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4. Finding Your Voice in the Infertility Community with Sheryl Ellsworth

My first ever guest here on the podcast is a woman I got acquainted with only a few weeks ago. I found her story so inspiring and motivating, especially to the infertility community, although she’s an integral part of many communities, that I had to have her on the show today to share her insights on her experience.

Sheryl Ellsworth is an infertility warrior. She has been through a lot to bring her children into her family, which I’m sure many of you will be able to relate to, and her perspective and faith on how your family will come to be, even if it’s not how you wanted or expected is so motivating. None of us ever choose to be a part of this community, and Sheryl is no exception, but you’ll find the way in which she’s using her voice to advocate for the experience of women of color and to connect us all so powerful.

Join Sheryl and me this week as we dive into her personal experience of infertility and the lessons she’s learned so far. She has really opened my eyes to the medical experience of women of color and the obstacles they face, and I know you’re going to find her message so comforting because although this pain is felt amongst so many women, it is a very lonely journey.

To celebrate the launch of the show, I’m giving away pajama and sock sets from The Slice of Sun that I have personally designed! ! They’re the most delightfully soft things you’ll ever put on your body and I’m giving away five bundles to five lucky listeners who subscribe, rate, and review the show on Apple Podcasts.


Click here to learn more about the contest and how to enter!

The winner from last week is this review from Apple Podcasts about the show! Please email me hello@thesliceofsun.com with your size and address!

 

What You Will Discover:

  • What Sheryl’s infertility journey has looked like.
  • Why infertility became a racial topic for Sheryl.
  • What made Sheryl realize that she had to be in charge of her fertility journey.
  • The power of seeing people who look like you who have gone through the same experience.
  • What it meant for Sheryl to acknowledge her infertility.
  • The factors that contribute to the pain women of color experience in the medical field.
  • Why it’s so important to honor your feelings.
  • How Sheryl handled the exhaustion of the reality of trying to start her family.

     

    Listen to the Full Episode:

     

    Featured on the Show:

     

    Full Episode Transcript:

     

    Hi, friends. Welcome to Fearless Infertility, a podcast for women struggling with the mental anguish that comes with infertility. My name is Jenica and after suffering in silence for too long I was able to pull myself out of the dark, take control over my mind, and create joy during my infertility experience. I’m here to help you do the same, sister. Let’s dive into today’s show.

    Welcome back to the Fearless Infertility podcast. I am so excited today to introduce you to Sheryl Ellsworth. I became acquainted with Sheryl only a few weeks ago when she spoke on a panel at a workshop called Let's Talk, Sis. And it was put on by two sisters, Alexis and Chanté, and their goal is to create awareness and education on diversity, race, and inclusion. And Sheryl was so incredible to say yes to be on the panel.

    And something that she said really hit home for me and has truly changed how I will run The Slice of Sun going forward. And she just gave an analogy that she basically said, “If I were to go to a company's Instagram account, for instance, and I saw pictures of people of only one race, and that race wasn't my race, I would automatically assume based on what they had included in their photos that that product or that service wasn't for me.”

    And of course, you would assume that. I would assume that too if I went to somebody's website and it included pictures of only one race and it wasn't my race, I would say, “Oh, like that's fine. But this service or this product isn't for me.” And with The Slice of Sun, it's incredibly important to me that it is a space to support women in infertility of all races.

    And because of Sheryl's story and example I will really, really be hyper aware of the content that I'm creating. Because I want any woman who's experiencing infertility to know that they are welcome here and that this community of support, resources, and tools in managing their mind in infertility is for them.

    So I'm incredibly grateful for Sheryl. And it's so interesting too, because it actually wasn't until after the workshop that I looked her up because I was so impressed by her. And I had reached out to her and found out that she also experienced infertility as well. So, of course, I had to ask her on the podcast to share her story with you, and her takeaways, and the gifts that she saw and found in it, and is still finding in it.

    She has a really, really crazy story. She's been through a lot to bring her two children into her family. And her knowledge and her experience is really incredible because she's so strong and so open to learning. And she's honestly just incredibly inspiring and motivating. And I'm so excited for you to be able to hear her story about her perspective on things like your family will come but maybe not in the way that you thought. And it's okay to feel sadness, even after everything is done. And honoring your feelings.

    And I am so, so happy to introduce you to Sheryl Ellsworth. Here's her story.

    Jenica: Hi, Sheryl. I am so excited that you are on the Fearless Infertility podcast with me today. Thank you so much for being here.

    Sheryl: Thank you, Jenica. Glad to be here.

    Jenica: Thank you. So, Sheryl is an infertility warrior. And it's something that we can all relate to with her. And she has a really incredible story that I've asked her to share today. And she's been so gracious to take her time to come share her message with you, and what she has learned from her infertility struggle and journey so far.

    So Sheryl, I would love for you to just give us a background on your infertility experience. And we'll, yeah, just take it away from there please.

    Sheryl: Yeah, well, thank you so much. This is something that I'm trying to find my voice in a little bit more. I'm a part of a lot of different communities now. I'm part of my certain religious community. I'm part of the Black community and part of the educator’s community. I'm now part of the adoption community. And I'm part of the infertility community.

    And one thing that's hard about being a member of the infertility community is I don't think I would have chosen to be part of this community. But now that I'm a part of it, I want to be able to speak up and share my story.

    So actually, in preparation for this interview I was just talking with my husband and we were recapping like, what was our journey? And so, my husband and I are both part of a religious faith where a lot of people get married early and start families early. However, my husband and I did not meet each other until I was 32 and he was 34. In many communities that’s still very young, but for us, it was seen as older. We got married when we were 33 and 35. And really felt like we wanted to start a family.

    If we go back a few years before that, before meeting him, I was working out a ton at the time, at this time in my life. And I one day felt what I thought was an ab in my stomach area, or my abdomen area. And which deep down inside I knew wasn't an ab. I was like, “I'm not that swole, I’m not that great.” But I just had no idea what it could be.

    And I didn't tell anybody, but I made an appointment with a gynecologist. And I went to her and said… Oh, excuse me, I actually went to the urgent care first. I didn't know, like it was a bump that I felt. Like it was like this thing. And they were like, “Hmm, I actually think you need to go to the gynecologist.” And I was like, “Really?” And they're like, “Yeah.”

    So I went to the gynecologist and she did an ultrasound and basically told me that I had a thing called a uterine fibroid. And I literally had never heard of this before. And then she proceeds to tell me that for whatever reason, they are more prevalent in Black women than any other race.

    And I was so mad, because we already historically have issues with sickle cell. We already have the highest mortality rate at childbirth. We already have really bad history when it comes to trusting physicians. You know, there's so many things that the Black community has gone through when it comes to medical issues that I was like, “No way, there's no way that again there's something that's worse for us.” I was so mad.

    Anyway, essentially, I was living in DC at the time, and she just was like, “We should get this removed.” And I just felt like “Oh, she's just someone who wants money. Like a surgeon who just wants money to take this thing out.” So I got another opinion. My mom was living in Utah at the time and I came to visit her and I got an opinion from a doctor here in Utah, where we currently live now. And she said to me, “Oh yeah, this is a uterine fibroid for sure. And I would really recommend you getting it taken out.”

    So I planned for a surgery. Got a surgery to get this one uterine fibroid removed through a myomectomy. So, for just like real basic terms, this is like a C section without waking up and having a baby in your arms. You are cut open, it's a large incision, it's a very big procedure. I was hospitalized for five days. It's very painful recovery. But because I was a school teacher, I knew I had the whole summer to recover, so I did.

    But when I woke up, she first tells me that my fibroid was the size of an orange. And that she also removed nine more. So I woke up and there were 10 of these benign tumors that were removed out of my uterus.

    Anyway, back to the present time. Not present day today, but when my husband and I got married and said, we're going to move forward with starting a family. I remembered that after that appointment, that doctor said to me, “Sheryl, I just want you to know…” Or after my surgery, “Sheryl, I just want you to know, there's a good chance that you're going to have a hard time having children. If you even are able to birth one child, that will be a miracle.”

    And so I honestly just, I didn't believe her. I didn't believe her, again, relating this to race and the Black community. It's a lot of like, “Well, if God intends you to be a mother, you will be a mother.” Which I think can be detrimental like spiritual bypassing kind of phrase when you hear that because then you're like, “Am I not worthy? Am I not doing what's right? Why wouldn't God bless me to be a mother if that's what I really want to be?”

    And so I was never allowed to say it out loud with some of my Black friends because they're like, “If you say it, it will come to pass.” Like it was very interesting culturally how that dynamic worked. And then with my white friends where I felt a little bit more free to stay like, “I think I might have an issue.” Right?

    But yet, for me, I felt like infertility issues really was in support for white women. Like, if you go to an infertility clinic and you see the walls with all the baby birth announcements, it's predominately white children. Historically, financially people of color may not have access to as much wealth that it takes to do infertility treatments, all these things.

    Anyway, when we decided, like, hey because that doctor said that this could be an issue, we decided that we would never go on birth control. And I went and saw another doctor, and I said, “Hey, I just really think that I'm going to have a hard time having children.” And his first response to me was like, “You're only 33 years old, don't let Utah culture get to you.”

    And that was the first time I recognized that you have to be in control of your fertility journey. Like, there will be people that I think will say like, “Oh, again, in God's time. Or if God intends you to do it.” Like, more like a passive way. But I just feel like faith, if we're talking in a religious perspective, is an action word, like you've got to do the work.

    So anyway, I met with him, he put me on a hormone treatment immediately. But it was silly, because I didn't have problems with ovulation. That wasn't my issue. My issue was these fibroids that don't allow an embryo to implant in my uterus to grow.

    And so he finally started listening to me, I got the dye treatment that I'm sure a lot of you know about. Just lets you know what's in your uterus, what's going on in a deeper level. And I just remember the person who did the dye treatment, who's not supposed to read anything or say anything just was like, “Whoa.” And I knew, I knew these fibroids were back. Like deep down inside. Even though I'd gotten 10 removed, I knew they were back. Got to the doctor and he's like, “Oh, you have four more fibroids.”

    Fast forward, my husband and I, we just keep trying, nothing's happening. And then we decided to go to another fertility doctor. And she was very, very direct with me and said, you know, “You have great ovaries, you have great eggs, just your embryos can't implant. Have you ever thought about using a gestational carrier?” Because we also checked my husband, and it wasn't him.

    So a lot of times, like I think we, as women, put it on us but it can also be something going on with the sperm. And it wasn't him. And my husband and I looked at each other. My husband is another person of color as well. And I mean, as soon as we got outside we’re like, “I think that's what white people do, get carriers.” Like, again, this is like assumptions, right? Or just like what I've seen in my community.

    And it was so nice that celebrities like Gabrielle Union started speaking up, she used a gestational carrier. We heard that Michelle Obama had infertility issues. We heard that Chrissy Teigen has had infertility issues, right? So when we hear a celebrity speaking up, that's empowering, especially if they are people of color. People who look like me, then I'm like, “Okay, well, I don't know, maybe we can think about that. But we really would like to try.” Then found out that my husband was going to get deployed. And he was going to be deployed for a year.

    So we decided in that time, that I would have what is called a hysteroscopy, which is another way to get out the uterine fibroids. So essentially, it goes up through the uterus and like grinds up, this is very simple terms, grinds up the fibroids and pulls them out.

    Jenica: I love that you're explaining that because that's what, I mean, all of us kind of relate to, we need simple terms.

    Sheryl: Right, right. And, you know, I've had to learn these terms because they're part of my life. And I think the women listening to this will know terms that I don't even know.

    Jenica: Same.

    Sheryl: Right, like, I mean, we have all these acronyms even in our community. TTC, trying to conceive, right? Like, there are all these things that I had to learn and I was like, “Whoa, I've been trying to conceive since day one of marriage.” Right?

    Jenica: Right, it’s been a minute.

    Sheryl: It’s been a minute. So, essentially, my husband came back for R&R, and this gets a little like specific, but we had to kind of plan it like,
    “Okay, your uterus is clear, there's no fibroids. Why don't you guys go ahead and try.” But by the time he already came back, which was like a month after the surgery, and after healing and everything, I already had other fibroids.

    Jenica: Oh, wow. That’s so fast.

    Sheryl: They already came back.

    Jenica: Do you know if that's normal for them to grow so quickly, or is that something that's a little bit rare?

    Sheryl: It is rare. So this is what my infertility doctor told me, she essentially said, “If you looked at the bodies of a lot of older women who passed away, like if we looked inside their uterus, there's a high chance that many women would have fibroids.” But the kind of fibroids that I have is the worst kind. And so this isn't actually my infertility doctor who told me this part, this was a specialist that I saw afterwards when I realized that I just wouldn't be able to carry my children and I needed to figure out something else to help me with all my bleeding that the fibroids caused.

    Anyway, she basically said there were like seven levels, and I had the worst level. So I did another hysteroscopy and we timed it again before my husband got home from deployment. And by the time he got back, more fibroids were there.

    So at that point it's like, what are you going to do? And I finally said the words, “I struggle with infertility.” And it was interesting, even though we went to an infertility doctor, I had never said those words. And I remember finally saying it in January of 2019. I deal with infertility.

    Jenica: So what did that feel like for you? Was it like, finally admitting something that you'd maybe wanted to not acknowledge? Or what did that mean for you, to say that?

    Sheryl: It finally meant for me that my family was going to come, but it just may not be in the way that I thought it would be.

    Jenica: Okay.

    Sheryl: And so my husband and I looked at each other. We looked at the numbers, and for us adoption and a gestational carrier were going to be about the same amount of money. Unfortunately, this is a topic for a whole other day. Adoption is very expensive and using a carrier is very expensive. But why they were going to be about the same for us is because we had a friend who was going to be willing to carry for me.

    Jenica: Okay. Okay, so she was going to maybe waive her expenses besides like medical bills and things like that?

    Sheryl: Yeah, she was going to charge us, I mean, a very low cost. And yeah, that would have made it the same as an adoption using an agency.

    Jenica: Okay. Okay. So what did you end up deciding to do as the next step?

    Sheryl: Well, what was really interesting is we went to dinner after we saw this uterine specialist. The uterine specialists looked at me and said, “You have severe fibroids, and you're extremely anemic because you're bleeding so much. You're taking off of work two times, maybe sometimes three times a month, just to, like, be okay. That's actually not normal, using an ultra-tampon and a pad for two or three days is not normal.”

    And I finally said, “You know, I am okay if I do not carry my children.” And because of that, she said, “Okay, we need to get you on a drug.” It was called norethindrone. Essentially that would stop my period so I could start to recover. And my goal wasn't going to be to carry my children. My goal was going to be to grow my family. Whether it was using a carrier or whether pursuing adoption.

    Jenica: Okay. Wow. Mentally, how did you handle that at the time?

    Sheryl: Well, mentally I just didn't know how it would all work out. Like financially it just felt weird. And again, when I went to the infertility clinic and I'm seeing all of these babies on the walls and none of them looked like me. And as couples are coming in no one's looking like us, like, I just didn't know what this would look like as a woman of color. It became a racial topic for me.

    And I think in this past year, we've definitely seen people feeling more comfortable to talk about race and how it's systemically connected to a lot of things. Whether it's education, housing, but now when we're talking about infertility, it's also connected to that.

    Jenica: I love, love that you're bringing this up. And this is why I felt so connected to you initially when you and I met at the, well, I met you. You didn't meet me because I was listening to you on the panel that you were on. But that's why I felt so connected to you because it really opened my eyes to seeing yourself and being able to relate to whatever problem you're experiencing based on other people that look like you experiencing it as well.

    I love you for bringing that up for me because with Fearless Infertility, this podcast, and with The Slice of Sun it had honestly never occurred to me that people of color might come, and if they only saw white women featured that they would think, “Oh, this is a place for people to get help if they have infertility and they're white.” And so I love that you're saying this. It's really eye opening for any business, anywhere that, I think, is so important to address.

    Sheryl: The sincerity that I found from you is when you said, “You know, Sheryl, I want this to be a space for all women. I want all women to know that we're all in this together.” And I feel like I'm singing High School Musical when I say that, but truly that we are. But it also helped me to remember that no one's journey is the same. No one’s story is the same.

    Like even if you and I connect because we're in this infertility journey together, our stories are different, right? You were able to birth your children through your body and my children came to me through someone else's body, right? Like, our stories aren’t the same, but I mean, definitely those feelings of loneliness, that pain.

    But going back to what you were saying, there was a study that I, it was a Landmark study actually in 2015, called Silent and Infertile by Rosario Ceballo. She's a University of Michigan psychologist and Associate Dean. And she interviewed about 50 Black women about their experience with infertility. And I thought this was really something that I could relate to. “I was just floored that all the work on fertility was being done on white, very wealthy couples. When I learned women of color are more impacted it seemed like a clear injustice.” 

    And, you know, there's definitely pain that I think women of color experience, as I alluded to earlier, when it comes to the medical field. And again, I remember experiencing and seeing the bulletin of babies that I'm like, “Okay, none of those babies look like me.” There's also less people of color donating maybe sperm if a woman of color wanted to receive that sperm. And, you know, there's all of these things that contribute to why women of color feel a little excluded in this.

    Jenica: Do you have any suggestions on where we start in fixing that? I know that's a big question. But in your opinion, what do you think would help as a place to start?

    Sheryl: I think this is a great example, right? Because I said to you, you know, Jenica, like no story is the same. Everyone's journey is very, very different. But one thing I would also say is, again, for those of you religiously, whoever you believe in, but I believe in God, right? And I've learned that God is no respecter of persons.

    And what that means is like, we all have trials, but God, in my opinion, wants to help all people. Like we all will go through things in our lives no matter who we are. But infertility is also no respecter of persons, like even though we might disproportionately... Also, one thing we don't recognize is women, or Black women actually, studies have shown that are like twice as likely to deal with this. But culturally, we don't talk about our business. That's like, we don't do that. That's like a thing we don’t do.

    Jenica: Yeah. Interesting, you just handle it yourself and deal with it.

    Sheryl: Yeah, you just handle it yourself. Or again, like I alluded to before like, when historically Black churches like, if God intends for you to be a mother then he will. Like that kind of mentality.

    But like allowing for spaces like this, Jenica, where you're interviewing all kinds of women, you will see that people's stories will come through. And just as I was saying, God's no respecter of persons, neither is infertility. This really does impact so many Latinx community, white women, Black women, Asian women, indigenous women. I mean, this really does impact us all.

    Jenica: Yeah, I love that answer. And I love that it's so interesting, because I don't like infertility, but at the same time, it is our pain that connects us as people. And I love that we share that so we can then support each other. And we can see eye to eye on it because it's the same no matter what our exterior looks like, you know?

    Sheryl: Yeah, definitely that pain is real. And that just makes me think, I just remember, like, even having my two children that I adore and I love, even after everything is done you can still feel sadness. And that's okay. And I think it's really important to honor those feelings.

    Like we've been through stuff, right? Like you've been through the pregnancy sticks, that you buy so many and you're like, “Well, maybe I need to get the most expensive kind so that it’ll say pregnant.” And you're just upset. Or the miscarriages, or the painful experiences that you have just to like be a mom. I mean, and I use the word just, not lightly. I mean, it's something that is supposed to be so natural, but it's like so difficult for some of us. And it doesn't make sense.

    Jenica: Yeah. Yeah, I totally think you're right. And that's where I struggled a lot too, was having the next step be a place where it was just a roadblock. Because I had done all of the normal things to do in your life. I had gone to high school, graduated high school. Gone to college, graduated college. Got married and that next step was just, yeah.

    So saying, you know, just a mom, I totally get what you mean by that, where it's such a normal thing. That's the next step. And then when you can't get to that next step it can be incredibly challenging, because that has its own challenges in and of itself, as all mothers know. But just to get the opportunity, it's definitely challenging, especially, well, maybe not especially but when you don't expect it, it's hard to prepare for it. So it's always nice to have, also another point, resources to turn to.

    I love that you said that you love how people are starting to talk more about it now. And I think that the examples that you gave of Michelle Obama and Gabrielle Union, it's so incredible to see other women share their experiences because then you know you're not alone. And you know that there are resources available to all of us.

    Sheryl: Absolutely. And I said at the very beginning that infertility, the community that we're in, how I said it was like, this wasn't what I wanted to be a part of. I say that, and I think about my really good friends that I have today. And some of my closest friends is because of this infertility journey. And so you're right, like those stories really bring us together. And it's very difficult, like, it's just so hard. And I wish I could take that pain away from people. But truly there are positives that can come from even the hardest experiences. For me, really great friends who have come through this.

    Jenica: I love that. And I love that that is a fruit of sharing your story. Because if you didn't share it and people didn't know about it, then you wouldn't be able to connect with others through it. And I completely agree. I shared my story on Instagram initially, well on my blog, and then I shared to Instagram like six years ago. And one of my really good friends is in my life because of that and that decision. So I totally agree with you on that. I love that.

    Sheryl: Yeah, and that's the power of speaking up, right? And that's why I essentially said yes to this podcast. Because even though I probably seem like “Oh wow, I just told my whole story.” I actually really didn't, right, there are things that I haven't shared with you today. I'm still trying to learn how to use my voice. I'm still trying to learn how to advocate and say like, “You are not alone, there are others with you.” But even though you know that this impacts so many people, it can still feel very lonely.

    Jenica: I love that you made that point. I completely agree with you. So let's go back to your husband. He is on deployment and you have the choice to decide between using a gestational carrier or adopting. So what did you decide?

    Sheryl: So our decision actually came after he got home, because when he went back after the R&R and I had that second hysteroscopy scheduled and then I did the surgery. And then by the time we got home my fibroids were already there. And then the doctor was like, “Okay, next surgery, let's plan it.” And I looked at her and I was like, “Yeah, so I've already had a myomectomy, two hysteroscopies, no more. Shops closed. We've got to figure something else out.”

    What was interesting, I was laughing with him because I remember this in January of 2019 we went to dinner with friends. And my husband says to them, “We are going to use a gestational carrier to grow our family.” And I was like, “Yeah we are.” I mean I knew we had talked about it and I was excited that he was going to tell our closest friends. We got in the car, literally right after we took pictures with friends, got in the car and he said, “I really feel like we should adopt.”

    Jenica: Interesting.

    Sheryl: I know and I was like, “Um, okay.”

    Jenica: You’re giving me mixed signals here man.

    Sheryl: Yeah. But you know here's the thing, I was really happy that he was good with whatever. Again, adoption is a story for another day. But a lot of my friends struggle because they can't get their partner, or their husband, or their spouse on board with adoption. And that was not my husband's situation.

    So we decided to pursue adoption, and had a really crazy experience where we decided to pursue adoption for real for real, like on a Thursday, and the next Monday we were already matched with an expectant mother of twins.

    Jenica: Oh my gosh, is that like abnormally fast?

    Sheryl: That’s not normal.

    Jenica: Okay. That's what I thought.

    Sheryl: Yeah, I think this, again, relating this back to race, there was not a large pool of Black mothers who were adopting. And this mom who was having twins, one of the things she said was like, “I’d really like a Black couple, or a mixed-race couple where one of the parents is Black.” And that was my husband.

    And we had talked to this agency on Thursday, just to say we were thinking about it. We didn't have a contract or anything so they reached out to us and essentially said, “Hey, there's a potential expectant mother and I told her about you. And, I mean, are you interested?” And we just thought it would be the perfect situation. “Oh, twins? Oh, a boy and a girl? Oh, there we go.” Because, like it was going to cost so much money, but it was like two babies for one, essentially.

    And that sounds really trite and I don't mean to say it, like, put a cost on our children. But we know in this infertility world that like literally you have to, like I said earlier, you have to make it a priority. Your journey is your priority. But you also have to put the money behind it to do it.

    Jenica: Right. Yeah, you have to think about the money. It's not something that you can just not think about. It's a huge investment.

    Sheryl: It's a huge investment. But essentially, I'll skip a lot of details, but that expectant mother changed her mind. We went down to where the babies were born and she changed her mind, which she is absolutely allowed to do. What was tricky is that she then called me the week after and said, “I just can't do this. Will you please, please come get the babies?” And I was like, “Are you sure? Are you sure? Like I do not want you to feel stressed out about this.” And she said, “Absolutely. I cannot do this.” She was parenting other children and so this was really hard for her.

    We went back and she ghosted us. Like we went back to the state she lived in and we never saw her. But why I bring that up is that's when a friend kind of popped up and was seriously like, “Hey, I want to carry for you.” And so then we're like, “Oh wow, we're like pursuing adoption. But then here's this person who has mentioned this, but like is serious about it, is willing to do this. So maybe we really should follow that first suggestion our infertility doctor said to do.” And that was to do an egg retrieval.

    Jenica: Wow. Okay. Before we move on to the next part of your story, I wanted to ask you, how did you handle the roller coaster of emotions, and keep going? Because that is a lot to deal with.

    Sheryl: Yeah, and we did a lot of it quietly. But at the same time, a lot of it was public because, Jenica, with all of this the cost is so great. And we knew that we were going to pursue adoption, and we were going to take the time to save up for everything. But essentially, when she told us on that Monday, the agency woman, told us on Monday about the twins, she was like, I'll need $35,000 by Friday.

    And it was in cash. Like you can't like give her like a card and be like, “Okay, I'm good for this.” Nope, you need that. This was not including our lawyer fees. This is not including flights, Airbnb, rental cars, food. It was just like this $35,000. And so what was hard about that is my really good friend who, we've been friends for years, but actually really connected because of our infertility journey. We've been friends when we were both in DC.

    And because we were going through this thing together, I'm like crying to her. And I'm like, “I think I want this situation. But this is just like too much too quick.” And she just was like, “Sheryl, do you want these babies?” And I said, “Yes, I want these babies.” Like I'm crying. And she's like, “Then we do a crowd fund.”

    Jenica: Funding?

    Sheryl: Yeah, crowd funding, a GoFundMe. And I think that was really hard, Jenica, because I had to be very public with something that I didn't actually want to be public about. And then all of a sudden, it's the stupidest thing, but maybe some women out there can understand this, I'm like, “All those boys that I dated, that either broke up with me or I broke up with them, they're going to know that I deal with infertility. And they probably feel like they dodged a bullet because I can't bear babies.” Like, I like went to a really weird space about it.

    Jenica: Yeah, that's hard not to.

    Sheryl: And then I was like asking for money. Like, I was like, “No, we would be good for the money if we didn't need it in four days.”

    Jenica:  Right, you're capable of making that.

    Sheryl: It was just a lot.

    Jenica: Yeah. Oh my gosh.

    Sheryl: So I was very public about it. And then because everyone was giving us money, I felt like I had to be public about us going to the twins. Like I was posting like, “We're on our way. We're at the hospital.” I was posting everything. And if I could have done anything over again, I would have not been so public. Because if people are choosing to give to your GoFundMe, like whatever thing that you choose to do for your funds support, it is okay if they give you money without them knowing every step of the way.

    But I think that was hard because that part I had to be really public about. But once the twins didn't work out, I even said to people, I said, “I'm so sorry this happened. If you want your money back, we will give it back.” Even though we lost tons of money trying to get these twins, because we ended up not using that agency again so we lost half, it was a lot of money we lost.

    Jenica: Wow.

    Sheryl: Yeah, a lot of money. So we were going to give the money back. And it was really sweet, no one asked for their funds back. But once that happened, I was very quiet. So my husband and I really had to lean in on each other for support.

    Jenica: Yeah. Wow. I love that you mentioned that, and I totally agree with that, that I think in our heads we think that we owe people something. Where in reality, these people that gave you the money, maybe they didn't even expect an update. You know, so I think that we have these stories in our heads that put so much pressure on ourselves. In this situation, I mean I can think of a million situations in my own life.

    And so I love that you mentioned that because I think a lot of the women listening will be in that position because it's a lot of money, whether it be adoption or infertility treatments. And a lot of them are fundraising and applying for grants. And I love that you said that because I think you probably added a lot of undue pressure on yourself because you thought you owed them something when in reality they just wanted to be -

    Sheryl: Yeah, it was an accountability thing.

    Jenica: Yeah.

    Sheryl: And yes, exactly, I didn't actually owe them. And I apologize for interrupting.

    Jenica: Oh, no, it's okay. Yeah, I was just saying like, I think that you assumed that they expected that when in reality they just loved you and wanted to help you.

    Sheryl: They did, they just loved me and wanted to help me. And it really wasn't about the money. It was really about us growing our family.

    Jenica: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. Thank you so much for sharing that part of it. Okay, so then what ended up happening next, after you weren't able to get those twins that you thought that you would be able to adopt?

    Sheryl: Yeah, so that's when my friend kind of reached out to us and said, “Hey, you know, I would love to carry for you.” And why this was, again, like a big, big deal is because this carrier was a Black woman. And I finally like saw it. Like, I was like, “Oh, I can see this. She looks like me. She could carry my embryos and do all these things.” It's hard because I know there will be women out there and like, “Man, my battle is just getting the embryos.” Right? And I hear that, that's hard because we all again, have our own individual stories.

    That wasn't my issue, like we could get tons and genetically test them. And it was fine. That wasn't the issue. It was like, how do we find the right fit to carry our children and do it in a way that we can actually afford? Because we're not just made of money here. And so we decided that we were going to pursue both.

    We said, “We still feel really good about adoption, and then we will for our next baby use this carrier. But essentially what happened is we didn't know when adoption would come again. Like we just didn't know. It could now be two years, even though it took four or five days the last time, it could be two years.

    So we started, there's a lot that you have to do with the gestational carrier. You have to first see if she has, you know, a healthy uterus herself. So she has an ultrasound, she has to do some testing, she also has to do a psyche eval. You as the couple have to do a psyche eval saying like she's okay to carry the children and then hand that child over to you. You're okay that someone else is going to carry your child. And this is legally your child. Like there's a lot that goes into it that a lot of people don't know.

    So we were like, “Okay, that will be our next step. And then we were matched again with an expectant mother, who is the birth mother of our first child.” And essentially, we move forward with that carrier. She just had the perfect situation for us. But a year later, and it took a while to get all the things right, because we wanted to work with her timeline and all the things.

    But a year later, when it was time for her to do the transfer, her lining didn't get to where it needed to be. And so we were going to start over. And we felt like... Oh, this is the other thing, right? Because I'm sure a lot of people can feel this, you feel like this, time, this ticking time. You're just like, “Oh my gosh, I can't wait. I just have to keep moving forward if I want a family.” And so it's like your second job is like trying to grow your family. Right?

    Jenica: Yeah, very consuming,

    Sheryl: Very consuming. But she was going to do this again for us, even though that was emotionally a roller coaster for her because she'd already done the hormone shots. She did everything in the name of us, right? It was such, I love her so much. But then something happened called COVID.

    And we didn't know what COVID was. And I think there was a spectrum for people with COVID. And our carrier, for her, she was on a spectrum of like, I couldn't see myself choosing to be pregnant during COVID. I'm so sorry, I cannot be your carrier.

    So we're kind of like, “Whoa.” We had done the egg retrieval. So we're all out there thinking like, “Oh wow.” we all know how much that cost. We had these frozen embryos. Oh, we know how much that cost. So we just felt like we have to find another carrier.

    Jenica: Yeah, you’d already made it like 90% of the way.

    Sheryl: Yes, exactly. We were so close, but we were so close with the twins, too. We were so close to this, like there was just so many things that we were so close to. But essentially we found another carrier. And again, another perfect fit. Thought it was going to work out. And then we got even farther, she did the transfer, it took. We were expecting this baby girl and then we lost her six weeks later.

    Jenica: Oh my gosh. Sheryl, at this point, are you exhausted or are you able to like mentally take care of yourself? Because just listening to this, I think that anyone would just be, honestly, at that point a little bit hopeless. Because you're trying so many things, you get so close, and then it just doesn't happen. How were you able to handle this at the time?

    Sheryl: This sounds maybe like really dumb, for lack of better words, but I was just really mad. I was really mad about the money.

    Jenica: I don’t blame you.

    Sheryl: I was really mad about the money because I was like, here's the thing, if we were just focusing on adoption, fine. If we were just focusing on the gestational carrier, fine. But we felt like, “Oh, here are two great options.” It's like, the twins just came out of nowhere, this carrier just came out of nowhere. We didn't know what to do. So we just like threw it all out there. And we cast our nets wide, because we didn't know what would catch and what would take.

    And then essentially, like, it was all catching and then it all fell. And this again, Jenica, is when I was very quiet. I would have never done this podcast during that time. When people knew we were looking for a carrier, because once again I had to be public about it. And I asked a ton of people is there anyone who has ever thought about being a carrier? Maybe you know someone who's thought about being a carrier?

    So I had to bring people into my business again. And I didn't want to do that, but I did it. But I was really quiet. So no one knew that we actually ever found a carrier. So I never shared that we lost the baby until this past October during infertility Awareness Month.

    Jenica: Okay. Wow. So did you feel like you had the support that you needed at the time with not sharing? Or would you have looked back and maybe handled it a little bit differently to help get the support that you needed?

    Sheryl: No, I think that my really close friends and family who needed to know, you start to learn who needs to know.

    Jenica: Okay, yeah.

    Sheryl: And those who needed to know, even though that they couldn’t always support me, because they didn't experience it always, they knew.

    Jenica: Yeah. Wow. Okay, so then what happened after you lost the baby at six weeks?

    Sheryl: So we had this other opportunity to adopt. And what was crazy is we found out the same day that our contract went through with our carrier. So essentially, we were going to be expecting two babies at the same time, about four months apart. And so there was one moment where, and it was kind of funny, because I told you legally you have to do all this work, right? Like for a carrier to do the work. Our attorney reached out to us and the same day our attorney was like, “Hey, you guys are good to go using this carrier.” That was the same day we had this conversation.

    Jenica: Wow, that was a theme for you.

    Sheryl: At one point it was like so exciting because we thought we were going have two, and one was going to be born in this month and four months later one was going to be born in this month. But we ended up, you know, losing the carrier baby.

    Because I don't ever use the word my own baby. They are all my babies. Whether or not I carried my babies or not, I don't like the term own. So I remember people, I mean this is also why I got kind of quiet about using gestational carrier because there were some comments like, “I'm so excited for you to have your own baby.”

    Jenica: Interesting.

    Sheryl: And that was really, really hurtful. And I was like, “Well, my child is my baby.”

    Jenica: Right. Yeah, because your adopted son was already at your family at the time.

    Sheryl: Yes. He just came to me through adoption. That's the only difference, right?

    Jenica: Yeah.

    Sheryl: Are we saying that biology is what makes families? Is there a bias for biology? And I learned that there really was. That's what people think when they think of families, was biology. And so that wasn't for me. So but there was a moment where we were going to have these two little girls. Then we lost the baby in September, the gestational carrier baby. And then our second baby was born at 27 weeks in October.

    Jenica: Wow.

    Sheryl: So then we had this preemie. Yeah.

    Jenica: That is so early.

    Sheryl: Very early. And she's doing great.

    Jenica: Oh good, I'm so glad. She's so adorable. Oh my gosh.

    Sheryl: Yes. I love her.

    Jenica: Oh, my goodness. Well, I love hearing your story. And there's just this theme that keeps popping in my head as you're talking. And I think it's so beautiful that even before you, like had your children in your home, and in your family, you were a mother. Because you were doing things that mothers do with like this big love that's so selfless, and put yourself so vulnerable out there. But there's a point where yourself is last, like you go last. And if you needed the money, like within a week to adopt the baby, you were going to put yourself out there and your story out there, even though that wasn't comfortable for you.

    Sheryl: And that people showed up for us was a really big deal for us. Like we recognized that people did want us to be parents. And that meant a lot.

    Jenica: That's so cool. I love it. It's such a hard thing to go through. And like I think you said earlier, you wouldn't wish it on people. But it's so neat to see the silver lining in the gifts that it can give you and the people that you see love you and your value to them.

    Sheryl: Thank you.

    Jenica: You're so amazing. Oh my gosh, it's been so much fun to talk with you. One last question. One thing that you had said was important for you, for these women to know that are experiencing infertility was to honor your feelings. Can you touch on that just a little bit?

    Sheryl: Yes. Every feeling you feel, it is allowed, right? I think sometimes people say, very similar to your question like, “Wow, how did you get through that?” Right? My feelings, I'm not one that like falls to the ground and weeps on the floor. I'm kind of like, “Okay, okay, what do I need to do now?” Right? That's just kind of the way that I work.

    So I think someone could look at me and say, like, “You're not honoring your feelings. It's okay to just sit and be in it.” That's fine if that's you, right? Like, I just, for me, I'm like, “Yo, I'm getting older. I want a family. So I got to get it done.” Like to me that's how I work. And that's okay, that's me honoring my feelings. To the woman who is on the floor weeping every night, that's okay. Honor your feelings. Do whatever it is that you do, right? Like, honor your feelings.

    And so that's what I mean. I just feel like we all handle hardships and trials very differently. And so, yeah, that's what I would say to that.

    Jenica: That is a beautiful answer. I love that. And honestly, it wasn't what I expected you to say. So I love that because it's such a unique perspective. And I think that when I'm coaching women with infertility a common theme is that people are looking for a right or wrong answer. And I love the main thought that you wanted women to take away. And the thought that helped you the most was that no story is exactly the same. Because there's not a right or a wrong way. And there's not a right or a wrong story.

    And so I think when people continue to look outwardly for that validation, you're just not going to find it. Because you just really need to honor your own story, which is totally unique. Which can be very uncomfortable. It's nice knowing the next step, but I just don't think that's always a possibility, most of the time. And so thank you so much for sharing that.

    Sheryl: Yeah. I just recognize that we're just all different, right? We really are. And yes, collectively, this thing brings us together. But all of our stories are unique.

    Jenica: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.

    Sheryl, if people want to contact you and reach out to you with questions or anything, is there a way for them to be able to do that?

    Sheryl: Yeah, sure. I have Instagram.

    Jenica: Okay.

    Sheryl: And my Instagram handle is @Sheryl, S-H-E-R-Y-L, kge. I always, like, because even earlier on the Instagram story you were like, “Sheryl Garner is speaking with us. And I was like, “Oh yeah, she probably called me Sheryl Garner because my email is Sheryl Garner.” My married last name is Ellsworth.

    Jenica: Oh, is Garner your maiden name?

    Sheryl: Yes.

    Jenica: Good to know. See, look at us.

    Sheryl: I just was getting older so I was like I am not changing my email, like, this is just too much work.

    Jenica: Look at us, we're just becoming so much closer. Now I feel like I know you so much better now, I actually know your real last name.

    Sheryl: Yeah, I know. I mean, I don’t even know, maybe I should put like my whole... I don't know, I kept my maiden name. That's what the G is for, so it’s Sheryl Karen Garner Ellsworth. And I’m like that's too long of a handle.

    Jenica: I love it.

    Sheryl: I don’t know, KGE, yeah, Ellsworth is last name.

    Jenica: Oh my gosh. Okay, cool. So Sheryl, thank you so much for sharing your infertility story and sharing your thoughts and what you learned through infertility and are still learning in your journey here in life. I know the women here in this community with infertility will really be able to greatly benefit from it. So thank you so much for sharing your valuable time with us today.

    Sheryl: Thank you, Jenica.

    Jenica: Awesome, thank you so much.

    To celebrate the launch of the show, I'm going to be giving away pajama and sock sets from The Spice of Sun that I have personally designed. They are the most buttery, soft, delightful things you'll ever put on your body. And I'm going to be giving away five bundles to five lucky listeners who subscribe, rate, and review the show on Apple podcasts. It doesn't have to be a five-star review, although I sure hope you love the show. I genuinely want your honest feedback so I can create an awesome show that provides tons of value to you who are experiencing infertility.

    Visit thesliceofsun.com/podcastlaunch to learn more about the contest and how to enter and I'll be announcing the winners on the show in an upcoming episode.

    Thank you for listening to Fearless Infertility. If you want more tools and resources to help you during your infertility experience visit thesliceofsun.com. See you next week.

     

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