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.

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egg and sperm (depicted with cookie and frosting)

Some (not-so) Fun Infertility Facts

“While everyone experiences stress differently, you can’t underestimate it. The further you go [with fertility treatments], the more stressful it is if it doesn’t work. If it works, you’re done. Everyone is happy. If it doesn’t, some people have lost a major part of their self, what they believe to be their future, and that’s terrifying.”

Dr. William Hurd, chief medical officer for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Are you (or is someone you know) dealing with infertility right now? Chances are good you do know someone, even if they’ve never told you about their struggle. 1 in 8 couples (some sources say more like 1 in 5) are unable to pregnant after a year of trying, which technically means they qualify as “infertile.”

Here are a few (not-so-fun) facts I’ve learned about infertility over the past few years:

  • In infertile couples, there is an equal chance that the cause is from the man or the woman (this is not just a woman’s issue!)
  • In one third of infertile couples, the problem can’t be identified OR is a combination of factors from a man and woman.
  • Secondary infertility (not being able to get pregnant after the birth of one or more children) occurs at the same rate as primary infertility. 50% of infertility cases are secondary infertility.

Even-less-fun facts about infertility and mental health:

  • As many as 21-52% of women struggling with infertility experience depression.
  • “While infertility treatments are physically demanding, several studies suggest that the emotional stress of the ordeal is the primary reason many couples decide to give up.”
  • Anxiety and depression increased in couples who had failed ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) treatments.
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three faces, sad, nonchalant, and happy

Anxiety Screenings – Helpful Or Not???

You may have seen in the news earlier this week that a health panel (specifically the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force) recommended that all adults under age 65 get screened by their doctors for anxiety. This comes on the tails of COVID, inflation, and the rise of crime (among other things) that have left many in our country (and the world) feeling a lot more anxious.

The Task Force cited a study which showed that between August 2020 and February 2021, adults with symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders increased to 41.5% from 36.4%.

Initially that doesn’t seem like a huge increase to me (about 5%), but the fact that over 41% of adults may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression does seem concerning in its own right.

As with anything, there are pros and cons to asking (or requiring) doctors to perform anxiety screenings on their patients. So let’s take a quick look at both sides of the issue:

PROS

  • Screenings could help prevent mental health disorders from going undetected and untreated for years
  • Standard screenings help to reduce the stigma of mental health – it would just be another thing to get checked out annually like any other health issue
  • Standard screenings could help “combat the effects of racism, implicit bias, and other systemic issues in the medical field” (you can read more about mental health disparities among people of color in this New York Times article)

CONS

  • Screenings alone will not solve a mental health crisis – patients who get flagged as being “at risk” would need other interventions and could not be forced to get treatment
  • Some worry that screenings may primarily favor doctors and healthcare providers financially if there is an uptick in diagnoses
  • Some doctors expressed concern that adding “one more thing” to their already long checklist for physical exams is not practical or doable – there are also staff shortages to consider

As a mental health advocate, I am in favor of making anxiety screenings (or more broadly, mental health screenings) a standard practice for all adults and children. But I understand the logistical problems with carrying that out, and I also understand the fear that it may allow the medical community to take advantage of people (due to over-diagnosing or over-prescribing medications).

I am also aware that mental health treatments like therapy are expensive, and that unless there’s a more cost-effective way for everyone to have access to that service, it may not be realistic for everyone.

The problems with increasing mental health services are real and something that need to be considered, but my hope is still that more and more people would be proactive in taking charge of their mental health – and standardizing screenings could be one way to help accomplish this.

What are your thoughts on the Task Force’s recommendation? What other pros and cons have you heard about the issue?