The Fight for Fertility: Shattering the Shame and Stigma

One Woman's Journey to Conceiving


I always knew at a very young age that I was meant to be a mother. I was constantly babysitting the neighbors' kids and my many cousins. I was nicknamed "mother" by friends I watched after, protected, and cared for on our nights out.


I have always been the designated keeper to those I love, taking pride in ensuring that everyone was well cared for. It was natural to me. No one had to ask me to take care of them or teach me how; it was in me. It's who I am.


The first time I was pregnant, it was a wonderful experience. I loved the fantastic feeling of my son moving in my stomach and feeling him kick. But there are no words to describe the feelings I experienced when I held my baby boy for the first time. I was overcome with emotions thinking about how surreal giving birth was. I looked at this little angel, perfect and beautiful, and all I could think was, he's mine. I wept with such happiness.


When our baby boy turned two, my husband and I decided to start trying for another child.


We always knew we wanted a sibling for our son. Sadly, this time around would prove to be much more complicated than the first. The idea of expanding our family went from a joyous occasion to something that mentally and emotionally tormented us. No one warns you of what the stress of infertility can do to a marriage. Trying for a baby with no success can put a strain on even the most solid relationship.


Sex goes from being shared intimacy to something that has to be timed perfectly in the ovulation window (sexy, right?). The following 28-30 days between ovulation and your scheduled period are unimaginable. The only thing you can do is sit in anxiety and worry, wondering if this time it worked. You drive yourself crazy, not knowing what the problem is. You wrestle with the thoughts of inadequacy. You feel like a failure.


The worst feeling is watching your period come and go, month after month, year after year. It's heartbreaking.


As we grow up, we are taught or scared into thinking that having sex or even kissing will cause us to get pregnant, but it's never really explained what we should expect in the future. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. I wish it were that simple.


Here are some facts about pregnancy and infertility.


Startlingly, Winnie Palmer Hospital says 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage.


Equally concerning, www.reproductivefacts.org reports that our egg levels drop dramatically by the age of 35, and we can lose as many as 1,000 eggs per month--this means that there is usually only one good egg available for fertilization.


So, a young, healthy couple trying to convince only has a 25% chance of getting pregnant.


The million-dollar question is, where does that leave the rest of us who are having issues?


Infertility is more common than you think. But, sadly, it's smothered in this blanket of silence, and no one wants to talk about it. There's a shame that is attached to infertility. The stigma and humiliation keep women suffering in silence.


Why is my body unable to do what it was made for?


The feeling of inadequacy is a recurring thought of women like me; we are not failures and not broke. The fact is, infertility is an issue that needs attention. Women need education about the cause of infertility and what options are available.

Several factors can cause infertility, including PCOS, Endometriosis, fibroids, low ovarian reserve, and many other conditions. However, these issues do not account for male reproduction concerns such as low sperm count.


The ray of light in all of this darkness is that there is hope. There are options, but it's a long, painful, emotional journey for those who go down that path. I hope to share my journey to encourage any woman who is battling infertility.


Here's my story:

I am starting my secondary infertility journey with low ovarian reserve at 34 years old. We opted to seek outside medical intervention after three years of trying and one miscarriage. I was suffering from what is commonly known as secondary infertility. Secondary infertility is when you cannot become pregnant or carry a baby to term after having a successful pregnancy.


I had never even heard this term until I started doing my research.

At this time, I had one successful pregnancy, which has given me my amazing 4-year-old son.


The first time around, I noticed that I wasn't getting my period almost immediately after I stopped birth control. Initially, I wasn't concerned about it. I assumed that it would take time for my body to regulate after being on birth control for so many years. Time passed, and I decided to mention this to my primary physician. They, of course, drew labs and determined I had an elevated prolactin hormone level.


My doctor conducted an MRI and confirmed that I was suffering from a hormone-secreting pituitary tumor. Fortunately, the tumor was small enough that it was not affecting me in any way other than my hormone levels. Once that was normalized with medication, I was pregnant within months.


Despite having a hormone-secreting tumor, pregnancy and birth were beautiful, and everything went smoothly.


This excitement was short-lived.


A year after giving birth to my baby boy, I was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst. Over several months, the cyst grew in size, and I eventually had them surgically removed from both ovaries. After that, everything was back to normal, and life went on.

Little did we know, our journey was far from over.

For years we tried for another baby. When we were unsuccessful, I expressed concerns with my OB, and we agreed that we would try three rounds of Clomid. Clomid is a pill that causes your ovaries to hyper-stimulate and produces more eggs. We tried Clomid before ultimately being referred to an infertility specialist.


All three rounds failed. I was shocked, confused, and convinced I just needed a little help since I had one successful pregnancy with no issues. But I didn't understand why it didn't work.

To our surprise, a few months after completion, I discovered I was pregnant. After two years of trying, I was sure this was our miracle baby. Unfortunately, the pregnancy ended a few weeks later. The heartbreak we experienced was unimaginable. It rocked me to my core. I spiraled into a deep depression.

Why was my miracle baby ripped away from me?

It took me a long time to finally proceed with the specialist. Finally, the specialist concluded that I have what is known as a low ovarian reserve; this means I have a low amount of eggs of lower quality.


I was relieved to have answers finally. It is most likely due to my 33 years of having Crohn's disease, an autoimmune disorder--this is why my battle was unsuccessful. The issue now had a name. We have decided to proceed with IVF.


IVF includes a series of injections that can be painful and have many side effects. The side effects include hormone swings, bruising, headaches, hot flashes, nausea, and hyperstimulation of the ovaries- which is when you produce so many follicles that it becomes uncomfortable. All this stress doesn't even account for the fact that I will have to attend daily appointments and the financial burden.


This process is demanding and expensive. Even more so if you don't have information, this is why I want to provide women like myself with support.



Here are four tips that I wish I knew about infertility:


Tip #1 Do Not Put Having Child on Hold

Tragically, women do not receive enough education about fertility and reproduction. As a result, many women don't realize something is wrong until they are trying to conceive. As your body ages, the number of eggs you release decreases monthly.


All women should have the option of waiting to conceive a child; however, if you are sincerely considering, I recommend getting a complete workup to ensure that your reproductive health is within normal limits for your age. If you discover that you have issues or it's just not the right time for you, there are treatment options, including the opportunity to freeze your eggs for future use. The most important thing is that you are well informed, and your decision to reproduce later in life is an educated decision.

Tip #2 Knowledge is Power

I know this saying is so cliche, but it's so relevant to this topic. If you're struggling with fertility, do your research. There is an assortment of issues that can be the cause of your infertility. While that can be overwhelming, the relief comes from knowing that there are many treatment options.


When I started having issues conceived, I went into a google black hole trying to understand the possible causes of my infertility, what treatment options were available, possibly medications, and the likelihood that we would have a successful round of IVF.


I immersed myself in as much information as possible. I even started listening to a podcast Infertile AF, which helped me so much. Women were so vulnerable to share their stories of happiness as well as heartbreak. Their willingness to share their infertility hardships helped so much. It's ok to find comfort knowing that other women are going through the same thing as you.

Tip #3 Exhaustion is Inevitable

The infertility journey is draining. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. This process will drain you physically, emotionally, and financially. Be prepared. Going through this is not for the weak. The medication you take will put your reproductive system in overdrive, and there are many unpredictable factors. There is always a chance of a cycle getting canceled, the medications not working, your eggs aren't excellent quality, and even a miscarriage.

In addition to the physical hit your body endure or the mental toll it takes on you, the financial aspect is equally, if not more, traumatizing. I was fortunate to have insurance coverage for the majority of my treatment, but we still endure financial loss as well. It's not unreasonable to anticipate spending anywhere from $20,000 or higher for a single round of IVF. If you are planning to go this route, be prepared to be exhausted.

Tip #4 Build Your Tribe

I don't take for granted how lucky I am to have a phenomenal support system. My wonderful husband and amazing friends have helped carry me through my struggles. During these challenging times, having someone to lean on makes a world of difference. However, I understand that not everyone has a readily available support system. If this is the case, build you a tribe. I highly suggest you seek out others whom you can talk to that have gone through the same struggles.


You can find local support groups, online friends through Facebook or other social media platforms. If you can connect with someone who is going through the process simultaneously, that helps tremendously. For example, I currently have a friend at the same point in her journey as me. It feels so great to complain to someone who gets it. I don't have to pretend with her or explain my emotions, she understands, and that is a relief in itself. I have also sought help from a counselor to help work through all the emotional trauma I have endured throughout this journey.

CONCLUSION

Please know that all hope is not lost. To the woman who feels like her body has failed her, you are not alone. I encourage you to listen to your body and know when to ask for help. There are other options. How you speak to yourself during this process is so important.

Asking for help does not make you a failure.


I know you are waiting for a miracle. It is remarkable how doctors and science can give what you have been so desperately seeking. I am at the beginning of my journey, and it is only hope that carries me through. One day this pain will be replaced with my baby girl or baby boy. I hope we all will be blessed with what we have prayed for so tirelessly.



If you have found this article to be at all helpful, then I have done my work. If you're interested in following my journey, I will be writing a second update piece as I get deeper into the process.

With love,

Sarah Sriackhaphom



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