Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Infertility - One Little Word, A World of Hurt



I start this post with a very heavy heart. I-N-F-E-R-T-I-L-I-T-Y. 11 little letters that stab the heart of any man or woman experiencing it and sparks memory of a long, hard-fought battle for anyone who has overcome it. If you've never battled infertility, I know it's hard to relate but as someone who struggled for years, I can't tell you the strong emotions this one little word evokes.

Since I've announced my quadruplet pregnancy, I've definitely been plagued with a number of insensitive questions and statements about my pregnancy. I know that most are not mean-spirited and are really just innocent questions on the part of someone not knowing better. However, in spite of all of the questions I receive on a daily basis now from friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike, perhaps the worst, were ones I got while quietly battling an all out internal war against this hurtful, painful disease.  

Unlike so many illnesses, because of it's nature, couples usually battle infertility quietly and alone.  Month after month of negative pregnancy tests, unanswered prayers, and ultimately, experiencing a monthly mourning process can wreck havoc on your life, your marriage, your finances, everything; because the topic isn't one you can really freely discuss with everyone you meet, or even close friends/family, you feel completely alone. If you're one of the lucky ones, you may have close friends/family to share your struggles with you. Unfortunately, well meaning friends' advice is sometimes misguided as even though they try hard to understand and be sympathetic, the truth is, if you've never been there, you'll never understand.  You will never understand the hurt every time another friend/family member announces the news that they are expecting. You will never understand how something as sweet and special as a baby shower, can become hours of all-out torture to someone who wants nothing more than to carry their own child. You'll never understand just how complicated the situation is and how advice to "just relax and it will happen" is possibly one of the most insensitive things you could ever say to someone battling infertility. 

Recently, a close family member made the comment that they couldn't believe Adam and I went straight to fertility drugs so soon after getting married. Naturally, this insensitive statement brought flashbacks of the years of internal struggles I fought quietly while I watched that same person create their own family one child at a time without a single issue. While I am fairly certain this family member probably didn't know the battle that I had fought alone for over a decade, it definitely didn't make it any less painful. You see, I battled (and continue to battle) with a condition known as PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). It is a hormonal issue which in the most basic terms, makes it to where I do not ovulate. Although I was not diagnosed until my twenties, I am convinced that this condition has affected me my entire life. I was the last of all my friends growing up to get my period (in fact, I even lied at one point and said I had gotten it when I hadn't because it took so long to come) and when it did come, it was completely irregular and often painful. Along with irregular periods, other symptoms of the condition are weight issues, acne, and facial hair. Looking back, it was easy to miss these symptoms as a teenager - they all seem like regular teenage hormonal issues. Unfortunately, the issues never worked themselves out. In fact, the only time in my life where I have ever had regular periods, was when I was on the birth-control pill (which isn't good for your health either). In my mid-twenties, I started having issues with some pain on my right side that eventually prompted me to go to the doctor. After seeing multiple specialists, I was finally diagnosed with a dermoid cyst on my right ovary and PCOS throughout. I had to undergo surgery to remove the dermoid cyst which was the size of a walnut. Along with the cyst, they were also forced to remove a portion of that ovary. At the time, I was told that only 20% of the ovary was needed in order to be function and I had about 70% remaining. 

When Adam and I first met, I made it very clear to him that I wanted a family and children. I also didn't hold back about the fertility issues  either because I wanted him to know up front what he was getting into. I'll never forget when Adam told me if it was a baby that I wanted, he would find a way to give me a baby. He's definitely held true to that promise! :)

While Adam and I were able to put an end to our battle with infertility and actually achieve pregnancy, many couples don't have the same outcome.  We know that we still aren't out of the woods yet and we have a long journey in front of us before actually becoming parents (and then it's an even longer journey)!

That said, I thought I'd close with a list of things to NEVER say to a person struggling with fertility:

  • "When are you going to have a baby?" - Maybe they can't! I know it seems like a very innocent question and of course you didn't mean anything by it, but to a couple struggling with infertility, this question stings!
  • "Just relax and when the time is right, it will happen." - This is so much easier said than done. While this may be the case for some couples, it's not for many. When there is a true medical issue that is keeping pregnancy from occurring, the person could be the most relaxed person on Earth and it wouldn't make a difference with them becoming pregnant. 
  • "Have you tried acupuncture/clomid/soy/IUI/IVF/standing on your head at a 60 degree angle for 20 minutes?"  - This is wrong for so many reasons. First of all, chances are, they probably HAVE tried it already. Best advice, unless you are a licensed medical provider, stay away from giving advice regarding reproductive health.
Finally, here are a few things that actually DO help:

  • Listen! Just be there for them. You don't have to talk; let them be the ones to talk (or cry). 
  • Don't offer up advice unless they specifically ask you for it.
  • Just let them know you care.
  • Pray - seriously, some of the best words we received were the prayers that our friends lifted up to the Lord for us. We brought this to our life group in early 2013 and spent much time praying on it with them. It's amazing as we wrap up this year to see all of the prayers that were answered. 

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