That was my husband's reaction when he opened our mailbox last week and pulled out the new US Weekly, plastered with a sad photo of Khloé Kardashian alongside the desperate headline, "I'll do anything for a baby." (A few months earlier, it had been Giuliana Rancic, revealing how a surprise breast cancer diagnosis had temporarily derailed her IVF struggles.) Dan's response was visceral and strong, and just like many mothers who grow to learn their babies' various cries, I knew exactly what that "ugh" meant.
For perhaps the only time in our lives, we had found ourselves in the same position as a Kardashian. Trying to conceive, month after month, only to come up empty. The thought of it being broadcast on a national level felt sickening.
Not that Khloé has anything to be ashamed of. One in eight U.S. couples struggle with infertility, which makes it about as common as breast cancer. But while glossy pink ribbons serve as a badge of courage and pride, with people walking for three days straight in mass parades to raise awareness and funds, infertility remains cloaked in secrecy. In fact, when you're going through it, waking up at 5 a.m. to rush to the reproductive endocrinologist's office for a quick blood draw and ultrasound before work, or when you're shooting up straight estrogen in a Caribou Coffee bathroom, or when you're couch-bound for two days straight after being put under anesthesia to have 20 eggs harvested through your vagina, it feels like you are the only woman alive living through this pain. And then, because a common side effect of injectable hormones is tunnel vision, you only notice the women around you who are pregnant. I remember once texting Dan a list of about 14 girls I knew on a very close basis (either friends I spoke with multiple times per week, coworkers or family members) who were all knocked up, punctuating the message with a self-pitying "WHY NOT ME?"
But if you allow yourself to open up, if you talk about it even a tiny bit, you'll start to see that, actually, you've landed yourself a spot in an entirely non-exclusive club. The moment I began writing about our struggle, women leapt out of the woodwork, revealing their own battles to me. Last month, I celebrated a "coming out" of sorts when I blogged about our IVF experience and posted it to Facebook. By the end of the day, no less than half a dozen friends (as well as three editors of mine) had privately messaged me, telling me of their IUI babies, their Clomid toddlers, their IVF failures.
A few weeks ago, on the plane ride home from our babymoon in Puerto Vallarta, I was writing an essay on infertility and going organic for Natural Health magazine. I got into a conversation with the woman next to me, who was told she could never have kids, so she adopted a four-year-old ... only to spontaneously conceive a few months later. Her biological daughter used IVF for all three of her sons. Later that night, Dan was forced to trudge out to the grocery store at 2 a.m. to procure cold medicine, kefir and watermelon for me, thanks to an unbearable hacking cough that had been causing me to pee all over myself throughout our romantic Mexican vaycay. He called me from the 24-hour pharmacy, saying the pharmacist on-call thought I should try Mucinex. As I frantically Googled "Mucinex AND safe AND pregnancy" in between body-wracking explosions of phlegm, I overheard the pharmacist ask Dan, "First baby?" Dan confirmed. And then the pharmacist asked, "IVF baby?" Turns out he was a kindred spirit -- his wife had delivered a baby boy eight days prior, the result of four rounds of IVF. He recognized a freak when he saw one; after you go through what we went through, you aren't taking any chances. Even if it means sticking your finger down your throat in a restaurant because you're worried the blue cheese that was sprinkled on your salad might be unpasteurized (which happened to me when I was just five weeks along).
In the locker room at my gym yesterday, I chatted with a girl from my yoga class who is expecting twin girls in March, via surrogate. Two hours before, I had spoken on the phone with a friend who is in the midst of adopting baby #2.
At my baby shower last week, I calculated that eight of the 20 or so women in attendance had used either Clomid, injectables, artificial insemination, IVF or adoption as a means of creating their family. Eight out of 20.
Perhaps it's an age thing: More of us are waiting to have children, fooling ourselves into believing that regular gym sessions and a Flexitarian diet will somehow freeze our eggs at mid-20s status. Or a result of chronic environmental insults -- pesticides, pollution, canned tomato sauce brimming with fertility-sapping BPA. As my acupuncturist once opined, "You think girls living on the family farm in Arkansas are having trouble getting pregnant? Of course not."
With the holidays approaching, I'm sure many of my friends are dreading family get-togethers, where they're sure to be bombarded with the same old, "Sooo, when are you going to have a baby?" questions. People, please, never ask someone this. When you're in the midst of trying -- unsuccessfully -- to conceive, those words are like jagged daggers. (Ditto for suggesting they "just relax" or offering an example of a friend who "just stopping worrying and began the process of adoption and -- boom -- conceived.") I've learned to not ask about baby-making exploits or current pregnancy status. I literally will not ask a woman when she's expecting unless she is actually crowning before my very eyes.
If you're in the process of trying, I encourage you to feel free to be choosy when it comes to accepting invitations to holiday celebrations, particularly ones where you know scads of children or pregnant women will be running/lolling around. I know for me, I automatically RSVP'd "No" to any baby shower I was invited to while we were trying -- maybe I'm a selfish person, but it was simply too heartbreaking for me to share in the joy of their day. (For more tips, click here.)
For now, I'm finishing up Week 31 of our hard-won pregnancy, and it's unreal how the intense pain of those awful months has faded into the background. Last weekend, I attended a boozy brunch where I enjoyed the fun attention typically lavished on a woman brandishing a fitted sweater-clad baby bump. I chatted with two other pregnant ladies and convinced them to shell out $75 for an elective 4D ultrasound like we did last week -- one of the smartest moves I could've made in terms of bonding with our baby. I didn't even mind the fact that I was surrounded by off-limits champagne and mouthwatering pomegranate vodka punch. Which brings me to another tip for my friends still embroiled in their struggle:
Drink wine. Lots and lots of wine.
And enjoy it while you can. ☺
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