Breastfeeding after IF – Natalie’s Story

August is National Breastfeeding Month. Breastfeeding may not be the first thing you think of when you hear the word infertility. However, there are a variety of ways that barriers to breastfeeding/breastmilk and the disease intersect. Throughout the month, we’ll spend some time exploring the topic. In today’s post, Natalie Higginbotham shares her experience with breastfeeding after infertility, including the challenges that she encountered due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This post does contain a picture of a baby and parenting. Thanks, Natalie, for sharing your story! 

Breastfeeding After Infertility
by Natalie Higginbotham

Soon after my son Atticus was first born, I remember a flurry of nurses and medical staff trying to help him breastfeed while I was in the recovery room. I had just come out of a cesarean section, and was very loopy from the medicine I was given to help relax. A nurse held an oxygen mask to my face telling me to take deep breaths since my blood oxygen level was taking longer than normal to come back up. All I could focus on was my new baby boy, trying to make sure he had the opportunity to breastfeed. One of the biggest concerns I had going into my c-section was the possibility of it negatively affecting my ability to nurse.

After I settled into my private room, one of the first nurses to visit us was a lactation consultant. We’d met once before in the Breastfeeding and Baby Basics Class. She came in and congratulated us. She proceeded to say how she was just in another mother’s room who was in the same boat as me. Apparently, polycystic ovarian syndrome  (PCOS) and c-section births do not coincide with an easy breastfeeding journey. Due to hormonal imbalances, some women with PCOS have difficulties maintaining an adequate milk supply. With so little going in my favor it was important she visit often during my hospital stay to give me the help I needed. She instructed me to pump after every feeding, and to pump every couple of hours – even in the middle of the night.

Luckily, my body responded well to all that pumping. My milk supply came in after I got home, and I seemed to have no issues nursing. I have a few friends who needed to stop nursing early on, due to the pain or other problems. I was so happy that overall, I didn’t really have any excruciating pain or issues that kept me from nursing Atticus.

Natalie and Atticus - Breastfeeding after InfertilityFor me, breastfeeding was about so much more than just feeding my baby. After years of not ovulating and abnormally long cycles from PCOS that led to failed cycle after cycle; breastfeeding was my opportunity to let my body do something right for once. As it turns out, my body finally knew what to do and did it well. I found it very rewarding to be able to nurse and bond with my long-wished-for baby. His conception and birth didn’t go as planned, but at least I was able to provide him with nourishment like I hoped for. I went from being angry at my broken parts to proud and happy with my body’s ability to do something right for once.

Coming up on fifteen months of our breastfeeding journey, infertility’s influence is still present. I am trying to wean my reluctant toddler. Nutritionally speaking, it is perfectly fine and he doesn’t need to nurse. However, he still very much relies on it for comfort. In a way, so do I. Breastfeeding my long-fought-for baby has been such a reward. The bond we built breastfeeding provides solace and mends all the brokenness infertility caused.

We want to begin another frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycle in hopes of giving him a sibling. I am not allowed to breastfeed while on the many different injections the cycle requires. Understandably so, I don’t want him pumped up with residual in-vitro fertilization medicine any more than I want to feed them into my own body. The pressure is on now to wean him.

I enter the end of our breastfeeding journey with some uneasy feelings. I worry that we will wean and go on to do our FET only for it to fail and weaning be all for not. I worry that he is the only baby I’ll get and I’ll regret weaning him sooner than he was ready. In a way, I don’t want it to end, because that means my baby isn’t a baby anymore. Watching my baby grow up is a strange mix of pure joy and heartbreak. Joy in seeing him thrive and heartbreak in missing the tiny cuddly newborn that is grew up way too fast. I’m savoring these final moments of nursing and my baby wavering into full on toddlerhood. Either way, I know I’ll look back on our breastfeeding journey with joy, happiness, and comfort in all it has meant to me after a three year long battle with infertility.

Read more about Natalie’s story at http://www.ivf-mama.com

Do you have a story of breastfeeding and infertility that you would like to share? Please contact us at info@artofinfertility.org.

My Donor Egg Baby Is Five

by Robin Silbergleid

Before I took the plunge into becoming a single mother via donor gametes, well-intentioned friends (and strangers on the internet) told me that once my son was born being his mother on a day-to-day level would eclipse DNA.  My doctor, on the other hand, cautiously warned me she had a patient who never managed to bond with her baby born of donor eggs.  Both these scenarios seemed unfathomable to me.  And, indeed, even as I loved him ferociously from the moment the second line came into focus on the home pregnancy test, for the first years of my son’s life, there wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t think about the years of fertility treatment and anxiety-ridden high risk pregnancy that followed, that I didn’t wonder about the egg donor who provided her DNA.

At some point that mental-spinning stopped.  It’s hard to know when.  But I suspect now, looking back, it was around the time my son turned four, after the fog of hormones and sleeplessness faded, when I published a book about IVF, started participating regularly with the ART of Infertility, and offered to donate my remaining embryos.

candles_lit5My son is now five, and daily I run the gamut of emotions that go along with being a mother to a preschooler.  Impatient that it’s taken a good fifteen minutes to get him into the bathtub. Anger that he’s thrown his shoes (for reasons only understood by small children) up to the ceiling to crash down on the lamp in our entryway.  Delight at helping him climb into a crabapple tree.  Pride that he gives his only dollar to the homeless woman at the entrance to the highway.  Nostalgia for those days I rocked him for hours in glider, at once grateful he existed and desperate for him to sleep.  Our relationship, as all mother-child relationships, is both extremely complicated and pure.

I have not yet told him about his origins, as he’s barely begun to ask about ‘how babies are made’ in the usual sense; using his best preschool fantasy, he’ll talk about how he was alive when I was a baby in grandma’s tummy.  In a more immediate way, we’ve needed to address the fact that he doesn’t have a father, although because we’re not at the sperm-meets-egg part of the story, even the term ‘donor’ hasn’t made it into our lexicon.

It’s not a big deal.  And, indeed, I rarely have the moment that I think about the fact that my relation to him is different than my relation to his sister, conceived the ‘easy’ way via unmedicated IUI.  But I am still caught off guard when someone who knows something, but not everything, of my story observes that this fair-haired boy looks a bit like me (huh?).  It’s in that moment I remember the kind-eyed woman smiling at me in the clinic waiting room for one of those too-early morning ultrasounds in the week leading up to IVF retrieval, the woman I’d never seen before in all the months I’d been there, the woman, as I remember, who, in fact, looks a great deal like my son.

I will never know who she is, as I deliberately worked with an anonymous donor and declined all but baby pictures.  She is not part of my family, although her generosity made it possible.  As my son grows, as that sperm-meets-egg moment recedes in its significance, I continue to rewrite our family narrative.  On my son’s birthday this year, the friend who accompanied me to embryo transfer and–exactly 37 weeks later– his birth, presented me with a black and white photo taken in the recovery room, where I held my swaddled newborn and my then seven-year-old daughter looked on with a soft smile.

This is not an argument for why you should do a donor egg cycle if you’re thinking about it, or even acknowledgment that those well-intentioned strangers were mostly right.  My thoughts on having a child via egg donation have changed many times, and I have no doubt that they will change again, as my son grows and asks questions and as working on ART of Infertility continues to reframe my own infertility story.  Now more than five years out, I can say the gift of infertility is in the relationships it made possible, and for that I am eternally grateful.

 

Audrey’s Perspective on Parenting after Infertility

We featured Chas’ blog on Tuesday. Today, we’re sharing his wife Audrey’s perspective on parenting after infertility. This post does contain images of babies and parenting. Thanks, Chas and Audrey, for sharing your story.
– Elizabeth

“My baby, my baby, my baby!” That’s all I could say after the midwife put Ella skin-to-skin with me right after she was born. I remember feeling Chas touching my head, and feeling Ella’s feet in my hand, and thinking I was still in a dream. Obviously throughout the whole pregnancy the goal was to get to this moment, but even in labor it still didn’t feel real that I was going to get to be a mommy.

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Because of our infertility journey I feel like we celebrated every single milestone with vigor. We had a gender reveal party, weekly bump pictures, 2 baby showers, maternity pictures, baseball games, a mother’s day trip to Disneyland, the whole shebang. We knew this was a gift, and we knew the fragility of it, so whatever we could celebrate we did. In that celebration though I realized I was losing a lot of the ladies I had become friends with through infertility.

Being in an infertility support group is a hard thing. You are there to shield yourself from the outside world of pregnancy, and babies, but unless you’ve chosen to live childless the whole group wants to be in that outside world. After our announcement I noticed a lot of people started to pull away, and I understood. My joy was their pain. I had been there. I had watched over and over again my infertility sisters become pregnant and deliver their miracles all while wondering when my turn would come. When you really delve into the community, so much of your identity is wrapped up in infertility, and trying to figure out how to balance your new future of parenting along with your past struggle to get to this point is tricky. When people would ask me how my pregnancy was going, and I told them I wasn’t feeling so well I was labeled as ungrateful.

I threw up my whole pregnancy. I don’t mean I had some morning sickness in the first trimester, I mean I carried the green vomit bags with me everywhere, went to the hospital for fluids, lost a lot of weight, and had a whole throw up routine with Chas (he would bring me water to rinse my mouth, and pull out little strips of toilette paper to wipe my face). I stopped telling a lot of people because every time I did the number one response I got was “you wanted this” or the always classic “be careful what you pray for”, and they were absolutely right. I had wanted this and prayed for this more than I had ever wanted anything, but the throwing my guts up wasn’t in the plan.

Once Ella was here my anxiety was at an all time high. For the first 2 weeks every day at 5:30 I would cry for half an hour. I was so mad at myself for experiencing baby blues because in my mind I had wanted this so much that my want for my daughter should overcome any hormonal changes that I was going through. I couldn’t put her down (which later developed into a nasty sleeping habit we had to break). Every time I would lay her in her bassinet to sleep I would feel guilty that she wasn’t in my arms. If I had worked that hard to have a baby then that baby was going to be in my arms! I needed help from Chas, but I didn’t know what he could do, or how to ask for it. It took a few months of developing a rhythm before things started to settle into our new normal. I had to let go of what things “should” look like, and comparing myself to other moms, and just let myself be the mom I wanted to be.

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Parenting is more everything than I thought it would be. It’s more love, more worrying, harder, more rewarding, more overwhelming, more joy, more nerve-wracking, and this list goes on. I always knew that I would love being a mommy, but I didn’t know how much I would love being Ella’s mommy. I look at her and think about the struggle it took for her to get here, and know that that struggle shaped Chas and I into the parents that she needed.

Parenting After Infertility – Reflections from Chas

This week, we’re running perspectives on parenting after infertility from Chas and Audrey, whose daughter, Ella, was born after their seventh IUI. Chas has been a guest blogger for us in the past and we’ll also be sharing his story at our event at The Turek Clinic in San Francisco on June 16th. We hope you’ll join us! We’re sharing Chas’ perspective’s today. Look for Audrey’s on Thursday. This post does contain an image of a baby and parenting. 
– Elizabeth 

“Enjoy it, it goes by so quick! Wait till she is a teenager!” I nod my head and give a faint smile just like I would with all the “just relax it will happen in time” advice we would get when we were trying to start our family.

I feel like there is no “after” infertility. It really never leaves you after you have gone through it. Infertility becomes a part of who you are as a person, a couple, and as a family. It will always be part of Ella’s story. I remember the exact day my wife triggered November 1st, 2014 at a friend’s house warming/Halloween party. I feel most couples who haven’t struggled to have their own family wouldn’t know that kind of thing. I also know the exact day my daughter was conceived November 3rd 2014 at Kaiser Vacaville with my wife wearing her fuzzy Halloween socks, and Northern California Walk of Hope shirt on our 7th and last IUI.

My wife and I gave so much of ourselves in our struggle to have a child I feel we are giving as much if not more of ourselves to be the best parents we can be. We don’t want to be just good parents, but the absolute best for our daughter. Parenthood has been a lot harder than I would have thought, but also so much more rewarding. I will admit that waking up at every single cry was a little bit of a struggle for me. My wife would attest to this fact, but those moments where it was just me, and my daughter alone when only I could soothe her will be forever etched in my memory. Her coos are what kept me going on those sleepless nights where I had to go to work the next morning.

Chas with newborn Ella, who was conceived on their seventh and final IUI.

Chas with newborn Ella, who was conceived on their seventh and final IUI.

Going back to work was rough for me. I just wanted to be home with the daughter we tried so long to have. I didn’t want to have a family just to be constantly away from them. I was jealous my wife was able to take close to 6 months off when Ella was born. I felt I missed so much in the 10 hours I was gone, and Ella was already a completely different little human when I got back home. Thank goodness we live in a digital age because if it wasn’t for FaceTime, and picture sending it would have been a lot harder than it was.

FMLA is amazing. Those 6 weeks I was able to be at home with my daughter were just pure bliss (except for the whole sleep training part). Being there every minute of every day is something I wish every father could have. It made me appreciate everything my wife had done during her 6 months off. Seeing Ella smile when I woke her up for the day would make me melt. I like to think I’m a tough guy but around my daughter I’m just a teddy bear.

I am thankful everyday that I get to be a father. I really didn’t think it was going to happen for me. Now that Ella is almost 9 months everyone asks, “So when is the next one coming?” Part of me wants to say Ella took 3 years of heartbreak and 7 IUI’s! I just want to enjoy her and all her little milestones. The other part of me is starting to think Ella would be an awesome big sister, and as she gets older I start to miss her baby stages. I know it won’t be easy but maybe lightning in a bottle (or syringe) can happen twice.

Secondary Infertility, and Infertility a Second Time

ART of IF’s Robin Silbergleid reflects on treatment after parenting.

Secondary Infertility, and Infertility a Second Time
by Robin Silbergleid

The summers of 2009 and 2010, my daughter was five (and then six), and I was in treatment to try to have a second child, the sibling she kept asking for.  What I remember of those summers:  too many Saturday morning ultrasounds, when we’d race back home for swimming lessons and I waited for a call from the nurse, calls that frequently came at ill-opportune times, like during a playdate at the park or in line at the grocery store.

It’s not that undergoing fertility treatment is really any harder when you have a child.  Infertility treatment is always awful.  But there are unique aspects to the situation—logistically, socially, and psychologically—that first time infertiles don’t generally encounter.

vectorstock_748761. Sometimes you have to be that woman who brings her kid to the fertility clinic. I will confess now that when I was trying for my first, I really resented that woman, especially if she had both husband and child in tow.  (Really…couldn’t the husband take the adorable kid somewhere else?!)  But as I came to understand while trying for number two, the rest of life doesn’t always stop for   infertility treatment, and sometimes the kid who exists in the world needs to come before the kid who isn’t conceived yet.  Sometimes you’re racing from the fertility clinic to swimming lessons.  Or, like me, you’re a single parent or parenting solo for the moment, and don’t really have much choice other than bring the kid or skip a cycle.  And sometimes your RE, who has a child the same age, asks your kid about her plans for the weekend while waving an ultrasound wand between your legs.  It’s complicated.

2. Sometimes you have to deal with the sibling question. It really sucks when you’re desperate to get pregnant, giving yourself daily injections in the midst of an IVF cycle, and your kid who really doesn’t know what you’re up to (other than you take a lot of medicine and go to the doctor a lot) keeps asking for a baby brother or sister.  You find yourself having difficult conversations about how sometimes even when you want a baby brother or sister, you can’t always have one.  Sometimes you need to explain diminished ovarian reserve or male-factor infertility in terms that a five-year-old can understand.  It would be incredibly funny, if it weren’t also so painful.

3. It’s harder to avoid babies and pregnant women when you’re doing family-related activities with kids. When I was in the thick of treatment, it felt like everyone around me was pregnant or pushing a new baby in a stroller.  While that might have been mostly perception, I’d also venture to say it’s hard to avoid new babies at preschool gatherings and zoos and swimming lessons and pediatricians’ offices and all the places you take little kids, and you can’t opt not to go, the way I avoided baby showers when I was trying for my first.

4. Perhaps the most paradoxical aspect of trying for a second child is that the longing is concrete rather than abstract. This statement is not to lessen the desires of patients struggling to conceive a first, but to point out it’s a different experience to imagine yourself parenting versus already knowing what it means for you individually to parent a child.  And if you are part of an infertility community—either online as I was, or through peer-led support groups IRL—you might feel guilt for wanting another.  You’ve already had your miracle…are you really asking for another?  But the desire to build a family, and the sense that yours isn’t complete, is no less real if you’re trying for two (or three) or number one.

Now I have that much-coveted second child who is now the age his sister was when I first started trying.  I think often about how much of her preschool and early elementary school years I missed, not because I wasn’t there, but because my head was often somewhere else…mulling over IVF success rates and donor profiles or in a progesterone-induced fog.  Even when I look at photographs of that time, I know what the images don’t show.

My Daughter Asks for a Baby Sister from the Tooth Fairy

In the photograph, she wears a yellow dress with a bow
to her preschool graduation; she stands
with her classmates and teacher, smiling wide.
She lost her first tooth last week.  I put it
in an envelope in my nightstand, where I keep
test results and baby socks, good luck charms.
I slipped a gold coin under her pillow while she slept.
Today I stand with the other mothers
with their babies in strollers, in slings, my uterus
a clenched fist.  I will not be having a child
in January.  I will not be having a child
before my daughter turns six.  Yesterday
my doctor scrawled recurrent pregnancy loss,
sent me for a blood draw.  This
is what I carry with me.  What I want
is to smash glass.  What I want is to drink myself
into oblivion.  But I take her out for ice cream,
go to the bathroom, change my pad.

Silbergleid_web_8169

Robin Silbergleid is the author of the recently-released poetry collection The Baby Book and the memoir Texas Girl both of which address issues of infertility, pregnancy loss, and single parenting.  She has also written two chapbooks Pas de Deux and Frida Kahlo, My Sister; her poems, essays, and scholarship can be found in a number of venues, online and in print.  Born and raised in Illinois, she holds both a PhD in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from Indiana University.   She is currently an associate professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Michigan State University. Robin frequently presents ART of Infertility writing workshops, conferences, and serves as a faculty advisor to interns. She lives in East Lansing, Michigan with her two children (and two cats).

#startasking About Parenting After Pregnancy Loss and Infertility – Lauren’s Perspective

Lauren of Rainbows & Unicorns, a site about parenting after pregnancy loss and infertility, reflects on mothering her daughter who was born after donor egg IVF. This story does include an image of parenting. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Lauren!

I scoop up my toddler and carry her upstairs to begin our bedtime routine. Diaper, pajamas, teeth, goodnight Daddy, books, and then — my favorite part — songs and cuddling.

She lies on my belly, her head against my chest. “Saaah!” When one song ends, she looks up and asks for another. And another. And another. Eventually my little ball of energy goes limp in my arms. I hold her for a few minutes, treasuring her chubby cheeks and the smell of her sweet, malty little head before kissing her goodnight until she wakes up to nurse at four in the morning.

Lauren with her daughter at bedtime.

Lauren with her daughter at bedtime.

Although singing the same limited repertoire until my throat hurts and not having more than a five-hour stretch of sleep for almost two years grate in different ways, I remember how it wasn’t always like this. In the tough moments — like trying to console a teething child having an hour-long exhaustion tantrum at 3 am — I somehow find inner strength. I get to do this.

I am a mother thanks to many people, including a younger mom who donated her eggs so that I could experience the same joy she felt when she held her son for the first time.

It wasn’t joy that I felt when I met my daughter. By then, I’d been through too much to let myself feel anything so big. After miscarriage, infertility, being told I would never have a healthy genetic child, and a high-risk pregnancy requiring me to deliver via planned cesarean, I couldn’t allow myself to believe that I was finally a mom. Not until I heard my daughter’s first cries. Not until I held her. Not until she was furiously suckling did it dawn on me that I was out of the trenches.

But am I really a regular parent now? Parenting after infertility is a strange place to be. As I like to describe it, “I’m no longer in the trenches, but I’m covered in mud.”

The grief of infertility is hard to remember. Like the face of someone you loved a long time ago, it’s hard to recollect its features in detail. That is, until a whiff of their perfume, or a pregnancy announcement, or an innocent remark from someone who has no idea why the question “When are you having another baby?” causes your heart to quietly crack a little.

“I’m no longer in the trenches, but I’m covered in mud.”

For many parents like me, we’ve left Infertility Island but we’re moored offshore somewhere else. Play dates with other parents — so many blissfully unaware of everything that can go wrong before, during, and after conception — can have moments that are hard to navigate. How do you relate to another parent who casually announces she plans to get pregnant in March so the baby is born before Christmas? What do you say when someone asks when you’re having another baby? How do you casually explain egg donation when asked where your daughter’s red hair comes from? In time, the answers come.

Don’t misunderstand; none of this is as hard as trying to have a baby. But when you’re a graduating member of a club you never wanted to join, you’re caught between two worlds: the one you had to leave once your child arrived; and the other everyone else assumes you’re in.

I have my “rainbow unicorn” (if a “rainbow” is a baby born after loss, I surmised one born after infertility would be a “unicorn”) and she fills my days with more joy than I thought possible. But joy and pain aren’t mutually exclusive. What a lot of people don’t realize is that having a baby resolves childlessness — not infertility.

You’re caught between two worlds: the one you had to leave once your child arrived; and the other everyone else assumes you’re in.

Even though we’re parents, we’re still infertile. Unless we fall into a small lucky statistic of spontaneously conceiving after infertility, if we want a second or third child we will have to submit to the invasive, sometimes painful, and always expensive tests and protocols we endured a few years before — this is equally true whether you do infertility treatment or adopt.

If we want a second child, we’re lucky to have eight chromosomally normal frozen embryos to choose from. All we have to do is pick a date for transfer. Most of my infertile comrades don’t have leftover embryos, either because they didn’t do IVF or, if they did, they didn’t have any embryos left over. It struck me the other week that some of my friends are going to have to go through the whole TTC thing all over again. They have my full support and admiration.

For me, parenting after infertility has given me some unexpected blessings. First and foremost, I have this amazing little girl in my life. She’s affectionate, smart, talkative, mischievous, and healthy. We might not share DNA, but we share a sense of humor, a love of Marmite, a dislike of tomatoes, and we’re both pretty tall with big feet. Most importantly, she’s here, and she couldn’t have been created any other way. My journey to motherhood was filled with more pain than I thought I could bear, but I’d do it all over again to have this sweet child that I get to call my daughter.

Eighteen months into this parenting gig, I am more or less at peace with a whole lot of stuff that I never thought I’d be able to accept.

I have a chromosome disorder which means genetic children aren’t possible, so I chose egg donation to build my family. I can say that openly and joyfully now that I’m a parent. I can be open about the way my daughter was conceived because the irrational shame of not being able to reproduce has dissipated.

Breastfeeding has been tremendously healing in this respect. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was surprised that it came to me so easily. Being able to feed my daughter they way I hoped has restored faith in my otherwise broken body. My body can’t make a baby that will live, but it’s pretty damn good at growing and feeding them!

Over the last year and a half, I’ve spent days looking into my nursing daughter’s beautiful eyes fixed on my face — the same eyes I admired in our donor. Not recognizing any of my family of origin’s features in my daughter was, at first, strange. Sometimes she looks like her dad, sometimes she looks like our donor. To my surprise, I like seeing our donor’s influence. It’s reassuring to see something of the special woman I chose to replace my DNA reflected in my daughter.

Eighteen months into this parenting gig, I am more or less at peace with a whole lot of stuff that I never thought I’d be able to accept.

You might say I had a crash course in comfort levels, though. My daughter’s hair is a deep red, and every time we’re out three people, on average, stop us to admiringly ask if red hair runs in my family. At first the question made me wince. I didn’t know how to answer the question without also sharing the circumstances of my kid’s conception. I’ve got good at saying, “Nope! But isn’t it beautiful?” When pressed, I explain, “Red hair is a recessive gene, which means both genetic parties have to carry it.” In this way, I’m able to acknowledge my daughter’s genetic origins while not divulging too much to a stranger if I don’t feel like it.

I guess that’s what parenthood is about: constantly being surprised and having to readjust expectations, all the while practicing patience, kindness, and even finding the funny side when something’s gone wrong.

And in that sense, my infertility journey prepared me well.

Lauren is a mother via egg donation, after miscarriage, infertility, and a massive postpartum hemorrhage. She is a writer, editor, and designer at Rainbows-Unicorns.com, a community blog for parenting after pregnancy loss and infertility. Originally from London, Lauren lives in San Diego with her husband and their toddler. Follow her on Twitter at @DEIVFmama.

 

#startasking about Parenting after Infertility – Candace’s Story

Today, we’re taking a bit of a risk and giving you a news feed full of stories reflecting on the joys and struggles of parenting after infertility. We wouldn’t normally post so many stories in one day (that’s the risky part). However, when we interview people who have “resolved” their infertility, even if decades before, a theme that comes up time and time again is the long lasting effects of infertility. Having a child, whether through treatment or adoption, means becoming a parent. It’s not a cure for infertility. 

So, we’ve invited several parents after infertility to share their experiences with us today. First up, Candace Wohl of Our Misconception. Candace is an amazing infertility advocate and it was through her sharing her own story on MTV’s True Life, that I was able to really start grieving my own traumatic IVF procedure and subsequent miscarriage. I’ll forever be grateful to her for sharing and am honored to bring you more of her story through our first post of the day. This post does contain an image of a child.

Elizabeth

Parenting After Infertility 

by Candace Wohl

For National Infertility Awareness Week I thought I would expose a raw topic that some of us really do not talk about. We are even more ashamed to mention it. Somewhere tangled and twisted in the kudzu vines of our infertility, we hold it in. Funny how I am so open to talk about everything from my broken lady bits to reproductive injustice but this, THIS topic is hard.

For the first time, I had been asked to share my thoughts on something I am terrified to talk about. The ART of IF wanted to #StartAsking about parenting AFTER infertility. Not the beautiful bouncing baby part, but what people may not know.

It took 7 years before I became a mother through the gift of surrogacy.  I remember waking up at 12:22 am on my first Mother’s Day to the cry of my baby in tears, asking for “momma.” It was the first time I heard it and I felt like I had waited my whole life to hear that one single word. I sat in the rocker for hours that night sobbing tears of joy as I held her while she slept thanking the powers that be that brought us together.

The next day I felt guilty.

There is so much more to peel back and reveal about the aftershock of infertility that tends to happen to the 1 in 8 that finally become moms.  Many think once you get to the other side of the ever evasive Promised Land of Motherhood, that everything, the heartache, the desperation, the loneliness will vanish. When your miracle baby is placed in your arms all is washed clean and the curse is lifted like a passing dark cloud.  For me, I can say that some of this faded but it was still there.

Wohl-Family-0039We openly fundraised and shared our story. My infertility was no secret and our financial infertility was what stood in the way of us having a family.  Strangers, friends and family did everything imaginable to help us. The birth of our daughter was one of hope and beating odds and she was a headline baby. Shortly after our daughter was born, I started feeling an overwhelming sence of pressure. It was all internal, not once provoked by anyone. There was this irrational and totally self-imposed expectation to be the flawless Donna Reed example of motherhood. This is what I have wanted for so long right? I felt like everyone was watching every move I made from how I interact with her to what type of diapers she wore, things like choosing homemade baby food versus jarred, I even stressed over the type of cleaner I would use in the house.

There were so many people who wanted this for us and there are millions, (7.4) who want to be in our shoes.  Infertile guilt sets in. These thoughts play in my head daily:

How can I be frustrated at 3 am when I’m covered in vomit? Someone right now is praying for this.

My kid just pinched the living crap out of another kid at the park, the other mom probably thinks I do not discipline because she is an only child and I am a parent after infertility.  

I feel like a horrible mom for handing over our daughter on a bad day, as soon as my husband comes home from work so I can leave the house for an hour to decompress.

I wanted this so badly and I am failing everyone around me.

These thoughts, this great feeling of social pressure, although I know is self-induced is part of my infertility. I don’t quite fit in with the fertile moms at the playground because my perspective is different. I don’t always fit in with the women who are still working on their first set of double lines, because I do have a child now and I am afraid to share my joy because I was once there and understand the painful uncertainty. It’s a lonely feeling.

For those who know me, I am really positive person.  I’ll take a steamy pile of poo and figure out how to make it into a less-steamy, more gold-like poo-casso. That has not left me. But I am scarred both physically and mentally. The infertility PTSD is there, just repressed now that my whole world was changing. I am able to finally hit the play button on my future which I had felt had been on pause for so long. Still though, that song that was on repeat for so many years titled, “You can’t have a baby because something is wrong with you” still plays in my mind.  With that playing and a new song, “Don’t be anything less than 100% grateful and a perfect mom … this is what you prayed for” it can sometimes be tough to remember that, being human means not being perfect.  It means messing up every once in a while, listening to that voice that says, “Damn, I just washed those sheets.”  Being human means, I/we are capable of feeling all of these emotions, no matter how contradictory, at one time. I am glad ART of IF decided to #StartAsking about Parenting After Infertility, they exposed this other side of me that I thought it best to just hide under my bed of feels.   Although this isn’t the fairytale painting of a picture for this very broad topic of parenting after infertility, I know it is the painting I am supposed to be a part of and I wouldn’t change a single brush-stroke in it.

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From Infertility to Fatherhood – My Journey So Far

This week’s blog is a guest post by Fred Harlan. We want to disclose a trigger warning, which is something we will do from here on out when we feel it’s needed, that this post does include images of a baby and of parenting. Fred and his wife Andrea are ART of Infertility project participants who we met in Southern California. They shared their story with us via an interview and also attended our pop-up art exhibit and workshops in Calabasas during National Infertility Awareness Week this year. Thanks, Fred, for sharing your family’s story!

From Infertility to Fatherhood – My Journey So Far

I am going to tell you something that I always hated to hear. At least, I used to at a point in time in my life. My wife and I were far along down that lonely path we were traveling in the midst of our infertility journey. The meandering road had become increasingly dark and dank. It was becoming more apparent that the chances of a successful IVF cycle using my wife’s eggs and my sperm was unlikely. Some people in our lives would say the obvious thought to them, and insensitive comment to us, that we could “always adopt.” Even the medical and therapeutic people that we sought out had begun to talk to us about “other options” to parenthood. I simply wasn’t ready to hear it, let alone think about it.

As time passed reality crept in. After many failed procedures, buckets of tears and a ton of soul searching, my wife and I eventually came to the realization that some how, some way, we really wanted to have a child. In order to make that happen we slowly began to look into other possible options. Now, after eight plus years of infertility and 10 months of fatherhood what I want to tell you is this: regardless of how long you have been battling or the reasons for your infertility, that if you are resolved in your desire to have a child no matter what, my message of hope is that there is a way. It may not be the way to parenthood that you envisioned but there are paths that can take you there. Not all roads are available to everyone for various reasons – emotional, cultural, religious or financial. But I know there is a potential path(s) available to everyone. You just have to be in a place along your own journey to be open to consider other possibilities.

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Fred and Andrea during their ART of IF photo session.

Ten months ago my son, Gehrig, came into our lives. He was born of my wife’s womb, my sperm and a donor’s egg. Being his father is a joy that is incomparable to any other, a reality that I still almost cannot believe and an opportunity, considering the circumstances, which I long thought I never would consider. Like I was saying, my wife and I decided that parenthood was what we definitely wanted. However, with each failed IVF cycle the medical opinion increasing appeared evident that the quality of my wife’s eggs was our challenge. Knowing my wife’s heartache and my wanting to always tackle infertility as a team, I suggested to my wife that our future child should be either “both of ours or neither of ours” genetically.  Honestly, I couldn’t imagine how I would feel had the circumstances been that of our future child being biologically hers and not mine, so I didn’t want her to have to imagine it either.

Egg donation seemed so unnatural, so complicated and so not us. We didn’t want to be “one of those couples.” Besides, there were so many questions that came along with egg donation. Would my wife be able to completely accept and love a child that was not biologically her own? Would the donor want to be a part of his and our life? What if he doesn’t look like us, and then what would we say when asked, “whom does he look like?” What would we tell family and friends? And what if years down the road our son had a health issue and would benefit from knowing detailed medical history? And the really big question: what would we tell our son? Although we knew several people who had chosen the egg donor route and were very happy with their choice, it just didn’t feel like the right option for us. So we closed the door on this alternative and proceeded in educating ourselves on the different avenues of adoption, including that of embryo adoption. During this time my wife realized that the concept of being pregnant and carrying a child was extremely important to her, especially considering her doctors believed she would be able to carry a child. So it appeared that embryo adoption was the answer that life was steering us toward. At least that is what we thought until a comedy of errors (a story for another day) resulted in my wife’s sister volunteering to be a surrogate or give us her eggs or whatever we needed, led us to think about egg donation one more time. It was during this period that I realized that having a child who was biologically mine was more important than I had allowed myself to think. Another series of events led us to our eventual donor (another story for another day) and the rest as they say is history.

Looking back on everything we went through I have one more thing to say that someone struggling with infertility may not want to hear either, and I understand why – I was in your shoes. But now I need to say it, I have to say it, because it is my truth. I would not change a thing. At least not if it meant I wouldn’t have Gehrig today. If you told me ten years ago, “Fred, I have good news for you and I have bad news. The bad news is that you are going to go to hell and back again and again and again in your attempt to become a father. You are going to doubt yourself as a man, a person and as a husband. You and your wife are going to go through heartbreak after heartache, and you are going to have to be the rock that supports your wife all while you can barely stand on your own. You will doubt your dreams, your wife, your faith and life itself. You will sit in the depths of despair that appear to have no escape, no hope and no resolve. However, at the end you will be given an amazing little boy to love!” Knowing everything that I know today, I would sign up for that in a New York minute.

We have all heard some variation of the motivational phrase, “Life is not a destination, it’s a journey.” I always wanted to believe that was true but some how never found a way to make it work in my life. Stress and frustration seemed to win out more than I would have liked. Then one afternoon, after my wife and I participated in a vision board workshop – an activity hosted and encouraged by our infertility counselor – in order to assist us in visualizing the life for which we hoped, I realized my board was not complete. I had one picture with a saying to represent my life’s journey that simply was not ringing true for me. In fact, it was pretty lame. So decided to scour the Internet for an image that would adequately represent my life’s road. Beaches speak to me and as I scanned many coastal images I came across one. As soon as I saw it I know my vision board was complete. It was the picture of foam-crested waves gently meeting the sand in which were inscribed the following words: “The journey is the reward.” That rephrasing of all those old Successories/Sky Mall posters spoke to me differently somehow. I didn’t know it exactly at the time, but now I do. And as I look at that photo posted on my desk as I type, I can say that my journey is indeed my reward.

Fred shares a vision board that his wife, Andrea, made during their journey at the ART of IF pop up exhibit and workshops in Calabasas, CA during National Infertility Awareness Week in 2015. Photo by Chrystal Starr Photography.

Fred shares a vision board that his wife, Andrea, made during their journey at the ART of IF pop up exhibit and workshops in Calabasas, CA during National Infertility Awareness Week in 2015. Photo by Chrystal Starr Photography.

I often speak about infertility as a journey. Each couple, each person who is faced with the disease goes through similar experiences and yet at the same time a journey all her or his own. I did not realize it as I was going through it – how could I, it was just too emotional, too raw – but in retrospect, I realize that I was being prepared for what life had in store for me – not just to be a father, but to be a father to this little boy, here and now. I have always wanted to be a dad, and had I become one earlier in life I’m sure that I would have relished it and been a good one. However, becoming a parent at this point in my life I know that I am so much better prepared for fatherhood than I would have as a younger man. I am more grounded, more secure emotionally and less anxious. I am not missing as much time with Gehrig as I am sure that I would have years ago while building a previous business. I am home more and with Gehrig frequently despite building a new practice. I’m often the lone dad in the “Mommy and Me” new parent classes.

The dad I am today is not solely because of the length of time it took to become one, but also as a direct result from my infertility journey. For example, I am more patient and flexible than I used to be. This is a benefit to Gehrig but also to Andrea as we parent him together. Also, the perfectionist that I am has been able to let go of having to do things in a specific “right” way and being tied to specific outcomes. When Gehrig didn’t nurse right away I didn’t panic (don’t ask me about my wife), rather we sought help. He turned into a nursing machine. When Gehrig didn’t crawl when he should have we enjoyed what he was doing (rolling everywhere) and asked for advice. Now Gehrig is on the move. Had I been a parent years ago I would have been looking at the situation thinking: “what is wrong with my kid!”

Once we found out that Andrea’s pregnancy was viable I made up my mind that I would “take it all” – I would change every dirty diaper, listen to every cry, dry every tear and wipe up every spit up with a smile on my face. I laugh when I fly Gehrig over my head like Superman and he drools on my shirt, my glasses or even my mouth. I do not care. No, that is not true – actually I care a lot, in fact I love it. He is my son and I waited too long and tried too hard to have him to not enjoy every moment. And I have learned that some of the best moments are the simplest, such as at the end of the day when I am rocking him to sleep. His head lays on my shoulder and has he surrenders to sleep his neck gives way to the weight of his head which nestles into the nape of my neck. I continue to rock him for another ten minutes or so to ensure he is asleep, but mostly because that time is priceless to me. Each and every night I think to myself how life prepared me those moments, and I’m so grateful that I’m not missing a second of it by simply hurrying to get my son to bed.

Fred, Gehrig, and Andrea during their ART of IF photo session.

Fred, Gehrig, and Andrea during their ART of IF photo session.

 

You may be saying, “well, that is great for you Fred, you are one of the lucky ones, you were able to have a biological child. What about your wife? What about all the people who are not able to have a biological child?” My response is this: those are fair questions and it is reasonable to ask them. It is important to note that during the process of choosing egg donation, I grieved significantly for the child that I always thought Andrea and I would have together. In the end perhaps I am lucky – I am definitely fortunate – or perhaps we made our own luck to opening ourselves up to other possibilities to parenthood. This is not a commercial for egg donation or parenthood, rather it is intended to inspire hope in infertile couples who have definitely decided or are at least thinking they still want to be parents some how, some way. And as for my wife, she feels pretty fortunate herself. She will tell you, what I will tell you, that Gehrig is 100% hers. She carried him in her womb, feeds him from her breast and is a completely devoted mother in raising him and that is what is important to her. Likewise, I know many people who have adopted newborns, babies, children and even embryos, and all without fail will tell you that their child is indeed their child and was from the moment that child entered their lives. At the end of the day it is the emotional bond that matters, not the means by which the child arrived in your life.

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I wholeheartedly believe that Andrea and I were meant to be parents, and once we figured out that part, life opened new opportunities for us to become so. I also believe that my son was meant to be and meant to be in our lives at this moment in time. He didn’t come to us the way we thought he would, but that no longer is a concern. Years ago it was difficult to think about, let alone see, that life’s journey was preparing me, actually all three of us, not for the live we envisioned, but the life we were meant to live.1 That’s my journey – so far.

1A variation of a quote by Joseph Campbell.

Fred Harlan, MA2 is a resourceful Marriage and Family Therapist Intern who works with couples and individuals on relationship issues, and men and couples coping with infertility (theirs or their partner’s). Fred holds Master’s Degrees in Clinical Psychology and Speech Communication. Fred@FredHarlan.net.

Living and Writing in the Aftermath

Today we have a guest post from Robin Silbergleid. Thanks, Robin, for blogging for us this week! Robin is teaching a writing workshop, Women Write the Body, for us on June 14th in East Lansing, MI. Here’s a link to the workshop details. Please consider joining us! 

Living and Writing in the Aftermath

By Robin Silbergleid

This is how it goes. I’m at a school function for my eleven-year-old daughter. The auditorium clamors with families. A woman rushes by, tugging a toddler’s hand, an infant in a front carrier. On the stage, a teacher is visibly pregnant. My son, age three, draws a picture, asks when the show, which hasn’t started yet, is going to be over. Behind us, a baby fusses.

And somehow, I’m mentally spinning, back to the April four years ago when it looked certain that I would miscarry yet again.

It’s such an odd mix of emotions that hits me at these times: gratitude for having the children I do, and that old longing and fear. I won’t have another child. Won’t experience pregnancy again, the thrill of two pink lines on a home test, the faint rustle of a fetus at ten weeks.

I kiss the top of my son’s head. Watch my daughter rush past, holding a flag that says Texas, the state of her birth, so quickly I can’t snap a picture to preserve the moment.

*

I didn’t set out to make a career writing about infertility and pregnancy loss. But, as I’ve said in other contexts, I began my professional life the same time I started the journey (oh so innocently!) toward single motherhood via anonymous sperm donation. And I was so profoundly changed by those long months of blood draws, ultrasounds, and injections that for a long time I couldn’t write about anything else.

To borrow a phrase from poet Carolyn Forche, we all live in the aftermath of what has happened to us.

It’s been four years since I walked out of the clinic with a gritty ultrasound photo and a hug from my doctor. I am, all things considered, a “success” story. I have the second child I so desperately wanted. He’s now a chatty three-year-old obsessed with Elsa from Frozen, equally happy to wear blue fingernail polish or dig for worms on the playground.

And, to be fair, most of the time I’m so busy with the work of parenting and exhausted from chronic sleep deprivation that I don’t have much time to think about the failings of my ovaries or the uterus my ob/gyn described as ‘hostile’.

But all it takes is a certain song on the radio, or driving down I-96, or finding an alcohol wipe in my backpack, or heaven forbid a letter from the clinic, and I’m there. What if I’d started trying a few months earlier? What if I’d done IVF at a different clinic? What if I’d chosen to transfer one and not two? What if I’d waited one more month? What if.

It’s not so raw anymore, the way it was in those hormone-addled days of high risk pregnancy, breastfeeding, and new motherhood. But, as writer Melissa Ford has so rightly said, resolving childlessness is not the same as resolving infertility. And there’s no question: infertility has been a defining experience my adult life, both personally and professionally. I see it every time I look at my son, with the blue eyes and light hair he clearly did not inherit from me.

Writing has offered me a way to process those experiences, in all their complexity. My writing about infertility has gone from unprocessed scribbles written in a waiting room to poems with diagnostic codes, rants and thank yous. I’ve written now a memoir and a full-length collection of poems about infertility and loss, on top of numerous shorter essays. And while I do not think that writing is in and of itself therapeutic, over the long run writing has provided me with the language and narrative to make sense of what I’ve experienced, to reframe it and work through it. Beyond that, sharing my story, and reading and listening to the stories of other women with similar experiences, has led to enduring connections and relationships. We are reclaiming our bodies and our selves, one word at a time.

Robin Silbergleid is the author of the memoir Texas Girl and the chapbooks Pas de Deux and Frida Kahlo, My Sister. Her collection of about infertility treatment The Baby Book is forthcoming in November 2015 by CavanKerry Press. She lives, writes, teaches, and mothers in East Lansing, Michigan. You can find her online on Twitter @RSilbergleid or at robinsilbergleid.com.