Infertility took a lot from me. Receiving an unexplained infertility diagnosis at 30 years old was a shock. I had no medical or family history to suggest that I would have trouble conceiving. In fact, by all accounts, my family was full of fertile people who became pregnant with little effort. For 3.5 years I lived in the secret grey that undergoing fertility treatment creates. An in-between state where the present is a painful series of failures and the future seems hopeless. Where your every thought, plan, and dollar goes toward a dream that might not ever come true.
Infertility removed the hope I had and replaced it with fear. Fear of my life looking different than I had always imagined. Fear of the worst thing continuing to happen. Once you have had such heartache you assume it will always be the norm. Infertility took up so much of my time. Years that I will never get back. Promotions that I never took, because that month it might work. Experiences that I never had because every extra dollar was earmarked for treatment. Yes, infertility certainly took a lot from me, but it gave me a few gifts as well. Here are 5 things that infertility taught me.
I am ashamed to say how hard it was to be happy for my dear friends and family when they announced a pregnancy. It’s not that I didn’t want that for them, it’s that I wanted a turn as well. On special occasions and holidays, it was hard to celebrate when I was longing for something that was so far out of my control. I kept my infertility treatments private because I didn’t want to disappoint more people, if they were unsuccessful. I had the support of my partner, but that was it. Through the majority of my struggle to become pregnant, I didn’t have a community of women to talk to who had been through this experience. It was a lonely time. But since then, I have learned that talking about infertility with others going through the same experience is affirming and healing. We all need support!
When I finally did get pregnant after a second IVF cycle, I found out I was having identical twins. I was overjoyed and terrified. I had been dreaming of that moment for so long, and yet it was hard to relax and enjoy a high-risk pregnancy. The majority of my pregnancy was uneventful until around 27 weeks. I was admitted to the hospital for signs of early labor, and eight days later, I delivered my twins via emergency c-section. I was only 28 weeks along. For the next two months, I had two babies in the NICU. It was so hard, but in many ways, the struggles of infertility prepared me for the humbling days in the NICU and life after discharge. I had survived many years of trying to conceive, so I knew waiting several more months for my babies in the NICU was something I could do as well. Infertility had built my capacity and tolerance for struggling, and allowed me to live more in the moment.
My outlook on life and certainly my parenting philosophy has been greatly impacted by my challenging journey to motherhood. My time isn’t occupied with evaluations of what is positive or negative. Instead, I focus on finding joy in the fact that I get to have the experience at all. Parenting is challenging. And at those most taxing moments, when I am calming a tantruming child, breaking up a sibling disagreement, picking the same five toys off the floor again, and changing another diaper, I feel profoundly grateful. Grateful that I get to witness all of the moments: the easy, the good, the hard and the bad. I’m deeply thankful that there are little hands to hold and tiny tears to wipe away. I won’t take any of this for granted, because I know how close I came to not having it at all.
I have been brought to my knees from the physical pain that was infertility treatments. I have searched my body for an unbruised spot to give myself yet another injection. I have sat in my car and cried over bad news on my lunch break from work. And yet, I never stopped trying. I never felt ok with the way it was, so I knew it wasn’t the end. So month after month, year after year I picked myself up and did it all again. The ability to keep going, even when the outcome is unknown or negative, has served me in many ways and many facets of my life.
Having children didn’t make my infertility disappear. Infertility will always be a part of my life. It has been important to my healing to address that my children are not responsible for or capable of erasing the trauma of infertility. While my outcome has been positive, my family will forever be impacted by infertility. Forgetting about that fact, or just moving on, doesn’t honor my struggle, sacrifice, or journey. While I don’t dwell in a place of sorrow about what infertility has taken from me, I will always acknowledge the role both positive and negative that infertility has played in my life. I wouldn’t be where I am, or who I am without it.
Ali Dunn is the founder of Me Two Books and the author of four children’s books: I Was a Preemie Just Like You, I Needed the NICU Just Like You, One of Two, a Twin Story about Individuality, and The Career Explorer: An Introduction to Career Development and STEAM Careers. She is also the creator of an e-course for parents about Career Exploration. Ali is the chief mom officer of identical twins born at 28 weeks via emergency c-section. You can learn more about her books at metwobooks.com and connect with her on her blog, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.