This is a guest post contributed by my friend Annaliese Petrone. Infertility is something that affects an exorbitant amount of families and yet is something that is often treated as private and not shared about. When she shared with me about her struggles, I welcomed Annaliese to use this platform to share, educate, and inspire others who are undergoing this journey. I wish congratulations to Annaliese and her family, who are expecting their second daughter in June 2020, and thank her for bravely enlightening others.
There once was a time in my life before infertility struggles, where things seemed relatively “easy”. I had a great childhood, and a loving family. I did well in school, and owned a thriving business. I exercised and ate well. I met my husband when I was 21 and we have been inseparable since. Right before we got married, we bought our first home. Everything seemed to be simple. If we wanted something, we worked hard for it and achieved it. We felt as if there was nothing we couldn’t accomplish, if we worked hard enough.
Fast forward to trying to conceive our first child and that’s where our first big life lesson as a couple came. “Not everything is in your control.” We simply could not control the fact that we weren’t getting pregnant on our own.
Here are some lovely pieces of advice we received from not only doctors, but random people as well while trying to conceive those first 3.5 years:
- Just get drunk, and have sex!
- Relax, don’t stress!
- Take a vacation!
- You are young, healthy and fit. It’ll happen on its own!
Well, 3.5 years into trying to conceive on our own, vacations, and lots of unwarranted advice later, we finally decided to get help with a fertility specialist. After an unexplained infertility diagnosis, a hypothyroidism diagnosis, a small pituitary tumor, a polyp removal surgery, and a little less than a year of ups and downs, we conceived our daughter (who is now 2.5)! We were in shock. I think when you have never been pregnant before, as hopeful and positive as you try to be, there is that small piece inside that whispers “maybe it’s not in the cards for you.” This is just a glimpse, a sliver, a footnote of the things we tell ourselves while going through the emotional rollercoaster of infertility treatment. Well, we gave birth to a healthy, perfect baby girl! She was, and is, our pride and joy.
My daughter is a symbol to us of never losing hope. I will never forget the feeling of chugging through the hard days, the painful & the lonely days. Watching friends and relatives give birth to one, and then two children as you try desperately try to get pregnant too. Hiding those ugly feelings and burying them deep, because how dare you not be happy for everyone around you. How wrong would that be?
That’s what an infertility journey feels like mostly though. Lonely. Mainly because of not wanting to burden others with the feelings and emotions that come with it. Pretending to live a normal life, even though every day all day, all you’re actually thinking about is being infertile as you set 5 alarms to administer pills, injections, etc… trying to hide the anxiety and depression and panic that comes along with each cycle. Trying to find the delicate balance between being hopeful, but not too hopeful as you don’t want to be let down hard if you get a negative pregnancy test. And trying to mask it all.
Well, a few years into this journey, and after the birth of my daughter, I finally found it within myself to become more open with our struggles. As a hairstylist, I spend my days chatting with women of all ages, races and sizes, and let me tell you: struggling to conceive is more common than you think. Infertility doesn’t discriminate. Someone could look healthy on the outside but be suffering from PCOS, recurring miscarriages, diminished ovarian reserve…and you would have no idea.
Thanks to our incredible fertility clinic, there was a support group that met every so often to chat about your experiences (a.k.a. cry, vent, commiserate). I was terrified to go when we were trying for my daughter, but desperate to connect openly with others about these struggles and ugly feelings I was having. Two minutes into our first meeting, I finally realized how normal and natural the feelings were that I was having. I was immediately liberated by listening to others’ stories, connecting on a deeper level through our pain & hope. I was totally moved how these women bonded together to support and cheer one another on. I decided I wasn’t going to be silent anymore about what we were going through. I was going to bravely address the elephant in the room.
Over the years when asked, “when are you two going to have kids?!” I would reply: “It’s not always as easy as you think for a couple to get pregnant”, or “Sometimes it doesn’t happen as quickly as you would like it to.” Those responses did two things: taught people to not assume everyone gets pregnant easily, and open up a conversation to discuss your story and spread awareness. There was something uplifting I learned about people who asked that dreaded question: they mean well! Nine out of ten times, people aren’t trying to be rude. Some people don’t know anyone who has struggled and so they don’t know what the impact of those comments is. Well, I figured, now they would. I would tell anyone and everyone about how we conceived my daughter, and the struggles it took to get there. You wouldn’t believe how many women shared with me, “I struggled too”, or “I had a miscarriage”, (or four), and “I went through infertility treatment also”.
In my profession these open and honest conversations can be so healing for my clients, but it started to heal me too. I found beauty in sharing my story and listening to others. I hoped that our daughter and our story gave people who were currently struggling hope.
Well, we decided to try and give our daughter a sibling. We tried on our own when she was about 6 months old, just to see if it was true, that sometimes people had an easier time conceiving the second time around, even after infertility struggles. An unsuccessful year later, we said you know what, let’s not waste time. Let’s go get some help.
I’m going to give you the abbreviated version of what happened next: 5 failed iui’s, an egg retrieval that yielded 6 eggs when someone my age should of had more like 20 something, a diminished ovarian reserve diagnosis (I am running out of eggs at 31 years old), a failed IVF transfer, 2 canceled transfers, and finally, FINALLY, FINALLY: a successful transfer!! We are now (13 months after beginning infertility treatments) pregnant with miracle baby #2!
Here’s what else happened in between all that:
- Testing, testing, testing
- Hope > excitement > letdown & tears > lather rinse repeat
- More tears
- Lots of injections
- Pills with side effects that aren’t fun (weight gain, hair loss, headaches, heart palpitations, mood swings, bruises from injections, soreness)
- Anxiety & panic attacks (neither of which I’ve ever dealt with in my life before all of this)
- Frequent 5 am drives to the clinic which is 45 minutes to an hour away
- Blood draw (after blood draw, after blood draw)
- Making friends in the waiting room at 6 AM!
- HOPE again…
One thing I never stopped believing the second time around was that somehow, someway, with determination and science we will conceive again. I didn’t know how long it would take, but I knew it would happen one day. That’s the lesson I learned with my daughter. Somehow, someway, there is a way to become a parent. Whether it’s through fertility treatment, adoption, surrogacy, egg donor, etc…there is always a way.
In hindsight, here’s another silver lining: those years we couldn’t conceive our daughter – we traveled, we worked hard, we played harder, we had FUN: the best we could in between all the drama of infertility. We didn’t stop living our life. And when I finally held my daughter in my arms, I said to myself, “I had to wait for you to be ready to choose us, all this time I was waiting for you!” That’s why it didn’t happen when we felt it should. I believe it in my heart and soul. We were waiting for Seraphina to be ready. I don’t look back on those years anymore as “wasted time”. Instead I see memories I made with my husband, and things we got to do as a couple before kids! Did it erase all the negative feelings? No! I’ll never forget them. Every time I meet a woman who is currently struggling, I feel those feelings all over again in my heart: the yearning to be a mother, the cycle of losing and gaining hope.
Infertility defined me. It’s a huge part of who I am, and who my husband and I are as a couple. I’ll never forget any of it. I hope to help others through their journeys by having a good listening ear, and maybe giving them some hope based on our journey. Also, I am always happy to point others to resources where there is help, because thankfully, there is a lot of support out there!
I mentioned in a bullet point above that one of the parts of my experience in becoming a mother was making friends in the waiting room. I’d like to touch on that. I actually met a woman a little younger than me who became a good friend of mine. In chatting, we realized we had a mutual friend who was also struggling, and then, all of a sudden, I was connected to two others through friends who needed someone to talk to. Community. We leaned on each other HARD through this all. I’m talking early morning and late night texts, sharing feelings with one another that no one else could possibly understand, discussing fears, checking in before and after each and every appointment. I truly feel I made lifelong friends through this process! Another silver lining (if you look for them, they’re always there).
If you are reading this and you are struggling, please know, it won’t be easy, it won’t be fun, but there WILL be silver linings. I’m so sorry you’re on this rollercoaster ride, but I promise you there will be a reward at the end of it all. Keep that hope in your heart. Believe that your future baby is waiting out there to choose you, when the time is right. Try to still enjoy your life during the fertility process. Lean on girlfriends, lean on loved ones. Be grateful for every day that you are healthy enough to endure this process and get up and do it again.
There are tons of books out there that can be helpful. My secret ingredients to ultimate strength during this process, and when I felt the most mentally and emotionally strong, was when I was receiving acupuncture regularly, coupled with guided meditation before bed, and Gabby Bernstein books. Find your secret ingredients. Find your tribe! There is so much help and support out there. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and open the conversation.
If you are currently trying to conceive, please know, you are not alone. You are so brave. Don’t be afraid to talk. Spread awareness. Make a fertility friend. Embrace sadness, allow yourself to feel ALL the feelings. It’s okay to not be okay. This process is not for the faint of heart and you are STRONG! You can do anything!! Much love to you all and hugs. You are BADASS!
I am 1 in 8. I am proud to be who I am, and to have been through what I’ve been through. You can do this!!! You are stronger than you think! #infertilitywarriors #iam1in8
I just want to thank my husband for EVERYTHING. Our families and sisters for being there every step of the way and always checking in on us even though I know it’s hard to find the right words to say, just know your check-ins meant the world to us. My mom for watching our daughter all hours of the morning so we could make the trips to Norwalk, CT for all of the procedures. All of my RMA girlfriends, without you gals I’m not sure I could’ve gotten through this! My clients and friends who whether they were going through this or not they still were going THROUGH it with me because of their love for me. My acupuncturist Elisa Hirsch-Cotter for being such an incredible, insightful resource and such a healer. The biggest thank you of all to the miracle workers and doctors at RMA especially Dr. Williams for giving us Seraphina and Dr. Hurwitz for being the best supportive doctor in the world, calling us after each failed and devastating moment no matter what time of night. My personal nurse they assigned to me who was there for us through ups and downs, and all our crazy questions. Lisa Rosenthal, who runs the support group at RMA, you are such a special soul – I’m so grateful for your friendship through this journey, I’m not sure how anyone gets through it without your support and wisdom!