Life, love and the challenges we face as the heart of home.

Monday, April 25, 2016

What We Wish People Knew About Infertility

By now, you have heard the statistic. If 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility, there is a high probability that you know several couples battling this painful condition. Since I began writing about our journey to parenthood earlier this year, many people have reached out to me asking how they could have encouraged us along the way. With this in mind, I teamed up with fellow blogger, infertility warrior and friend, Grace Cristo, from Estate of Grace to talk about what we wish people understood about infertility in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week from April 24th through April 30th.  Our hope is that we can provide a window into the dark, lonely world of infertility and how you can gently offer encouragement to these couples. And if you are reading and happen to be in the throes of infertility yourself, I’m sure you’ll see yourself in a number of our answers. We’ve been there. We understand the agony you feel and whether we know you personally or not, we are cheering you on! Don’t give up because God has big plans for you!


1. Can you give us some background? How long have you been married and how long have you battled infertility?

Grace: My husband and I got married in 2009. I’ve written our story in a four part series on my blog, so you can read that if you want the deets. But the spark notes version is that we tried for four years, with 3 miscarriages. In year 3, we did a round of IVF after a bleak diagnosis. When IVF brought about another loss and a surgery that revealed even more problems than we initially thought, we were told surrogacy was our best option. We decided to pursue adoption and attended the Bethany Christian Services adoption orientation in November 2014 and received an unexpected positive pregnancy test in January that resulted in our miracle Nathan Samuel.

Casey: It’s hard to believe but we will be celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary this coming September! (And yes, for all intensive purposes, I was a child bride!) We started trying to conceive on and off around year five. Two years later, we still didn’t have one positive pregnancy test and then endometriosis struck hard. I spent the next few years embattled with that and before we knew it, we were married for ten years and starting a family became a “now-or-never” endeavor. Despite our efforts, nothing was happening so we consulted with an infertility specialist in the fall of 2014. After numerous tests and physicals, the specialist told us we would likely never have biological children because of male and female infertility. Thinking we were completely infertile, we got the surprise of our lives in early 2015 when we naturally conceived. Our one and only positive pregnancy test was our miracle, Nathan James.


2. Were you open about your infertility struggles? Why or why not?


Grace: As a whole, no. I found that it was hard enough going through it with the disappointment we had every month. I didn’t want to feel like I was disappointing anyone else. For example, my parents who were grandchild-less (not by choice). As the years went on though, I became more open about it, telling more close friends. Then when we moved to Virginia in July 2014, I surprised myself and really told anyone who asked if we wanted children.

Casey: I was not open about it. I could only open up to people who went through infertility themselves. I felt like no one else could possibly understand. So many people asked inappropriate or invasive questions or just felt sorry for me because we were married for so long and didn’t have a family. I didn't want their pity. I didn't want to fuel gossip about what my body could or couldn't do. It would have been helpful for me to have a community of the women who battled infertility before me cheering me on in our journey. Infertility isn’t really talked about though and I realize my silence probably kept that from happening to a degree. This is one of the main reasons I have gone public with it. If there is a woman out there that needs that rallying community, I want her to know I am here for support and I understand what she is going through. It’s so much easier to reach out to someone when you know they have been there; doubly so when you know they have a story of hope to share! Once I reached out to someone, it was such a huge relief emotionally. I didn't feel so crazy and broken.


3. Why blog about infertility now?

Grace: We could have easily announced our pregnancy without telling our struggle. Many do and there is nothing wrong with that. But to truly share in our joy, I didn’t think it would be possible without knowing our pain. I wanted to tell people that God did a wonderful thing, a miraculous thing for us! I wanted to give hope to others that He is so much bigger than a bleak infertility diagnosis given by highly educated and trained doctors. That He gave me more than I could ask or imagine and He can for you, too.

Casey: There are a lot of reasons that motivate me to blog about it. Our journey to parenthood is nothing short of a miracle from beginning to the bittersweet end. The odds were stacked against us so heavily with infertility and then the subsequent health crises that I want to tell anyone who will listen about God's interventions! The threads of suffering and waiting on the Lord are shared by so many other hardships as well that I think many will be greatly encouraged by our journey. If God brought us through these deep, painful waters, I have no doubt he can and will do the same for you. The end result might not be exactly how you planned but he will intervene when you relinquish control to him. God is so loving and merciful. He really does hear the prayers of the brokenhearted.


4. What are some of the craziest things people have said to you?

Grace: The craziest was, “Are you sure you are doing it right?” So I was just like, “You mean we have to do it??” The most insensitive came from the ultrasound tech after she confirmed there was no longer a heartbeat and nonchalantly said, “Well you’re young; you’ll have more.” To which I told her, “This was my ‘more,’ this was my second loss.” I’ve been told, “A baby looks good on you,” more times than I can count, which DUH I knew that. A baby would look DARN cute on me and I secretly died inside every time I was told that. I’ve also been told, “You’re next,” after holding a friends baby. Spoiler alert, I wasn’t next. I wasn’t even close to next. My friend went on to have two more children before I got pregnant. Look, we know you don’t mean to upset us, we know you mean well, we know you want to help, but please know that we are so sensitive to anything baby/pregnancy related that your one comment can totally crush us.

Casey: I’m sure Grace and I could write a book about unintentionally hurtful comments or questions. Most of the comments my husband and I heard were from people that barely knew us. So often I wanted to pull them aside and say “You have no idea how your comment just cut right through my heart.” By far the craziest things I heard were "Does hearing a crying baby make you want to have one?" or “Does seeing your sister pregnant make you finally want one?” to "You're so career minded, no time for babies, huh?" and the ever so subtle "Do you even want children?" My advice? You may be intensely curious as to why a couple doesn’t have children but resist the urge to probe. You may think your comment is innocuous. It is not.


5. What do you want people to understand about infertility and your journey?

Grace: We're insanely jealous. But that doesn't mean we don't love your kids and enjoy hearing about them and hanging out with them. We're a little bit crazy. Maybe we're born with it, maybe we're on fertility meds. We live our life in two week increments and we might flake on our dinner plans with you because the OPK (Ovulation Predictor Kit test) suddenly turned positive and IT'S GO TIME! We don't get a break- We can't escape our bodies and every month it's thrown in our face that we can't do what most people can do over splitting a bottle of jack. We want you to know what you have. We know motherhood is hard work, we really do. We just want you to know that you have something that some women only dream of.

Casey: Infertility is personal, painful and expensive! So many people assume that parenthood happens easily because it did for them. There are tons of tests, doctors, specialists and in many cases procedures, medicine and tears. I wish there was more sensitivity toward infertility and miscarriage because there is a huge underground group of people that are standing on their heads to have a family! They so desperately need to know they are not alone in their grief. They need encouragement from the couples that have navigated this road before them. They need to be softly reminded that God sees them in their pain. I was well aware that God was more than able to help us overcome everything we were up against; it was a matter of laying our future at his feet and saying “yes” to whatever he had planned for us, children or no children. It wasn’t an easy place to get to but once I was there, the Lord started intervening in amazing ways.


6. What can people do or say to encourage someone struggling with infertility?

Grace: I’m not sure this falls under encouraging, but if you know someone struggling and you find yourself pregnant, please tell your infertile friend first. There’s nothing like being told the news in a group full of people that are all jumping for joy as you stand there just trying to catch your breath long enough to say congratulations. It’s not that we aren’t happy for our expecting friends, it’s that we desperately want to be on the other side too. I’m not saying our emotions towards pregnancy announcement are right or even justified, but it’s the truth. Announcement hurt and telling us first gives us a chance to get over our initial shock and sadness (for ourselves) and on to sharing in your joy.

Casey: If someone has confided in you about infertility, be a listening ear, keep the information confidential and pray for them. Once we announced our pregnancy, I can't tell you how many people told us they were praying specifically for our future family for the last several years. What an amazing thing to learn! They had no idea what we were going through, but God did. Aside from that, just love on these couples. There are so many subliminal messages our culture sends to childless couples, women in particular, and talking about infertility openly is taboo in some circles. They may feel like they are less of a man or woman because they can’t seem to do what their bodies were designed to do. These couples are warriors in so many ways! Pray for them, love on them and listen if they want to talk. The battle is often long, lonely and arduous.


7. Was there anything in life that infertility made particularly difficult?


Grace: Pregnancy announcements, baby showers, cute but old nosy church ladies that smell like mothballs and perfume.

Casey: There are so many seemingly innocent things like seeing or hearing pregnancy announcements and shopping for shower gifts but hearing pregnant women and new moms complain is probably at the top of my list. We get it that both are difficult and very physically, emotionally and mentally taxing but perhaps your infertile friend isn’t the person to complain to. We know motherhood isn’t all unicorns and rainbows but we would happily jump at the opportunity to rock an infant to sleep at all hours of the day or night. We would love to wear bags under our eyes like motherhood badges of honor! We would love a toddler in full out meltdown mode in the middle of the grocery store because it would mean we were moms! In some ways, women that complained to me about pregnancy and motherhood felt like someone complaining about what they ate for dinner to someone who is starving to death. I’m not saying you don’t need to vent your frustrations, just please, PLEASE don’t complain to your infertile friend!

After our 11th anniversary I made a rule that I wouldn't go to any baby showers unless I was closely related to the mom-to-be or she was a very close friend. Showers were just too painful and then people like to strike up conversations by asking if you have children and dispensing advice when you say no. I would leave the parties feeling awful. When baby sprinkles started gaining traction in my social circles, that brought even more baby parties for second, third and fourth children. I started to feel bombarded! I was genuinely happy for all of these women but the constant showers just got to be too much for me to handle while trying so hard to start our own family. I remember a conversation with some friends where I unintentionally vented a bit of my frustration about this. I'm sure they thought "this chick is crazy!" but they had no idea how difficult these parties were for me. So ladies, if you are reading and remember this, I'm sorry! Now you have an idea why.


8. When you were trying to conceive, how did you handle the onslaught of pregnancy related posts on social media?

Grace: Social media has the ability to make it seem like everyone is pregnant (because they are!) and it’s hard not to (wrongfully) sit on the throne with an imaginary scepter and judge. “But she’s only been married a few months“, “But she said she didn’t want a baby”, “But she already has two.” I went through periods of deleting my social media accounts just to have a break. But “hide from feed” was clutch for the Preggos that updated every 5 seconds or used Facebook to complain about the one thing I desperately wanted.

Casey: I had to “hide” a lot of people. I was happy for them but it just made me feel awful about our situation. It is hard enough weathering infertility without having it punch your face every time you scroll through your news feed. This is one of the reasons I am so outspoken against the April Fool’s Day pregnancy announcements. There are enough real pregnancies that make navigating life difficult for those struggling with infertility and miscarriages. Please don't make it unnecessarily harder. At the height of our battle, I had to take a 2.5 year break from Facebook because of this. Having this break dramatically improved my well being. I think it’s important to know what your limit is and then implement boundaries.


I will be posting the conclusion of our Q&A series later on this week. What do you think about our interview so far? Do you have any questions you would like us to answer? Leave your feedback below and we will do our best to include it in the next segment of What We Wish People Knew About Infertility. (Due to the sensitive nature of infertility, you can opt to post a comment anonymously, if you prefer.)



I would love to connect with you. If you liked this post or were encouraged by it, please consider passing it on. Find me on Instagram and Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. This blog post is featured on the Resolve.org 2016 #StartAsking campaign.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are moderated so it may take a little while for your comment to show up.