Infertility doesn't happen to me - it happens to other people. I conceived my first child naturally, within five months. Infertility isn't something I have to worry about...
But then I found out about Secondary Infertility. You see, infertility can impact anyone, any time. And as I learned, just because I had a baby naturally once doesn't mean I would be able to do it again.
The thing about secondary infertility is that it comes with a weird sense of guilt.
The first portion is the "I already have a child - I am one of the lucky ones". I don't reserve the right to be as sad as people who haven't been able to conceive. The fact is - I'm devastated that we haven't been able to expand our family. But then I feel guilty for being so sad when so many other people don't have a baby in the first place. I'm one of the lucky ones - right?
The second portion is the fact that I wasn’t exactly the best mom when doped up on fertility drugs. I was exhausted, nauseous, hormonal and a big old mess. My brain was foggy, and I found myself completely lost with tasks as simple as making boxed macaroni and cheese. I can't tell you how many times I stood over the stove wondering if I already added the butter.
What type of mom have I been in the past? The type of mom that plays on the floor with my daughter. The type of mom that laughs at her silly jokes. The type of mom that has endless patience. And the type of mom that is overwhelmingly honest with my now six-year-old daughter Isla Jaye.
When she asked where babies come from, I didn't beat around the bush. I went for it. We talked about sex. We talked about how the penis enters the vagina and delivers sperm which travels up the fallopian tube...you get the picture. After about 10-minutes of walking her through the act of sex and how an embryo turns into a baby, she looked at me and said, "Wait a second. How does Daddy's penis fit in your vagina?" And then proceeded to drop her pants and examine herself. It's one of those parent stories I'll tell for the rest of my life.
But what happens when the simple act of sex doesn't produce a baby?
My daughter was about two years old when my husband and I started trying to have another baby. Month after month, and pregnancy test after pregnancy test, there was nothing. We conceived our daughter within five months - this wasn't making sense. I spoke with my OB and GP who both said, "Don't worry. You're fine! You had a healthy pregnancy naturally. It will happen again. Be patient. It can take up to a year to get pregnant."
We moved from NYC to Atlanta in March of 2018 and in July 2018 - after almost 18 months of trying - I scheduled my annual pap appointment with my new OB.
She said she was confident I would get pregnant - I had a history of a successful pregnancy...and all that jazz. However, if I wasn't pregnant by December, we would discuss making an appointment with a fertility specialist.
Come December, I still wasn't pregnant. I found a fertility specialist and we started the path to figure out why I wasn't getting pregnant. I thought we would have answers within a few weeks. Little did I know it would take months to figure out because so much is dependent on the woman's menstrual cycle for diagnosis. I had an HSG test which showed that my left fallopian tube was potentially blocked. A cycle later we did further testing that concluded my tube was blocked. And then we discovered my right ovary connected to the open fallopian tube was lazy. That's right - she doesn't love to drop an egg. Meanwhile it turned out my husband had 0% motility with his sperm. All of that time trying and there was basically a 0% chance of us getting pregnant. I was frustrated over the lost time and the fact that I didn’t advocate for myself. I knew something was wrong and the doctors weren’t listening to me. But I was also excited to get things moving to take control of our family's future. My husband was told to cut back on caffeine and alcohol, and take a vitamin called ConceptionXR. Three months later - the man had what the doctor deemed as "super sperm". But for me there was no cure for my closed tube and lazy ovary.
During this time Isla became more aware that she didn't have a sibling, while most of her friends did. To be honest - she wasn't upset about it. She was just more curious. When I asked her if she would like a sibling she said, "I want an older sister". Her response when I explained that isn't the route we plan on going at this time was, "OK. Well just bring home a sister when she isn't a baby. I don't wanna a baby crying all da time."
We had multiple failed IUI cycles - which took some time because as we know my open ovary is a little lazy. One of the cycles ended in chemical pregnancy. Another ended in early miscarriage, both of which were devastating. I never understood the sadness surrounding such early loss until it happened to me. What I learned is that it's not necessarily about the loss of the baby (however it is VERY valid to feel that way) - but about the loss of a dream, and that you have to start all over again which candidly was overwhelming and exhausting.
We began the IVF process in October of 2019. I started my protocol and within two days I was exhausted, irritable and was gearing myself up to win the "Most worthless mom" award. Suddenly I wasn't the fun mom, with limitless patience, playing with Legos on the floor. I would come home from work and immediately crawl into bed. I would hear the sounds of my daughter and husband laughing. At first it was sweet. And then I turned into a raging hormonal monster who was sad that I couldn't motivate myself to spend more time with my baby girl. I sat in bed thinking about how all I wanted was another baby, but meanwhile I couldn't fathom getting my ass out of bed to go spend time with the baby I already have.
We didn't know how to approach explaining what was happening to Isla. This was complicated stuff for a five-year-old to process. So we said that mommy wasn't feeling well and she needed lots of rest. She took it well. Until...
One evening my bathroom door swung open.
"Mommy, why you doing those shots???" Isla stared at me with her big brown eyes, furrowing her brow. I saw tears start to form - she looked terrified.
I had a choice to make. Was it time to tell a white lie? How was my five-year-old going to comprehend that mommy's body doesn't work the way it should, so she has to pump herself full of drugs so we can get a bunch of eggs and then fertilize them with daddy's sperm outside of mommy's body.
I found a middle ground.
"Mommy has to give herself some shots to help her body do some things it's supposed to do that it's not doing on its own."
"Does that hurt you? I don't like getting shots."
"Me either. But don't worry, it doesn't hurt." And there it was. A lie. It does hurt. It sucks. It’s not pleasant. But I didn’t think it was the time to further Isla’s fear of needles.
"How do they make nail polish stay on your fingernails, so it doesn't come off in the bath?"
I was relieved at the change of topic and quickly googled the science behind nail polish.
After our retrieval was complete, and I experienced the constipation and bloat of a lifetime, we went through the waiting period of finding out how many embryos we had. We went from 12 eggs retrieved to seven fertilized, to four blastocyst and two genetically normal embryos after PGS testing. I decided I needed to take some time off of medications before gearing up for transfer.
December 31st, 2019 I started my transfer protocol and on January 30th 2020 we transferred our embryo.
And we are the lucky ones. Our embryo transfer was successful.
And then, in March of 2020 the world shut down. And suddenly I was pregnant during a global pandemic. While I was terrified - I was also incredibly thankful. The world was upside down and I had every excuse to stay in my house and hide from the world as I went through my pregnancy. For me, after everything we did to try to have this baby, I was terrified of being pregnant. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. We were living in the strangest of times - and I got to hide in my house.
We welcomed our daughter Norah to the world in October of 2020 - still within the upside down of the pandemic. And what I realized pretty soon after she was born is that the trauma of infertility was going to make me a very different parent to Norah than I am to Isla.
With Isla I was terrified - but casual. I figured every new parent was scared so it was normal to be so overwhelmed that I couldn’t breathe.
And now, six years later, with Norah I am neurotic. I am a helicopter mom. I panic over every new phase. Norah is almost nine-months old and I’ve come to accept that I am two different parents to my girls.
And what I’ve realized is - that’s OK. I’ve spent enough time over the course of my life beating myself up for what I am, or what I’m not. And now, instead of wishing I was different - I am owning who I am.
Infertility has taught me to give myself grace. I am navigating so much - and I’m doing the best I can. And that is TRULY good enough. I love both my girls with everything I am. And I will do the best I can to give them everything they need.
Infertility has also taught me that everyone in this world has something going on behind closed doors - and it’s imperative that I extend the same type of grace to others that I’m extending to myself. Everyone has something they are processing. And I know who I was at my lowest, and I am so thankful for those people that gave me space and grace as I navigated a road that was so confusing - and still to this day I’m not sure I fully understand.