The 10 Truths of Infertility
Sometimes my mind goes off in random directions. The other day I was thinking about how infertility is usually portrayed, things like an emotional rollercoaster and juggling hope and disappointment. My thoughts turned to all of the little things that puzzle together to make up the fertility journey. Some of them are heartfelt, some are awkward, and a few really can only apply to the craziness of trying to have a child using science. These are my infertility truths.
Truth 1: The timing of fertility shots makes for some awkward situations.
One of the keys to fertility treatments is making sure your shots get done on time. We picked the evening, which was usually a good idea. After all, you don’t think about what you’ll be doing in a couple of weeks when you take that first shot. The most entertaining moments happen when you’re somewhere random, and you’re carrying your bag of supplies and you’re wishing that you had taken it just an hour earlier or later. Our two most memorable shot locations? The Tully’s parking lot and my in-law’s bedroom.
Tully’s: Chuck’s cousin was in a pageant at a hotel in Liverpool. We went to watch and afterward decided to have dinner at Tully’s. We, of course, had all our supplies for my Lovenox and progesterone shots. 7:00 rolled around and the moment arrived. I absolutely couldn’t do the shots myself, so Chuck and I trooped out to the car and, as he was preparing our shots, our conversation went something like this:
C: We don’t have ice. Are you sure you’ll be okay?
A: I’ll be fine. It can’t be that bad. We have to do it.
C: What if a cop comes by and asks what we’re doing?
A: We’ll show him the packages. Also, it would be super awkward considering that the progesterone shot is in my butt.
C: We’d better do this fast.
In-Laws: Our family is huge into board games. I’m not talking about Monopoly, Life, and Sorry. These are three to four-hour extravaganzas that sometimes take 45 minutes to set up and involve plenty of referencing the rule book to keep the billion rules straight. Needless to say, since we did our shot in the early evening, there were multiple times when we were at my in-law’s house at shot time. Eventually, I smartened up and brought two ice packs over—one for my stomach and one for my butt. I would excuse myself without saying why (not everyone knew exactly what we were doing), grab my ice packs, and lay on their bed, waiting for Chuck. A few minutes later, he would come in with the shots and do them. Then we would return to the table and act like nothing happened. Even though no one made a big deal, it always felt super awkward to me. “Let me just go lay on your bed so my husband can inject oil into my butt.” Ugh.
Truth 2: Speaking of shots, the motto for fertility treatments could be: “Needle-phobic? We’ve got your cure!”
Let me explain how deep my needlephobia went. When I was a kid, I needed to get a wart removed off my foot. If you’ve ever had that done, you know the Novocain needle is massive. I was the last appointment because my parents knew I would freak out. My mom really emphasized that I should just read my book and not pay attention to. I’m naturally curious, so I didn’t listen. To this day, I remember looking at the doctor and seeing him pull a super thick, 6-inch long needle out of his pocket (my memory may be exaggerated). Then the screaming began.
When I started fertility treatments, needles still terrified me. The only change really was that I knew I couldn’t completely panic as an adult. During our first round of treatments, I would say that I got used to needles. The constant bloodwork was a pain, especially since only one of my arms has a good vein. I’ve got a good chunk of scar tissue there now. If Chuck hadn’t administered the shots during our first IVF cycle, I don’t think I would have gotten through it. And then there were the IVs from my surgery, egg retrieval, and intralipids. By the end, I was definitely used to it.
Fast forward to our second cycle, roughly two years later. Needles were now just uncomfortable for me. Halfway through my pregnancy, Chuck wasn’t going to be home one night to do my shot. My sister-in-law offered to come over and do it for me. Somehow, I still have no idea how, I found the courage to do it myself. And it wasn’t bad. After I actually stuck the needle in, something clicked. Do I like needles now? Nope. But can I tolerate them? Totally. I actually did the majority of my shots (all blood thinners in my stomach) from that point forward.
Truth 3: Excitement—and devastation—comes in unexpected places.
The positive pregnancy test is one of the greatest moments you’ll experience as an infertile individual. I was pretty much hyperventilating when I got the phone call. What I didn’t expect was the rush of feelings that came with that first post-pregnancy yes ultrasound. Chuck and I watched with hope filling our entire beings as the nurse moved the wand around, trying to find the tiny sac that would verify our pregnancy. And there it was. The little sac that was supposed to turn into a cuddly baby. Except it was empty, which could mean we weren’t going to have that baby.
We left the office that day with hope and devastation vying for a place in our hearts. We were finally pregnant, but…we might not have a baby. After our next appointment, she said the words that made the next five days some of the hardest of our lives. “If we don’t see a heartbeat at your appointment on Friday, the pregnancy isn’t viable.”
Fortunately, the heartbeat showed up—turns out our son showed us early that he would do things his own way. Who would have thought that a tiny sac would cause so much joy and worry?
Truth 4: You can’t escape babies.
When you’re trying to conceive, suddenly babies are everywhere. Whether it’s showers, sprinkles, births or pregnancy announcements, you can’t escape the bundles of joy. At some point, attending showers and sprinkles becomes a web of anxiety and sadness. It is so hard to celebrate something that seems out of your reach.
In an interesting twist, at least for me, people are nervous to tell you that they’re pregnant. I’ve had more than one person tell me that they didn’t want to upset me when they found out that they were pregnant and wanted to tell the world. I will say that a private conversation is a much better way to find out than the Facebook announcement.
I’ll never forget that my beautiful sister-in-law cried both times that she told me she was pregnant. She was so worried that I would be upset. Truth? I was jealous and sad that it wasn’t us, but I wasn’t upset or angry. Gaining another niece or nephew could never be a bad thing. Same goes for my friends who successfully conceived. Don’t be afraid to tell your struggling friends or family members that you’re pregnant. Wanting a baby doesn’t make you despise people who are blessed with one (although you may need a little time to digest and deal with the news).
Truth 5: Your butt hurts, and you can’t say why.
Well, pieces of your butt hurt because the progesterone in oil needle is huge (in terms of needle size), and it’s shoved into your butt every night. The result? A sore gluteus maximus. The best part is that telling people why you’re sitting gingerly, wincing when you stand or walking stiffly is a bit too much information for most relationships.
Truth 6: Modesty goes out of the window.
I remember the first time I went to the gynecologist…I was so embarrassed and uncomfortable. I insisted that my mom find me a female gynecologist because the idea of a male looking “there” was mortifying. Fast forward to fertility treatments. Maybe the first five to ten times I got an internal ultrasound were uncomfortable. But, seriously, after over a cumulative year of treatments and two pregnancies, my modesty has completely evaporated. I can’t even count of the number of people that have seen my downstairs.
I’m a pretty conservative person with my body. I’ve never been one for revealing clothes and rarely wear something more risqué than a tank top. Even when I loved my body, my favorite outfit was corduroys and a t-shirt. If you would have asked pre-infertile me if I would be comfortable stripping from the waist down, covering myself with a sheet, and getting an internal ultrasound, I would have turned bright red and laughed at the ridiculousness of your claim. Now? I’m a pro and can walk into any stirrup situation without embarrassment.
Truth 7: infertility simile: my arm is like a pincushion.
I’m sure you’ve seen those beautiful pictures of the newborn babies or pregnancy announcements surrounded by hundreds of needles used to conceive. I stop and smile every time one pops up on my newsfeed. What the lucky, fertile people don’t know that those needles are only a piece of the puzzle. Seriously, the number of blood tests I’ve had is mindblowing. The best part? Only one of my arms has a “good” vein. My poor right arm moonlights as a pincushion. Whenever a nurse tried the other arm, failure was usually in the cards. There was one nurse who succeeded a couple times, but even the nurses running the IV for my surgeries inevitably ended up sticking my right arm. If you add up the needles stuck in your butt (not awesome), the ones in your stomach (ouch), the ones in your arm (so many), we should definitely be thankful that our bodies are so amazing at healing those little pokes.
And the ultimate truth is…
The truth about infertility is really that the pieces of the puzzle needed to make a baby are so numerous that it’s almost impossible to understand the scope. Some of it is awkward, some are hilarious, some is sad, but all of it is a part of the journey you take to conceive. Embrace each truth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you because, with some luck, one day you’ll look back and each one will make you smile as you watch your little one play.