned off by how aggressively they were pushing IVF on us, we looked for an alternative. In March, we found a different provider that believed in treating infertility by finding the root cause, and not by trying to manipulate the natural cycle.

And then COVID hit.

And then I became pregnant – on my own!

And then I had another miscarriage.

Testing and doing crazy things

The second miscarriage qualified me for a whole bunch of new tests – the RPL (recurrent pregnancy loss) panel, as they call it. Everything turned up normal. I had two endometrial biopsies and a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) – both excruciatingly painful. Tubes are clear. Perfectly shaped uterus.

Throughout this whole process I have been relentlessly trying new things. Acupuncture. Arvigo Mayan Massage. Foot baths. Hypnosis. Talk therapy. Vaginal steaming. Functional doctor. Seed cycling. Taking a break from trying. Immaculate diet. Fertility yoga. No running. Reading a ton of books. Reading research articles. And oh, the endless supplements! Meanwhile it feels like the entire world is pregnant. And the ones who are not yet pregnant are going to become pregnant with no trouble at all.

This brings me more or less to where we are today. It’s been nearly 2 years since our first pregnancy, our unrequested invitation to hell. This journey has all but bankrupted me – financially, energetically, emotionally, spiritually, in every way. And before you tell me to relax and be grateful and then surely new life will spontaneously arise from my inner abundance, DON’T SAY IT. PLEASE DON’T SAY IT TO ANYONE. It’s unhelpful because we, the infertile people of the world, are aware more than anyone else of our stress, anguish, anxiety, and hopelessness – and we want more than anyone else to be able to relax, or at least to feel that our stress is manageable. It’s as cruel as telling a blind person, why don’t you just, like, see already? But I’m not trying to preach. Or rather, I’m trying not to, hah.

Limbo

So why am I talking about my reproductive failure journey on the internet? Well, for one, I’m incredibly lonely. I’m human. Sometimes I need to vent, and this is my blog after all. For two, I am done with feeling shame over this part of my life that has been enormously crippling and is in no way my fault. For three, I believe that story-telling is a really important part of any healing process. Especially story-telling in the midst of the sadness and struggle, when there hasn’t been any sign or confirmation of a happy ending. I always thought that I would wait until we had managed to achieve a successful pregnancy before sharing publicly about our infertility. People don’t know what to do with unfinished chaos. I certainly don’t. One of my recurring wishes has been to be able to time-travel to the moment of the birth of our first child. This limbo feels unbearable, but I know that my work in this season is to come to terms with my story, stay in my own lane, and make space for hard thoughts & feelings without having them consume all my energy.

What’s next?

We still don’t know why we’ve experienced infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss. I’m moving on to more invasive and expensive testing. I am prioritizing my mental health/sanity, because the stress of infertility – in conjunction with the normal and very real stresses of 2020 – has become untenable. We are working extremely actively on nurturing our marriage and strengthening our partnership, which feels like it has had to bear SO MUCH in a short 3.5 years. I’m still in graduate school full-time and working part-time. I really, really hope that some day (soon) I’ll be back here with the story of a miracle. But in the meantime I want to honor the struggle of the in-between-and-really-only-god-knows-if-we’ll-get-there.

Kina Grannis – who has walked this awful road for over 4 years – captures the feeling perfectly:

On the grief of miscarriage

This is a post that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. In January 2019, a little over a year ago, my husband and I miscarried twins at 10.5 weeks of gestation. Going through the nervous excitement of early pregnancy, absorbing the shock of sudden loss, and then wading sluggishly through the Grief that followed has fundamentally changed who I am and how I move through life. I eventually want to tell the story of how everything unfolded – the nitty gritty stuff like ultrasound anxiety, phone tag with the midwives and Husband’s Choice maxipads – but for now, I want to ruminate a little on grief and share some thoughts about how to be a friend to someone going through this poorly-understood but utterly devastating loss.

When I found out I was pregnant in November of 2018, I was fairly clueless about the whole process – I didn’t know the difference between a doctor and a midwife, for example. I knew what a miscarriage was, but I had no idea that approximately 1 in 4 and maybe even 1 in 3 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. Even if I had known that, it never occurred that it might happen to me.

Having the miscarriage was an awful, isolating kind of grief. We couldn’t think of any friends who had been through this. Most people felt awkward around the subject and/or offered unsolicited advice that really stung. And for the most part, I could understand – I would have been the same way before my own loss. I believe everyone had the best of intentions – but good intentions can still hurt. Here I want to share some thoughts about how (in my opinion) to support a friend who has gone through a pregnancy loss. In other words, what makes a response helpful or unhelpful?

The Journey of Grief

grief journey

Copied from http://thi.americanbible.org/uploads/page/2014-11_SBTH_Story_Book_A5.pdf.

I’m going to backtrack a little and talk about grief first. This is an illustration of the grief journey that I’ve found to be extremely helpful. When someone experiences a crisis or a huge loss, there are two paths they can take. Many of us start out on the false bridge, looking to bypass the unpleasant villages of denial and anger and no hope. These so-called negative feelings feel icky and endless, make us feel unproductive, and make it hard to pretend that everything is ok. Unfortuntely, the false bridge doesn’t go anywhere – it’s a dead end.

The only way to get to the village of new beginnings is to take the long, winding road – the road of life, which means spending significant time camping out in denial and anger as well as no hope, sometimes even making a second or a third visit.

I think that everyone’s specific ‘road of life’ will look a little different. For me, I had to ask for some grace at work and at school so that I could take a break (and be okay with taking a break). I was kind to myself whenever I started crying in public because I saw a pregnant woman or even a baby. I swore at God. I worked to accept over and over again that I couldn’t control how long the sadness or anger would last – but I committed to feeling my feelings (most of the time, anyway).

Now, to some people, this might seem self-indulgent, irresponsible, and immature. In fact, I sometimes felt guilty for feeling so sad, and habitually tried to invalidate my pain. I had a strong internal voice that yelled at me constantly: But I have this, and that, and a roof over my head, and a loving husband, and therefore I shouldn’t feel this way, other people suffer so much more, etc, etc, etc. I want to gently challenge that voice. Gratitude and grief can co-exist. It’s also ok not to feel grateful/happy for a while. My own personal experience is that the best way to heal from pain is through. It might take longer than you want, but the village of new beginnings exists, and you will get there.

So what does this have to do with helping my friend?

In a nutshell, some of the most unhelpful comments are ones that try to hurry a grieving person onto the ‘false bridge’. Some examples (most of which have been said to me):

“Oh, it’s more common than you think.” – no big deal, your pain is unwarranted, you should get over it

“At least you’re young.” – again, your grief is unwarranted

“You’ll get pregnant again.” – well, losing a baby isn’t the same as losing a sock…

“I was sad too when my dog died, but ____ helped me.” – our grief isn’t the same, and your solution isn’t what I need right now

“God is so sovereign. He will comfort you.” – this is called spiritual bypassing, and is just as common as it is unhelpful and even toxic

“Just enjoy the time with your husband.” – I will…thanks

“At least you weren’t showing yet.” – placing conditions on when a lost pregnancy is allowed to be mourned

“At least you won’t have to deal with a baby yet, they’re so exhausting!” – err, why did you have one?

Let me reiterate: I honestly believe that almost all of these comments were made with the best of intentions, but I think we can and should want to do more than being well-intentioned.

Here are some responses that made me feel heard, loved, and supported:

“That is so devastating. I am so sorry.”

“I don’t know what to say, but know that I am here to support you.”

“I love you.”

“How can I help?”

“How are you coping?”

“I’m here if you ever want to talk.”

“I don’t know much about this, but if you want to share, I’d love to learn.”

See? Simple, sincere, honest. When in doubt, you can even express your doubt – that will be far more appreciated than ignoring your friend or dodging the subject entirely.

This might sound surprising, but I really wanted to talk about my miscarriage. I wanted to process what had happened, how much pain I was in, how scary the blood was, how lost I felt, everything. But I rarely felt like it was okay to impose on a conversation, even with my close friends. I was waiting for some kind of signal from them that they were willing and able to listen to me. Please don’t worry that bringing it up will somehow upset someone – they’re already thinking about it all the time, and probably about to burst from keep all their raw emotions and thoughts bottled up inside.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful! I’m happy to say that I have found my village of new beginnings, and no longer feel the daily sting of loss, even though I still think about my babies every day. As always, please reach out with thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear them!