I stood in the bathroom while the people on the other side of the door continued to erupt in laughter and holiday cheer as I tried to keep my hand holding the syringe by my abdomen from shaking. It was the first time I had to give myself a shot and as I gripped the fold of skin and prepared to sink the needle in, I had one thought running through my head: This isn’t fair.
It was Christmas 2012 and while my relatives were catching up over wine and eating those tiny hotdogs, I was preparing for my first intrauterine insemination, or IUI, and I was pretty sure not a single person outside of that bathroom even knew what that was. Not that it was entirely their fault. But there I stood, having to inject myself in the stomach with the hormones that would force my body to ovulate so my husband and I could get to the clinic the next day and his sperm could be placed inside me by a nurse in surgical garb. It was our first IUI and I had high hopes it would work, unlike the last 36 cycles that yielded negative pregnancy tests.
Unfortunately, that IUI wasn’t successful. And neither were the next two. When we start the process for in vitro fertilization (IVF) the following year in the summer of 2013, I thought: This has to work. This is state-of-the-art technology, and we are working with one of the best fertility clinics in the state. I injected myself with multiple hormones, several times a day, watching my stomach bruise and bloat as my ovaries enlarged with beefed up follicles that would hopefully give me plenty of eggs that the doctors would remove from my body surgically. They would then fertilize in the lab with my husband’s sperm. Those fertilized embryos would ideally continue to grow for a few days before one or two of them were transferred back into my uterus.
It all seemed pretty straightforward. But that IVF cycle, that started so promising with a positive pregnancy test, ended in a devastating loss of the only genetic child that grew inside me. The worst thing about a miscarriage after fertility treatments is the feelings of overwhelming exhaustion of the thought of doing it all over again: the money spent, the injections, the hormones, the appointments. In fact, IVF number two and three would fail as well, both with negative pregnancy tests and my husband and me out thousands of dollars.
My body was broken. I felt broken. I would look around at all my friends having their second or third and here I was, desperate for one. Just one baby. I knew I would be a good mother. My husband and I had bought a five bedroom home, with a huge backyard and an area downstairs perfect for a playroom and we were struggling to fill it with the children we had talked about having for the last eight years.
I was angry, frustrated, jealous, heartbroken, impatient and terrified and I would cycle through these emotions daily. I hated my body and how spectacularly it had failed to do for me what all women were just supposed to do: conceive and carry a child. I couldn’t get pregnant, and I couldn’t stay pregnant.
Our first cycle using an egg donor ended in another miscarriage before we took a leap of faith and tried one more final cycle. The cycle that would determine if we’d become parents, or if we’d live child-free for the rest of our lives.
In March of 2015 I received the call from the clinic who did our last donor cycle, saying I was pregnant and everything was looking great. But I was six months along before I felt I could breathe a little easier. Being pregnant after years of infertility and loss felt like a dream, something that I would wake up from and realize none of it was actually meant to be. When would the other shoe drop?
For the first 12 weeks, I needed my husband to give me progesterone shots into my backside every night. Along with that, and for the duration of my pregnancy, I injected a blood thinner, a medication that was helping me stay pregnant, into my abdomen. Between the two, I felt like a walking pincushion.
During all this, as happy and cautiously optimistic as I was, I was still grieving that pregnancy I could have had—one that didn’t require painful injections everyday and the constant fear that this would all be taken from me.
As my pregnancy progressed, my blood pressure started rising, and my baby was still sitting stubbornly breech. My doctor warned me he may be delivering her early due to my blood pressure, and she may end up coming into the world via C-section, as we didn’t want to risk trying to maneuver her into position. I listened in dismay as my birth plan flew out the window. The one with a natural vaginal birth where I felt in control of what was happening. Once again, my body was stubbornly not cooperating.
My daughter was born just shy of full term after preeclampsia was confirmed and I delivered her in the operating room early in the morning. Unfortunately, the preeclampsia was more severe than I realized and I spent a traumatic six days in the hospital while staff struggled to keep my blood pressure under control. I was confined to my hospital bed most of the time, and struggled with dizziness, headaches and sleep issues. I cried a lot and had daily breakdowns. I just wanted to be with my baby, the one I had waited years for, and here I was, battling my body once again. It was near impossible for me to get pregnant, difficult to stay pregnant without lots of medical intervention, and once I had her, my body was still rebelling against me. Or so I felt.
It’s been two and a half years since my hospital stay and I’m slowly coming to terms with the relationship I have with my body. It took me finally seeing a therapist to come to come face to face with my infertility and how I felt towards myself and as a woman. My first appointment was an hour long session of me hammering out what the last seven years has done to me, holding tissues while my therapist quietly listened. My first homework assignment was to write down all the good, miraculous, wonderful things that happened because of infertility and my hospital stay.
At first, I stared angrily down at the blank sheet of paper. What good could I possibly say that infertility and that traumatic hospital stay had on me?
But as I wrote, I realized that for so long, I was focused on all the bad. All the things infertility took from me. And as I worked on focusing on the good things infertility has brought me, like the closer relationship with my husband and a better sense of empathy for people in pain, I realized how much I needed to forgive my body for the brokenness I felt.
Later this year, my husband and I will be embarking on another cycle to try for a sibling for our daughter. We still have three embryos left and we’re hoping that same luck that brought us our daughter will extend to this next fertility treatment. As we get closer to it, some of the same feelings from the past years have started returning. The doubt, the worry, and yes, those more shameful emotions like jealousy and resentment have started rearing their heads again and I’m finding it difficult to combat them.
It seems like I had just started coming to terms with the fact that I need a lot of reproductive intervention and I am battling the same demons all over again.
This is how it’s probably going to be for awhile. I’d like to say things have gotten better, especially since I have a beautiful little girl. But the truth is, I’m still going to be struggling with this for a long time, as long as we are in our childbearing years. I think this next year is going to be a cycle of worry and forgiveness all over again. I hope we get another baby. I hope we can get to that point where we feel our family is complete. Infertility has stolen so much from me—my time, my attention, my finances, and my naive sense that having a baby means a night of passion with my husband and going into labor nine months later. My reality is much more complicated than that.
My body has brought forth a baby who is no doubt a complete miracle. For the last two and a half years, I have been able to nurse her without many difficulties and the scar below my belly button is proof that I have defied the odds and brought a child into the world when so much was working against me.