The Week I Can’t Forget: NIAW

 

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Last year, this day – this Sunday, we were anxiously awaiting Monday. It was going to be our second fresh IVF retrieval. I had spent more than a month preparing, taking shots, getting uncomfortable ultrasounds, blood work done every other day or even daily, taking pill after pill – all accumulating to 3 big milestones – egg retrieval day, transfer day and beta (pregnancy test) day.

Ironically, this second IVF aligned perfectly with NIAW – National Infertility Awareness Week. NIAW is a movement that was started in 1989 to help reduce the stigma about infertility and educate the public about reproductive health and issues that make building a family difficult for 1 in 8 couples in the U.S. That’s 15% of couples in the United States. It’s a week to help spread the word about something that is somehow, for some reason, still taboo in today’s day and age. And a week for those who do not want to openly spread the word or share their story, to feel a little less alone by hearing others do so.

Last year, I thought, hoped and prayed that this week would forever change our lives and that we’d be welcoming a baby into our world nine months later. It did change me, for the better and for the worse, but we did not get to welcome that baby into our world, despite the IVF having worked. This year, being 8 months pregnant during this week, has me reflecting a lot on the past year. I have realized that while I may be pregnant now, I can never stop fighting this battle. If anything, I need to fight harder, with more strength than before and with more conviction. Because there are still so many out there that won’t get the same ‘ending.’ They may not ever get pregnant and it’s the unfortunate reality of infertility. We may never have a second child or a sibling for our daughter. It might start to seem mute, at some point, to read infertility posts from a person who has gotten pregnant. Maybe some people won’t get it. But whether I like it or not, it will always be  part of me, our story and our daughter’s story. She’ll know, that while she wasn’t the result of our IVF cycles, she’ll know everything we went through to try to build our family. She’ll know how to advocate for her health someday, as she may inherit my blood-clotting gene and Endometriosis has a hereditary component.

So today, I’m going to follow this year’s theme of NIAW, Listen Up! and touch on a few topics that often come up for those struggling with infertility.

Listen Up: Infertility is a Disease
Infertility is a disease. It’s even defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a disease of the reproductive system. Please don’t treat infertility as if it’s a choice. As if we just aren’t ‘doing something right.’

Listen Up: Infertility Cannot Be Cured by Relaxing
Infertility is not caused by stress. Yes, it can be stressful trying to get pregnant and seeing a negative test month after month, but it is not the cause of the infertility. Telling your infertile family member or friend to ‘just relax’ is not helpful. In fact, even if you mean it as helpful advice, it’s probably making them feel bad – and trust me, they’re already feeling bad, scared and unsure. Infertility can be caused by a number of things – PCOS, Endometriosis, not ovulating, blocked tubes, poor sperm mobility, low sperm count, other medical reasons etc., but stress is not the reason. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it time and time again. While we did get pregnant, somehow, without medical intervention after years of treatments, the reason was absolutely not because I wasn’t stressed or because I relaxed or wasn’t on hormones. I had surgery the month before to clear out endometriosis, it could have been that. It could be that we caught just the right ‘golden’ egg that wasn’t compromised like all my other eggs had been in the past. Infertility is still fairly new to the medical world and even they don’t have all the answers yet. But, I promise you, it’s not because I wasn’t stressed.

Listen Up: Treat ‘Advice’ with Care
This is a tricky one. Everyone wants to feel like they have something to say when a friend or family member is opening up about something like their infertility. You want that person to know you care and that you’re on their side (in most cases). But, unless that person specifically asks you or you can offer some real-world advice, please think before you speak. Because honestly, they probably just want someone to listen to them or have a shoulder to cry on. They don’t want to hear things like: it was meant to be, all in God’s time, just relax, just adopt, you’re young so you have time, or my sister’s best friend’s dog groomer was infertile and now she has 6 kids. While all have good intent, when you’re in pain, you just want to know someone is there, not necessarily their advice.

Listen Up: A Loss is a Loss
Unfortunately, often infertility and miscarriage are linked. No, definitely not every time or every case, but many of us dealing with infertility have also lost a baby. Whether that baby is 4 weeks old or 20 weeks old, it hurts. I think about the baby we lost last year after our second IVF more than one might think. Obviously, the love I have for Baby K is so big I can’t explain it, but I also just can’t forget I was pregnant once before, even if only for a short time. He/She gave me a gift no one else can. I heard the words, “Ashley, you’re pregnant” for the first time ever. It was terrifying, scary and exciting all at once. I knew, given our HCG levels being so low, that we may lose him/her, and I think I knew in my heart he/she might not make it, but boy, I still loved that poppyseed sized baby.

Listen Up: My Story is Not Their Story
I struggle with this aspect of our story often. We are the couple that endured several failed medicated rounds, failed IUIs, failed IVFs, surgery and then suddenly got pregnant. I’ve heard people say they like to tell my story to others for hope. And while that may be well intended, I cringe a little bit when I hear it. Because every story is different and every person is different. When you’re the person struggling and you hear from your friend that so-and-so got pregnant after their treatments failed, their reaction might not be as positive internally as you think. They might be thinking, “Well that’s not ME.” And you know what? They’re right. Sometimes it was hard for me to hear those stories myself when we were going through treatments because when you’re in the thick of it, you start to realize that IVF doesn’t always work. That this might not end how you hope. So when I tell my story, it’s not because I want people to think they’ll have an ending like me, but because I don’t want them to feel alone. I want them to know they can reach out to me for a listening ear if they need it. I want them to know I get how tiring shot after shot, appointment after appointment and failed test after failed test can be.

Listen Up: Pregnancy After Infertility Does Not Make It Disappear
Just because we got pregnant, does not mean I am no longer infertile or that I no longer worry. I have PCOS, Endometriosis and Factor V Leiden. I will always have these disorders and diseases. Being pregnant after going through so much comes with some feelings that are hard to internalize. Some people have asked how I like being pregnant and I have to say, I’ve been lucky as I wasn’t sick in the beginning, but mentally? Sometimes I felt, and still do, feel like I’m on the constant look out for something. So I’ll answer with: “Physically, really well, but pregnancy has been hard mentally.” And because so many people know our story, when I say that, I think they’ll get it, but they don’t and I end up with a funny look. When you’ve had so many failed infertility treatments and your body just does not do what it should, especially as a female, it’s hard to trust that it will during pregnancy. You begin to develop a distrust for your own body and what it is capable of doing. Couple that with a miscarriage in the past and you really wonder sometimes if it’s too good to be true. For me, infertility treatments and losing a baby did take away some of the ‘magic’ of being pregnant. Don’t take that the wrong way, it’s not that I’m not excited or not grateful, but it has been difficult to remain confident that my body will do what it should. Will you get to meet this baby? Can your body carry a pregnancy to term? It took me months to comprehend this was happening, and truth be told, I’m still not sure I’ll believe it until she is in my arms, safe.

I’ll end with this.

If you are struggling with infertility, you are not alone. You may feel alone, beaten down and defeated, but know you are not alone. There are many of us that are going through or have gone through this struggle and we can be there for you. Resolve has some great resources to get you connected.

If you know someone struggling with infertility, remember to just listen. Be there for them. Let them know you care, but be considerate and instead of trying to relate {if you really cannot} or offer advice that may not be accurate, offer to be their listening ear.

I was blessed with a pretty special group of people in my life. And I feel like I had an amazing support group and I know that’s not the case for everyone. So thank you to our family, friends and special ttc {trying to conceive} friends for being there and for continuing to be there for us.

 

Wearing a Mask

I was thinking back recently about the timing our pregnancy. As I’ve said before, the month we got pregnant, was by far one of the hardest in our infertility journey for me. Truthfully, I was probably at my breaking point and I wasn’t sure if the decisions we were making were the right ones. I was at an emotional all-time high.

I went to a retreat for a leadership program in early September. We were told to bring an artifact to share a personal story. The artifact had to mean something to us. Well, I couldn’t bring in my cats so that was out, {ha, kidding, but seriously…} but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to share part of our infertility story. That’s right, with all these new people, some of who I had only met once before. Maybe it was my ultra-emotional state and the fact that we were supposed to start IVF that month, but I decided to bring a sharps container. As we got ready to tell our stories around this campfire, I began to feel nervous. It was strange, because in all our years of infertility and telling our ‘story’ there had not been a lot of times when I felt nervous talking about it. When it came to be my turn, I stood up, a little shaky, and started talking, but I couldn’t find the words. Tears began to flow and I couldn’t stop them. I was embarrassed. This is ridiculous, I thought. How many times have you talked about this, Ashley? Why can’t you get this out right now? They were all kind enough to let me take a break and start over in a few again. This time, the words came out, although still slightly broken through some tears.

The group of people I now know as friends were all great. I received hugs, words of support and nothing but positive comments from every person. For some reason, I was thinking the other day about how this is one of the only times I’ve really broken down to a group of people I didn’t know incredibly well at the time, when talking about infertility. Truthfully, even to our friends and family, there weren’t many times I cried when talking about it. Sure, I cried to myself or Jordan, a lot. But to others? Not even when I wanted to sometimes. It’s not that I felt forced to be brave all the time, but I think I wanted to be. I wanted people to know that I was handling this ‘situation.’

And then it hit me. I had been wearing a mask. For years. I had put this figurative mask on, for all my friends, family and even strangers who sought advice from me. Sure, I had been vulnerable in my blog posts and Facebook posts. I posted pictures of me giving myself shots and wrote about the failure of our first IVF and the loss of our 4-week baby from our second IVF. I talked about it when asked. I shared details when I had them. But I still had a mask on so much of the time.

It made me realize, that many of us going through infertility, wear masks. Some of us are wearing full-face masks and some of us are wearing masks that might just cover our eyes and nose, but none the less, we are covering up part of ourselves because we’re scared, tired and often, feel alone, even when we’re not.

A part of me feels critical that I had a mask on for so long,  but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s okay. Infertility and loss are incredibly fierce battles. Sometimes we need masks to make it through the day. Not everyone wants to take off that mask. And not everyone even wants to take their mask off for social media or blog posts. For these reasons, I feel compelled to continue to write about infertility, even after pregnancy. I want others to know that they are not alone and that there are options.

I was recently asked by EmpowerHER, a website dedicated to women’s health and wellness, to write about a product called The Stork OTC,  which is an FDA- cleared device you can use at home to assist in your chances of becoming pregnant, and at first I thought, how am I to fit this in? But then it hit me. Not everyone is ready for IVF, IUIs or medicine, nor might they ever want to go in that direction. Trying to start a family is a very personal thing and the way each couple dealing with infertility goes about it, will be very different. Not everyone will want to ‘take off their mask’ and share with their world their IVF journey like I did, or even have to ask their doctor for that matter. And that’s okay. That’s where this pretty innovative product can come into play. It’s available without a prescription and might be just right for that person or couple.

If you’re reading this and struggling with infertility, you may want to know how this product works. If you’re a family member or friend, you may not care, so bear with me as I use some medical lingo and slightly uncomfortable words. 😉 Or go ahead and skip to the next paragraph. The Stork OTC uses a cervical cap insemination that enables the sperm to quickly bypass the vaginal tract and places the sperm as close as possible to the opening of the cervix, right where it needs to be to swim up through. Learn more here about how it works here and where to purchase. 

Sometimes, I wish I had fully taken my mask off before that day I shared at my retreat, but I have no regrets about how I’ve communicated our journey to becoming a family of three. I think I needed that masquerade mask to survive some days. And now that I’m showing my bare face, I can continue to open up more and write articles like this, that might just help someone else trudging their way through this tough journey.

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by EmpowerHER and The Stork OTC. Thank you for your support. 

 

 

Baby K Progress Report 3

*For my readers who are still climbing the uphill battle that is infertility, this post might be a trigger. Please skip if need be and as usual, I’ll continue writing about infertility as well in the future.*

Week? 30 weeks and 5 days! Less than 10 weeks until her due date. {HOW!?}

Feeling? Still having some sciatica pain, rib pain and back pain, but all in all pretty good. I do have some heartburn now no matter what I eat, but I still feel grateful in that I’ve really had a pretty good pregnancy symptoms wise.

Sleep? The weird dreams are back! I’ve been writing them down for fun. The baby is currently breech, with her bum directly on my bladder, so I get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom – a lot. But I’ve mastered tired walking to the bathroom in the dark now, ha!

Gender: Still girl!

Factor V Status? Still taking the baby aspirin and a blood thinner shot daily. We have continued to see the high risk OB, a little more often lately since I’m further along in my pregnancy. She’s still tiny, but she’s growing on a trend and that’s what is most important! They were slightly concerned about her abdominal circumference at first, but it’s been improving so as of our last ultrasound, the doctor is thinking that she’s just going to be a small baby because I’m a small person. As long as she continues to trend up in her weight and does not drop, we’re looking good! Right now she’s in the 29th percentile so she’ll probably be about 5-6 pounds when born. We will continue to go back for ultrasounds just to be sure since it’s our first pregnancy. We may also start weekly NSTs {fetal non-stress tests} after week 32, just as an extra precaution with the Factor V and small growth.

What We’re Up To: We’ve been working hard on the nursery lately. Okay, when I say we, I really mean Jordan. He’s done it all. I have shopped. Ha! We have it all painted now {white} and his Mom came over to help with that which was great! We also re-sanded and re-stained the hardwood floors and put in a new, bright white door. My Dad came over to help with that. Again, super grateful for that kind of help. Jordan hung new cordless blinds and we are getting trim put up and curtains this weekend. We hope to move the crib, dresser and chair in the room, too. That way I can start organizing and decorating. With less than 10 weeks, everything is going to happen pretty fast!

Here are the most recent bump photos {and yes, I’m behind!}

 

Baby K Progress Report 2

*For my readers who are still climbing the uphill battle that is infertility, this post might be a trigger. Please skip if need be and as usual, I’ll continue writing about infertility as well in the future.*

Feeling? Pretty good! I was blessed to have no real nausea during my early pregnancy stages. I’m feeling the changes in my belly size wise and added weight as I’m having some rib, back and sciatica pain, but all in all, I’m doing well and feeling really grateful to have made it this far and have a pregnancy with less symptoms than usual.

Sleep? The weird dreams have subsided a little bit, but I get up a couple times a night for a drink of water and to use the restroom. No big deal, though – I know sleep won’t be great when the baby gets here either!

Gender: Girl! And super shocked about it. Grandpa K is a little disappointed, but I think he’ll be okay eventually. 😉 {And yes, we’ve had a few ultrasounds so it’s most certainly a girl.}

Factor V Status? As of right now, I’m still on baby aspirin and a blood thinner shot and will be throughout the remainder of pregnancy. We are seeing a high risk OB for this specifically, every four weeks, who also performs our growth scans. Factor V can cause some babies to have some intrauterine growth restrictions. She’s tiny, but mighty and all looks well with her. Continued prayers that she keeps growing on a steady path and that the Factor V remains a non-issue.

 

Here are the most recent bump photos!

A Small Moment, A Big Impact

Recently, I was reflecting on how we spent last year’s New Year’s Eve. {Get ready, guys, because this time of year always makes me super nostalgic.} It was about 3 weeks after our failed IVF and other failed fertility treatments throughout the year, right after Christmas, which was admittedly hard last year and truthfully, I wasn’t sure I was actually in the mood to celebrate the holiday at all.

But, I got dressed up and we went out with some of our very favorite people. It was actually pretty great. A roaring 20’s theme with just the right amount of people and we all had seats {once you’re past college age, it’s important to have seats at the bar, ha!}. I remember the great decor, the 20s dances we all learned together, the dinner before hand, the champagne {which was a real treat considering I hadn’t been able to drink during or before IVF!}, but that’s not really what I ended up taking away from the whole night.

The clock struck midnight and we were all out on the dance floor celebrating. Auld Lang Syne was playing in the background and balloons dropped – the whole picturesque scene was sort of right out of a movie, but what I really remembered was the look one of my best friends gave me right before he hugged me. Maybe I had too much champagne at that point, but I was feeling slightly emotional knowing we were entering a new year. A new year that would be full of ups and downs, for both of us, that we weren’t yet even aware of. I was scared. I was scared of how things would turn out, but I didn’t want to say it. And I think he knew. Because the look he gave me said, “No matter what happens, it’s going to be okay. I’ve got your back. You can do this.” It was exactly what I needed. No words. Just a look and a hug that said, “I’m here.”

I just had this huge sense of relief. The night went on, we all had a blast and as the big group of us headed back to our hotel rooms, my friend and I stopped at the top of the escalator because we saw another party in one of their conference rooms. Looked like a wedding. So, we crashed it. We danced like freaking idiots on their dance floor and then ran out like fools laughing. I can’t remember the last time I laughed that hard in a while.

I don’t think I’ve ever told him this story to be honest. I don’t think I’ve told anyone. I don’t think he even knows what kind of impact those two moments had on me that night because they were small moments. But they helped me enter 2016 with some renewed hope. I knew that no matter what, we had some pretty great friends who had our backs through the good and the bad.

It’s absolutely true when they say sometimes it’s not what you say, but what you do. I didn’t need to really be told anything that night. A hug and a few crazy dances at a crashed wedding were it. If you have a friend or family member who is going through something similar, it’s not always about what you say. Because it’s hard to say the right things sometimes.

So give your friend a silent hug. Crash a wedding with them. Whatever it is, let them know you have their back. You have no idea the impact it might have on them.

And to my friend, thank you.

 

I Know Because I Remember

I’ve been thinking a lot about last year’s Christmas lately. We had just found  out our first IVF had failed, pretty massively. I was going through the motions. Trying to pick up the pieces and figure out what we were going to do next, all while trying to have a ‘happy’ Christmas. (Read: Where Are You Christmas, last year’s blog post.)

I also had no idea what was ahead. What was coming. How painful the next 9 months were going to be for us. I had no idea I’d be having surgery. Or that a second failed IVF and chemical pregnancy, with the recommendation of donor eggs from one doctor and possible mini cycles from another doctor, would lead us to being at what felt like the biggest crossroads of our fertility journey yet.

What I knew at the time, is how hard it was to watch families celebrate the holiday together at church. Or how much I wondered if that’d be us someday. How I would dream of opening presents with my someday child I had a hard time imagining. It was a year ago, but it seems like it was just yesterday, as cliche as that sounds. And I can remember the pain I felt pretty vividly.

For those who are experiencing another Christmas or holiday like I did last year or who are dealing with infertility or pregnancy loss, I know you’re going through the motions right now. I know you’re trying your best to seem happy. I know this time of year stirs up emotions that are painful and make you say, “what if?” over and over again. I know you’re wondering how you’re going to make small talk at a Christmas event because the weather and snow are trivial to what you’ve been experiencing in your life.

I know because I lived it. I know because I remember.

My heart is with you. I won’t forget to acknowledge you. I won’t forget what I’ve been through. I might have my Christmas miracle this year, but the past is a part of me, as is last Christmas.

In last year’s blog post, somehow I still had hope. I hoped that we’d have our miracle baby. And now, we do. It’s still jaw dropping to me that I’m 16 weeks pregnant. Next year, I’ll really be able to fill that stocking I talked about in the post.

And most of all, to those waiting, I hope you get to fill your little one’s stocking next year too. Sending all the love this holiday season.

Baby K Progress Report

*For my readers who are still climbing the uphill battle that is infertility, this post might be a trigger. Please skip if need be and as usual, I’ll continue writing about infertility as well in the future.*

I’ve been getting  a lot of questions about how I’m feeling, if I’m growing, etc. Which is great! I never thought I’d be in a position to answer those questions.

Feeling? Pretty good! I was blessed with little to no nausea. I have a new gag reflex happening, but all in all, good. I’m tired when I get home, but have a big burst of energy around 9 at night. Weird.

Sleep? Meh. Not well. I know, I know. I’ll never sleep again. {insert eye roll} let me live in denial as long as I want, okay? My dreams are insane. Insanely weird. Every damn night I dream something so detailed that sometimes I can even recall them.

Factor V Status? As of right now, I’m still on baby aspirin and a blood thinner shot and will be throughout the remainder of pregnancy. So far, so good. Please keep praying that the pregnancy stays this way. There’s a lot that could happen later down the road.

Here are some bump photos I’ve been taking along the way!