Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bust a Myth

No Model Lady would like to interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you a guest post by my awesome, brave, fabulous cousin Charla.
She doesn't have a blog of her own but she wanted to bust a few myths so she's taking over for the day!

In honor of National Infertility Awareness week, I'm participating in the Bust an Infertility Myth Blog Challenge. Head on over to the RESOLVE website for more information about infertility and National Infertility Awareness Week.

I would like to thank the lovely No Model Lady for allowing me to hijack her blog today. I am not a writer so please forgive any rambling. I edited this over and over again while I tried to figure out how to bust a couple of infertility myths without sharing too much of my story, but I decided that it's not possible to explain these myths without revealing at least pieces of my journey to you. I hope you won't mind.

Does anyone ever grow up and think, "Infertility. I like the sound of that. I think I'll give it a whirl when I get older."? I was diagnosed with PCOS (lots of small ovarian cysts) when I was a teenager and told that I might have trouble conceiving. At that time, I didn't give it a second thought. In fact, I was thrilled that I never got a period (the cysts prevented my body from ovulating). Fast forward 10 years. I'm on vacation with my husband when I get a call from the nurse at the infertility clinic. She has the results of my husband's semen analysis which are not great (sorry Husband, but who wouldn't be interested in learning about your count, motility, and morphology?). I would then spend the next two years getting tested, poked, and prodded. It makes an annual trip to the gyno's office seem like a romantic walk on the beach for two.

Myth: Infertility treatments are easy. I know all about it from watching TV. I've seen Friends. I'm an expert.

Busted: Infertility treatments are HARD. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. It's not just a matter of showing up for a single appointment and having a doctor put a few embryos into you (e.g., Phoebe). Both IUI (intrauterine insemination) and especially IVF (in vitro fertilization) involve medication and appointment schedules galore. Appointments involve pelvic ultrasounds and blood work (if you're a freak like me and bruise like a peach your arms will look like you're an avid IV drug user). You have no control over when you'll have your next appointment because it all depends on how your body responds to the hormones and meds. In fact, you have NO CONTROL over anything. Did I mention everything that goes on at home? Daily hormones, antibiotics, steroids, and multiple daily shots must be given at the same time every day. Thankfully I never had a fear of needles, but getting a shot and giving a shot to yourself are two vastly different experiences. The first time I had to give myself a shot I sat on the floor of our small Chicago apartment and cried and cried. I was scared and I didn't want to do it, but if we wanted a baby then I had no choice. It took me close to 45 minutes to give myself the first shot and another 15 for the second. If that sounds easy, then you're a stronger person than I am. For me, one of the hardest parts was the loneliness. I didn't know anyone who had struggled with infertility so I had no one who had gone through what I was going through to talk to about the physical burden I had to carry, the anxiety, the stress, or the million questions floating through my head. To sum up: Infertility treatments = HARD.

Myth: People think IVF always works. Everyone who uses it is successful and has a baby.

Busted: There is no fertility treatment, including IVF, that always works for everyone. The likelihood of success in an IVF cycle is impacted by a number of factors, the most important being the age of the female partner (yep--no pressure). Best case scenario is a 41% chance if you're under 35. Do you know how heart breaking it is to go through an IVF cycle and not become pregnant? Take my word for it. It is. Very simply stated, an IVF cycle goes something like this. After weeks of hormone manipulation, the doctor removes eggs from the woman. The eggs are then fertilized with the man's sperm. After several days, the fertilized eggs grow into embryos (hopefully) and are transferred back into the woman's uterus. We went through our first IVF cycle (after two unsuccessfu attempts at IUI) about a year after we were married. We had two embryos transferred and both implanted. I was pregnant with twins. I miscarried at about 8 weeks and then again at 18 weeks. The devastation and heart break (literally--I felt as if my heart was breaking) of a miscarriage is still not something I can put into words. Looking back, I'm still not sure I was emotionally and physically ready, but seven months after my miscarriage we decided we were ready to try IVF again. We once again transferred two embryos, but neither implanted. See? IVF doesn't always work. I'm living proof.

I gave birth to a beautiful (if I do say so myself) baby girl in the summer of 2010. It was supposed to be medically impossible (or at least incredibly difficult) for us to conceive without the aid of infertility treatments, but here she is. A happy little accident. Or miracle. Or cosmic joke. I go back and forth between all three at times. Her birth, however, doesn't erase the journey I went through. It doesn't take away the anxiety, pain, fear, and loneliness. It also doesn't mean that I will be able to conceive "on my own" again. Secondary infertility — the inability to get pregnant naturally or carry a pregnancy to term after successfully conceiving one or more children — is very common. Approximately 12% of women in the US have secondary infertility, and it accounts for more than half of all infertility cases. That's something I try not to worry about too much at this point.

Infertility. Not too much fun, huh? I hope you'll leave a little more enlightened and a lot more sensitive to those struggling with infertility. A lot of men and women choose to take this journey alone so you never know who might be dealing with infertility. Please be sensitive. Questions like, "When are you going to have kids?", "Do you want kids?", "When are you going to have more kids?" and "How many kids do you want?" can be hurtful even when they aren't meant to be. If you know someone is struggling with infertility, statements like, "Just relax. It will happen.", "You can always adopt.", or "This is just part of God's plan for you." aren't helpful. Just let them know that you care and want to be there for them. That's all you can do and that's enough.