By Jenny Gallagher
I’m not a list maker. But 2 years into our attempts at having a child, with my head crammed full of thoughts and feeling like I would explode if I didn’t express them, I started to write. I started making a list of the worst moments I’d experienced as a result of infertility, with the expectation that by the time my husband and I were expecting, maybe I would have a Buzzfeed-style “Top 10 Worst Things about Infertility” list to look back on.
With our fertility journey still ongoing at 4 years, the list stands at 16, and I’m not sure when it will end. Not every moment makes the list. I don’t add the times I tear up when a pregnant woman sits next to me on a train. I don’t count the number of baby shower announcements I’ve put directly into the trash. Honestly, there’s too many of those moments to count. This list is reserved for the big ones, the moments that stop me in my tracks.
I imagine many of you will have had similar experiences: loved ones making insensitive remarks, or coworkers being oblivious to the invisible grief of infertility or pregnancy loss. Some of you will be deeper in the trenches, with more pregnancy losses, later miscarriages, or more years of infertility. We all have different journeys, and they are all hard.
But what I realized today as I was adding to the list (a close friend’s surprise pregnancy announcement) was that all the worst moments were times when I felt immense emotional pain. These weren’t times when I felt physical pain, although the hysterosalpingogram (HSG) was uncomfortable, my first egg retrieval was rough, and boy, some of those shots sting. But the memories of physical pain fade quickly. And I expected the physical pain. I signed consent forms for procedures acknowledging that I would experience pain.
That’s not what filled my list. The worst moments for me are those when I am so angry I can’t speak or so sad I sit on the floor and cry. I wasn’t ready for this emotional pain. I thought I was ready for it. I read blog posts about other people’s experiences and scoured message boards last updated in 2012. I read books on dealing with infertility-related stress and grief. I talked with infertile friends about their experiences. But it wasn’t enough.
As a result of infertility, I have been to depths of despair I didn’t think possible. I’ve sat in the bathroom at work and sobbed after getting a text message of a friend’s sonogram in the middle of the work day. I’ve left vacations early to bleed and mourn a chemical pregnancy at home. I’ve avoided certain clinic staff because of insensitive comments they’ve made to me. These emotionally painful moments are the ones that define my infertility journey.
And that’s not what I expected. Going into our first round of IVF, my biggest fear was giving myself shots. How was I going to stick myself with needles every day and every night for weeks on end? It was hard, and I was glad when it was over, but the bruises faded in a few days. These emotional pain memories don’t seem to fade as quickly. Will they ever go away? At this point, I don’t know. We are still on our journey, and we don’t know where it will take us. It could last another month, or five more years.
I’m sharing my story now, before we have an ending, because this was the type of story I couldn’t find online. I found lots of “infertility blogs” with banner images of beautiful children or pregnant women. And that’s not what I needed to see. I needed to see people still struggling like I was, like I am. People who are getting up every day and doing what they have to do to try to have a child. People who have found strength they didn’t know they had, people who are chasing a goal they don’t know if they will ever achieve, but they are going to try. And try and try and try.
A very beloved friend who is pregnant after IVF told me “It won’t work, it won’t work, and then it will work.” I hope she’s right. I hope we are one of the couples for whom it works. I hope we can take a photo of our precious baby in a “Worth the Wait” or a “Made with Love and Science” onesie. But I’m aware that we may never be. For now, with each month and each failure, we’re still adding scars, and I’m still adding to my list.
Jenny Gallagher lives near Boston, MA. She works in women’s health research and spends her free time running, swimming, and trying to finish the New York Times crossword.