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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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