I was one of the lucky ones. After 7 IVF’s and 40 embryos transferred, I was able to have our one and only child on May 1, 1994. But why didn’t I move on? Why didn’t I leave the painful memories of my infertility journey behind me?
Truth be told, infertility still affects me now and again. When my son was little, he used to beg me for a baby brother or sister. I had to explain to him that he was going to be an only child. After our ten-year struggle to have our son, I had an ovarian cancer scare. (My mother died of ovarian cancer).
I ended up having my ovaries and tubes removed when I was just 39 years old. I knew that our son would be an only child. He would have made awesome big brother, but he will never know what it’s like to have siblings. He will also learn to navigate other life events as he grows older by himself, including relying on his own inner strength when my husband and I eventually pass away.
In the 60+ years I have been fortunate to be alive here on Earth, I have never suffered through anything quite as painful as our decade-long struggle to build our family. We have lost six beloved family members. We have grown stronger as a couple even though time and distance separated us when my husband deployed for months at a time as a US NAVY officer. We have beat cancer. We have faced grave illnesses, including one that left me with a permanent handicap. But nothing has been as difficult as infertility.
I felt so isolated and alone when I was struggling to build my family. I came from a wonderful family, and always dreamed of having a family of my own. Everyone around me was pregnant or already had a family. I didn’t feel like I fit in with society. No one talked about infertility and I often suffered in silence. I was diagnosed with “Unexplained Infertility.” No one could figure out why my IVF’s weren’t working. My doctors said that everything looked picture perfect. I made lots of eggs. My husband’s sperm was excellent. We made lots of embryos… many became blastocysts. But I couldn’t get pregnant no matter what we tried. I felt my body was betraying me. If babies are a gift from God, then why couldn’t I have this gift?
All of these reasons made me feel called to turn my pain into purpose. Once I finally had our son, I could have put my infertility in a box and never talked about it again. But something in my heart nudged me on. I wanted to create some good out of this horrible disease. I wanted to help others who are struggling to build their families so they will not have to navigate this difficult journey alone. And so, I wrote and published my own infertility support book, which I titled Detours: Unexpected Journeys of Hope Conceived from Infertility. I make an annual trip to Washington DC for RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day to lobby congress for affordable access to care for all family building options.
When I was in Washington DC for my first Advocacy Day, I learned that Michigan was rated a “D” for fertility support. As a former elementary school teacher, I knew we could do better than that. I had work to do! So, I started my own RESOLVE Peer Led Support Group and I began volunteering once a week to answer calls on the RESOLVE 24/7 HelpLine. so I could raise awareness and become a face for infertility. In 2019, I met the most wonderful person, LeAndrea Fisher, and we decided to raise awareness in our home state by co-chairing the annual Detroit, MI Walk of Hope, which will always be held during National Infertility Awareness Week.
However, now during this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 crisis, we have had to postpone our actual Walk of Hope until September. Infertility can be incredibly isolating even when there isn’t a global pandemic. I think the infertility community needs connection now more than ever. So, I have been hosting weekly virtual RESOLVE meetings and will hold a virtual Walk of Hope during NIAW. My husband and I will also attend Advocacy Day virtually this year. Maybe… just maybe… more infertility community voices will be heard this year at Advocacy Day because the time/travel/expenses won’t be a factor. These are just a few more ways I (and all of us) can turn pain into purpose.
Stay healthy and well everyone, and know you are not alone!