I’m going to begin this story by giving away the ending: I am now the mother of three children. If you are struggling with fertility issues and this outcome is difficult to read right now, you have my heartfelt permission to click away. That’s exactly what I would have done during my seven-year effort to conceive.
Throughout that challenging time in my life, it seemed like every book or article I turned to offered the same less-than-helpful formula: a woman has trouble getting pregnant, she seeks various therapies (acupuncture, herbs, meditation, past-life regression, etc), she finally conceives, she gives birth, she writes a book about it. Oh, how I resented other peoples' happy endings.
Now that I am on the other end of the journey, I can feel the temptation to write the same kind of book. In my practice I regularly counsel women on the fertility protocols that might help them to conceive, and I do believe I have some practical tips to share. But I also find that more than pragmatic medical advice, women who are experiencing fertility struggles need the space and support to be completely honest about how awful it feels to yearn for something that seems so far out of reach.
When I started out on the path of becoming a mother at age 33, I was full of hope and innocent expectations. Naively, I assumed I would be pregnant within a few months, and before I knew it, I would be joining the ranks of the stroller-pushing moms all around me. I saw cute maternity outfits and Gymboree classes in my imminent future.
Of course, this was not at all the way it happened.
Not long after I began my quest for a baby, it became apparent that, due to some issues in my medical history (fodder for another post, another time) I would not be able to conceive without a little help from Mother Pharma. As a naturopathic doctor and an acupuncturist, I was not completely comfortable with this idea. I had already been taking supplements and herbs and receiving acupuncture for months in hopes that my body would kick into gear. But, alas, it appeared as though my little ovaries needed the kind of push that only modern science could provide, so off to the pharmacy I went.
Many women I know or have seen in my practice do just fine on this ovarian stimulating drug. They don’t feel a thing. Others, like me, become a bitch on wheels. I was so cranky and miserable on this medication that my husband did not even want to be in the same room, let alone have sex with me on the "required" days.
After several months at higher and higher doses on this drug, and one heartbreaking miscarriage later, it was pretty obvious that Clomid was not going to get the job done. It was time to take the next step.
Any woman who has ever received injections for ovarian stimulation will be able to relate to this: at one point during the painful treatments, I felt sure I was going to burst with the bloated weight of growing follicles. I felt like a salmon about to spawn. And I looked like it, too.
After a few months of these treatments, my willingness and my finances ran out. I just could not go on trying to make my body do something that it obviously did not want to do. Plus, my husband was decided he was done. He declared that he did not want to push nature any farther. And he was not open to adoption. It was time for me to face the sad reality that I might not have a child -- at least not while we were together.
This is when the true despair set in. In addition to the crazy-making effects of the hormones, there was a deep, dark sadness that I felt myself spiraling down into, with no end in sight. It was during this time that I felt the most alone in my struggle. My husband could not relate, most of my friends had already had children or had decided not to, and I could not connect to anything I read in books, magazines, or the myriad of chat rooms out there.
I was face to face with the mystery inherent in the reproduction of life, and I felt very alone. Even when a woman does everything right, there is no guarantee that this is going to happen. I had done everything I could — diet, supplements, acupuncture, herbs, yoga, and then medication — and still I did not have the result I yearned for. And that was my personal process. Nobody could go there with me, although I would have liked the company. This was just one of those times that was hard. Agonizingly hard.
So I worked on living with the sadness and the disappointment. I won’t say I let go of my desire to have a child. I could not. (I’m a Scorpio; letting go of any emotional issue is nearly impossible.) The sadness of my childlessness just became integrated into my life. I sought the help of therapists and healers and gleaned the support of friends and family who loved me, even though they could not exactly relate to my experience.
On a practical level, I kept up with the clean diet and supplements that might help my body conceive, but with much less fervor. And that felt good. Since denying myself many of my favorite indulgences over the years had not resulted in a baby, I decided to start enjoying the occasional morning latte or a late afternoon vodka martini (dry, extra olives) whenever I felt like it.
And that is how it happened. I think.
Several weeks after a holiday party that I remember, but just barely (there was an open bar), I awoke in the night with lower abdominal pain so severe I considered a trip to the emergency room. “Great,” I thought, “not only will I never have a baby, but the fertility drugs have caused me to develop ovarian disease and I will probably die soon.”
This was the belief that propelled me to the gynecologist the next day so she could confirm my self-diagnosis. She gave me an ultrasound that was inconclusive and then suggested we do a blood test to see if I might be pregnant. I resisted. I had taken so many of these tests with disappointing results. I just could not face another one. She persisted and I finally agreed.
The next day was Christmas Eve and we were flying to visit my family. As I stood in the security line waiting to strip down for the scanner, my cell phone rang. I had honestly forgotten about the test, since I expected the usual result. It was my doctor, calling to tell me that my pregnancy test was positive. I could not believe it. Complete shock. Merry Christmas.
I was very lucky that the pregnancy was successful and that my daughter was born healthy. The physical barriers that had prevented a normal pregnancy for so long had apparently improved to the point that I was able to conceive naturally. A couple of years later, after another miscarriage, my son came along and then, to everyone’s surprise, another daughter joined them last year. I now have a photo of three children in my office where my fertility statue used to be.
Yes, I had a very positive outcome and I feel truly blessed. But why are many equally deserving women not so lucky? This question still nags at me and drives me to learn more about the medical aspects of infertility. But there is only so much that modern medicine can explain. There is an aspect to infertility that still lives in the realm of mystery. And there must be room for this aspect of the infertility experience.
The fertility journey is a lonely and emotional road to travel. It is filled with highs, lows, detours, mixed messages, pinnacles of hope and pits of despair. How each person faces this experience varies greatly, depending on many factors relating to fortitude, support systems, personal beliefs and more. It is my hope that anyone who finds themselves on this journey will find the help and the support she needs to live fully within the process, regardless of the outcome. We just never know what lies ahead.
Are you currently experiencing fertility challenges? How are you coping? If you had any problems conceiving, what words of wisdom can you offer to a woman who is going through this now?
Lisa Brent, ND, LAc
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