Motherhood, Interrupted: How I Overcame Infertility (by Heidi Hayes)

How I Overcame Infertility

From the moment we are born, life revolves around milestones. Your first word, first step, graduation day, engagements, marriage, and even the moment you decide you’re ready to start trying for children.

For most people, however, choosing egg donation as a solution to their infertility does not make the list of memorable moments.

My husband and I are not most people.

Becoming a Statistic: Discovering we were 1 in 8.

Like most happy couples, the first few years of our marriage were pure bliss. We dedicated ourselves entirely to one another and enjoyed our newly minted marital status. Eventually, though, the timing felt right and we opened the door to a conversation about getting pregnant.

It’s not always easy deciding you’re ready to have children, but when you finally come to that conclusion – it’s exhilarating. You leave the safety and comfort you’ve found as a family of two and begin to dream of the future memories and moments you will have with your kids.

For us, however, the exhilaration was short-lived.

Time after time, I sat down in the bathroom to take a pregnancy test. I would carefully wash my hands and hold my breath as the timer ticked away bringing us seconds closer to the moment we’d been praying about.

Time after time, our tests were negative.

As months wore into years without a single positive result, we began searching for help. Our lives became a whirlwind of fertility appointments that ended in numerous IUI’s and eleven arduous IVF and fertility embryo transfer cycles.

Despite the best efforts of our reproductive specialist, we were no closer to a baby then we’d been at the start.

Following our last failed cycle, we sat in our doctor’s office and awaited a new answer, a new shred of hope. I can recall the ticking of a clock and the quickening of my heartbeat when the doctor walked into the room. Rather than explain our next course of action, however, he gave us news a woman never wants to hear.

My body was incapable of sustaining a pregnancy created using my own eggs; my eggs were not viable.

Navigating the Emotions of Infertility.

There are few things more heart-wrenching than coping with infertility in an age where our lives are blasted on social media, our emotions are constantly being affronted by pregnancy announcements, births, and the next generation’s collection of milestone moments.

Following my doctor’s diagnosis, I found myself traversing the five stages of grief we’ve all heard about:

  1. Denial & Isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

As hard as I tried to accept the information my doctor gave us; it still felt like a helpless task. I wallowed in moments of self-pity and sometimes found myself angry at the unfairness of it all.

For couples struggling with infertility, the same questions present themselves over and over:

  • Why is it so easy for some women to get pregnant?
  • What would have happened if we’d started trying sooner?
  • Should we have sought out help before we did?
  • If I keep trying will I eventually be successful?

We were riddled with a constant barrage of why’s and what-if’s. Some days it felt as though the emotions that came with this journey were too much for one person to bear. Eventually, however, I saw that the only way out was by simply coping with them.

Accepting What Cannot Be Changed.

Coming to terms with our situation felt like an impossible task. In the days that followed our appointment, my ability to make logical decisions about our next step was blinded by the way I was feeling. We decided it was time for a break.

Instead of trying to figure out what came next, I took the time to confront my emotions. I’ve learned over the years that when women are dealing with any number of different infertility diagnoses, the best way to move forward is by giving yourself a chance to breathe and accept.

Rather than trying to run away from your emotions, learning how to cope with the grief and loss of infertility is an essential part of the process. Depending on your own responses to stress, there are so many coping mechanisms you can try, such as:

  • counseling;
  • journaling;
  • creative outlets;
  • communicating with your partner;
  • vacation;
  • and exercise.

In our break from trying, I allowed myself to be whatever I needed to be at any given moment. Whether I needed to feel angry, frustrated, or even depressed, I took the time to process those emotions.

I can’t remember now how long it took before I began to feel a little more normal. In my heart, I knew that I had finally begun to accept the fact that I would never have my own biological child; but that didn’t mean I was ready to give up hope for a family.

It was during this period that adoption came to the forefront of our minds.

The Highs and Lows of Adoption.

Once my husband and I were ready to continue trying for a child, we knew that adoption was the next step.

Through this beautiful process, we finally became what we’d been dreaming of – parents.

I wish I could find the words to describe the way I felt when we first laid eyes on our little boy. Though a trying experience filled with paperwork, adoption fees, and trips to Guatemala, it was one of the most significant journeys of my life.

We were elated to finally be a family of three, and amazed by how much we loved our son. Soon though, we began to wish for a daughter. We’d always dreamt of having two children and, after a few years, the niggling sensation that it was time to try again became our constant companion.

We’d had such an amazing experience with our first adoption that we decided to go through the same channels and try again. Unfortunately, though, we weren’t prepared for the road that lay ahead.

In the few short years since we’d brought our son home, adoption laws had changed – the processes used before would no longer work.

We spent six long years attempting to adopt a little girl from Guatemala. Six long years of trips back and forth, headaches over adoption costs, and moments spent with the child we thought was to be our daughter. In the end, however, we were told it wasn’t going to happen.

We were devastated.

When infertility is a part of your life, you yearn for the opportunity to have children. When you’re so close to achieving that dream and the chance is then ripped away, the pain is unprecedented. 

We took some time to regroup and recover from the loss we’d experienced. Once we felt ready to move forward, we decided that we couldn’t bear the emotional risk of another adoption failing.

Why are Donor Eggs the Answer Some May Be Searching For?

I’d love to say that once we decided to try donor eggs I was fully over the fact that I could not have my own biological children. While that was mostly true, and I’d made vast emotional progress, the idea of carrying using another woman’s eggs was still something I needed to wrap my head around.

What finally brought me comfort, however, was the simple fact that I would be given the chance to carry our child.

For a woman who’s told her eggs aren’t viable, one of the hardest blows is the thought that she may never experience pregnancy. So many of us dream of the day when we’ll hear our baby’s heartbeat for the very first time, or relishing the nights spent with our husband’s hand atop our belly feeling the sweet kicks and wiggles of our little one.

And finally, the day when we diligently work through labor and delivery to bring that child into the world.

With donor egg IVF, the chance to have those experiences is restored.

Life After Infertility.

You know those calming, quiet moments after a big storm? That’s kind of what life after infertility feels like.

Following our own fresh donor egg IVF cycle, we were blessed with a set of twins that have brought us more happiness than we ever thought possible. With those two little babies, our dream of having a family was finally complete.

Regretfully, there’s no black and white path that will lead through infertility. Every couple has a different set of issues and every couple will choose a different manner of dealing with them.

Whether they choose:

  • IVF;
  • adoption;
  • surrogacy;
  • or donor eggs,

know that they are making the best decisions for them and their family.

What I do know, however, is that at the end of the day when the conclusion of the journey is reached – they will come out of it stronger, better people. Maintaining faith and optimism throughout moments of weakness are two of the best ways to make it through successfully.

I’m not sure why some couples have to suffer the trials and tribulations of infertility while others don’t, but I do know there is much help to be found.


About the Author: Heidi Hayes

Heidi Hayes is the Executive Vice President of Donor Egg Bank. She has more than 20 years of healthcare experience and has worked extensively in the field of reproductive endocrinology. Having been unsuccessful at traditional IUI and IVF treatments, Heidi personally understands the struggles of infertility. After many years of trying to conceive, she ultimately built her family through adoption and donor egg treatment. She always believed that if she didn’t give up, her ultimate goal of becoming a parent would someday become a reality.

One Comment

Dr Patrick Quinn

How infertility can result in stress and how it changes life in many way. All this information is well mentioned in this post. Lifestyle is another major reason for infertility. Nicely written post.Thanks for sharing this information

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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