My husband and I have been battling infertility for four years. Think of it: that’s about 48 months. That’s 48 times of hoping, 48 times of imagining my future child, 48 failures. Trust me, it extends four years to the length of a geologic time period.
After about three years and with medical aid, I had two ectopic pregnancies that resulted from tissue damage when my appendix ruptured in June 2009, only six months before we started to try to conceive. I had both of my fallopian tubes removed as a result of those pregnancies this year. At this point, without the most intense and expensive fertility procedure (IVF), my husband and I will never be able to conceive. Period. Although I am grateful that the technology exists to enable me to have children, these past experiences have called my own womanhood and identity into question. Motherhood has always occupied one of the top spots in my priority list in life, and in my view I failed at being a complete woman and achieving this major life goal that comes so naturally to others. Needless to say, vulnerable and helpless are the gentlest terms I could use to describe how infertility has felt for me at times, particularly at first. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about it with anyone outside of my tight circle of immediate family and close friends, and even within it, I tried to avoid the topic of having kids.
My ectopic pregnancies and subsequent surgeries basically forced me to open up and tell friends on Facebook, at work, and at church about our infertility struggles. People would obviously notice and be curious that I had to have emergency surgery and miss church and work, so I decided to face the inevitable and let it out. My experiences have been deeply personal and painful, and opening up to more friends and the world in general opened myself up for public view. Vulnerable.
However, without those major events forcing me “out of the infertility closet,” I might still be silently fighting alone. Now that I have broken the silence, I am grateful for the things that provoked my “coming out.” Since then, I have received support and love from many people I haven’t seen in years as well as from those I see on a regular basis. It makes me wish I had revealed our fertility struggles sooner.
Although my husband and I have developed our own calm, united determination to keep fighting and keep hoping independently of others, validating encouragement from external sources has only increased our confidence to continue working toward our family goal, no matter the sacrifice.
In the past I have been asked, “Why don’t you have kids?” or “When are you going to have kids?” Although these insensitive questions hurt at any stage of infertility and should not be asked of anyone . . . ever, I have found that once I “came out” and comfortably talked about my infertility struggles such questions disappeared. Instead, when appropriate, people ask, “What is your plan in the future?” or “What can we do to help you?” or “Do you want to talk about it?” People say, “I [or my sister, my son, etc.] struggled to conceive too. I know it is hard,” “I admire your strength,” “I will pray for you,” or “I hope the best for you.” In their questions and statements, I sense their genuine concern for my feelings and interest to help.
I can admit that accepting my circumstances and facing them with unwavering hope require courage regardless of who or how many people know, but sharing my story and hopes with more people has created a large support system that gives me courage on days when I feel my own faltering.
Although my infertility story is unique, as everyone’s is, the feelings that all infertile couples go through are very similar. We feel confusion, anger, hopelessness, hope, frustration and stress, and pain (physical, emotional, mental, and financial). When others know what we endure and when we know that others have experienced similar feelings or at least can empathize with us, we can build a community of support and understanding together.
In general, I can talk about my infertility without reserve now. I don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed that I have these problems. I can answer people’s questions about IVF or infertility. I can speak about my future family with hope, knowing that those around me truly realize the significance of what I hope for. I can comfortably tell people that I won’t be coming to a baby shower because it makes me sad, and they support my decision with compassion. Some days I can even joke about my past experiences because I have learned and grown from them and can now share what I have learned with others.
My husband and I are still fighting to overcome infertility literally—we are not parents yet. However, I feel as if we have already conquered the worst parts of infertility in general. Although we’ve been knocked down, we are still fighting, still hopeful, and that makes us survivors of infertility.