Share Your Story: A Morning Grouch

Have you met A Morning Grouch yet?  I’ve only just met her, but I’m already hooked.  She’s really quite funny.  She also jumped right in and supported this site from the very fist minute, message boards and all.  Today she’s using her voice to share her infertility story with us.  She battled PCOS for quite some time….but I’m happy to report that she has a happy ending.  Please read on and leave her a little love in the comments.  Thank you, A Morning Grouch, for using your voice for good and giving us all some much-needed hope.  

So, my husband and I have been trying to have a child for about 3 1/2 years.  The first year we were just not “not trying”.  We figured it would happen within about a year – give or take and weren’t too worried.  To be honest, I was slightly nervous (read: terrified) at the thought of having kids, so I wasn’t in a huge rush.  After the year passed, we decided to officially “try”.  I’d had plenty of time to digest the reality of what children would bring to our life, and I was definitely ready.  “Trying” involved using ovulation predictor kits, and then when those were inconclusive, trying to have sex at least every other day (we actually did a pretty good job with this ;) ).  But, in the end, there was nothing to show for all of that hard work, and after a second year had passed, we realized we needed a little more help.  Clearly, we should have realized we needed some intervention earlier, but we had naively thought that it would just happen, eventually.

We started fertility treatments, since it turned out that I have PCOS, and was likely not ovulating on my own at all.  And so began our “new normal”.

The new normal involved counting cycle days, and taking medications like Clomid, Metformin, Prometrium, Follistim and Ovidrel (the last two being injectable hormones – so I was giving myself shots 5-7 days per month).  The new normal meant having to use up precious sick days (will I have any left for maternity leave?), since internal ultrasounds were needed 2-3 times per month to check my ovaries and the progress of my follicles.  Sometimes these doctor visits could be done at a local facility, and other times we would have to make the hour-long commute for doctor appointments there.  It seemed many appointments ended up needing to be done on Saturdays, which meant spending a couple of hours in the car for a 20 minute appointment, since the local office wasn’t open on the weekend.

The new normal meant not being able to make plans for weekends or breaks, or having to cancel them, because I couldn’t be out of town if an ultrasound was needed.  It meant, at times, bringing along my zippered case of injectable meds, and heading to a bathroom stall between the hours of 6 and 8 pm to give myself a shot.

The new normal meant the continuous development of ovarian cysts, from the follicle stimulating hormones I was injecting into my abdomen.  These were incredibly disappointing as I would have to skip a month before we could try again, lest my ovaries become hyperstimulated (which can potentially lead to permanent infertility).  The cysts also meant I was often unable to run, something I very much enjoy and use as a stress reliever; it was feared my fallopian tube could twist due to the excessive weight of the ovary, potentially leading to the loss of that ovary.

The new normal meant going in for lab work, a few times each month.  One of the medications I was on resulted in me not starting a period as I normally would, so this included a blood draw at the end of a cycle, to determine if I was pregnant.  I got used to the pitying tone of the lab worker telling me, sorry, not pregnant.

As the months passed, the new normal became diminished hope and increasing frustration.  The new normal was a cloud of blackness, with days here and there where grey poked through.  Staying positive was a constant effort.  And, sometimes I just didn’t have the energy.

The new normal meant tears of anger and frustration at every announcement of a child-to-be. As one would expect, everyone around me started getting pregnant.  Or, at least that’s how it felt.  My friend’s announcements would leave me full of joy and excitment for them, while simultaneously feeling like I’d been literally punched in the gut and even more hopeless and frustrated than before.   After anyone who told me they were pregnant in the last year and a half, I typically cried the entire way home after hearing the news.  A little too much self-pitying, I knew, but the frustration and anger usually escaped.   And how dare some of those people COMPLAIN about pregnancy symptoms, or things they couldn’t do as a result of being pregnant?  I was certainly not understanding or sympathetic to those complaints (I’m still not, really).  I was sometimes a little bit mean.

The new normal meant having timed intercourse on certain days of the month, for the sole purpose of conceiving a child.  This takes a bit of the fun out of the process, let me tell you.  And, while we were generally lucky, this meant having to drive out of town to meet my husband where he was, if he had to travel out of town for work, on “cycle day 15 and 16″, or whatever days the doctor told us were the days to try.  Only once did I have to take a sick day, in order to drive 5 hours, into Ohio, to have sex with my husband that night and the next morning, and then immediately turn around to make the 5 hour return trip.

I’d see the baby pictures posted at the fertility center, no doubt supposed to be an inspiration, and literally wondered if those babies were actually the result of anything that happened in that office. I was pretty convinced they were ALL in-vitro babies, and all of the time and energy we were putting in was in vain.  Were they trying to get as much money from us as possible, knowing we would have to do in-vitro in the end anyway?

The new normal meant wondering what would happen if my husband and I couldn’t have children.  Ever since we met, he had talked about wanting a kids, and that this was something he felt was needed to lead a happy and fulfilling life.  The scariest thought ever, “Will my husband and I make it if we can’t have children?”  This was by far the worst part of the entire process.  Even though I never once doubted his love for me, I seriously began to wonder if he would be able to stay with me and live a childless life, or if he did, if he would be truly happy.

Two days after Christmas, I called to get the results from the lab, as I had done many times before.  The lab worker said, “Well, you’re numbers look good”.  Being my skeptical self, I wondered what the hell they were looking at, I didn’t care about all of my numbers, I only cared about the HCG – and she hadn’t specifically said THOSE numbers looked good, or, for that matter, what “good” meant.  She then added, “You’re pregnant”.  My jaw dropped, and my eyes popped out as I turned to look at my husband, who was sitting right next to me, listening in, in disbelief. I literally could not speak anymore and can’t remember if I just hung up on the lady or if I handed the phone to my husband to finish the conversation.  After hanging up, we had the longest hug ever, and I cried (at least this time I could blame it on the hormones).  I guess that trip to Ohio was worth it, after all.

The new normal became cautious optimism.

While there were a few scares early on, overall, this conception impaired blogger appears to be a pregnancy viking.  Finally, the second trimester has begun, and the new normal is sharing the good news, having an even greater sense of relief and excitement.  And, also becoming slightly afraid of stepping on the bathroom scale.

While I am fully aware that my sleep deprivation is only going to get worse, I’m very much looking forward to the new normal, about 6 months from now.

 This post was originally published on  A Morning Grouch on March 11, 2012.   

Don’t Ignore…Infertile Friends

This post is part of Resolve’s National Infertility Awareness Week.

 

Infertility continues to be treated as a disease that only affects individuals or couples.  That couple over there, the girl I grew up with, my brother and his wife….

Given the silence that inevitably surrounds infertility, it’s an easy conclusion to draw.

You might know about it, but the actual infertility only affects them or her.

The truth is that, with 1 in 8 couples affected by infertility, infertility actually affects everyone.

It tears families apart, it tests the strength of marriages, and it destroys friendships…if we let it.

 

I lost a friend to infertility.  It’s been years since we last attempted to connect; we both seemed to know that it would never be the same.  It doesn’t make me miss her any less.

It was days after my second devastating miscarriage (yet another loss at 13 weeks) that I was supposed to take part in her wedding.  She stood by my side two years before, and I was honored to do the same for her.

The dress was resized, the back up shoes with lower heels in the same shade of silver were purchased, the rooms reserved, and the flight was on schedule.

But, without any warning, my body betrayed me for the second time in six months.  The ultrasound revealed another lost life within me.

Tearful messages were exchanged.

It’s ok, I will understand; let me know what the doctor says.

Those statements, it turned out, were just words.  Things people to say to cover the hurt and fill the silence.

The second D&C was every bit as painful as the first.  Instructions were given.  Rest was suggested, followed by a mandatory follow up appointment…to occur days after the wedding date.

Frantic phone calls were made.

I’m so sorry.  This is a nightmare.  I never thought this would happen twice.  I love you so much and I want to be with you.  I can’t believe this is happening.

Guilt set in.

The phone calls went unreturned.  For months and months, I made the same apologetic call.

As the infertility wore on, and the silence continued, I became anxious, depressed, and isolated.

At some point, my husband had the good sense to intervene.

You are going through enough.  You have to let go for right now.

That friendship never did come back to me.  That friendship was just another casualty of infertility.

 

Friendships and family relationships often suffer as a result of infertility.  How could they not?  It’s very difficult to know what to say, how to react, and how to provide support when you have little knowledge to draw upon.

Having lost a dear friend early on in my battle, and having dealt with statement after statement that shattered my soul, I did what many other infertiles do along the way:  I hid.  I got wrapped up in treatments, tests, and attempts to conceive.  Life became a project, and I was no longer willing to share.

I decided that I would rather go it alone than continue to explain my feelings and frustrations only to be told, “you need to relax”, “the fun is in the trying”, or “it’s just not the right time for you”.

Some studies suggest that stress plays a significant role in infertility, and that participation in mind/body programs (including group support) might help reduce that stress.

That, of course, is where this site comes in.  My greatest is hope is to create a little community where we can share our stories, provide support to one another, and seek help if we need it.

But our friends in the land of the fertile can help us too.  Friendships and family relationships shouldn’t have to suffer.

 

Ways for friends and family to provide support:

  • Listen; really listen.
  • Avoid stating opinions based on something read in a magazine.
  • Avoid clichés. 
  • Ask questions to gain understanding.
  • Offer to be there for appointments or immediately following appointments.
  • Check in often.
  • Use the words miscarriage, infertility, and pregnancy.  Don’t be afraid to call it like it is.
  • Invite us to parties, showers, and evenings out.  Let us decide what we can handle.
  • Talk to us, not about us.
  • Invite us for coffee, a movie, or lunch.
  • Bring us books and magazines.
  • Pour the Cabernet.

 

If friendship and support can decrease stress, and less stress can increase fertility, then we are most certainly in this together.

Please…DON’T IGNORE INFERTILE FRIENDS.

 

For more information on understanding infertility, please visit:

Infertility Overview

National Infertility Awareness Week

Ask Dr. Marc: Cycle Conversions

Dear Doctor Marc,

I am in the middle of a cycle now and we’re faced with more decisions. For our first, we did 9 rounds of IUI (started with just clomid, progressed to combo clomid and follistim, then only follistim to conceive).

We’re on our third round of IUIs this time around (on max dose of follistim) and are considering converting this round to an IVF cycle due to the risk of hyperstimulation. Just yesterday I had 6 follicles in the 9-11 mm range and today we had 19 in the 11-13 range! We’ve never done IVF so I’m slightly nervous about the conversion, especially the down time after retrieval and transfer with chasing another little one around.

Here are a few more details: estrogen in low 900s, can’t convert cycle because our clinic isn’t in an IVF cycle at the moment, monitoring again tomorrow morning, lower follistim dosage to 25 iu for tonight and possibly take Luperon tomorrow depending on lab work. Doc doesn’t think we have an overly average number of fully mature follicles but we are concerned about high order multiples and other risks (hyper-stimulation, etc).

Is conversion a good option?

L.

Dear L.,

Converting an IUI cycle to IVF is a very reasonable option in certain circumstances.  In fact, I can think of a couple patients, in particular, who have benefited greatly from this option.  In addition, the fact that you have completed so many IUIs indicates to me that it is probably time to move on to IVF anyway.  With that being said, there are a few factors you would want to be in order before converting up to IVF.

1. Your lead follicles should not be too big:  If the largest follicles are too big, the smaller follicles may not have time to catch up.  This could result in a lower number of eggs for IVF and potentially could affect your chance for success.  If there are indeed 19 follicles in the 11-13mm range, this does not seem to be a problem.

2. Endometrial lining:  Sometimes an IUI cycle that is converted to IVF may be a very long cycle (greater than 14 days).  Very long cycles can result in overstimulation of the endometrium, which could negatively affect your chances.   You doctor can get a sense of your lining by measuring it on ultrasound.

3. Timing: There are a multitude of variables which go into an IVF cycle.  Coordinating these variables is one of the most important jobs of an IVF center.  If your center is not prepared to coordinate an IVF cycle at this time, then you definitely want to wait until they are ready.

The bottom line is that conversion to IVF can be an excellent option, but it should only be used in properly selected patients.

Good luck,

Doctor Marc

Share Your Story: Jessica

Byline: Jessica Blanco-Busam

Jessica wrote this story on April 23, 2012.  The next morning, she had two embryos transferred.  One didn’t make it through the thawing, and she is waiting for results on the second.  Please send Jessica good thoughts while she waits for news.

This is my first time sharing my story in a public forum. It’s funny, because tomorrow will be my final attempt at getting pregnant for the second time.

After many years of painful periods and hearing from my doctor that I had a low pain threshold, I convinced her to do an exploratory laparoscopy. She tried to assure me that everything would be okay. Unfortunately, I knew better. It turned out I had stage IV endometriosis: scarring all the way up to my diaphragm and down to my intestines, bladder, rectum, you name it. I was 26 years old and luckily, happily married. My husband and I knew our plan to wait until 30 wouldn’t do anymore. We had to try immediately and we were told IVF was the way to go.

I switched doctors, got on lupron to improve my chances, had another surgery where my appendix and one fallopian tube were removed, and then went through my first cycle. I almost quit right in the middle of the transfer because the doctor could not get the catheter into my uterus and was causing me such indescribable pain (talk about messed up anatomy and too much scarring).

It failed, but I was blessed enough to get pregnant on my second try. Complications lead to a c-section during which my doctor said the endometriosis was even more extensive than before. How that happened after being period-free for 10 months is beyond me. I guess I’m just lucky that way.

In 2011 we knew it was time to try again. Our son deserved to have a brother or sister. My doctor said I would need a laparotomy instead of a laparoscopy to give me a fighting chance at getting pregnant again. That February, I had the surgery. He had to get an oncologist in on the surgery because the damage was more severe than he could handle. He did the best he could but said a hysterectomy was my best shot at ever helping the endometriosis. Basically, good luck getting pregnant again.

We failed 3 times: we had an FET, then an IVF cycle, then another IVF cycle. Each time my body did worse and worse with the meds: OHSS, painful and difficult transfers, you name it. I looked like and felt like the walking dead.

I was a miserable human being, truly a shadow of my former self. It was beginning to wear on me – and on my marriage.

My husband and I had the talk. We decided this FET would be our last attempt. My son needs me, my husband needs me, my students need me. My life will not revolve around failed attempts to get pregnant and 14 day periods during which I’m on codeine for the first 3 days just to be able to walk and hopefully make it to work. I pray that tomorrow 1 or more of my 3 embryos will thaw and that I will get pregnant. Of course it’s a stretch – a huge one given my history with this horrible disease.

As sad as it is, I know it probably won’t result in a pregnancy. But the finality of it all, the fact that a hysterectomy is in my future at the age of 30, gives me hope. I can move on. I can get that “quality of life” I’ve longed for, for so many years. And I have my miracle baby and he is amazing. That’s my story. I’m not sure if it’ll help anyone at all, but maybe it will.

Jessica- you are incredibly brave to share this story with others.  Please leave Jessica good thoughts in the comment form.  You do not need to be a blogger to leave a comment, you just need a name and an email address.  And be sure to join us over in the Forum, where we are already sharing stories and providing support.  

Welcome to Clomid and Cabernet!

Welcome to Clomid and Cabernet!  I am so happy that you decided to stop by.

This little community has been on my mind for quite some time.  You can read my story here, but the short version is that my husband and I struggled for many years before we had our two children.  We lost four along the way, the most recent loss at 18 weeks gestation.  Needless to say, it hasn’t been easy.

We know that we are the lucky ones.  We were able to bring our daughter and our son into this world, and we feel grateful for them every single day.

Our infertility journey included many ups and downs, and some very, very absurd moments.  Let’s just say that we tried everything.  Legs in the air for 45 minutes?  Check!  Acupuncture for both of us?  Check!  Trying to get pregnant while on tour with a band?  Check!  Yes, we tried everything.

And don’t forget the importance of that very tasty Cabernet (or Merlot, or Sam Adams, etc.)…

Sometimes you just need to pour a glass...

My husband and I did as most infertiles do along the way…we remained fairly silent.  Other than our families and a few very close friends, we didn’t share the details of our journey.  We were frustrated, ashamed, and alone.  While I did try to join some of the infertility message boards along the way, I never quite found the right place for me.  No one seemed to be talking about the legs in the air thing…forget about the fertility monitor on the tour bus.

I promised myself that when I got to the other side of my journey through infertility, I would create a community for people to connect.  Clomid and Cabernet is for everyone:  The couples undergoing treatment, the friends who don’t know what to say,  and the family members standing helpless on the sidelines.  Clomid and Cabernet is a place where we can all come together to share our journeys, ask some questions, and hopefully find a way to laugh a little.

Features:

The Forums:  The Forums, or message boards, are the place to connect with others, build friendships, and seek support.  I recommend creating a profile and joining a group or two.  This is a great place to share you stories and get to know others traveling the same path.

The Eggfessional:  Located in the Forums, the Eggfessional is the place to vent your frustrations, share your absurd stories, and say the things that you wouldn’t otherwise say.  The Eggfessional is open to guests only, in order to protect your anonymity.  In other words, say anything!

Ask Dr. Marc:  Marc Kalan, M.D. is an infertility specialist in Los Angeles.  He is here to answer your questions and provide some guidance.  Dr. Marc is here for couples struggling with infertility, but he is also here for friends and family members who have questions too!  Send in your concerns and Dr. Marc will give you an answer.

Share Your Story:  Clomid and Cabernet is all about breaking the silence of infertility.  I would love to share your stories here.  Bloggers and non-bloggers are all welcome.  Please send in your submissions so that we can all start breaking the silence together.

This site has been on my mind for many years.  I truly hope to build a positive community where people can share their stories, connect with others, and laugh a little along the way.  Believe me, I know that there isn’t anything even remotely entertaining about infertility.  But I do believe in safety in numbers and sharing our stories.  We have nothing to hide.  We are warriors, and we are all in this together.

What do you say?  Will you fight the good fight with me?  Will you stand up and break the silence?

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Sensitivity Matters

Even when you know it’s coming, it can still be hard to process.

You put your game face on, avoid things like Facebook as much as humanly possible, and prepare yourself for the comments and jokes intended to amuse but that might actually hurt.

You tell yourself that if you can just laugh along with the rest of them, it won’t sting quite as much.

But it’s hard, make that nearly impossible, to take the sting out of infertility.  Primary, secondary…it makes no difference.  When insensitive comments are made, no matter how innocent the intentions, it just stings.

I opened my Facebook App early in the morning on April 1st to find quite a few pregnancy announcements.  Some were clearly a joke, the punch line offered in parentheses at the end of the post.  Others were detailed and seemed to go on all day.

While it didn’t affect me as much this time around, I cringed on behalf of the many people who touch base with me each month to share their stories.  I cringed on behalf of a couple of old friends who have been struggling with infertility for years.  I just cringed.

Infertility rates continue to rise both in this country and abroad.  Couples everywhere are coping with miscarriage, self-administering hormones each day, and enduring round after round of IVF.  They are dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.  They are attempting to remain calm and positive in the face of repeated disappointments.

And then they have to deal with a fair amount of insensitivity surrounding the issue.

While I understand the intention behind the Facebook fake pregnancy, constant complaints about unruly children in the form of status updates, and jokes about giving them away, I think it’s time to take a new approach.

While I don’t want to make unequal comparisons, there are some things in life that you just don’t joke about.  There are some topics that can only be taken seriously.  We all know what those are.

I think that it’s time to increase our collective awareness about infertility, and take note of the fact that people around us are struggling.

While some of you will argue that those struggling with infertility should simply avoid things like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, I believe that that mentality leaves these infertility warriors feeling even more isolated than they already are.  In a very tech savvy world.

There must be other jokes we can tell…

Sensitivity matters.

It’s time think before we speak and apologize when we’ve gone too far.  Feelings are everywhere and easily hurt.

Below are a few statements/questions to avoid in this time of high infertility rates:

1.    Aren’t you about due for another?  While some couples are perfectly happy with one, many couples experience secondary infertility after a perfectly “normal” first pregnancy.  Either way, it’s best not to ask.

2.    I get pregnant every time my husband looks at me.  This one has been around forever.  I get it; some people are super fertile.  But some aren’t.  So maybe think twice before blurting this out to your one childless friend.

3.    Have fun trying!  There’s no way to sugarcoat this one.  When sex is timed down to the very minute and possibly involves hanging upside down afterward (whether or not that actually works), it’s not very fun.  It’s a full time job.

4.    Some people just shouldn’t have kids.  While this is usually said in reference to a specific situation (and still not ok no matter the specifics), it can really affect a person struggling to get pregnant.  When infertility starts to drag on, you start to internalize these negative statements and feel like they might apply to you.

5.    She’s too selfish; she can’t handle kids.  While some people do not want to have kids, others are enduring a silent struggle.  Avoid assumptions.

6.    It always works out in the end.  Sadly, sometimes it doesn’t.

 

I can hear the criticism already…now we have to tiptoe around every woman who isn’t yet a mother?

The fact is that infertility is a growing problem and it’s a very lonely battle.  It’s not that all pregnancy and child rearing jokes should be stifled for eternity, but we do need to be careful about when and where we make those jokes.  And we need to really, really think before we speak.

Because you just never know…

Letting Go

Most days I choose to see the possibilities.  The room that could be anything.  The furniture longing to be purchased.  The perfect space for friends, grandparents, and, someday, sleepovers.

But some days, when I’m truly being honest with myself, I see the empty space.  The hole meant to be filled by one last little one.

Some days I stare longingly at the perfect spot to place the crib, just to left of the window, where the morning light filters through the soft white plantation shutters.

Some days I rock quietly in the glider, the one that I could never quite convince myself to give away.  Just.  In. Case.  Other days I catch a glimpse of it, frozen in time, and wonder just what to do.

By day, I enjoy each moment.  I lose myself in play, reading aloud, and endless art projects.  I listen to each word carefully, burning their little voices across my memory.  I watch with pride and fascination while taking screen shots in my mind, every chance I get.  I hang on tight as I watch them grow and change right before my very eyes.

Time escapes me, no matter how hard I try to hit the brakes.

By day, I build memories.

By day, I am reminded that my family is perfect just the way it is.

But when darkness falls, my broken heart emerges once again.

By night, I am flooded with emotions.

Images of the final loss threaten to crowd out the happiness I find within the day.  Memories of the event leave me shaken to my core:  The look of desperation on my husband’s face.

This can’t be happening…

The whispers of the nurses as they ushered me into emergency surgery.

We will pray for you…

The signing and more signing of last minute waivers.

You mean I might die in there?

The final goodbye.

Just.  In.  Case.

Some nights I lie awake, clutching my empty womb, while muffled sobs escape my aching soul.

Some nights, the empty space feels bigger than others.  Some nights, it overwhelms me.

I am the lucky one, I tell myself.  I am the one with two amazing children and a husband who loves me beyond compare.

I am strong, resilient, and always a fighter.

And yet, at times, the sadness creeps in.  The what-ifs cause my heart to race while the you-should-haves force the tears to escape.

Sometimes the letting go is the hardest part.

Dreams change.  Life moves forward.  But emotions stay with us for as long as we allow.

So, for right now, that rocking chair is staying put.

Because sometimes you just need to dream…

Note: This post originally appeared on my other site, Practical Parenting, on March 8, 2012.

Infertility & Friends: What Not to Say

In general, and as they should be, the holidays are about families.  The gifts, cookies, and treats are nice, but it’s spending time as a family that counts.  In other words, babies and kids are everywhere.

While couples struggling with infertility often enjoy spending time with extended family, including holding the new babies and playing with kids, it can be a big reminder that they are still waiting for their turn.

It’s hard on everyone, to some degree.  Friends and loved ones often don’t know what to say in the face of infertility.  They tend to rely on clichés or attempts at humor that fall flat or, worse, result in hurt feelings.  Believe me, I’ve heard it all.

That said, below are ten things that you should NEVER say to your friend or loved one who is struggling with infertility:

1.    “Maybe it’s not the right time”:  If it’s the right time for millions of other people, why shouldn’t it be the right time for your friend?  First rule of pregnancy:  There is no “right” time.

2.    “It’s God’s will”:  Does anyone really believe in a God who grants some people children in an instant but makes others struggle for years and endure horrible medical treatments?  I certainly hope not.

3.    “It’s not in God’s plan for you”:  See #2.  Also, you never really know what another person believes.  In general, it’s best to leave religion out of it.

4.    “It will happen when you least expect it”:  When you’re expecting it to happen every single month, this just doesn’t apply.  Also, it kind of puts blame on the couple.  As if willing it to happen is actually having the opposite effect.

5.    “You need to relax”:  I find that, in general, people who say this popped out a few babies quickly.  They know little about Clomid, hormones, miscarriage, and messed up cycles.  Relaxing and infertility treatments do not go hand in hand (even if they should).

6.    “At least you can drink”:  Most (probably all) women dealing with infertility would gladly give up the glass of wine to have the baby.  Since they don’t have the baby, they need the wine to get through the family dinner.

7.    “One day you will have a house full of kids”:  Are you willing to bet your mortgage on that?  Of course that’s what they’re hoping for, but clichés and grand statements get old quickly.

8.    “You can have mine!  Believe me, you’re the lucky one right now”:  The jokes about giving away your kids are among the most hurtful.  Try to remember that this person is probably feeling desperate at times.  All she wants is one little tiny baby.  She doesn’t feel lucky at all.

9.    “I have the best doctor.  You should definitely see him right away”:  Assume that your friend has either consulted another doctor or is working with an infertility specialist.  Honestly, when you see your doctor constantly, you tend to love him.  I did.  And if I didn’t, I would have switched doctors early on.

10.                “Enjoy the quiet house”:  Your friend is hoping against hope to end up with a loud house full of small voices.  Assume that your friend has made the most of the quiet moments and is ready for something different.  Trying to point out that you wish you had what she has is hurtful; you both know it’s not true.

Let’s end on a few things that you can say to help your friend.  It’s always best to end on a positive.

1.    “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I would love to be there for you”: Lack of experience in infertility doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good listener.

2.    “This must be a really hard time for you.  I’m here when you need me”:  Sometimes we really just need an escape hatch.  Provide that for your friend.

3.    “I can’t stop thinking about you.  What can I do to help?”:  It’s really hard to ask for help when your friends are busy with kids and work.  It feels like an imposition.  Give your friend the green light to lean on you and she just might do it.

And for the 7.3 million Americans out there struggling with infertility this holiday season…I’m here for you.  I know how hard it is to try to balance all of your emotions this time of year.  I think the best advice I can give you is to be a little selfish and focus on your needs, and to be honest with those around you.  Take a little advice from John Mayer and “say what you need to say”.  Your friends can only help you if they know what you need.

What things have been said to you that only made you feel worse?  What would you want your friends to say instead?

Note: This post was originally published on my other site, Practical Parenting, on November 27, 2011.

When One Isn’t Enough

Secondary infertility can be a lonely road to travel.  Don’t get me wrong; I know first hand that primary infertility is lonely as well.  But the second time around was lonely in a much different way.

I was ambushed with emotions that were difficult to share without hearing, “count your blessings” or “you’re lucky you have one” in response.  I knew that to be true.  I was one of the lucky ones.  I battled infertility and survived.

But I desperately wanted a sibling for my little girl. I wanted another small voice in the house.  I wanted another baby to hold.  I was lucky once again.  I did get my second chance.  But the third time?  Not so lucky.  Again, count those blessings.

3 million Americans are currently battling secondary infertility.  3 million.  That’s a lot of couples walking this road, but not necessarily together.  That’s a lot of, “count your blessings” and “you’re lucky to have one”.  That’s a lot of loneliness.

Women struggling with secondary infertility experience a range of emotions and feelings, including (but not limited to):  Disappointment, shock (it wasn’t so hard the first time), guilt (I already have one; I don’t want this to affect my existing child), isolation (I can’t talk to people about it without be minimized), depression, anxiety, and anger.

It can be hard to cope with these emotions when one or more children need your love and attention at all times (it often feels this way).  It can be hard to keep a marriage strong when young children zap most of your energy and infertility treatments and/or stress zap the rest.  It can be hard to feel heard and understood when people are quick to respond with clichés and point out what you have.  It can be hard to find support when you know that others are still battling primary infertility, and you already have one or more.  It can just be hard.

There are steps you can take to help reduce the stress and isolation associated with secondary infertility:

1.    Label it:  The best way to understand what you’re going through is to call it what it is. Acknowledge that you are experiencing secondary infertility.  Label the feelings that you are experiencing.  This is not to say that you should tell everyone you know (unless you want to).  Labeling it makes it real. Labeling it makes it a diagnosis versus a secret.  Labeling it might help you begin to confront it head on.

2.    Grieve:  Sometimes secondary infertility comes in the form of multiple miscarriages, other times it means months and months of trying with no results.  Either way, it’s sad and overwhelming at best.  Give yourself permission to grieve the losses and/or the loss of the family that you are trying to create.  Grieving the current circumstances does not mean that you are giving up on adding to your family, it simply means that you are allowing yourself to experience the feelings associated with the infertility.  Often times, couples experiencing secondary infertility try to avoid the stress by focusing on what they have.  While this might help them to get through the day and enjoy the small moments, it doesn’t take away the stress, anxiety, and depression that often result from infertility.  Give yourself permission to confront and cope with those feelings.

3.    Focus on your marriage:  Infertility affects the whole family; it is not an individual battle.  Often parents go to great lengths to protect their existing children, sometimes at the expense of their own relationship.  Plan date nights and time to reconnect with your partner.  Talk about your struggle and how it’s affecting your marriage, but be sure to make room for discussions that do not revolve around family expansion and monthly cycles.  It can be hard to step away from infertility once you’re in it, but it’s very necessary to keep your relationship thriving.  Try to tap into the reasons that you fell in love in the first place.  Get away if you can, or plan a staycation if you can’t.  The best thing I ever did the first time around was to take a leave of absence from my job and go on tour with my husband.  We found each other again during those six weeks and were stronger for it.  Make room for couple time.

4.    Routine:  Children pick up on stress quickly and will respond with behavioral changes, sleep issues, potty training issues, and eating issues.  The best way to help your child during this time is to develop and stick to a structured routine.  Take the guesswork out of each day to reduce the stress for your child.  Plan special outings and make an effort to focus on your child during playtime.  Sometimes a daily tea party is all it takes to help your child know that everything is ok.  Find those small moments and take a break from the infertility thoughts to just be in the moment.

5.    Exercise:  Less stress improves fertility.  That’s a fact.  Daily exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety and improve symptoms of depression.  That’s another fact.  Find a way to work in at least twenty minutes of daily exercise to help reduce your stress.  If you’re trying to get pregnant you are not worrying about weight loss, but you should be thinking about stress reduction and good health.  Choose an activity that you enjoy.  If it’s a chore, it won’t seem worth it and you might avoid it.  Find a friend, join a class, or start a group…just get some exercise.

6.    Increase your support network:  Although secondary infertility is mentioned on occasion, primary infertility takes up most of the media coverage on the subject (not that there’s that much to begin with).  This can make it hard to discuss the subject with others.  Reach out to close friends and family members.  Consider joining a group (many hospitals and religious organizations now have groups for women battling infertility).  Consider individual or couples counseling.  The fact is that secondary infertility is extremely stressful, and it’s very difficult to go through it alone.  There are many therapists trained to work with couples and individuals living with infertility.  Ask your OB/Infertility Specialist or check with your local hospital for a referral.  Talking about it helps.

7.    Be honest:  Infertility remains a secret society, which makes it hard to get the support that you need.  Break the silence.  Tell family and friends what you need.  People don’t always know what to say, but they can learn.  Describe your feelings, the treatments you are undergoing, and specifics about how people can help.  If you can’t make it to yet another birthday party because it’s too overwhelming…say that.  If you need a night out with a friend, ask for it.  Your support system can only be as supportive as you allow it to be.  Ask for help and be specific.

8.    Find an outlet:  Everybody needs an escape once in a while, and the TV will only get you so far.  Write, read, take a cooking class, take up photography…you get the point.  Find another outlet that allows for some “me time” and helps you focus your attention elsewhere for a while.  I read a lot the first time around, I baked a lot the second, and now I can’t stop writing.  If you do choose a TV break each day, I truly recommend the Ellen Show.  Ellen DeGeneres helped me through many long, lonely nights before Riley finally arrived, and for that I am eternally grateful.

How has infertility touched your life?     

Note: This post originally appeared on my other site, Practical Parenting, on November 4, 2011.

The Infertility Wars

We live in a competitive world.  We live in a world where comparisons are constantly being drawn.  We live in a world where people love to pretend otherwise, but often view things as right or wrong.  Shades of grey are generally ignored.  Judgments are made with little to no information.  Opinions are stated whether or not they are wanted.

I suppose it was simply a matter of time.

There is a new trend in the fight against infertility, and it is only making matters worse.

Women are at war with one another.  Women are comparing their journeys and attacking those who they deem to be “less infertile”.  Instead of joining hands and fighting infertility together, women are now fighting each other.

7.3 million Americans are currently waging war against infertility.  To bring it a little closer to home, if you and your partner are out to dinner with 7 other couples, one of those couples is currently experiencing infertility.  That’s a lot of couples.

Despite increasing numbers, infertility remains a taboo subject.  It can stop a conversation in a heartbeat and empty a room in record time.  It can end marriages, friendships, and family relationships.  It can cause some serious emotional damage.

The potential for emotional wreckage and lost relationships often causes couples to suffer in silence.

Infertility can cause anxiety and depression.  It can lead to significant social isolation.  I have experienced all of these along my journey, and then some.

Infertility is alienating.

Why women would choose to turn on each other is beyond comprehension.  Because when everybody fights, everybody loses.

It used to be that infertility message boards and blogs were a safe place to seek comfort.  It used to be that women could reach out to other women on a similar path while remaining anonymous.  It used to be that under the cover of screen names, we would offer words of support and possibly even resources.  It used to be that we were in this together.

But lately there’s been a shift.  Here and there, brave women are coming forward and sharing their journeys.  They are doing it to help others, to convey a message of hope, and to relieve the emotional burden that suffering in silence creates.  They are standing up, using their names, and telling it like it is.

And they are under attack.

What used to be a safe place suddenly feels a lot less safe.

Women who share stories of multiple miscarriages are hearing, “at least you CAN get pregnant” in response.  I assure you, fellow infertility soldiers, there is no comfort in conceiving a child only to have him silently slip away at 6, 8, 10, 12, or even 20 weeks.  I lost one at 9, two at 13, and one at 18 weeks.  I loved them all.  And despite my two incredible children, not a day goes by that I don’t think about that last one…a sweet little baby boy lost in June.  I should be nine months pregnant right now.  I should be decorating one more nursery.  I should be washing and folding tiny clothes.  Instead, I am trying to remain focused on what I have and move on from the longing that threatens to shatter my soul.

My journey has been long and emotionally exhausting.  Excruciating at times. For the first half I heard, “at least you can get pregnant” over and over again.  It felt like tiny daggers of shame were stabbing my soul each time I heard it.  Today I hear, “at least you have your two” or “at least they’re healthy”.  What can I say?  It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic.  But it certainly doesn’t erase the loss(es).

Incidentally, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 11% of couples that have one child go on to experience secondary infertility.

Other women are competing over who has endured more rounds of IVF, who had the worst reactions to the hormones and medications, and who has been trying for the longest amount of time.  People, it seems, would rather be the worst-case scenario (and hopefully get the most social support) than join a growing number of Americans and fight the war together.

I can tell you with certainty that there is no trophy for being the worst case.  After losing my baby boy, and nearly losing my life in the process, I was later told that I was one of two cases like that in the 30 years that my doctor’s practice has been open.  Being a medical mystery doesn’t make me feel any better, and it certainly won’t bring my baby back.

But sharing my story and helping others does add a small ray of sunshine to an otherwise dreary journey.  Receiving email from people who feel just a little bit better knowing that I am here, and fighting both with them and on their behalf, gives me a reason to keep looking forward.

At least once a day I have to remind myself that my journey to conceive and carry to term is likely over, but my journey to help others along the way has only just begun.  Together we can get through this.  Together we can fight for more resources and better insurance coverage.  Together we can move forward.

But if we remain at war with one another, we will all suffer.  We will force couples to remain silent.  We will continue to lose friendships and end marriages.  We will spiral into episodes of anxiety and depression that will undoubtedly affect other areas of our lives.

Because when everybody fights, everybody loses.

Let’s make a pact to fight infertility instead of fighting each other.  Let’s make a pact to listen and empathize, even when it’s hard, and offer the support that we seek in return.  Let’s make a pact to fight this enormous war hand in hand until we get to the end.

How has infertility touched your life?

Note:  This post originally appeared on my other site, Practical Parenting, on September 26, 2011.