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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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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