Last week I remembered my daughter on her 20th birthday. What many people don’t know is that while we have four beautiful children – we struggled with infertility for four years. I realize four years is nothing in comparison the years of anguish so many other women go through, often without ever being able to resolve the medical reasons of “why.”
This week is National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) and as part of the blogger “Listen Up” challenge I’ve chosen to collaborate with some friends and share our stories throughout the week. 1 in 8 couples lives with the pain of having their dreams crushed month after month. As we raise our voice and share our experiences, we can help each other learn and grow from the pain and find the strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Today I’d like to share our family’s story. It is one that has taught us to be grateful even when life is overwhelming and discouraging.
From the time of my first period, I remember feeling was extreme pain. I remember sleepless nights as I was curled in a ball not understanding what was happening to my body nor the reason behind my pain. Vomiting, cold sweats, and an inability to walk were typical monthly occurrences. It never occurred to my parents or me that there might be something wrong.
Soon after we were married, I scared my husband to death one morning when he found his new bride passed out on the bathroom floor. Even then I don’t remember ever expressing concern to my doctor, but I know subconsciously I was worried.
That worry quickly subsided when we conceived our first child. I wouldn’t consider myself fertile (3 months to conceive), but it didn’t appear that we had any issues.
When our son was about 12 months old, I started having an almost continuous period, spotting in between, but the cramping I had become so accustomed to seemed to have resided.
Once we decided to have another baby, we struggled to figure out what my cycle was. Month after month I thought I was feeling the symptoms of pregnancy. Frequent urination from pressure on my bladder, extreme fatigue, decreased appetite all kept me hopeful each month.
One morning I was laying in bed and remember showing my husband the bump growing above my pelvis. In my then concave abdomen, it was apparent that something was growing.
For some reason, my “naive self” didn’t want to go to the doctor. I don’t know if subconsciously I feared the worst or even if I just ignored it long enough it would work itself out. Either way, I delayed getting medical attention.
Doctors, Tests, and Hospitals
It was a whirlwind – a lot to process in a short period. Within three weeks of the first doctor visit, a battery of tests pointed towards endometriosis with an endometrioma the size of a small cantaloupe growing out of my left ovary. Surgery was scheduled, and upon checking into the hospital, I was required to sign a consent form for a radical hysterectomy should the doctors deem it necessary. Cancer would not be ruled out until they had performed a frozen section during surgery.
All I could think about going into surgery was my great desire to have another baby. My unsettled feeling that our family was not complete. I knew we had a daughter waiting to join our family; yet, I was terrified that I would come out of my operation without the ability to get her here.
The first question out of my mouth was “Do I still have an ovary?” In the throes of vomiting because of my reaction to the anesthesia all I wanted to know was if they had left an ovary.
I learned that often a single ovary makes up for the lost one, which was promising. But my endometriosis was bad. I had been suffering for years, and our son was truly a miracle.
We continued to try to conceive, and each month I was disappointed again and again. I questioned why God was doing this to me, to us. Was this a punishment? Were the desires of my heart not in line with His? It all was very hard for me to understand.
More tests, tears, and procedures. Still no pregnancy. The doctors determined I was ovulating every month, but for some reason, the egg was not attaching. My doctor suggested we try a hysterosalpingogram or HSG. This procedure is where they flush iodine through your fallopian tubes and take an x-ray to see if there is a blockage.
My doctor told me that some women just needs their tubes flushed to remove possible debris. Because of my endometriosis, he believed there was either debris or scar tissue keeping a fertilized egg from making its way to my uterus.
More pain and tears but that month something was different. I didn’t start my period. I waited in anticipation. Took one pregnancy test and then another. My shock kept me from actually believing we had finally succeeded.
Nine months later our first daughter was born. She was due the same day as her older brother separated by four years and ten days. (He came late, and she was induced early.)
Our Concerns Continued
Our concerns did not end there. The doctors warned that I needed to be vigilant at controlling my endometriosis if I wanted to continue to have children. When we were ready for baby number three, we had another year of monthly disappointment until I had yet another HSG and immediately conceived again.
With three children I was beginning to doubt the importance of continuing treatment of my endometriosis. The medication had made me a very emotional woman to live with. The mood swings were often unbearable, and so a year after the birth of our 3rd baby I went off birth control and figured any more children would simply be a gift.
That gift, the one I didn’t know I needed, came nine months later. She was conceived doing the exact opposite of everything we did to get number two and three here.
My story is unique in that I can relate to both sides of fertility and infertility. It was not until years later that I have come to appreciate what my experience taught me. As friends have confided in me about their struggles, I can put my arm around them and say that I truly understand. I can cry real tears with them as I remember what it felt like to want a baby so badly it hurt. Experience has taught me empathy in a way nothing else could.
Each of our stores is unique, but they also have a common thread. The emotions and love a woman feels for her unborn child are powerful and undeniable. I do not mean to minimize the pain of another because I know there is greater than what I’ve endured, but I also find strength in our common thread. As women we share. It helps us feel that we are not alone, and it gives us hope and courage to keep trying.
I hope that by sharing my story someone, somewhere feels hope. As we listen and learn from each other, we can become more aware of the battle that affects so many couples every day. And awareness is the first step.