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.

Masculinity & My Infertility Journey

 

A few years ago, Kevin wrote a blog post for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association reflecting on the challenges of being a guy and dealing with infertility. Today, we are running an audio recording of his piece. In it, Kevin confronts a tough question for men dealing with infertility.

Men are expected to “grow up” and “take care of the family” but what happens when these traditional expectations cannot be reached?

Kevin with his wife.

Listen to him talk about coming to the realization that he may never see his wife pregnant, may never feel their baby kick inside of her.

You can read his full story here.

The Visual Minimal – Elisa’s Story

by Elisa Fox

Miscarriage – a word that was hardly part of my vocabulary. A word I never thought would apply to ME. That’s an “other” word. You know, those things that only happen to miscellaneous “other” people, like cancer, horrific car accidents, and house fires. An improbability, but now, part of my story.

I was 24, married for three years, and happily naïve. I found myself pregnant after a couple months of trying and we were thrilled! Though it seemed unreal, I continued onward with a secret and a grin and anxiously awaited my first ultrasound. I took a couple more pregnancy tests just to be sure, and those pretty pink lines reassured me every time.

Then, I started spotting. My heart sank. I frantically searched online for answers, something that would tell me this was normal. But somehow, I knew. I knew it was ending.

A few days later, I was no longer pregnant.

There was now no due date to anticipate.

An ultrasound appointment to cancel.

Announcement gifts to return… or hide… or throw away..

My grief was crippling and confusing. How could I feel this much grief over something so short?

I tried convincing myself that it was no big deal, we’ll try again in a couple weeks, and it was my own fault for getting excited so soon. I even tried to go to work the next morning.

The next few months (who am I kidding, the next year) were a blur of depression, isolation, and heartache. Was my pregnancy even real? Was it all just a dream? I had no morning sickness, no bump, no sonogram. I was in a fog and did not know how to comprehend what was happening. All I knew is that if I became pregnant again as quickly as possible, maybe I could forget this ever happened. I was obsessed with figuring out what was wrong with me, as if answers would heal my wounded heart. I started taking every vitamin I could find and demanded my doctor test me for multiple issues. It all came back fine, to my dismay. I just wanted an answer.

Everyone around me had no trouble getting and staying pregnant, why is this happening to me?

The isolation was suffocating. Not many people knew that I was pregnant, and if they did, it didn’t seem like they knew how to respond. “At least you were only six weeks”, or, my personal favorite, “at least you know you can get pregnant.” These statements were only obvious reminders that they have no idea what I’m going through. I stayed at home as much as possible because I was terrified of losing control of my emotions. I was so fragile. A pregnancy announcement or bump picture on Facebook would send me into a malfunction for the next several weeks. Well-meaning people could easily set me off into a tailspin of sadness without even realizing it.

The days passed and I did what I needed to do to function. I set niceties aside and focused on myself. Medication, unfollowing certain people on social media, seeing a counselor, and diving into art were all part of working through my grief. It took me a long time to accept that it was OK to grieve. I had nothing to show for my pregnancy, only memories. I felt like a fraud.

Over a year had passed since my miscarriage and I found the courage to attend a local support group for pregnancy & infant loss.

I shared my story when it was my turn and saying the story out loud from beginning to end was so therapeutic. I had replayed those dark days in my head over and over, but saying it out loud provided a type of release that I can’t explain. Seeing the other families there and knowing just by their presence that we had something in common was so comforting. Seeing mothers and fathers nodding their heads and shedding tears of empathy while I told my story was incredible and so validating. I’m not a fraud, I’m not alone, and I’m not the only one who has felt this way.

Mis-Conception

Around this time I opened an online shop for my art called The Visual Minimal. I am a full time graphic designer and began making artistic prints for my own home and memorial prints for the women I met in the support group. I made the Mis-Conception print to memorialize the loss of my pregnancy, a series of pink lines representing a pregnancy test that fades in and out. It served as a validating reminder that what I went through was real and profound. That print blossomed into an Infertility&Loss series that represents all spectrums of this journey. My hope is that these prints can serve as a beacon of hope that reminds you not only of your sweet baby, but that you’re not alone.

I created the Infertility&Loss series at The Visual Minimal as a reminder that the grief this journey can bring is overwhelming, but so is God’s promise that these dark days will pass. I believe art can speak to our souls in ways words simply cannot. I would love nothing more than to use the gifts God has given me to encourage other families going through the same trials that I have experienced.

Learn more about Elisa’s artwork at https://www.thevisualminimal.com and find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheVisualMinimal/

Love’s Conception – Third Party Reproduction

Tomiko Fraser Hines – Photo by Guy Viau

Learning you will need to turn to third party reproduction in order to have a chance at experiencing a pregnancy is a hard thing to wrap your head around. Tomiko Fraser Hines used the art of poetry to find healing.

We first learned of her poem, “Love’s Conception…For My Boys,”  during our National Infertility Awareness Week event in Los Angeles in 2015. Then, the next month, she recited it for us during an Advocacy Day mini interview in D.C. You can #listenup by playing the audio, or reading the poem below. Thank you, Tomiko, for sharing your story! We look forward to seeing you in Los Angeles when we are there for our Men’s Health Month event in June!

“I wrote this poem in November of 2012 when I was about seven months pregnant with the boys. I was in the midst of all of the concerns that come with the way they were conceived, which was via an anonymous egg donor. And, basically, that they would not have (to my knowledge, I’m not a scientist) but to my knowledge they wouldn’t have any of my genetics. So, I had a lot of concerns about that and I needed to find a way to come to peace with it. I write, and words just kind of come through me. I sat down and I wrote this poem for them, but also for me, and it’s called, Love’s conception… For My Boys and it goes a somethin’ like this…”

You won’t have my eyes, but you will benefit from my vision.
You won’t have my mouth, but I will teach you how to use your voice.
You won’t have my ears, but your listening will be finely tuned.
You won’t have my DNA, but my blood will forever nourish you.
You were not my conception, but I will birth greatness in you.
We won’t reflect each other on a physical level, yet we will mirror each other in wondrous ways.
I will guide you.
I will shape you.
I will encourage you.
I will free you.
I will love you.
Hello! My name is Tomiko, and I am your mother.

Undeniable Proof of Infertility – Memorializing a Journey

Traveling with this project, Elizabeth and I have had the privilege to listen and learn about all of you and your infertility stories. More recently, a few of you have been kind enough to share your stories and art with me for my dissertation “The ART of Infertility: A Community Project Rhetorically Conceiving Failed Fertility.” This dissertation emerged out of my collaborative partnership with Elizabeth and The ART of Infertility.

Being moved by meeting all of you, I sought to write a dissertation that did not scandalize infertility. Rather, I wanted to write a dissertation that honored the difficult journey we all need to endure because of infertility.  Simply, I wanted to share your stories and remind others that infertility matters. It may not be well-understood, but art can be a method to make visible the stories our infertile bodies carry.

As I finished writing my dissertation a few weeks ago, my body began to feel drained. Writing your stories, reflecting on my own infertility, the dissertation itself felt as if I had just given birth. Even my husband was exhausted! It has been an act of mental, emotional and financial labor — something many of us in the infertility world can understand. To memorialize this sense of fatigue, I created “72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof.” It sums up the 72 periods that have come and gone in the process of writing this dissertation. I share the piece below as an homage to my infertility journey, as well as a thank you to all of you who have influenced not only this piece of scholarship but who have shaped who I am today: A Strong, Infertile, Woman — now with a PhD — because of all of you.

72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof
Maria Novotny
acrylic on canvas

72 Tears: Undeniable Proof

I was young, 24 years-old, when I first encountered difficulties conceiving. Not ready to face the facts that I may need to undergo fertility treatments if I ever wanted to carry a child on my own, I decided to go to graduate school. It was my escape where I quietly hoped and prayed that by some magic power I would naturally become pregnant. Yet, as time passed on, I had to slowly face the fact that magic nor graduate school would make me become pregnant.

“72 Red Tears: Undeniable Proof” is a data-visualization of the six years, twelve months and 72 periods that serve as undeniable proof of my infertility. During the first few years, when I began my period tears would trickle down my face. I mourned the sadness that yet another month had passed without conception. However, as time passed and to hear the stories of others who have had to live with infertility, my own strength increased. No longer did every period begin with tears running down my face.

I made this piece shortly after I turned in my dissertation to my committee. It serves as an homage to the journey I have taken both professionally and personally as I work to make experiences of infertility better understood.

Infertile Enough?

Today I am dedicating the blog to National Infertility Awareness Week and to the launch of Justine Brooks Froelker’s latest book The Mother of Second Chances, based on her blog Ever Upward releasing on April 17th. For five weeks 25 amazing women will share their stories of infertility and loss as part of this incredible blog tour, because together we can shatter the stigma. 

Yesterday Jody shared her story and tomorrow we will hear from Heather at Beat Infertility. We would love for you to participate by sharing these posts far and wide. We’d especially love to see your own broken silence by sharing your own infertility story using the hastags: #NIAW, #infertility and #EverUpward. 

When I first started trying to conceive, I was convinced I would get pregnant immediately. When I didn’t, I wasn’t too concerned. I’d been on hormonal birth control for over a decade and it can take some time for cycles to return to normal. However, as time passed, I was feeling more and more anxious and isolated.

Having turned to a support group after my sister-in-law died, I felt like I needed one for infertility. However, I didn’t feel like I had suffered enough. I hadn’t even started taking Clomid yet. Surely the support group would include members who had been through far more than I had. Would they feel like I was making a big deal out of nothing? Did I belong there?

After a year or so, I took the plunge and attended my first group. What I learned was, that, even though there were individuals in my group who had been dealing with infertility for much longer than I had, came from different backgrounds, and were at various stages of treatment, the emotions that we had were the same. They understood me in a way that others could not.

Still, in our pain, it was easy for us to judge each other and for us to compare stories. I was in the two-week-wait of my first intrauterine insemination (IUI) when I went to that first meeting. I had insurance coverage for IUI, so my husband and I decided that we would do 3 or 4 before considering moving on to IVF.  It didn’t take long and it was time to make that decision.

I didn’t want to do IVF. I mean, no one WANTS to but I was really struggling with it. It was a tough decision. One that took me seven months in therapy to make. I was resentful of all the decisions infertility was forcing me to make. The average person decides they want to have a baby, throws birth control out the window, and before they have a chance to second guess things, is pregnant. Infertility requires us to make decisions at every turn and gives us time to doubt each decision we make.

My husband and I decided that doing one cycle of IVF was the right choice for us. Here are the meds from the retrieval and two resulting frozen embryo transfers. On display at the A/NT Gallery in Seattle, April 1 – 30, 2017.

One of the things I was struggling with the most was how others might perceive my desire to be a parent if I wasn’t willing to go to any length to become one. If I never tried IVF, and moved on to adoption or living child free after my four unsuccessful IUIs, would that make me a less infertile infertile? It was something that I joked about with my fellow support group attendees to try to ease the tension but it really wasn’t that funny.

Through therapy, I was able to come to a point where I was comfortable making the decision that I felt was best for me and for my family, even if others may judge it. Dealing with infertility taught me that no one can truly know what they will do in a situation until they are faced with it. And, the right decision for one person, will be completely the opposite for the next, and that’s okay. Just because a person wasn’t willing to exhaust every financial, physical, and emotional resource, doesn’t mean that they didn’t want to be a parent badly enough. There’s no giving up. Just choosing a new goal, based on the hand that we’ve been dealt.

Eight years after I first started trying to conceive, I haven’t completely resolved my infertility. I’m not sure if my story will end as a parent, or as someone living child free. However, I’ve found peace, and my own infertility success story, through my work with The ART of Infertility.

I no longer judge myself based on what others would think of me and that’s part of why it’s so important to me to collect and distribute diverse stories of infertility through the ART of IF oral history project. I had a choice to pursue IVF or not. However, so many people deal with financial infertility and IVF is not even an option. We don’t hear those stories and they are important.

We often hear the stories that end with a baby. However, not every infertility story ends that way and the stories that don’t are important.

Infertility doesn’t discriminate. It affects people from all races. However, as one African American woman we interviewed said, “Infertility doesn’t look like me, and that can be lonely.” The infertility stories of men and women of color are important.

Your story, no matter where you are in your journey, is important. So, please, if you are debating whether you are “infertile enough” to attend an infertility support group, you are. If you are wondering whether you’re a less infertile infertile because you are choosing adoption over IVF or drawing the line at third party reproduction, you’re not. Don’t let what others may think keep you from finding support. We all have to make our own decisions and do better to respect the decisions that others make. We are all in this together.