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How I Survived Infertility

I survived infertility (quite well in fact) but as with many life crises my healing wasn't complete. I still feel sadness at times when I hear stories of couples getting pregnant as planned, and enjoying traditional family life. And sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like, had I not experienced infertility.
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The naked woman sets a hand on an abdomen.
The naked woman sets a hand on an abdomen.

Things don't always go as we plan.

I learned this adage early, at about age 13, when my parents divorced and my world fell apart. Their divorce, and the ensuing chaos, significantly impacted my ability trust in marriage and family. I swore I'd never marry. I swore I'd never have children. I imagined instead a life of international travel and humanitarian work, somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Instead I got married on a cold January day in 1991.

Because we were in our 30s, my husband and I decided to start trying to have a family right away. He wanted a large family, and although I hadn't previously allowed myself to dream, I too began to yearn for a baby, or two.

Several of my friends were also trying to get pregnant. It was fun. We drank coffee together and chatted endlessly about our future babies -- they'd play together, they'd attend school together, they'd grow up together.

And just like that, my trust in marriage and family was restored.

One by one my friends got pregnant, while month after month I did not. Although I never received a definitive diagnoses, there was talk of low progesterone, or perhaps just a lazy ovary or two. Regardless of what the actual problem was, it was clear something was wrong because I couldn't get pregnant.

I began my journey into the world of infertility treatments with hope and excitement, believing we just needed a little extra help. I was certain I'd be pregnant in a few months. I was naïve.

The first year of infertility treatments turned my body into a stranger. My life consisted of injecting myself with hormones, tracking my ovulation cycle and having highly scheduled sex.

During my second year of infertility treatments life stopped making sense to me. I began avoiding my friends and everyone else in their childbearing years. I began grocery shopping at midnight. And whenever well-meaning friends shared the legend of someone they knew who got pregnant while relaxing on a cruise after experiencing infertility, I imagined balling up my fist and punching them in the face.

Anger, envy and bitterness were not emotions I was used to feeling, but they enveloped me now. I also felt guilty and selfish, but I just couldn't help myself--infertility was taking over my life.

The month we moved onto in-vitro fertilization (IVF) was the same month I began to question what I'd done wrong in my life to be punished in this way.

I got pregnant after our first IVF attempt. I wanted to feel joy, but all I could feel was terror. My anxiety was intense, but I was helpless to stop it, even though I imagined my stress was like poison flooding my uterus. Superstitious thinking engulfed me, and the more I willed my brain to behave, the more it went wild with negative thinking, which only added to my stress.

I miscarried at seven weeks, on of all days, Mother's Day. My anger turned from hot to cold on that day. I stopped caring. I felt dead inside.

The toll infertility took on my marriage was unimaginable, at least for anyone who hasn't endured infertility. I felt abandoned by everyone I knew, including my husband. I now realize that he was suffering in his own way, but it never occurred to me that he needed my support as much as I needed his. I was so immersed in my own grief and my belief that no one understood my suffering, that in the midst of my own feelings of abandonment, I too was abandoning my husband.

For the longest time, quitting infertility treatments was unfathomable. I was on an infertility roller coaster that I despised, but was powerless to stop. As soon as we completed one cycle of IVF, I wanted to immediately begin another.

I was singularly focused. I was an infertile woman possessed.

My decision to quit infertility treatments was not a logical one, nor was it a joint one. I was standing in front of a mirror, injecting another dose of Pergonal into my hip, in preparation our next IVF attempt, when I saw my reflection and realized I felt completely disconnected from the image looking back at me. I had absolutely no idea who I was, and I could no longer remember a life without infertility.

I said aloud (to no one), "I'm done." And I was.

My husband and I were strangers now. I was no longer the thin, fun-loving, always together, over-functioning woman he'd married. I was broken, always angry and always blaming. I felt so guilty that I was causing all of these problems that I couldn't reach out and ask for help. I suppose I felt I didn't have the right, because in some irrational way, I believed I deserved what was happening to me.

I asked for a divorce shortly after I quit infertility treatments, partly because I couldn't fathom a life without children, partly because I believed I was a defective wife, and partly because I wanted no part of a lifestyle that wanted no part of me. I wanted to run, to flee, to get as far away from suburbia as possible. I loathed my life and myself.

I rejected every aspect of a traditional lifestyle that I believed had rejected me.

Ironically I became pregnant a year or so after my husband and I ended our marriage. But this post isn't about how that happened (and no, it wasn't on a cruise, and it wasn't with my ex-husband). This is a post about how over two decades later, after years of counseling, after a successful pregnancy, and after knowing the joys of parenting, the experience of infertility and miscarriage remain some of my most painful of life experiences.

I rarely talk about my infertility or miscarriage, and I have never before written about them, but I know that others are going through similar experiences right now, and I suppose I just want them to know they are not alone.

I survived infertility (quite well in fact) but as with many life crises my healing wasn't complete. I still feel sadness at times when I hear stories of couples getting pregnant as planned, and enjoying traditional family life. And sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like, had I not experienced infertility. But I no longer feel defective, and I no longer believe that my infertility was punishment for something I'd done wrong, and I no longer believe that my families' history of divorce indelibly dictated my own life course.

Bad things happen to everyone, and this bad thing happened to me.

My sad thoughts are now mere impulses that occur amidst immense gratitude for all of the wonderful blessings I've had in my post-infertility life--a life of parenting my only son alongside several refugee youth who have cycled through our home, a life of international travel and humanitarian contribution in sub-Saharan Africa, with my son at my side, a life of great challenges alongside great adventures and passion--so many wonderful experiences that likely would not have happened had my life taken a more traditional path.

A few years ago I bumped into my ex-husband and we had a chance to catch up for the first time since our divorce more than 20 years before. He remarried a few years after our divorce to a woman I've been told is wonderful, and they now have five children. I knew I had evolved because I was sincerely happy for him. He'd gotten the life he'd always wanted. And that's when it hit me--so had I.