Infertility Awareness

Breaking the Stigma of Infertility

Hey all! This week is National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW). Up until this year, I really didn’t know such a thing existed – but it has, for over 25 years. And why shouldn’t it? We have awareness events and programs for all sorts of things – cancer, MS, autism, hunger…Yet even I, someone experiencing infertility firsthand, have had a hard time finding awareness events or publicity for infertility. And unfortunately, I kind of understand that – after all, infertility struggles are seen as private – there’s a level of intimacy associated with fertility that has somehow become politically incorrect to discuss in public. I might pose the question – is there not the same level of intimacy implied when we talk about expectant mothers and newborns? The answer is yes, there is, but there’s a stigma associated with infertility that is deeply rooted in our pronatalist society. Our society sees bearing children as socially desirable and as a normal, expected  milestone in life. So then someone like me, who has not/currently is unable to conceive a child, is considered damaged goods, a deviant from the socially accepted role placed upon women (and their partners). An elephant accompanies me to every room, as others might wonder what’s wrong with me that I don’t have kids yet? According to social research, infertility makes people “less than” and diminishes their accomplishments in life. In fact, research shows the same levels of anxiety and depression in people experiencing infertility as those with cancer, HIV, and heart disease.

The World Health Organization defines infertility as

“a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more”

By definition, women and men experiencing infertility struggles are plagued with a “disease.” But don’t expect insurance companies to support a solution, because if anything, health insurance, at least in the US, just propagates the stigma of infertility, denying financial support for fertility treatments. Yet it’s not like IUI or IVF are experimental treatments – millions of babies have been born out of these medical advancements. Don’t worry, I won’t go on about the financial aspect of infertility – that’s for another blog post. But for the sake of this post, I’ll tell you that only 15 states in the US require insurance coverage for IVF. And no, Wisconsin is not one of them.

So not only are you considered socially “abnormal” and a bit ostracized as friends and peers have children and can share in these moments together without you, but you are also considered “diseased/damaged” by the medical community. And don’t think you’ll have help “healing” because unless you’re made of money, or live in one of those 15 states, you won’t have help from insurance. Okay, so that’s kind of a dramatic way of putting things and it seems ridiculous, but relatively speaking, it’s true.

And instead of support groups or advocacy events or assistance programs, there is silence. Why did it take me two years to realize there was a National Infertility Awareness Week? Why did it take me two years to find a support group in Wisconsin? By the way, there is only one infertility support group in all of Wisconsin…

To be honest, I think it’s because we are a silent community, in large part. I blame myself – I’ve been complacent and filled with self-pity instead of empowerment. Because it’s easier to be silent than to be judged or seen as “less than.” Because it’s easier to say “we’re working on it” or “no, not yet” when people ask you if you have kids. Because it’s easier to say “I know” when someone says “you aren’t getting any younger” than to go into great detail about personal struggles with infertility. I’m the first to admit that I propagate the stigma too.

When I first started this blog, I was afraid. What would people think? Would I be embarrassed by so vulnerably sharing our story? Would people think I’m crazy for baring it all for friends, family, and strangers to see? And now more than ever, my answer is, who cares? I have no reason to be ashamed. I’m one in eight people who struggle with infertility. That’s 7.5 million Americans. Since starting this blog I have been incredibly humbled by the sheer number of friends, family, and strangers who have come forward and shared their infertility struggles with me. And I’ve come to realize that I’m MORE than 1 in 8. We are MORE than 1 in 8. The more I share, the more others feel comfortable sharing with me, and the more we foster an environment of support, discussion, and change, rather than loneliness, silence, and stagnation.

I made a promise to myself that this week is the perfect time to take action and start breaking the stigma of infertility. I’ll detail my progress in future blogs but here’s the plan: 1) BLOG!!!,  2) Join a support group, 3) Advocate by writing to state government.

This blog is one of the most rewarding and empowering things I have ever done – and that is because of all of you – not only because you read this, but because you offer support, share your stories, and remind me that there is good in the world. I know this post was a lot about NIAW, but really it’s about empowerment. Whatever struggles you face in life, they don’t have to be related to infertility like mine – whatever has made you feel “less than” or like an outsider, don’t let it anymore. Pull up your bootstraps (that’s what they say right?) and advocate for yourself. Become empowered by the love and support from friends and family around you, by the grace of God above you, and by the heart and soul within you. I promise you’ll find the world is a much more beautiful place when you break out of whatever stigma has its hold on you. Don’t see yourself how others have defined you. Define yourself first…and then show others.

Inspire

Faith & Infertility

Open your eyes and believe – struggling with infertility on Easter

Happy Easter, everyone! I apologize for the late post this week – it’s been busy with the holiday season! Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays. As a kid, my parents’ house was filled with smells of strawberry gelatin from the egg-shaped Jell-O jigglers (that never quite turned out egg-shaped) and distilled vinegar from the egg dye for hard-boiled eggs. My brother and I would have these extravagant designs for our Easter eggs, and in the end, they were all shades of purple or brown from trying to mix too many colors in our elaborate decorating schemes. During the early morning hours, my dad would keep watch outside our bedroom doors while the “Easter bunny” (I won’t spoil it for those believers out there) frantically hid eggs and Easter baskets outside around the house. There’s nothing quite as exciting as searching high and low for eggs and baskets on Easter morning. I’m not even ashamed to admit that I hunted for Easter eggs and baskets well into my 20s! The first, and only, Easter Erik and I spent together, we searched for eggs outside my parents’ house – Erik will deny it, but you heard it here first people!

My feelings on Easter have changed a bit the last two years, while we have been struggling to start a family. In fact, I think Easter is one of the most difficult holidays for people going through infertility struggles. Think about it – in this day and age, with the commercialization of Easter, every advertisement is a blaring reminder of babies – filled with fuzzy chicks, furry bunnies, and adorable kids – the girls in frilly dresses and the boys in cute bow ties, all in an array of pastel colors. When you go to church on Easter morning, you can hear the buzz of excitement from the children explaining where they found their Easter baskets and what was inside them. Even the Easter basket itself is filled with symbols of new life – chicks and bunnies, green grass, and eggs – there are eggs everywhere! Chocolate eggs. Plastic eggs. Hard-boiled eggs. Dyed eggs. And jelly beans – which aren’t really beans but candies meant to be shaped like eggs. Trust me, eggs are the last things I want to see or be reminded of after the last two years of doctor’s appointments, where the obsession has been on counting eggs, measuring eggs, scanning eggs…

Most importantly, let’s not forget, Easter itself is literally a celebration of life – it’s a story of the resurrection of Jesus – a work of God so incredulous that no one believed what they saw, or rather, what they did not see on Easter morning, as Jesus’ tomb lay empty. It’s the day God showed His promise was true – that those who believe will be granted eternal life. The Easter basket was intended by German tradition to be a symbol of the promise God fulfilled and is meant to celebrate life. In my love of Easter, I would argue you’re never too old to get an Easter basket. But I believe as we age, our hunt changes from a literal search for physical eggs and baskets to more of a spiritual, figurative hunt. Instead of candy or stuffed animals, we search for answers, for hope, and for peace, in relation to whatever we are facing in life at a given time. Me, personally, I’m searching for a child – an addition to my already amazing, but somewhat incomplete, family.

I remember Easter last year – my cousin, Laura, who I love dearly, announced to the family that she was “eggspecting” (did I mention she’s also very creative!) and my beautiful sister-in-law, Kristi, had the start of a baby bump where my precious niece, Violet, was growing. And I remember thinking, next year that will be me! Easter will be filled with new life and exciting beginnings! I’ll be the one finding cute ways to announce we are expanding our family! I’ll be the one looking for a cute maternity dress to wear to church Easter morning!

Well, Easter has rolled around and I’m no further in the hunt for my “Easter basket” than I was last year. I woke up early before church on Easter morning to take Reggie for a walk. It was cloudy and drizzling rain, dampening my mood even further. As I walked, I contemplated how I would face the day. And I remembered a message my friend Jared had sent me following last week’s post on faith and peace in Sometimes We Just Need a Sign– he told me that I would never find real peace until I unconditionally placed trust in God and believed in Him. He told me that Easter season was the greatest time to offer up my suffering and believe. My devotions book that morning reiterated his thoughts; it said

“I am calling you to a life of thankfulness. I have designed you to live by faith, not by sight.”

I believe I’m supposed to be a mom, just as Mary believed that Jesus was alive. I realize I can’t see when I’m supposed to be a mom any more than Mary could see Jesus’ body in the tomb on Easter morning – but does that mean it doesn’t exist? No – if anything it’s affirmation that through trust and faith, our prayers are heard and answered in God’s time. I came to this conclusion by the end of my walk, and as if to reassure me, a beautiful sunrise broke through the rain and the clouds. And if you remember my post last week, I am always looking for signs – and I took this as a beautiful sign – as if to say, where there is darkness, there can always be light. Just like for every Good Friday, there is an Easter morning.

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So it was on this early morning Easter walk that I think I found my “Easter basket,” and instead of it being empty as I had expected, it was overflowing – with hope, with peace, with love, and with LIFE – my life. And I was reminded of the beautiful gift of life throughout the day – holding my niece in church and hearing her laugh, receiving prayers from my mom, reading a card from my dad reminding me I am strong and to never give up, and the many hugs and laughs I shared with my family.

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I truly hope all of you found your Easter baskets this year and that they were filled with life…If you didn’t find what you expected to, look again. Maybe what you were meant to find isn’t actually there at all – just like the women looking for Jesus’ body on Easter morning. Maybe what you were meant to find is something you cannot see, but rather something you have to believe. For all of you out there who are waiting for something and searching for answers, trust me when I say you will not find peace until you stop looking and start believing. Easter is a celebration of life – it’s a reminder to believe in the life you have been given and the paths you are following; there is a reason for every triumph and every struggle. Open your eyes and believe – I know that you too will find there is sunshine for every dark day.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

Faith & Infertility

Sometimes We Just Need a Sign

This week was a challenging one for me…I had a fertility appointment Thursday. Erik is on the road for baseball, so I went alone. The pieces of my story will fall into place in future blog posts, but for the purpose of this entry, you should know I am on my second fertility doctor. I have already tried clomid, an estrogen modifier, and letrozole, a hormone-based chemotherapy drug, both of which have been shown to be effective fertility drugs. I have tried both drugs in various dosages without success. During my appointment, the reproductive endocrinologist outlined the next recommended step: hormone injections with intrauterine insemination (IUI). I learned about the entire process, practiced how to inject myself, and was advised of the cost…which is not covered at all by insurance. I mean, since when does trying to become pregnant cost as much as a car? Oh and by the way, if it doesn’t work, you still have to pay for it – when will they invent a “money back guarantee” for women struggling with infertility? Tearfully, I left the office and went back to work to treat my patients, distracted by the idea that unless I have tens of thousands of dollars lying around, I may never become a mom. I dutifully finished work, went to my car, and sobbed. In my irrational and inconsolable state, I’m thinking, how will we afford this? What if it doesn’t work? And the bigger question, if I have to work this hard and go through this much to get pregnant, is it really all in God’s plan for us to have a baby? At what point do you stop and say it isn’t meant to be?

I was raised Catholic and Erik was raised Lutheran. I would be lying if I told you we went to church on a weekly basis, but we are both faithful people. Faith, by definition, is the complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Many of us have religious faith, meaning we have complete trust in God. When Erik and I got married in the Catholic church, we were required to sign a form agreeing to raise our children as Catholics. Coming from separate religions our views varied slightly – how would we choose for our children? Ultimately, we signed the form but agreed that as long as our children had faith and a good moral compass, it didn’t matter which religion they followed.

Thinking back now, it all seems ironic. As long as our children had faith…it seems hypocritical, as I often find myself questioning if there really is a God, and if there is – does He hear me? If He hears my cries, how can He be so silent? Is God still at work when you seek fertility treatments in bringing a life into this world?

A strong part of my faith is the belief that we all serve a higher, predetermined purpose. Within my very being, I know I am meant to be a mom. I know that part of my purpose is to bring life into this world…But lately, I am forced to question my purpose – are these signs telling us we aren’t meant to be parents now…or ever?

As you know from last week, I have an amazing support system. I expressed my concerns to a few friends, and all gave me the same answer: we are blessed to live in a world where there are options for people like me – that God created brilliant scientists and technology to facilitate the process of bringing life into the world. They also reminded me that science only goes so far and the rest is in God’s plan – His hand is always at work.

So do I find solace in this? Sometimes. For most of my life, up until this moment, my aspirations have fallen so perfectly in alignment with God’s timing – I am truly blessed. I feel selfish at times, questioning God’s plan for me, debating what is fair and unfair, given the amazing life I have had and continue to lead. But this week at my appointment, for the first time, I was struck with the realization that perhaps my plan doesn’t match God’s plan…not now at least…and maybe not in the future either. And I’m terrified. I’ve prayed for answers, and I’ve cried myself to sleep many nights, fearful and angry, and this week was no exception.

But then this – Erik called me Friday – he has been working with our tax guy for the last few weeks getting everything in order for tax day. He told us last week we would have to pay-in a large amount – this had added to my stress at the fertility appointment, knowing Uncle Sam was taking a fair share of our savings. How would we ever afford fertility treatments now? But on Friday, the tax guy said he made a mistake – we wouldn’t have to pay as much as he had estimated. And guess how much the difference was? The amount for one round of IUI treatment…

Is that a sign? I need to believe it is. There have been, and I’m sure there will be more, times where I have given up on God…but clearly He hasn’t given up on me. I have come to believe that sometimes when I ask God for strength, instead He gives me an opportunity to be strong. When I ask Him for more, instead He shows me to appreciate what I already have. When I ask Him for guidance, He silently opens doors to lead me to where I belong in His plan.

Whether you believe in God or not, it doesn’t matter – what matters is that you have faith – that you believe in yourself…that you believe in your purpose in life – whatever it may be…that you believe in the love and friendship that surround you…that you at some point stop trying to control life and start living the life you have been given…no matter what you’re going through, whatever you are questioning, don’t let sadness and doubt blind you to the good in the world. Open your eyes, see the signs and miracles in everyday life – whether they are an unexpected tax return, an especially sunny day, or a kind smile from a stranger – they are all meaningful, relatively speaking…

And with that, I can find peace for now – that doesn’t necessarily mean staying positive, and it doesn’t mean my world isn’t filled with storms – but it does mean trusting my life is happening how it was meant to…I don’t always have to agree with the plan, but relatively speaking, I can live with it.

Uncategorized

I’m Okay…You’ll Be Okay Too…

Wow. Thank you for the amazing responses and support of my first post. It was simultaneously exhilarating – and daunting – as my thoughts instantly jumped to the challenge of meeting expectations for this week. I was kindly reminded by my sister-in-law and best friend, Kristi, to continue being vulnerable and never lose sight of why I started this journey. Speak your mind. You do you, girl. That’s what she said – so okay, here it goes – this week’s post is inspired by the love and support I’ve been enveloped in over the last week.

People always say to me, I don’t know how you do it with Erik gone. The truth is, most days I don’t know either. Erik and I have been together for 14 years. That’s 14 years of texts, FaceTime, and voicemails because we really only spend an average of 3-4 months together per year. To be clear, “together” in this context means within state lines. Relatively speaking, it isn’t that bad – for three months of the year I enjoy our time together, and the rest of the year I spend with my friends. Relatively speaking, I’m lucky – Erik is healthy and safe, and we have the opportunity to talk daily (that is if time zones and opposing schedules allow). Relatively speaking, I consider our situation unique but endurable…but I didn’t always think so.

I was 15 when Erik and I started dating – at the time, my biggest worries were passing my driving test and turning my Spanish assignments in on time. I was emotionally immature – I struggled to support Erik’s dreams of being a professional baseball player because I selfishly wanted to be a normal teenage girl. Was it too much to ask to want to see a movie with your boyfriend or go on a double date to Applebees? The 15 year-old me answered no, but the 29 year-old me says yes. Yes, I was selfish and irrational. I was so blinded by my desire to be normal that I failed to appreciate what was, and still is, so abnormally amazing in my life…

When given the option, I’ll choose my abnormal life any day – because instead of one date to Junior prom, I had 10 of my friends as dates to the dance. Because instead of a few double dates at Applebees, I’m the third wheel to countless dinners, happy hours, and movies – but have never felt out of place. Because when I’m invited to an event, no one asks questions when I bring a friend as a date so I’m not alone. Because most of the time, my friends volunteer to be my “plus one.” Because at weddings, my friends reserve a dance for me or share their husbands so I don’t feel left out during slow songs (I mean, how many times can you just sit and listen to Lonestar’s Amazed?). Because I have a list of friends who rescue me when something breaks or needs heavy lifting. Because when I show pictures and tell stories about my dog, Reggie, while my friends talk about their beautiful babies, no one thinks I’m weird. Because there is always someone to hold my hand during a procedure or sit in the waiting room during a surgery. Because I always have texts and phone calls waiting for me after ultrasounds, blood tests, and fertility nurse appointments. Because I have volunteers willing to give me daily hormone injections when/if the time comes. Because I’m never judged when I breakdown and cry after attending yet another baby shower that isn’t mine…I could go on forever, but let’s face it, you’ll all be bored and I think I’ve made my point clear…whatever you’re going through, whether it seems trivial or insurmountable, you can try to tackle it alone or you can surround yourself with extraordinary people who raise you above the situation.

I wish I could go back and tell the 15 year-old me to shape up and get over myself. And let’s be honest, I sometimes need to tell the 29 year-old me to shape up too. But the difference now – is my perspective. I have a loving husband who adores me and would do anything to show his support of me, whether he’s states or oceans away. But I also have an army of friends who will go to battle for me whenever needed. I’m both humbled and inspired by the extraordinary people that surround me. I told you my blog would explain why I love life and more specifically, my life. The answer is simple – it’s you, my friends. When I’m worrying about sustaining a long distance relationship, being a good wife, having a successful career, and whether I’ll ever have the opportunity to be a mom, my friends continue to shine light on the reality of my situation and keep things in perspective. And they remind the 15 year-old me that relatively speaking, I’m okay – and you’ll be okay too – as long as you have the right people by your side and in your life.