Infertility is a THIEF | A Guide for Taking Your Life Back
No Baby, Yet
Despite infertility affecting 1 in 8 couples, it is still so often insidious. Most of us don’t see it coming. Even when we do have an idea ahead of time (because of medical problems, history, age, or other reasons), we’re still floored by the amount of time, energy, and resources that trying to conceive takes once fertility treatment is involved.
Add COVID-19 into the mix. While some were on hold, paused, adapted to telehealth, in-person appointments are taking even longer because of necessary safety precautions, and you may very well start to see infertility as a sneaky little thief. Or a sneaky, big thief.
Ask anyone who’s #ttc through fertility treatment and they’ll tell you this- it’s not the shots, appointments, or even the procedures that are so hard, it’s not knowing one simple fact.
The outcome; if you will end up with a baby or not.
What Infertility Has Stolen
Designing your own destiny is often the first thing that infertility steals from you. Along with that comes a loss of innocence. So many of us were brought up to believe that if we work hard enough, nearly anything is possible.
Yet, here comes infertility, sneaking in to steal that plan. Things aren’t happening on the timeline that you intended and planned for - in fact, even when you get a fertility treatment protocol, that doesn’t always go as planned.
Are. You. Kidding. Me.
You try to be patient, but it turns out that infertility stole that too. No matter how hard you’re trying; you find yourself missing your patience. Who are you hardest on when you have no patience left? Yourself and those closest to you.
Which leads us to this - infertility loves to try and steal relationships too. Emphasis on try. Infertility can feel isolating, because who wants to hear how sad and defeated we feel as much as we need to say it? So instead of being open with our loved ones (who don’t always get it anyway, so we stop trying to tell them our truth), we shut down. Infertility tries really hard to steal our friendships, our family, and our colleague relationships. What word takes over our true emotions? The word “fine.” It gets used in place of our genuine and authentic emotions. We say it a lot, “I’m fine,” because we don’t want to tell our truth. That we're not fine.
Infertility steals our real “fine.” It steals our self-esteem, confidence, ability to believe, even our faith. It steals the way that we see ourselves and replaces that vision with an image of “disease”, “brokenness”, or “less than.” Infertility can steal our joy, our laughter, even our capacity to see life or the world as we previously have seen it.
There’s a long, long list of what infertility steals and an even longer one of what it attempts to steal.
Infertility may not be as much of a thief as it seems though.
Anyone who’s done any type of fertility treatment knows that. If anyone goes into an IUI or IVF cycle, with little or no hope that it will work, what would be the point?
There’s just enough hope that it will work, that it could work.
Infertility always seems to leave just enough behind as it’s robbing us to give us a spark to rebuild, to find strength, to construct new support systems, and to find our voices.
The Gifts Infertility Can Give Us
Strength. Courage. Resilience. Faith. Determination. Love. Compassion. Adaptability. Intelligence. Belief. Hope.
These things are like kryptonite to infertility. Infertility cannot, ultimately, conquer or steal any of those things from us. Infertility has most likely even helped us gain some of these terms. So many who’ve been pillaged by infertility have reported that many of these things they thought might be gone forever, have grown back stronger and healthier than they ever imagined they could be.
The moments that we are at our lowest are excruciating. And then we rebuild. We get up. We hope again. We try again. We decide on a different path. We take a break. We tell infertility to go fu*k itself.
We reclaim our lives, through our tears, and our pain.
New aspects of ourselves come to the surface, revealing our strength and courage. We get knocked down and then we decide what to do next.
Fears of What Will Never Come Back
I remember very clearly when I was experiencing infertility the lack of clarity I felt. I remember seeing that the world was the same, but the only way I could experience it was from a distance of twelve feet away. Between me and the rest of the world, twelve feet away was a dark, murky smoke that colored the whole world in a depressing and distorted way. There seemed to be nothing I could do to clear that smoke and see the sun and blue sky.
In those days and months, the best I could hope for was a slight lifting or clearing. When I spoke my truth, discarding my dishonest “I’m fine,” the smoke did clear. I saw those around me also suffering. I heard their truths and their fears. I saw what they did not see- their strength, resiliency, and hope. They held up a mirror for me and I came to realize that they saw those things in me too.
Childfree living isn’t giving up or quitting. It may not even be childfree living; it may be childless living. You may refuse to claim it as a choice, that’s fair, isn’t it?
And here’s a secret.
Infertility Will Permanently Change You
If you’re lucky, infertility will change you for the better.
While we’re afraid of what won’t return and grieve the things that have been stolen by infertility, there are some things that we don’t want back. Some things include ignorance, lack of awareness, and insensitivity.
You may be more empathetic, take less for granted, and feel more grateful for things you hadn’t really appreciated before. There’s a likelihood that you will respond to others more compassionately and that you will understand situations from a broader perspective.
An infertility patient opened her heart and shared her words here…
“I used to be hopeful. I started each cycle cautiously optimistic that this would be our month. This would be the right protocol. We'd finally crack the code on my puzzle box of a reproductive system. But that optimism wouldn't last long. Failure, after cancellation, after failure, after heartbreak. That does something to a person. To a woman who's looked forward to the day she'd have a baby of her own. The cumulative effects of infertility trauma should not and cannot be underestimated. I'm an entirely different person now than I was at the beginning of all this. And I'll be a different person at the end of it.
Because it will end.
I will be holding my baby.
I know that day will come. Even with all the times infertility has knocked me down--literally bringing me to my knees, crying in the shower so the water would drown out my hysterical cries, pleading, "I just want my baby. Where's my baby? Why can't I have my baby?"--I remain determined. Somehow, someway, I will have my healthy, happy baby. I know now that it won't come into my arms the way I'd hoped and envisioned. It will take the selflessness of an altruistic woman to help us by donating her eggs. Her healthy eggs that won't have any of my obviously unfixable issues.
There's a great loss that comes from accepting the fact that I won't have a genetic link to my baby. I'll never see the result of my baby pictures combined with my husband's. I'll never see my child's blonde hair and tell her/him, “your grandmother had the same beautiful golden locks.” It seems unfair in a way but I know this is the right path for us. My baby, made with my eggs or not, will always be my baby. I will love my baby, protect my baby, and express infinite gratitude for my baby every day. I will tell her/him the story of my infertility journey. How Mommy and Daddy fought so hard for you, and how some extra help and a huge gift made it possible.
That's something I won't let infertility steal from me. I've gone through hell to have my baby, and I'll continue to until my baby’s finally in my arms.”
What You Can Count On
Infertility will help you find your way. Odd, absolutely. But it will. It will show you when you can say yes, when you can say maybe, and when no is the best possible answer.
Infertility, I hope, will help you find that asking and receiving help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s a sign of humility, awareness, and strength.
If you decide your quest for a baby should end, it ends. Whichever way you decide to live the rest of your life, you will make the best possible choices for you.
That’s your choice. It is! Even if it feels like it’s not.
In thirty-one years of talking to thousands of women, the deepest fear that I’ve ever heard expressed is that they will be the ones leaving with no baby.
That does happen. That’s one answer and result.
The other answer is that so often you will leave with a baby.
Either way, infertility will be a thief that may have ransacked your house, but who overlooked many valuable things.
Your integrity. Your strength. Your heart. You.
Infertility may be a thief, and infertility may break you. But infertility is not capable of leaving you with nothing. Even when it feels that way.
Ultimately, the journey of infertility will be yours; what you discover, what’s stolen, what’s returned, and what you end up keeping will be yours to find out.
You are not alone on this journey. We are here to help.
About Lisa Rosenthal
Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her. She was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has been with RMACT for eleven years and serves as Patient Advocate and the Strategic Content Lead.
Lisa is the teacher and founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support men and women on their quest for their families through gentle movement and meditation.
Lisa’s true passion is supporting patients getting into treatment, being able to stay in treatment and staying whole and complete throughout the process. Lisa is also a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, which is helpful in her work with fertility patients.
Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.