Trauma and National Infertility Awareness Week- April 24-30, 2022

**TRIGGER WARNING- Infertility, Terminal Birth Defect, Child Loss**

It’s been a long time, strangers! Believe me, though, when I say that it is 100% me, and not you.

Sadly, one thing that the pandemic stole from me personally has been the desire to write as much. (Okay…Full disclosure… at all.) Just as for most of the rest of the 8 billion residents on this planet, the uncertainties and struggles (though ours have thankfully been few) of the past two years (and then some) have made everyday functioning a top priority, and haven’t left me with much energy left over for creative endeavors. Indeed, it could be said that functioning and keeping a family of six healthy and going amidst a global health situation and all the baggage that has come along with that have taken both more energy and creativity than I would have ever previously imagined, even though we know we are highly privileged and grateful to have not suffered many of the losses that several million others around the world have endured.

Photo Credit: Pexels- Nadezhda Moryak

That being said, some readers have remarked about the strong undercurrents of family planning issues in my books, such as pregnancy/infant loss, adoption, foster care, and fertility concerns, and I always answer it is because these issues have been forefront in my own personal life experience as a woman. As the old adage goes, it is best to write what you know, and the struggles to grow one’s family is one that my husband and I know all too well.

I was reminded of just how prevalent the hardships we have endured to bring children into our home were yesterday when I wrote about our family’s infertility journey in response to someone’s Facebook post asking for advice on which direction to take on their journey to expand their family. As I typed out a seemingly cold and calculated list of procedures and hardships, I was amazed at how shocking it was to think through everything again, let alone write it all out in one place as a sterile, linear timeline for the first time. It was so many events (let alone traumas and disappointments) ago on this road called Life that I was incredibly surprised to realize that it has rather unceremoniously gotten shoved into some dark recess of my mind. It’s funny how something that once was so difficult and forefront in our existence can not be relegated to a distant, albeit painful, memory twenty-one years later. Ironically, though, it’s also National Infertility Awareness Week this week, April 24-30, 2022, so the timing was definitely providential.

In the course of almost 5 years, my husband and I underwent:

Photo Credit-Pexels-Tima miroshnichenko

-8 IUIs

-4 IVFs

-8 Frozen embryo transfers

-Countless injections of various hormones and blood thinners. My husband and I were bored once and calculated that I had over 1 liter of progesterone in oil injected into my butt over the course of those years. That doesn’t include the estrogen, follicle-stimulating hormones, and HCG injections.

Photo Credit: Pexels- Karolina Grabowska

-Countless blood draws.

-Too many ultrasounds to remember

-I don’t remember how many leukocyte immunizations with a friend’s white blood cells, trying to trick my body into protecting the embryos that were transferred

-I can’t even begin to recall how many doctors’ appointments- maybe 50? 100? I know our infertility doctor used to joke with us that he was going to put a gold star on an exam room, much like a starring actor’s dressing room, for us because we were there so often.

-The one singular successful pregnancy that ended in finding out midway through that our daughter had terminal spina bifida and other related birth defects.

Photo Credit- Pexels- Mario Wallner

-A trip to UCSF to the Fetal Surgery Clinic to see if our daughter could be saved. She couldn’t.

-The subsequent death of our 1st daughter at birth

-2 IViG Infusions in order to try what would end up being our last embryo transfer. I had a chemical pregnancy, but ultimately it didn’t work. We finally gave up, defeated, broken, and broke.

-Over 20 embryos donated to science because we didn’t know at that time the cause of our daughter’s multiple birth defects and thought maybe they could help others get answers.

-Around $50,000 ($81,170 in today’s money) in out-of-pocket expenses. And we know we got off easy, too- my health insurance actually paid for a good portion of our treatment, which still- over 20 years later- is not common in the United States of America. It still is impacting us financially, as it was a financial hit that most people don’t ever have to take, and has put us behind our peers in terms of growing personal wealth.

Photo Credit- Pexels- Ivan Samkov

It honestly feels like it was another lifetime ago-like it happened to us, but it wasn’t “US”, if that makes sense. It feels like we were different people then. It’s crazy to think back on that through all the stress and emotional turmoil, we still functioned, worked, socialized, and lived life through it all.

I know we still have multiple files of records and receipts somewhere in the back of our filing cabinet. They lay there- forgotten- because it was too emotional then to throw out so much of our lives, and we eventually got too busy and crazy with our now-life to have to deal with what pulling it out and disposing of it would mean.

Photo Credit: Pexels- Mart Productions

We are of course grateful for the life we have now and the beautiful children who came into our lives since. Maybe that’s why I have pushed it all so far back into my memory. It’s funny how something so prevalent at one point in your life can one day underwhelmingly “fade to black”.

But it is still painful, and there is also a weird “Survivor’s Guilt” of sorts that we eventually made it off that hamster wheel and were able to create the beautiful family we have now through the miracles of both adoption and medical science. However, it also feels like it almost negates our right to still grieve a really stressful and traumatic period in our lives, knowing we were in the end blessed with amazing, beautiful children.

Photo Credit- Pexels- Tima Miroshnichenko

I’m not going to lie, though. The trauma of it all is real and lasting. I remember discussing with our therapist back then the statistics of a marriage surviving infertility treatment and the death of a child. They weren’t good as individual events. They were almost non-existent when they were combined. I’m grateful we were able to persevere. It’s bizarre that I can think and talk about it now like it was no big deal- like it compares to the weather, my college major, or when we bought our first house. Usually. I very rarely allow myself to be more vulnerable than that with people about it, then or now.

But just because things eventually get better doesn’t mean that hard times don’t leave their mark. I know the real reason I don’t think about it much is that it still hurts. It was exceptionally painful and traumatic. The emotional roller coaster of getting your hopes up then dashed over and over again for five years is a huge burden on one’s emotional health and well-being.

The truth of the matter is that we all have our things- the events that are hard and traumatizing; that shape us and our experiences. As the old saying goes, “Life’s a b*tch; then you die. We certainly we not the only family struggling. As both a member of and serving on the board for several years for the local branch of Resolve, the infertility support group, I know that our story is not the only one, and not the most traumatic.

Photo Credit: Pexels- Karolina Grabowska

If you have or are struggling with infertility, know though that you are seen. It’s a hard, expensive, heartbreaking, soul-wrenchin, lonely journey. Wherever it takes you, I wish you nothing but happiness and peace. Or, if nothing else, that the journey doesn’t completly break you.

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