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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How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.
When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.

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