5 Reasons Infertility is Like Being Stranded on a Deserted Island

  1. It’s not as glamorous as people think.

Seriously. Tell me you haven’t, at one time in your life, daydreamed about being stranded on a deserted island. There are even conversational games surrounding this idea: What are the three things you would take? Who would you want with you?  The allure may be subconscious, but there’s something there, right? I mean, no one is playing the game where they decide who you want with you when your boat sinks in shark-infested waters. 

There’s no secret that infertility (like being stranded) sucks. However, you would be shocked at how many times someone has given me the raised eyebrow and said “come on, at least you’re having fun trying, right?” Maybe you wouldn’t be shocked because maybe you’ve been thinking that same thing. 

Disclaimer: I’ve never been stranded on an island. Something tells me, though, that it will be less drinking piña coladas out of a pineapple (obviously one of my items was a magically endless supply of rum) while swinging in a hammock (item #2)*, and more trying to keep bugs from crawling into every opening on your body. 

(*Before you start doubting my ability to survive in the wild, my third item is obviously a two-in-one machete and fire-starter. Wait. Did I just invent something brilliant? Back off, REI.)

Likewise, sexy time during infertility is light on the sexy and heavy on schedules and stress. Basically, like gathering and boiling water on the island, it becomes a chore. In addition to worrying if you’ve correctly timed the fertile window so that you can start early enough, but then still have enough “gas in the tank” to get through ovulation and the two days following, there are other added layers of burden. Reproduction is a natural function of the female body. So, when that doesn’t work, there is no other way to put it…you feel broken. Defective. We’re following the user guide, but it’s still not working. 

  1. Life becomes about survival. 

I am not a fragile person. The cards I have been dealt have built a fortitude within me that I am damn proud of. I feel like I can push through most things with a smile – even if it’s a fake one. When things get tough, I remind myself, over and over again, that pain is temporary. The problem with infertility is that though drug side effects, painful procedures, and even negative tests are all temporary, the actual scope and sequence of infertility is unknown. I don’t know that there’s an end to this. While I know I won’t be undergoing treatments for the rest of my life, I don’t know that this is ever going to end. Statistically speaking, there is about an 85% chance that I will end this whole thing a lot poorer and empty-handed. (And honestly, that’s a generous number.) 

When I think about these things, which I do every single day of my life, I begin to feel fragile. To combat this, I have developed a list of coping strategies. I control the things that I can. I feel like if you were stranded, you would develop rules and rituals. Things you do to make you feel like you’re focused on survival. Keep the fire going. Boil the water. Collect palm fronds to patch the roof. (I’ve obviously thought this out.) 

There’s much about my body that I can’t control. This has led to an obsessive control over the things that I can, and drives my husband crazy. “You still have to live your life,” he tells me daily as I am sorting out my 23 different medications and supplements I take every day, or turn down a second cup of coffee because I’ve already had the one cup that I allow myself each morning. Even my nurse tells me to loosen up and that it’s okay to have a glass of wine or a margarita. What people don’t understand is that survival is a mental game. 

  1. You eat a lot of pineapple. 

Pineapple contains bromelain, an anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulation agent that *may* improve implantation by increasing blood flow to the uterus. If you’ve ever wondered why there are always pineapples on infertility gifts, trinkets, and social media posts, this is why. This is also why, during the two-week wait, pineapple becomes my go-to snack. I am pretty sure studies are inconclusive about the actual effects that pineapples may have on fertility, but, as stated in #2, sometimes feeling like you’re doing something concrete is enough to appease the mind. Therefore, bring on the pineapple! Not only is it delicious, its tough exterior protects the sweetness on the inside, and that feels a lot like infertility. 

  1. You feel a little bit crazy. 

No cheating. When I say the name “Wilson”, what initially comes to mind?

A. The neighbor on Home Improvement who is always peeking over the fence
B. Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States
C. Mr. Wilson, neighbor to Dennis the Menace
D. Wilson, volleyball BFF to Tom Hanks

Since this entire post is metaphorically about being stranded on a desert island, I may have been subliminally hinting that D is the correct answer. Which it is, obviously. A and C are too obscure for it to be the FIRST thing you thought of. And, if you chose B, you’re too smart to be reading this blog, so let me direct you to the Wall Street Journal

We all thought Tom Hanks was a little crazy for his attachment to the volleyball, but tell me you didn’t get a little choked up when his efforts to save Wilson proved futile. His crazy started making sense. 

The hormone fluctuations within my body do not have me talking to a volleyball…yet. I do, however, feel a certain brand of uncontrollable crazy.  

Prior to starting fertility treatments, I would have described my emotional state as “even keel”. Now? Now I’m a giant cry baby. I cry at everything. For the most part, I am able to conceal the mood swings that I feel raging inside of me. (Pipe down, Justin.) I am not, however, no matter how hard I try, able to control the tears. Some of my tears have been worth shedding. I will always cry at every single negative pregnancy test. So far, on this trip down Infertility Lane alone, there have been about 40. In case you’re wondering, they don’t get easier. I will never be calloused to seeing just one pink line. On the other hand, my days are also full of silly tears. For example, Justin can tell you about my complete and utter meltdown over news coverage of a cow stuck in the mud during some torrential rains a month or so ago. Inconsolable doesn’t come close.  

  1. It’s just so damn lonely. 

Unless you, first hand, know the pain of desperately wanting a family with every fiber of your being, but no matter how hard you try you can’t make it happen, there is no way to comprehend what this feels like. This is not a pity party. This is just the sad truth. 

Most days I feel like we’re stuck on this island while life is continuing uninterrupted for everyone else. I mean, here I am making a smoke signal and spelling out SOS in the sand, but the plane flying overhead is too busy scanning for a radio station that’s not playing a commercial to even notice. 

This is something that I have avoided talking about because, honestly, I feel a little guilty even mentioning it. There are so many kind people in my life who continually check on me. I chose to open up and share our story, and we are truly lucky for the outpouring of support we have received. Most people going through this are doing so in private. They, for all intents and purposes, are stranded on an island. I feel like we at least have email. 

I know the title of my blog is a self-deprecating joke, but there’s a little truth to it. I don’t know that there’s a way to be “good at” being infertile. It’s one of those “fake it till you make it” kinds of things. I also know that everyone on the outside kind of feels the same way and that my openness has made some people uncomfortable. Most of the time, people don’t know what to say so they just totally ignore it. And that’s okay, because, most of the time, I don’t know what to say either. I have learned that when most people check on me, they want the polished answer: “It’s a tough road, but I’m making it.” It’s easy to get behind the hero fighting a battle. But sometimes, I don’t feel very heroic. Sometimes I get really tired of kicking infertility’s ass. But I guess that’s kind of the point of this blog. And even though I often feel like I am sugar-coating things as I write, I feel like I am being about as vulnerable and open as I’m capable of being. I’m trying to paint a realistic picture for you.  

***

I suppose I should also include an update for those who are following along with my timeline. We have started the 8th round of fertility drugs. Since we had the miscarriage back in January, my doctor was pretty sure that I didn’t have blocked tubes. However, since we haven’t had any luck since then, we went ahead and did an HSG this week. The purpose of this test is to inject dye, via catheter, into the uterus and fallopian tubes. To quote my doctor, “This also acts as a ‘roto-rooter’ of sorts, and can increase fertility for three months.” This sounds like a simple procedure. All I have to say is that the next time a male doctor tells me it’s going to feel like period cramps, I’m going to be a bit more skeptical. To quote The Princess Bride, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” It was brutal but temporary. 

Thankfully, the test results showed no blockages. On one hand, that’s a huge relief. But at the same time, it doesn’t answer any questions as to why nothing is working. We did get the green flag to go ahead with another IUI. So, our fingers are crossed that the ovary-stimulating drugs will continue to do their job and cause ovulation. If all works out, we’re looking at another IUI in about a week. 

I know this post was twice as long as they usually are, so thanks for sticking with me. I also know this process has been longer than you probably expected. So again I repeat, thanks for sticking with me. 

(six. twelve. twenty-two)

This Is Not My Idea of a Good Time

This evening as I was cooking dinner, I chopped a red onion – a simple act that, for me, typically leads to aggressive tears and smeared mascara. Tonight? Nothing. So, obviously, I did the only rational thing, and googled: “Can a person run out of tears?” This search was, in part, born out of genuine curiosity, but more so out of hope. Hope that there’s an end in sight, and at some point, they will stop. 

For the official record, and according to the wealth of knowledge that is Google, the answer is no. Which, honestly, feels a bit fitting, because the only adjective that is coming to mind to describe this heartbreak is infinite. However, if ever there were a day that I could officially run out of tears, it would have been today. 

It’s been a while since I have blogged. Over two weeks, to be exact – the day of my last IUI. Life goes on for everyone and the world has continued to turn, so I am sure most people didn’t notice my short absence. But I’m assuming some of you did notice and have been hoping my silence was full of promise and meant good things to come – maybe I had exciting news I was trying to keep a secret. 

I’m afraid it is quite the opposite. To put it bluntly, I just haven’t been able to find the strength to write. A part of me feels like I owe you, my readers, an apology that I failed again and there is no good news to share. 

I was recently asked, by someone who genuinely cares about me, if each cycle gets easier to handle. My answer was an unabashed no. Sometimes I do feel like I am getting better at hiding it, but that is usually a fleeting feeling. This cycle has, by far, been the toughest. And in the last two weeks, I have hit my breaking point – a few times. 

This is not a “woe is me” post. And I am not going to detail all the things that have happened this cycle, nor all the places my mind has gone. And, rest assured, this is not a cry for help. This is just a tiny peek in the window that is infertility.

To gloss over just a small fraction of the high points low points: During this cycle, there were three nights in a row that I did not sleep due to intense ovarian pain (possibly and probably a fertility drug-fed cyst rupturing), but we can’t be sure because the left ovary could not be located on my ultrasound today. There were meetings that I had to excuse myself from because I felt tears in the back of my throat. There was poor communication from my doctor’s office, unreturned calls, and rude office staff that clearly could benefit from some sensitivity training. 

PSA to office receptionists: Calling someone “hun” does not cancel out insensitivity. And newsflash, I am not doing this for fun. I know this may come as a shock, but monthly transvaginal ultrasounds are not my idea of a good time. I am not intentionally trying to make your life difficult when I start my period on a Saturday and have to be seen by the doctor to start my medicine on Monday. I am, quite literally, at the end of my rope trying to do everything I can to start a family. So, if you can’t have a 3-minute conversation with a fertility patient without bringing her to tears, it may be time to invest in the aforementioned sensitivity training. 

Can you tell I’ve had a day?

Today I started the drugs for cycle #8. That’s seven failed cycles. Six times (the first one was a total bust with no ovulation) I have sat on the table with my feet in the stirrups, handed over all of my charting, and heard the same words: “This is textbook perfection. You did everything right.”  But six times it didn’t matter that my body responded to the medication. Six times it didn’t matter how perfectly timed my intercourse and IUIs were. Because there I was today, sitting on the exact same table that I did 9 months ago when we began this journey – the exact amount of time it takes to create and bring a life into this world. But, here I am with nothing in my arms but a collection of perfect charts and a box of tests with only one pink line. 

On Friday morning I am having a procedure in which they will do an internal x-ray, insert dye, and flush out my fallopian tubes. This may give us more answers, and it has the potential to increase fertility for a few months. I have heard that this is not at all a pleasant experience, but if it provides insight and increases my chances, I’ll suck it up with a smile. Which, to be honest, feels like the official game face of infertility. 

Though it’s getting harder to visualize this ending the way I want it to, I’m trying to remain hopeful. I really am. I’m to the part of the cycle where I usually start psyching myself up. I have a fresh chart and a new cycle to conquer. This shameless hope usually results in my purchasing a baby item or two. That little box is now overflowing and the lid no longer fits, and it’s starting to feel like a silly ritual. 

I want to end this long-winded post with words of appreciation. Thank you to all who continue to reach out and check on me. This is, by far, the hardest and loneliest road I have ever traveled. The small things, tight hugs, and encouraging words mean more than you will ever know. 

(six. six. twenty-two)