March 12, 2014

To My Friend Battling Infertilty

By Hannah 
Introduced by Amy

I am always humbled and amazed by the outreach that comes after a lady tells her experience with loss of a baby, miscarriage, or infertility.  There are so many brave, strong, courageous women out there that keep going on despite enormous challenges and trails.  Hannah sent me the gut-wrenching story of her battle with infertility and her extremely difficult pregnancy--and yet, after all of that, she still has the grace to look back on the experience and see the blessings and the role her trials had in shaping her and her little family.  Pretty amazing!  We all will carry different burdens in this life--I am grateful for Hannah sharing hers with us.  Tomorrow, here on SOM, I'll post her Part 2--the story of her insane pregnancy (it seriously blew my mind.  Made me grateful for own my silly bloodclot!  Ha..) and show pictures of the little miracle baby!  Thank you, Hannah!

My name is Hannah.  You don't know me, but if I could, I would throw my arms around you with a great, "Oh, honey!"  And I would sit you down and listen - through the tears and the anguish, the bitterness, the confusion, the roller coaster of hope and grief that you've been on.  There is nothing you could say that would shock or offend me because I've been there.  I've been where you are right now.  I know.  And I want you to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  You may already understand this, but I hope I can help you feel it a little more.

I want to tell you my own story of infertility.  It's a little long, sorry - I'm a bit of a writer and it's a hard habit to kick.

My husband and I met at BYU and married young.  I hadn't planned to be married at 20, but I knew Anthony was the one.  We've been married for nine years now, and he's proved to be my perfect husband in more ways that I could have imagined.

So there we were, 20 and 23, and still a couple years away from graduating.  We decided to wait at least a year before considering getting pregnant.  But long before our allotted year was up, I had major baby lust, and that's a hard thing to cope with at BYU where parents bring their babies to history class.  Still, because of our starving student circumstances, I dutifully waited a whole year - with the firm belief that we'd be pregnant within months.

Well, we weren't.  We did the basal body temperature charting, we timed things right.  But I knew there was a problem, and I knew it was on my side.  I'd always had irregular cycles - I'd go months between periods (talk about false pregnancy hopes) - so I went to the Dr. very early.  We ran a lot of tests and determined that I have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome).  In layman's terms: my hormones all peak and the wrong times for unknown and therefore untreatable causes, so when my ovary forms a follicle, it never gets the signal to release an ovum; instead, it turns into a cyst on my ovary and stays there until it ruptures.  And yes, that's very painful.  With all the testing, of course we checked Anthony's sperm.  The results showed he had outstanding count, mobility, etc., and should be able to get any woman pregnant.  Anyone, that is, but me.

So right from the start, I took all the blame for our infertility onto my tiny shoulders.  As much as my sweet husband assured me otherwise, I knew it was my fault. I was broken. I was an inadequate woman and wife because I couldn't have children.  God must be punishing me - I even had specific reasons why he should punish me.  One Sunday, early in our fertility battle, a new mother at church expressed her thanks to God for trusting her enough to raise one of His children.  So not only was I being punished, but God didn't trust me, either.

As you can see, my frustration with infertility was aimed at two targets: God and myself.  And I am not ashamed to say what you may need to hear: I hated us both for it.  I didn't hate God in a "I'm going to stop believing in you" kind of way, but you can bet He heard a lot of angry prayers from me.  A lot.

Here's what I learned about those kinds of prayers: God loves them.  He gets them.  He UNDERSTANDS them.  And even if we're too angry to feel it, I visualize a daughter sobbing into her father's chest, beating her fists against him in helpless, overwhelming emotion; and the Father, wrapping His arms around His precious daughter, resting His chin atop her head, and crying with her.  So don't be afraid to vent to God - He is right there with you.  This is a hard thing, and He understands hard things.  He knows this isn't a time for "pretty please with a cherry on top" prayers (although a few of those couldn't hurt).

We started clomid treatments.  What a roller coaster ride!  Week 1: Menopausal symptoms - no fun for anyone, especially poor confused husbands.  Week 2: BBT charting and carefully timed sex to the extent that it becomes a chore, and trying every old wives' tale you can find.  Week 3: The waiting.  So hard!  Do you be hopeful like the nurses tell you and start painting the nursery?  Because apparently attitude makes such a difference in these physiological things.  Not!  Bite your nails; keep busy; wait.  Week 4: Wait some more.  How soon is too soon to take a test?  This one's negative; maybe I'll try one more, just to be sure.  Dang.  Well, it comes in a 3-pack anyway, so we might as well.  Then, despair, frustration, depression, and it's back to Week 1.

We did that for eight months.  Finally, the Dr. told me that we had to give my body a break.  "Thank God!" I thought. "I really do need a break."

Guess what happened.  My period was late (not unusual) and I felt distinctly different at work - a little nauseated, a little too sensitive to smell, a little tired.  When I got home, I decided, "What the heck?  I've got enough of these sticks anyway." Positive.  I stared at it, not believing.  I tried one more.  Positive!  When Anthony came home we did a happy dance in our kitchen.  Finally!  Finally!

My glee lasted until the next night when I began spotting and cramping.  I googled it: no worries, that's totally common for early pregnancy.  But I woke up in the middle of the night and knew.  I was bleeding, hard.  Bye-bye, baby.  The physical pain only lasted a couple days, and I told the three people who knew about it, "At least we know we can get pregnant."  I was obstinately cheerful.  But still, my body had betrayed us.  My fault.  My fault.  My fault.

We graduated from college and hit the two-year mark of infertility.  Suddenly, my bitterness extended outward.  Look at all these women popping out babies like it's nothing.  Literally planning, to the month, when they would have their next.  Constantly commenting on how wonderful motherhood was. didn't they know it was KILLING me? (They didn't, because I hadn't told, but I wouldn't factor that in until later.)  I saw their glances - suspicion and blame, I saw.  In hindsight, I bet most of those glances were curious or even sympathetic, but that's not how I saw them at the time.

My friends, who'd all married later than I had, started getting pregnant - all of them.  And I had to go to baby showers and be happy for them.  I confess, to this day this is a struggle and heartache for me.  So here's one phrase I learned to help me through those (even if I only repeat it in my mind): I am happy for you! I'm just not happy for me."

We started clomid again, adding a few extra pills, hormones, or whatever to get me pregnant.  There were far too many appointments.  Finally, one ultrasound showed an ovary with TWO viable follicles on it.  The nurses referred to me as the twin-mommy, and - you guessed it - we got pregnant.  Weeks passed.  I indulged every food craving and avoided bacon like the plague.  Every night I inserted progesterone capsules vaginally to help me stay pregnant. It was working.

At week 10 of pregnancy, we finally had our first ultrasound.  "Let's see that baby!" the nurses all cheered.  I crossed my fingers for two babies, to make up for the one we lost.  We watched the monitor excitedly as the Dr. probed around.  Is that a head?  Was that movement I saw?  Those things are so blurry.

Finally, the Dr. turned off the monitor and dismissed the nurses.  "Where's my picture?" I wanted to ask.  Instead the doctor told me I had a blighted ovum.  Layman's terms: I was pregnant, but when the embryo split, it made the placenta correctly, but somehow missed the making-the-fetus part.  No baby. He said to go home and wait to miscarry.  We could start trying again in a few months.

This miscarriage was worse.  So so so much worse.  It didn't happen right away, and I desperately clung to the hope that maybe there was a baby after all.  But I did miscarry - and it's a lot tougher at 10+ weeks than at 6.  I was doubled-over in pain and tears for 24 hours before Anthony called the Dr., who said, "Get her to the ER straightaway."  They checked to make sure my body was miscarrying properly (it was), then loaded me up on painkillers and an order for "pelvic rest" for two to three weeks.  Despite my stubbornness, I really could not to a thing for myself during those weeks.  There was just too much pain - physical, emotional, spiritual.  Someone from church called one day and asked if I could take dinner to another new mother in our church.  In exasperated tears I explained why I couldn't.  Someone brought to me dinner that night.

That was when I realized I HAD to tell people. It wasn't something I wanted to do - I'd made it into a dark, shameful secret for so long - but I had no choice.  I needed help.  I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was: people were sympathetic and caring.  Not too many could truly empathize because we lived in a young neighborhood and none of my family had any fertility problems (the opposite it seemed).  But they were sensitive to my sensitivity, and that made a difference.

I tried reading books for empathy.  Unfortunately, either by luck of the draw or simply because of who bothers writing books, what I read were tales of couples who never had children.  They talked about coping with infertility permanently: when to stop trying, whether to stay childless or try to adopt.  At three years of fighting, I wasn't ready to give up, but I felt hope slipping away.

I tried to make light of it.  I had a joke I used whenever someone felt too sorry for me - you know, the kind of sorry that says even they've given up on you.  "I am every high school boy's fantasy: I'm smart, sexy, fun, and you can't get me pregnant!"  I know, way to focus on the silver lining.  But you do what you need to do to get through.  Not everyone will understand it - even if your style isn't resorting to dumb jokes - but it's not something to beat yourself up over.  Whether or not you've given up the fight, infertility still sucks.

Unfortunately, just when we'd waiting long enough to try again, the Recession of 2008 became reality for us in a big way.  A week before Christmas, with no warning, Anthony's work laid off a dozen employees.  He was one of them.  He just came home after working late like he usually did, sat down on the floor, and said he didn't have a job anymore.  And since I'd quit work to focus on being healthy and "pregnable," that meant we had no income.  We'd spent all our money on fertility treatments instead of saving.  Forget babies, we had to get jobs because those unemployment checks aren't enough to pay the bills.  The problem was no one was hiring.  By February, we were out of money, out of a lease, and out of options.

We moved in with my older brother in Texas, whose house had room to spare.  Gracious of him, lucky for us, but hard.  My identity as a woman was diminished because I couldn't be a mother; my husband's identity as a man was diminished because he couldn't be a provider.  Worse still, my brother had two adorable children and my sister-in-law got pregnant a month after we moved in.  Every day felt like a slap in the face - we at their food, lived in their home, and I had to listen to a daily dose of "being pregnant is so hard."  (You want to talk about hard?  Lady, let me tell you about hard.)  Solidify bitterness towards pregnant women forever?  Check!  That was not my dear sister-in-law's fault; it was a reflection of my own inner turmoil and anguish.

By the end of the summer, we were jumping at the chance to house-sit for my parents, who decided to serve a two-year church mission since the economy wasn't giving my self-employed father any income anyway.  In Oregon, Anthony finally found work, but there wasn't enough money to try for a baby the fancy way, so we waited.  Oh, we were still trying, but let's face it, it was never going to happen for us without help.

After four years of infertility, you'd think I'd have been battle-hardened, a little less sensitive.  But you'd be wrong.  I'm sorry to tell you that this doesn't get easier.  I just doesn't.  So do whatever it is you need to do to cope.  No one but someone who's been where you are has a right to judge - and trust me, we'd never dream of it.

Our 4-year "anniversary" of infertility rolled on by us.  At an adult meeting, one of our church leaders gave a talk, no lecture, about couples who waited to have children for the wrong reasons.  He may even have wagged his finger and "tsk-tsked" at us.  Okay, probably not, but he may as well have.  Anthony held my hand very tightly, maybe to keep me from standing up and shouting, "So what about US?"

In a righteous fury, I was quick to remind myself that this wasn't my fault.  If God wanted me to have a baby I would have had one.  Heaven knows we'd given Him ample opportunity.  And hadn't I broken my heart with weeping just like my biblical namesake?  Hannah-in-the-Bible got a child; she got a freaking prophet!  But me?  No, not me.  I wasn't worthy enough, or trustworthy enough, not something enough.  God had taken away TWO pregnancies and then our means to try for more.  How dare this man condemn me for what God controlled?  (Because, you know, how could I not take it personally?)

So we went to a bishop of our church.  More accurately, I went and made Anthony come.  Then I told him pretty much everything I've just told you and said, "So what are we supposed to do?"  

Our bishop was kind and wise beyond his years.  Still, he was only 35 and had five sons, so I know his counsel was inspired by a higher power.  He explained the nature of "patiently waiting on the Lord" so tenderly that even my wounded heart was moved.  He counseled us to put whatever we could spare from Anthony's minimum-wage job unto a "baby fund," and also to seek a blessing from the Lord.  (In the LDS church, the priesthood has the power to give someone a blessing of healing or comfort, and we believe that the priesthood holder has the ability to speak the words God would speak to the individual being blessed.)  Our bishop agreed to provide me with such a blessing, after fasting and prayer.  That blessing was beautiful.  It was healing to my soul.  It was straight from God, and I knew it.  All three of us were in tears by the end.

If ever your sorrow and despair threaten to overwhelm you, follow that counsel.  The very best advice I could give you would be that bishop's.  Don't give up.  Keep working, waiting patiently, and saving.  Don't lose faith.  Seek Divine guidance and help by the means available to you.

Your results may be different than mine.  I'd expect them to be.  But I bet you want to know what my results were.  In that blessing I was told that I truly was not to blame.  God had very specific timing for when my children would come, and they would each have specific missions to fulfill on earth.  I was told that the time was "not yet," but would come even after what I thought was the "last corner."  Whether by pregnancy or adoption, my preparation would be the same - and I had to be fully prepared.  (I learned why later.)  In the meantime, I was promised to find joy and fulfillment as I served others' children (I taught 10-year-olds in my church's Primary).  I was told my body would function as it should (I started a period that day).  And I was told that Anthony would be able to provide handsomely for our family (the fulfillment of that promise came later).  That was the medicine we needed.  The strength to carry on.

Soon after, I was called to teach a Seminary class for LDS high school students.  Who calls a 25-year-old to teach thirty 14- to 18-year-olds about the gospel, life, and everything?  God does, I guess.  I thought serving others' children referred to my Primary kids.  Nope.  It was these kids.  They became my kids in a way only a teacher can claim.  For a year I found so much joy and fulfillment in teaching them.

Meanwhile, my older brother had his fourth child and my young brother became a father-to-be.  We lost a third pregnancy.  I was still waiting to turn that "last corner."  We knew our next fertility treatments needed to be more elaborate - the kind that costs thousands of dollars - and we were averaging about $50/mo. for our baby fund. (I didn't get paid to teach Seminary.)  So that corner seemed very distant indeed.

THEN... inspired by my sister, my younger brother and his wife, both with high-paying jobs, offered to cover the cost of gonadotropin injections and treatment.  THE WHOLE COST. I learned later that my sister-in-law's mother heard of our situation and said, "This is a small sum to you - one of your paychecks - but this is the world to them."

We quickly found our fertility specialist and made arrangements for my next cycle, which for the first and only time in my life had been as regular as clockwork for an entire year.

It worked.  On the first try. My baby's heart was beating visibly on a monitor shortly after Mother's Day 2011.

 The rest is a different story - My Pregnancy Story.  You can find it on my blog:  But be forewarned - it is not pretty.  Heaven and Hell waged war over my child entering this world and I was the carnage-strewn battlefield.  So if you're not ready, or if you're the skittish type to be scared away from fertility drugs, don't read it.  You can still check out my blog though and see the miracle that is my daughter.  Just remember, she's not "just another baby."  She's the conclusion to a 5-year battle with infertility.  She isn't there to taunt you, but to give you hope.

There is so much more I could say, but really what I'd offer is a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a cheerleader, and a righteous fury supporter.  If you need one, now or later, just get in touch - I'm all yours.

- Hannah Trujillo

 P.S. If you read the Bible, notice how many of God's most precious daughters were purposefully tried in this way.  The Old Testament is full of happy endings to infertility.  We're part of a pretty amazing group of women, if you think about it.

Amazing, huh?!  It is soo cool to see the miracles that came to this amazing couple amid the heartbreak...remember to come back tomorrow for Part 2...the story of her pregnancy and the miracle baby!  And remember to leave your comments...I'm sure Hannah would love to hear from you!  :)  

Also, if you are new to SOM, welcome!  If you'd like to hear more stories from awesome, every day women (like you!) then click the "Like" button and/or "Join This Site" button on the right side of this blog.  We'd love to have you! :)  

1 comment:

  1. Your story is so moving - it's incredible what you've been through and the strength you have. I know some people are judgmental and insensitive, but I hope those suffering with infertility know there are many out there who, although don't understand those struggle, are sympathetic and would be so willing to listen, offer a shoulder to cry on, or ease that burden in any way. Between my stillborn first and my second baby, I rememeber glances of judgment.... and I had misread them. At least for me, sometimes my pain affected how I interpreted things - what people said or how they looked at me. Don't get me wrong - some people are idiots and say and do terrible things and have NO place to judge, but I think (and hope) most are concerned and may be offering their sympathies or a listening ear... Waiting for Part 2..... :)


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