Archive for April, 2014

The Silent Suffering of Infertility

Warning: This post is going to be long and it will have personal fertility-related information. Read on at your own risk. We hope you do with an open mind!

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It is National Infertility Awareness Week, so this post is a timely one. San and I have gone back and forth for months on whether to write a post about this topic. If you have been wondering why we were posting so much at the beginning the year and then dropped off the face of the earth, this post will answer that for you.

Before we jump into it, I want to share our motivations for writing about this with “the world.” We want to make it very clear that we are not sharing this so we can have a pity party. We made sure to wait until we were emotionally stable and no longer at rock bottom emotionally before sharing this. We know people have far better things to do then sit around and feel sorry for us. In fact, I have written three different versions of this post and have scrapped them all because emotionally I was not ready to share and the posts were coming off extremely “Woe is me. My life is horrible. There is no hope.” I’m no longer at that place emotionally and can now share this for the real reasons we have in mind.

Reason 1: To Give Support to Those Suffering in Silence

First, we want to share this to give support to all the other people out there suffering from infertility. This topic remains mute territory for so many people because there are stigmas and judgments attached to it. People often give unwanted and uneducated advice such as “stand on your head after” or “just check your temperature daily and then you will know when you are ovulating.” Obviously, this advice is given with love, but when people find out they are infertile, they have already tried everything and more, gone through testing, and are looking for support rather than advice for the average person who usually can conceive within a few months. We want to help those suffering in silence know they are not alone. Some people don’t want to share and that is just fine, but we are willing to share and want to give hope and support to those who choose not to.

Reason 2: So We Don’t Have to Hide It Anymore

Second, we are very tired of feeling isolated, ashamed, and afraid. When people ask us about when we are going to have kids, it is so hard to answer. We don’t want to lie, but we also don’t want to turn a sweet conversation sour by dumping our news on them. We feel by being open about it, most people will know (we have already shared with those in our life closest to us) and we can be open about it in most situations rather than feeling like it is something we caused that we have to hide. Just as people share the big news that they can have kids, it is a huge part of our life we are hiding if we don’t share that we aren’t able to have kids. As someone who cares for others, I hate knowing someone is suffering in silence after the fact. Obviously, it is a person’s right to keep things private, but often people are silent and look back wishing they had told people so they could have had help, support, or just a listening ear from time to time. We aren’t looking for people to rally around us, but if I knew someone going through this, I would want to be there to support them (even if I wasn’t close with them) in some way, so we are being open and giving that opportunity to anyone if they would like by not keeping them in the dark. We are always open to and appreciative of prayers!

Reason 3: To Raise Awareness Among Those Who Haven’t Been Affected by It

Third, we want to raise awareness for this topic. We have a lot of opinions about insurance, people’s perceptions of infertility, help for those suffering, support for those suffering, and even the medical world related to infertility. Because 7/8 couples never deal with infertility, the majority of people are not slapped in the face with this reality that 1/8 of couples are reminded of every day. Just as people raise awareness for breast cancer and work to support it even if they have never had it and sometimes don’t know anyone who has, we think infertility is a social issue that many don’t know very much about and therefore have no clue about supporting it or why it is an important cause to support. We feel that if we are going to go through something this heart-wrenching and life-altering (which are not exaggerations in the slightest), we want to be able to make an impact for the future. It all starts with this post and we are excited to see where it goes from there.

Reason 4: To Advocate for Strong Marriages in the Midst of Suffering

Fourth, we are huge advocates for marriage. It’s what I built my photography business around. It’s what I get worked up about. It’s what I would write a book about if I had enough experience at it. We knew very well going into our marriage that we would face at least one horrible thing in our marriage. It seems inevitable. Often, the hits just keep on coming in a normal marriage. We knew that if we deny the facts that marriage is hard and the divorce rates are high for a reason, we would end up part of the statistics. So, by sharing this, we want to show that marriages can endure hard times. A couple can have their lifelong dreams crushed and still stick together as a team. Infertility doesn’t have to break a couple up or make their marriage weak. If we can’t inspire people about infertility, we want to at least inspire them about marriage and love.

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Our Story

So, as you can see, San and I learned this year that we are “infertile.” I put that in quotes because that is a very loose and undefineable term (from my perspective). The medical field defines “infertile” as anyone under 35 who has tried to conceive for one year with no success (and that just means not using protection; it doesn’t mean timing it correctly) or anyone 35 or over who has tried for six months with no success (because they have less time before the eggs become unusable so they should go in sooner). However, so many “infertile” people go on to have kids and so much of infertility is unexplained, so the term just doesn’t seem as all-encompassing as one may assume.

At this point, San and I have tried to have a baby for close to a year and a half. I could probably write a novel at this point about the whole process (not of the trying itself, of course, but of the emotions and what was going on at the time), how much we want a family, the emotions, etc., but not all of that is important and they can be shared at another time.

What we will share is that we have been together for eight and a half years, and married for almost three of those years. We started dating when we were sixteen, and although it is hard for even us to imagine sometimes, we pretty much knew we would be together forever and we started dreaming about our family right away. I’ve always been a future-oriented person, so dreaming is nothing knew for me, but this dream took on a life of its own as we got closer and closer to marriage. I have never seen a man so excited to have kids. In fact, I was the one telling San we needed to wait, as he was ready to start trying on our wedding day! I let graduate school, teaching, and my photography business (as well as people’s opinions) get in the way and we kept pushing the date back until San finally convinced me that a baby will be worth moving our schedules around for. We desired a child so much. In fact, for me, my identity my entire life has been placed in motherhood. Although I’m not a mother right now, it’s always been the role I thought would define me in ways I am undefined right now. I still believe what I have since birth: that motherhood is my calling, my purpose, and my passion. Imagine having that ripped away. It’s not an easy thing to deal with.

I can still remember when we decided to start trying. It was such a beautiful time in our marriage. We felt like a team more than we ever had and we went crazy thinking about names, gender reveal photo sessions, nurseries, personality traits, what our little “Asian redhead” (as those at our wedding called our future child when they gushed about what he or she would look like) would look like, and pregnancy. Month after month, we pictured that positive pregnancy test and every month we cried at the one pink line that told us that dream would have to be postponed. Eventually, hope dwindled and the routine became less exciting and more hard work. Slowly, that voice in my head that said, “Infertility won’t be part of our story. We are healthy,” changed to, “Maybe something’s wrong….”

After ten months of trying, we went to the doctor who put me on birth control for a month in hopes that it would “regulate” my “irregular” cycle. Come to find out it wasn’t irregular at all, but we followed the doctor’s orders and our hope was reset as we tried for three more months. We were certain last December that we were pregnant. I was set to ovulate on Christmas, which seemed like a sign that it was meant to be. If God could make Mary pregnant, surely we could get pregnant! I did everything I could to not let the stress of the season get to me because I fully believed an egg was implanting inside of me. A few days before I could test, I started downloading pregnancy apps, following pregnancy blogs, and reading everything I could. A friend of mine said she “just knew” that she was pregnant, so I was sure I was because I believed I “just knew” too.

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 Photo on left: the art we bought for the nursery when we first started trying.  Photo on right: the pregnancy test and note I almost left for San in January when I was “sure” I was pregnant.  I didn’t want to wake him up bawling, but I felt so alone, so I ended up waking him up instead of letting him wake up to that note.

I cannot describe to you the devastation we felt when I woke up to yet another negative. It was our rock bottom before the rock bottoms that were still yet to come. Being proactive people, we immediately scheduled an appointment at a different clinic that we heard through the grapevine was really good at helping people diagnose infertility.

And then, we spent the next three months playing a gut-wrenching, tear-filled waiting game as we underwent testing. As much as we hoped for normal tests, at the same time, we wanted there to be something the doctors could fix. All of my uncomfortable (and sometimes painful) tests came back normal. San’s, however, did not. At this time, we don’t want to share with the world exactly what the results showed, but we learned from his testing right away that our chances of conceiving naturally were pretty much zero. The only reason we are even sharing that we are dealing with most likely male-factor infertility is because we want to raise awareness that infertility is not just a woman’s issue, that men need support as well, and that the stigma should be banished because infertility is in most cases not someone’s fault. The sad part is that the doctors sugar coated what our chances are at first, so we had to learn that through research online before the doctor confirmed our suspicions two months later. We waited two months to get in to see a urologist, two months that were filled with a mixture of hope that something would be fixable and dread that there was nothing the urologist could do, which was the stronger of the two emotions after days and days of research on the topic.

About twenty minutes with the urologist and our fears were confirmed: he’s healthy. That’s such a strange thing to say because throughout the whole process, I was worried that he was not healthy and that something was seriously wrong, but we both clung to hope that there was something very minor the doctor could do to fix it. Knowing that everything was “normal” meant there is nothing the doctors can do for us.

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So, now we are on the other end of testing. I’m sure we’ll post about the emotions that I skimmed over in this post. This has seriously been the most dramatic and painful experience our marriage has faced (not to mention how bad it has been on an individual level), and it could possibly be the hardest thing it will face. We aren’t sure. However, we have vowed to put our marriage first through anything life throws at it, so this is no different. I’ve personally hit rock bottom many days throughout the last few months. I’ve lost hope and I’ve gained it back. Over and over again. What we have clung to is faith, knowing that no matter what we will have children some way or another, and considering that perhaps this story is meant to be shared to help others.

We are now at the point of moving forward. I think we will save our plan for a different post. We think it could really help people move forward, learn about the process (what options are available, cost, etc.), and give couples suffering with infertility hope if out plan of attack ends up working, so we hope to share it eventually.

This is why we haven’t posted in a few months. We have done a lot to our house and other various projects in that time and have wanted to share, but we were giving ourselves some time to grieve the loss of this dream. Whether we end up getting pregnant naturally or not, the dream is still dead in a lot of ways. Our eyes have been opened to a whole new kind of pain, and while that is good because we are no longer ignorant, it also takes away the allure of the dream to start a family and makes that dream very bittersweet. Getting over that has not been easy, but we are currently at a really good place emotionally, considering what we have learned and gone through.

This is only the beginning of our journey. We are just like so many married couples out there. We want to start a family. We hope we have shown that although it usually happens easily for couples, that is not always the case. Please be cautious when you ask people about their plans for a family. Please be gentle when listening to them share their story if they open up to you about infertility. Even if a couple has no medical history of ANYTHING (like us), fertility isn’t something everyone is blessed with. More than ever, we view children as the most miraculous gift and we believe that pregnancy is a gift not everyone will experience, no matter how much they desire it. And please, think long and hard about giving an infertile couple advice. I really hope we can continue to share this journey and we hope our sharing is viewed in the way we meant for it to be. We apologize to anyone who finds out through this or future posts and feels like they should have been told in person. It has been very hard for us to share this and part of us still feels like perhaps we should keep it between just the two of us, but by posting this, we hope our intentions will be visible as well as why we were apprehensive and chose this route for getting the word out as opposed to telling everyone we know personally.

Here are some links if you are interested: