The End of Our Infertility Journey

***note: I originally drafted this post in January of 2023, when the emotions were still very fresh. I have done a lot of healing over the past few months, but it has not been a quick or easy process. A lot of ugly parts of me have been revealed during this process – anger, bitterness, resentment – for the people who have stuck by my side during some of my worst seasons, thank you. Thank you all for giving me grace as I try to become a better, healthier version of myself.

This is the third, and what I believe will be the final, update on our infertility journey. In May of 2020, my husband and I started trying for a second child. In January of 2023, we stopped trying. After 2 and a half years of this emotional roller coaster from hell, we finally decided to quit.

There’s a lot more to the story, but if you just want the cliff notes, that’s about it. I suppose it’s not really the end of the journey, because now it’s time to take a detour on the path called grief. I wish that the journey was just over and I could go back to my life before. I wish I could feel like who I was before we started trying to have another baby, but I don’t know how to do that. We will be forever changed by this experience, and I’m just looking forward to the day when it doesn’t hurt so much.

Because I’m weird, or perhaps a bit obsessive, I tracked how many cycles I’d had since we began this process and figured out how many times we ended up trying (and failing) to get pregnant. So here are the stats below:

31 months total
35 cycles total
30 = # of times we tried to get pregnant
5 = # of cycles we took a break from trying
17 = Longest consecutive stretch trying for a baby

Over a period of 31 months, I had 35 cycles.
Out of those 35, we made an effort to get pregnant 30 different times.
There were 5 cycles that I purposely opted out of trying because I needed an emotional breather every once and a while.
Our longest consecutive stretch of intentionally trying was 17 cycles in a row.

I don’t know if it’s helpful or not for me to see these numbers, but in a way I feel like it validates my experience. I can look at the numbers and understand a little more why it has been so hard. 30 is a lot of times to feel emotionally shattered.

So what happened? Why did we decide to quit trying?

In the last update I gave in October of 2022, I had just talked about how we had recently seen a reproductive endocrinologist and that potentially we could try one of the less-invasive treatments: intrauterine insemination (IUI).

After thinking about it, we came to the decision that starting in January of 2023, we would give IUI a try, up to three times. If it didn’t work, then we would plan to call it quits.

But not every couple is eligible for IUI. There’s a lot of factors at play – sperm count, number of healthy eggs left, fallopian tubes being open/blocked, etc.

When we last went to the doctor back in August, it looked like we were good candidates for this procedure. But before going through all the trouble of attempting IUI in January, we wanted to double check that everything still looked promising, so we did a few tests again. This time, the test results were not good. What our results showed is that things had changed, and we were now ineligible for IUI.

“Let us know if you’re interested in pursuing IVF.”

That was the last message we got from our doctor’s office.

But I had already decided that I was not going to pursue in vitro.

I’ll pause here for a moment because I just know someone out there wants to ask, “if you want another baby so badly, why aren’t you going to try in vitro?”

Infertility and the journey of trying to have a child is a very personal, not to mention difficult, journey. What’s right for one person may not be right for another person. And that’s okay. And when a couple decides their journey is over, it’s important to validate that decision.

For me, the mental and emotional toll of not getting pregnant every month is something I can’t continue doing. The past year I found myself struggling with depression often. At times, I found it hard to find the energy to get out of bed.

I don’t want my 6-year-old son to remember his mom that way. He wants me to play with him and take delight in him, and I have not been able to be as present with him as I would like due to struggling with infertility. So starting now, in 2023, I’m making my son a priority.

There are other areas of my life that have also been neglected during this time. Infertility certainly adds a lot of strain to a marriage. I know what will be best right now is for my husband and I to get our marriage in a better place, to have sex not simply because we’re trying to get pregnant… We have continued to see a marriage counselor monthly during this time, and we have no plans to stop doing that now that we’re not pursuing pregnancy.

I’ve neglected myself. Trying to get pregnant has become such a part of my identity because I’ve been laser-focused on it for the past 31 months. It’s hard to imagine not charting my temperature each morning, or worrying about the timing of ovulation each month, or being hyper-aware of my body as I try to convince myself each month that maybe I’m pregnant. Once I realized it was over, I actually had to sit down and remind myself of what kinds of things I enjoyed doing. I’d forgotten how much I loved to read, to create art (I just recently got into embroidery!), and to go for a jog in the morning.

Infertility honestly can become a permanent part of your identity. In a New York Times article, The Lasting Trauma of Infertility, it says that “many of us stop feeling as though [infertility] is something that is happening to us, but instead begin to believe that it is a part of who we are. You become used to living in a constant state of fluctuating despair and hope.”

What’s unbelievable is that the article goes on to say that even women who eventually get pregnant and have a baby can still be affected long-term by the trauma of infertility. And I do consider it trauma – I know some people worry about the over-use of that word, but I find it validating to say that this has been a traumatic experience. According to research, women struggling with infertility have depression and anxiety levels similar to those with cancer, H.I.V. and heart disease.

There can be trauma associated with being forced to give up on a dream, or even having to create a new identity for yourself. Maybe you always thought you would be a mom or dad, and then when you find out that you can’t get pregnant, that can rock your world.

“People affected by infertility must adjust to a major shift in life expectations while being exposed to constant reminders of their condition, through questions from family members, medical treatments or interactions with pregnant women.”

(Townsend, 2019)

So what now? I’m not totally sure yet what it means to move on from this. It’s a hard decision to quit, it’s hard not be haunted by “what-if” questions. It’s hard to quit after pursuing something so hard for so long. It’s hard not to feel like a failure at the end of it all. Was all that time wasted? What was the point of it?

I’m reading a book right now called Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away, and it has been really helpful for me during this process. The book talks about something called “escalation of commitment” – this happens when we are losing at something, and then ironically become more and more likely to stick to the losing course of action, even doubling down on our persistence.

It could be very easy to convince myself that I need to keep trying to have a baby, but I know that it’s not the right choice for me at this time. My husband and I actually came up with our “kill criteria” (a set of signals that tells you when it’s time to quit) months ago. We had decided to keep trying through 2022, and then in 2023 do three rounds of IUI, and if that all failed, we would stop. What made the decision a bit more jarring was that we never got to do IUI because we ended up getting disqualified for it. But that didn’t change our quitting parameters, we just ended up quitting about 3 months earlier than expected.

If you’ve seen the movie You’ve Got Mail (one of my all-time favorite movies), there’s a scene where Meg Ryan’s character makes the hard decision to close her bookstore and go out of business – this same store is the one she inherited from her mother and has spent most of her life working in. And there’s this great line from her friend and coworker who says:

“Closing the store is the brave thing to do. You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life!”

Do I feel brave right now? Not necessarily. But I am trying to imagine that I could have a different life than the one I was planning on having.

We haven’t 100% closed the door on ever getting pregnant, so is there a chance that it could still happen at some point? Maybe (not likely from what our test results say though). For 2023 I’ve actually decided to take a break from all of it – all the hoping, charting, anticipation, and despair. We’re taking measures to prevent pregnancy at this point. I know that seems counterintuitive, but this is what I need to do for my mental health right now.

Thanks for reading this far, the season ahead will continue to be filled with lots of emotions. I think the most helpful thing you can do to support us is not to offer advice or say things like “why don’t you adopt?” or “you know when we stopped trying to have a baby, that’s when we finally got pregnant!” Not helpful! Instead, you can validate our choices and our experience. “It makes so much sense that you’d feel that way” has been a truly healing thing for me to hear. Again, thanks for your support, for your thoughts and prayers and love.

***if you are in a season of infertility, and desire to do IVF or keep trying even if the odds are low, that is an absolutely valid choice! What is right for you may look different, and that is okay!***

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