Apr 24, 2014

Finding your own path

As you know, it's National Infertility Awareness Week, and I am interviewing three marvelous women, all in different stages of their journey with infertility. Today I'd like to introduce you to Leah, from Single Infertile Female. I have followed her story from the beginning and I continually find myself awed by the vulnerability in her writing. She is an author, a fierce warrior, and always has time for my (random, word-vomity) emails. I am overjoyed to welcome her here today.

What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word infertility? Has that changed over time? Whenever I hear anyone else mention infertility, I am immediately brought back to what was the darkest period of my life. It was such an agonizing place to be, fearing that I would never have a child when being a mother was what I wanted so desperately. I can't help but remember that ache when I hear of others struggling now. In a lot of ways I am separated from that place and have moved on with my life. But I think that darkness will always be there...there will always be a part of me that will wish I could have carried a child and that will mourn what was lost to infertility.

What does infertility mean/look like for you? I know it is a medical diagnosis, and therefore applies to anyone who can't conceive. But I guess for me, infertility is a much more emotional state of mind than just being unable to have children. It is about yearning for something you may never have, and sitting back and watching everyone else around you get it with ease. It is about the denial of an innate desire to mother and nurture and carry a child from conception. Not everyone has that desire, but for those who do and can't achieve it - that is the definition of infertility to me.

What has been the best/worst thing said to you about infertility? The worst was definitely just the years lost to an endeavor that would ultimately never be successful. All the heartache and tears and failure - I could have done without all of that. Not to mention the expensive procedures I still had to pay for after the fact, despite how unsuccessful they proved to be. But the best thing about infertility is something I would never give back - my daughter. Even though she did not come to me in the way I expected or thought I wanted at the start of my infertility journey, her adoption has been the absolute best thing to ever happen to me. And the serendipitous series of events that led to her adoption will forever make me believe that I was always meant to find her - that she was always meant to be my little girl. I truly believe now that all the heartache and tears and failure was worth it, because it led me to her. And I would do it all again if I had to, just to have her in my arms. In fact, if you were to offer me a perfect and healthy pregnancy now over having her, I would choose her. Every time. Give me infertility, just so long as I get to keep my little girl. It was all worth it in the end, as painful as it was to endure at the time.

Do you have a coping technique that works for you? When I hit the point where I truly realized that a pregnancy was never going to happen for me, I really had to pull back and make a concerted effort to decide what was meant to come next. For me, that involved healing - both physically and mentally - from infertility. Coping came in fits and bursts, and there were times where I would think I was doing so well for a while, only to wind up falling apart all over again at a pregnancy announcement or some other random reminder that it would never be me. The best thing I could do though, was focus on the good life I DID have available to me.

After my last failed IVF cycle, I made a commitment to myself to get healthy and regain control of my life. I started training for a triathlon and half marathon, purely because I needed to prove to myself that I still had some control over my body. And I focused on goals I couldn't necessarily have pursued if I had been pregnant, like planning some big trips and turning my attention towards other passions. It wasn't always easy, but it was about rediscovering who I was, absent infertility. For me, finding something else to be happy about and enjoy within my life was the only way to truly cope. It wasn't a consolation for having a child, but it was about learning to accept the reality I had been give, molding that reality into something I could still be happy with. The irony was that as soon as I let go and really began embracing that life, all my wildest dreams came true and my daughter found her way to me.

I can't survive without humor - so to find a little bit of that, what's been the most ridiculous moment of your infertility journey so far? I will never forget during my first IVF cycle, when I had to give myself an intramuscular trigger injection. While I had given myself plenty of shots up to that point, this was the first one that was actually meant to go in the butt. I had been fretting about how to do this shot for days, and then 15 minutes before I was supposed to give the injection, I realized I had left my instructions for mixing the medications in my car. So I quickly ran downstairs to get them, only to wind up somehow locked out of my hotel room. It took 20 minutes for an attendant to help me, and by that point I was obviously late for my shot. So without much thought at all, and in a bit of a panic, I mixed the medication, got backwards cowgirl on a chair, and plunged this giant needled into my backside. I didn't even have time to fret about what I was doing - I just had to do it. And when everything was said and done, I couldn't help but laugh at what a bad ass I felt like for having so bravely given myself that shot. When the reality is, if I had been allowed the time to stress, it probably would have been a much more pathetic endeavor.

What would you like people to know about infertility? I think my big soapbox is always that people need to understand how individualized these problems and solutions are. Just because you have a cousin who got pregnant after trying some super magical herbal treatment, does not mean the answer will be that simple for your neighbors or friends who are also struggling. Just because I found peace and healing through adoption does not mean that every infertile couple should do the same. The choices people make when dealing with infertility are all so very personal, and most the time - there is a true medical issue at the root of the problem. So it doesn't matter when you already know or even what you personally have been through - each person's journey is different. Unsolicited advice is always a bad idea and should be avoided as a general rule, but when it comes to infertility in particular - it is often completely inappropriate as well. Trust that most people have already killed themselves researching every possible avenue to bringing a child into their world, and give them the respect to know which path may be right for them.

As far as my physical healing, that really came down to being my own advocate.  I had such an advanced case of endometriosis that most doctors in Alaska refused to touch me. I was just too sick, and previous surgeries had been overwhelming for them. At one point, I was told that a referral to a pain clinic and a life on morphine patches may be my own answer. I wasn't willing to accept that though - I knew in my heart there had to be another way. And so I started doing research on the top endo specialists in the country, compiling my records and sending them off to all of them. I was desperate for someone to help me, and that someone came in the form of Dr. Cook at Vital Health Institute in California. He called me personally just days after receiving my records and said "Cases like yours are the reason I am in this business. I believe I can help you." He turned out to be one of the most genuine, empathetic and knowledgable doctors I have ever met. And while he could not reverse the damage that had already been done (so biological children will still not be a part of my future) he was able to essentially cure me from what most other doctors had dubbed the most aggressive case of endometriosis they had ever seen. I went from being an extremely sick girl who was in chronic pain every single day, to a fully functioning and healthy girl who was able to run a half marathon just 6 weeks after her last surgery. Dr. Cook gave me my life back. In fact, just a few weeks ago I received another clean bill of health after a full check-up - nearly 2 years after my last surgery. I don't even need tylenol for my period most months. He truly is a miracle worker, but if I hadn't been willing to fight and seek him out myself - I would probably still be extremely sick and in pain all the time. So being your own advocate is always my first piece of advice to anyone dealing with chronic medical conditions. There ARE doctors out there who can help get you healthy, but you have to be willing to fight to find them. If you are suffering from endometriosis though, I would highly recommend seeking out Dr. Cook. He is the best of the best, and I owe every single pain free day to him. 

"It is about yearning for something you may never have, and sitting back and watching everyone else around you get it with ease." See what I mean about her writing? Leah, thank you for sharing a piece of your story here today. To stay up to date with Leah you can follow her blog, read her book (trust me, you want to), find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

Not sure how to help spread awareness for National Infertility Awareness Week? Head over to Resolve and see what you can do!


Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Another great interview. All of the advice in these posts is really helpful for me to read as your friend. I think in general, unsolicited advice is an AWFUL idea so I try to avoid offering that up because I have been on the receiving end of it and it sucks and makes things worse often. It's encouraging to read that she found an amazing doctor that was able to greatly improve her quality of life. It's always nice to hear about someone in the medical community going above and beyond. Lastly, I think her advice about throwing yourself into other things that make you happy is great advice for anyone who is going through someone they don't want to go through, or pines for something they can't have. While I have obviously not struggled with fertility, I can definitely relate to throwing myself into other things as a coping mechanism.

Kelly (She Wears a Red Sox Cap) said...

I'm with Lisa- I love these posts for the same reasons. I also love that she said she would go through this all again for her daughter. That's love :)

Nora said...

Holy wow, that last part about being your own advocate and what she went through just brought me to tears at my desk. Thank you, Leah for sharing and thank you Becky, for showcasing! (And I'm glad the reverse cowgirl part was in there cause it told is making me laugh through the tears, now.)

Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks said...

I recently read an article about a professor who spent years in the hospital after being seriously burned. He had to endure the pain of having his bandages removed and fresh ones applied everyday. The nurses thought pulling off the bandages slowly would be less painful. But, after he actually researched it (years after he healed and left the hospital), it turns out it's a lot less painful to rip off the Bandaid, so to speak. So, I love that Leah was sort of forced into jamming herself with the needle - she's right, it probably was a lot less painful that way.

Katelin said...

Although our infertility journey is so different, I love this story Leah. And although you had to get through so many road blocks and obstacles I'm glad you researched for yourself and have your daughter now.

Also I totally agree with the less time you have to agonize over something, the more you just have to suck it up and do it. I've been the same way with shots and medication and just a lot of things in general I feel like I just have to jump right in without hesitation.


Sizzle said...

Leah finding her daughter after making her way through all that pain gives me hope. Thank you.

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