Coming out of the infertility closet

Guest Opinion: One Seattle woman's struggle with her infertility.
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Guest Opinion: One Seattle woman's struggle with her infertility.

Hi, my name is Cathy. I’m 28 years old. And I have problems with infertility.

If you’ve never struggled with infertility issues before, you might think that the above sentence would have been easy to type, but you’re wrong. Mind-bogglingly wrong. As open as I am about my personal life, as comfortable as I am with my body, I was in no way prepared for the identity-shattering shame fest that hit me this year when I suddenly found out I couldn’t just get pregnant. Think you have low self-esteem? Try our new product – infertility! Your sense of self-worth will hit record lows within six months!

In the beginning, my husband Sameer and I were confident that we’d be preggo in no time. Surely the fertility gods would grace us with a spring baby that would be nicely conceived and hatched before the end of the calendar year. But after months of no baby bump or even clear return to my monthly cycle, the doctors confirmed our suspicions — my body had traitorously forgotten how to ovulate after years of being on the birth control pill. While apparently most ovaries return to their monthly programming within just three months, mine were indefinitely on strike. The lazy bastards.

(Mind you that I had asked my doctor about this very thing long before we started trying, and she assured me that the pill would have no affect whatsoever on my future fertility plans. More fun with medicine!)

And so, over time we have added more and more totems and rituals and snake oil to our pregnancy repertoire, hoping that just one of the countless fertility tips we read and are given constantly could help get my body back into baby business: daily temperature charting, CM monitoring (don’t even ask – it’s gross!), cervical check, eating yams (for some reason), ovulatory test kits, weekly acupuncture, unprouncable Chinese herbs, extra folic acid, all the vitamins in the world, less stress, no wait – more stress!, more yoga and hiking, no wait – less strenuous exercise, absolutely no soy, less caffeine, acupressure, not even thinking about it, praying to all versions of God, etc, etc. (I am now a fertility expert, by the way, if you ever want to know anything at all about the female body..)

Nine months into this glamorous ordeal, Sameer and I thought we had finally struck gold – we were freaking pregnant! I was nauseous and tired and dizzy and most of my torso was in pain, and by God we were with child! Finally — after trying for so long! Except then we weren’t. We had what is apparently called a “chemical pregnancy,” also known as a very early miscarriage that happens less than six weeks into the baby-production. And so we were back at square one, plus some additional blood and pain.

So here we are now, at our 10th month of TTC (“Trying to conceive” for those of you who have thankfully never been privy to the infertility message boards). Everything’s the same, except this time our new lucky charm is Clomid, a fertility drug that doctors sometimes prescribe to kick ovulation back into gear. I just finished my monthly dose yesterday and besides the mood swings and headaches and hot flashes (OMG, did I skip my fertile years entirely?!), I am feeling fine. Just sad and irritated and lonely.

Lonely because no one in our society talks about these things. Everyone is afraid to mention fertility and miscarriages and pregnancy tests. They will gleefully ask if you and your husband have thought about 'trying' or remind you that you 'need to start early' if you want a big family, but then they pretend that the rest of the process involves more storks than human biology. They will say callous things about 'selfish women,' who resort to fertility specialists or who 'put off' having babies for too long without even thinking about what the couples around them might be silently going through. They will tell you to just 'relax and let it happen' just before smugly recounting how they themselves got knocked up while casually brushing past their husbands on the way to the bathroom. Instead of acknowledging the anger and sadness that naturally come with losing a baby, they will tell you that you are acting crazy and that you should just relax and try again.

Well-meaning people of the world: I love you, but you are really not helping.

What you, the reader, need to know — and I myself need to remember — is that Sameer and I are actually not alone or even unusual in this: One in six couples have fertility issues. Nearly all of them need to resort to outside medical assistance in order to successfully have a baby. We are in very crowded but good company.

But the reason I never knew it — and the reason most of you probably didn’t know it, either — is because couples struggling with these kinds of problems rarely talk about it with others. They are afraid to open up about it in public because they are afraid other people will find it gross or distasteful or will judge them harshly for it. And the negative self-talk and self-flagellation they are already doing to themselves is bad enough — they don’t need it from other people.

But I’ve decided that I do want to talk about it to other people. Partially I want to educate others about infertility; it is horrible but it shouldn’t be 'the disease that should not be named' that it currently is, at least in some circles. Partially I hope to be a source of comfort to other women and couples who are going through these same issues but who, for whatever reason, choose not to share their experiences with the wider world. But mostly I want to come out of the infertility closet because I have found that the more I try to hide it from others, the more shame I feel about it myself.

Yes, I am currently taking fertility drugs. No, this baby-making process is not happening the way I wanted it to. But that’s okay. One way or another — be it through medical assistance or adoption — Sameer and I will eventually become parents. We have just found that we need a little help. And there shouldn’t be any shame or guilt associated with acknowledging that.



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