By Lisa Reichmann
When my husband and I were in the midst of our struggles with infertility, I longed for the day that things would go back to “normal”: the day I could spend time with my friends who had babies, the day I could be genuinely happy when someone announced a pregnancy, the day I could resume my hobbies that took a back seat during our fertility treatments, the day we could travel without worrying about our treatment schedule, the day I wouldn’t feel like I was always on the “wrong” side of the statistics, the day I would get my eternal optimism back. I hoped that one day when, or more accurately if, we were successful, things would go back to normal.
Before we began our two-year odyssey through the world of ART, I was so carefree and positive. My friends jokingly referred to me as “little miss sunshine” because I always saw the good in any situation. I was thankful for a wonderful life—a loving husband, a supportive family, a broad network of friends, a rewarding job and most important, exceptional health. I enjoyed socializing with friends and meeting new people. I was a Type-A high achiever who believed that through hard work anything was possible. Even when we began our fertility treatments, I was optimistic that we would be successful very quickly.
Almost two years later, with two IUIs and five in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles under our belts and nothing to show for it, I had become a person I didn’t even recognize. I had withdrawn from friendships either because I didn’t want to disclose what we had been going through or because I didn’t get the support or reaction I was hoping for when I did. I avoided conversations with others who may have been trying to get pregnant for fear of hearing another “We’re pregnant!” announcement. My husband and I put off making vacation plans out of fear of a conflict with an upcoming treatment cycle.
I was sadly discouraged by the notion that no matter how hard I worked, how diligently I “studied,” or how perfectly I behaved, I still couldn’t get pregnant. I started to doubt myself and my self-worth. No longer was I the eternal optimist – I was now convinced that if something bad could happen, it would happen to me. Once outgoing, I now shunned social contact. I hated the changes I saw within myself, which just made me more depressed.
To make a long story short, our sixth IVF cycle (a last “Hail Mary” attempt) at an out-of-state clinic resulted in twins born in March 2006.
When we were in treatment I imagined having a child (or children) as a “cure” for infertility, and I assumed I would revert to the person I once was. Instead, I’ve come to realize that our experience with infertility fundamentally changed who I am, and has subsequently redefined what is normal for me.
My first clue to the permanent changes that had taken place came when we received the news that the beta (pregnancy blood test) was positive; we couldn’t even feel the elation and joy that should accompany that news. Rather, I held my breath and waited for the other shoe to drop. I researched every possible pregnancy complication and, as a result, was convinced I would have complications (my high-risk obsterician/gynecolgoist, bless his heart, was extremely patient with me). Before infertility I took good health for granted; now I was sure that I would fall into the miniscule percentage of pregnant women who have adverse outcomes. After a small scare at the very beginning of the pregnancy (upon which I assumed the worst possible outcome), I took disability leave from work so that I could stay on (self-imposed) bed rest the remainder of the pregnancy, just to be on the safe side. As an athlete used to training for and running marathons this was not an easy task, but in my mind it was entirely worth it.
In an effort to protect myself from becoming attached to a pregnancy that may not come to term, I would not allow myself to think of the two fetuses inside of me as babies—rather, I referred to them as “Twin A” and “Twin B,” up until their birth. I wouldn’t buy baby furniture or other baby supplies, as I was too afraid of tempting fate. I didn’t have a baby shower. Essentially, I spent my entire pregnancy in utter fear. Looking back, I’m sad that I wasn’t able to enjoy my pregnancy like my friends who had an easy time conceiving enjoyed theirs. They bought furniture when they were eight weeks pregnant and had multiple baby showers. I was holding my breath.
I sense I parent very differently than I would if I had not gone through infertility. Although I always pictured myself returning to work after having children, I decided to be a stay-at-home mother. Even though I loved my job and my co-workers, I just couldn’t imagine going into an office and leaving these children I worked so hard to have. I want to spend every second I can with them. I worry incessantly about the well-being of my children and obsess over absurd scenarios that might cause them harm; I am sure I would have worried plenty even without going through infertility, but my sense of fragility of life is so much more magnified due to my experience.
I find it very difficult to fit in with mothers who did not experience infertility. I just can’t relate when they complain about their children and talk about “going crazy” when they spend too much one-on-one time with their kids. I still feel a twinge of self-pity and jealousy when someone announces an easily conceived pregnancy. I still feel uncomfortable at baby showers, unless it’s a shower for someone I know who has experienced infertility. I still think of myself as infertile
Sometimes I wish I could be as carefree and naïve as I was before. But there’s not a chance I would go back and erase the whole experience. I’m definitely a different person, and some of that is manifested in positive ways. I am more appreciative, more realistic, and less frazzled by the “little things.” Infertility made me a stronger person, fortified my marriage, allowed me to meet some of the most admirable, supportive women I’ve ever known through RESOLVE and other infertility support organizations and, most important, brought us the two children who would not be here if it weren’t for our experience. This is my new normal.
Postscript: After writing this article, I found out that my husband and I had conceived “spontaneously,” and quite unexpectedly, especially given what we had gone through to conceive the first time. We are expecting our third child in November. One might think that this pregnancy has made me feel more “normal,” more like one of my “fertile” friends. Yet the truth is that even a spontaneous pregnancy cannot erase the experience of infertility. Rather, a spontaneous pregnancy puts someone like me in a very difficult position: I’m no longer infertile, yet I certainly don’t feel like I fit in with the fertile world. I still feel like I need support, but I worry that the infertility community I’ve come to feel most comfortable in will no longer view me as part of that community (luckily, so far my worries are unfounded and I have found nothing but support and encouragement). It is clear that no matter what happens after our experience with infertility, my perspective will always be shaped by that experience.
This article originally appeared in our Spring 2008 newsletter