It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a woman struggling with infertility will suddenly be surrounded by everyone she knows getting pregnant.
At least, that’s how it felt to me. I didn’t know that infertility was going to be one of my life’s struggles. I was 26 when we decided that we wanted to start a family. I wanted four, my husband wanted six, so we knew we wanted a big family. We were young and in love and ready to make some babies.
But as the months stretched on with nothing but a pile of negative pregnancy tests, I began to wonder if something was wrong. I visited my Ob-Gyn, who told me to be patient. I read books and charted my basal body temperature. More months passed, and the disappointment grew.
My social media feed, however, was beginning to blossom. Suddenly there was an abundance of big belly pictures and cute announcements and gender reveals. While I was happy for my friends, it felt like a constant reminder of my own struggles.
Finally I had a positive pregnancy test of my own! (Or maybe four of them. I was happily peeing on every pregnancy strip in my stash.) My husband and I were overjoyed. We told our parents with pacifier-shaped cupcakes, and I rubbed my nonexistent belly at work wondering when I could tell my coworkers the happy news.
At my first doctor visit, I chatted happily with the nurses and doctor, answering questions about whether we wanted to find out what we were having and if I was taking my prenatal vitamins.
The doctor lifted up my shirt, still talking, and began to rub the doppler over my belly to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. It sounded like a radio being tuned, and I kept waiting for the whoosh-whoosh that signaled all was well. More tuning, more waiting.
And then the doctor pulled back and gave me a smile that didn’t quite meet her eyes. “It’s possible it’s too early. Are you sure about your dates? We’ll do an ultrasound to check.”
Something was wrong.
Numb, I went into the ultrasound room. There was a technician who helped me get into position, and they used a wand to try and see what was going on. On the screen, there was a baby. But no heartbeat.
The technician turned the screen away, not talking to me. Instead, she left the room to find the doctor.
The next 20 minutes were some of the hardest of my life. I was left alone, half-naked on a table, and I started to cry.
I’d always believed in God, and I found myself talking to him. “Please God. Please let there be some mistake. I want this baby so badly. Please don’t take her away from me.”
But our sweet, hoped-for child was gone.
Grief is a strange beast. People often talk about the five stages of it, but it felt like I had a thousand. Some days I was angry. Some days I cried. Others I felt numb. What was wrong with me? Literally, hundreds of women in my family had done this before me for hundreds of years. Why was I the one that couldn’t reproduce?
More of my friends became pregnant. By now, those social media pregnancies had turned into photos of sweet little babies. I congratulated friends and tried not to show my pain. But it grew harder as the months crawled by with no happy news of our own. When one of my friends threw her ultrasound pictures on the table during a work meeting, I found myself holding back tears and escaping to the bathroom.
It ended up being three years of infertility. We had another early loss. We saw fertility doctors. I had multiple surgeries and procedures. There were medications and shots and constant doctor visits. My life became an obsessive quest to find out what was wrong with me. I charted every imaginable thing, a daily checklist of behaviors that meant our childlessness was always in mind.
And I started blocking people on Facebook. I just couldn’t take one more post of someone else’s pregnancy. I didn’t care what fruit their fetus resembled. I hated the weekly belly photos of progress when my own was flat and empty. I was finding it increasingly difficult to be happy for other people when I was suffering in silence.
Some of you might be feeling those same feelings right now.
You. Are. Not. Alone.
People generally don’t post status messages about infertility. “Another negative pregnancy test! sad-face emoji.” It can feel like you are the only person in the whole world that is grieving. But you are part of a silent, secret club that I desperately wish did not exist.
I did something crazy. I decided to break my silence. I posted about our loss on Facebook, and I asked for prayer.
Suddenly, I was one of many. Women contacted me to tell me their own stories of loss and struggle. My support group expanded. I wasn’t alone. It was the best thing I could have done.
If you are struggling with infertility, my heart aches with you. It is hard and unfair. If it helps, here are some things I learned from my experience:
Don’t be afraid to tell your story. Let others grieve with you and support you. Your story might make someone else feel less alone.
Join a support group. If you can’t find one in person, there are online groups that will go through this difficult journey with you.
Take care of yourself. If that means staying away from social media, do it. If that means staying home from a Mother’s Day service at church, it’s OK. There’s no shame in avoiding experiences that trigger you.
If you don’t have infertility as part of your story:
Be sensitive. You may not know who is struggling with infertility around you. Absolutely share your happy news with your family and friends. But consider emailing or texting someone who is dealing with it to give them a heads-up instead of blurting it out in a public space.
Listen. I had no idea what infertility would feel like and how it would take over my life. Knowing I had friends who wanted to hear about my struggle helped me process my feelings and keep going.
Love. Friends sent letters and gifts during our losses. They sent food (my love language) when I was too depressed to take care of myself. Each little act of love made a huge impact on my mental health.
If you’re struggling with the darkness of infertility, speak out. Let someone know, even on Facebook. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your story broadly, share this article with a trusted friend or two to start the conversation.