The real poison pill

What do you do when you learn that your body has stopped ovulating?

First, search the Internet to re-teach yourself everything that you should have learned in sex ed classes. (Where are my ovaries? What are hormones? Wait, a menstrual cycle isn’t really every 28 days? Thank you Taking Charge of Your Fertility – and the friends who recommended it – for setting me straight).

Second, create a list of possible explanations for why your body choose to abdicate one of its core responsibilities.

Theories on why I stopped ovulating:

  • I led a double life as a elite athlete. (Thanks for considering this to be included on the list doc, but alas, my pole vaulting career lasted a grand total of four weeks, and I never get off the actual ground)
  • My thyroid is wack. (Test, re-tested, medicated, test #3, cleared)
  • I’m hormonally imbalanced (WHO ISN’T?!)
  • I am experiencing stress. (SOMEONE TOLD ME I AM NOT OVULATING AND HAVEN’T BEEN FOR POTENTIALLY YEARS — AND MAYBE I AM ALSO HORMONALLY IMBALANCED)

Problems with ovulation are one of the top causes for infertility. Answers as to why said women are experiencing problems are less common.

Here’s a quick backstory: I stopped taking oral birth control in August 2015. Aaron and I had been married for almost one year, and we had decided to give ourselves that time before embarking on the potential for pregnancy. You know, that whole trying to figure out this marriage deal. I remember finishing my final pack, tossing it valiantly in the trash, and preparing myself for what could come. In September, something didn’t come: my period.

I was flabbergasted. My monthly flow was more Type-A than me. I could nearly chart it to the hour on the appointed day. But, no period for the first time in 15 years? Finally, this moment of being late that didn’t evoke an immediate panic attack.

Like any dutiful mom-in-waiting, I allowed the appropriate time to pass and then purchased my first at home pregnancy tests.

Negative.

Alright, perhaps I did this one too early. I let a few more days slide by (noting that my mind could only focus on the fact that I could at that very moment be formulating some zygote monstrosity that would ideally reform into a beautiful, healthy baby).

Negative #2.

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I didn’t understand. THERE IS ONLY ONE POSSIBILITY. WHY DID I BUY ALL OF THESE JUNKY PREGNANCY TESTS?

We’ll glide over the confusion and hurt I felt because, little did I know, this was only the beginning of my infertility journey!

Wonder woman on a unicorn on a rainbow

I wish this is what the infertility journey felt like. Image credit to the Tumblr blog “Power Pussy Says.” No, I’m not making this up. Brilliant!

How could I have foreseen that 2016 and 2017 would morph into my very own episode of “Unsolved Mystery”? Side note: easily one of the best television shows on Lifetime Television in the 1990s.

My period did not come back. Of course, I met women who shared that despite the fact that did not return to regular menstruation after birth control, they still were able to achieve conception. Have hope! Stay positive!

Nope. Well, I mean yes, I tried to stay hopeful and positive. But I certainly didn’t find myself procuring the coveted “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” novel or flocking to the nearest Target to oodle over burp blankets and onesies.

I’m less interested in talking about what transpired between those 24 months today. In fact, I don’t think what happened was really all that interesting, period (Ha! She’s got jokes). We tried a few things. I had some atrocious interactions with medical professionals whose callous, cold hearts made Charlton Heston look like a softie. What I really want to lament about on this Sunday evening is the evils of birth control.

After a failed round of hormonal injections last November and December (culminating in getting my period on Christmas Eve as I was in the midst of a wretched bout of food poisoning — happy holidays, folks!), we decided to take a break to start off the New Year. Or, I made that call as I do have an incredibly supportive partner in this process (even willing to be present in the room when I gave myself injections, if needed, but also would have had to turn away and not allow himself to hear any noises of pokes, or else I would have been waving smelling salts under his nose a half-beat later).

Fast-forward: STILL NO PERIOD. My ob-gyn is like: “ok, soooooo…maybe we should put you on birth control for a little bit to at least go through a couple of cycles. You don’t want your vaginal lining to get too thick because that can lead to complications. And, since you’re not producing estrogen, you should notice improved energy and mood. You may get some headaches initially but they should dissipate. Sound good?”

I am going to start taking medication that will prevent me from doing the one thing I’ve been trying for the last 2+ years to do? As Tony the Tiger would say:

Here I am: 33 and back on birth control. AND FEELING MISERABLE. The headache promise came true. But, what I wasn’t prepared for were the following:

  • Overnight weight gain (I’m sorry, what does my scale say?)
  • Bloating — or how I prefer to describe it — feeling SWOOL
  • Sore breasts that don’t fill sexy but just feel the pain
  • A general squishiness to my body (where did you go, muscles?)
  • Extreme anger — I may or may not have thrown vegetables at the wall at one point
  • Exhaustion
  • Constipation (something needs to come out of this damn body)
  • Generally unpleasant wife/co-worker/friend/human being
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I put Grumpy Cat to shame during these seven weeks.

The silver lining after three weeks: I got my period. Hooray?! Shed that lining. Feel like a functioning reproductive woman. All I felt was awful. Nearing the end of my second pack this last week, I said: “no more.” I chucked those last pills into the rubbish and dusted my hands of that experiment.

How do I feel now? Despite currently enjoying my second cycle of 2018, I feel so much better mentally and emotionally. I can’t hide from the fact that I will need to find a replacement therapy to put estrogen into my body.  That I may never get pregnant or carry a baby to full-term. But, like hell I’m going to allow myself to be subjected to feeling like shit and spending money on tampons by ingesting something that is designed to make sure I do neither of those first two things. I don’t have enough time or energy to sort that would with a therapist. Or to rationalize it any longer with myself.

Perhaps it’s time to give that pole vaulting career another try…

 

On fertile ground? Not so much.

“Wait, this isn’t going to be a post about mindfulness?”

No, no dear readers. Not today. Although, I could argue that a heightened sense of awareness, developed through mindfulness, will increase one’s ability to be empathetic, which for a woman dealing with infertility is a highly desired quality.

In previous ramblings, I’ve alluded to my fertility journey. I’ve tried to be as open as possible about this experience with people in my life, as I have been blessed to have received the same openness from others who have walked their own path down a similarly frustrating, heartbreaking road.

And yet, talking about infertility is not a comfortable, cozy conversation topic. It’s one spoken in whispers, as if normal volume will spread it like wildfire. Like many women in a particular age range, especially after getting married, I get asked almost daily if I have children.

“Do you have kids? Not yet? Do you want kids?”

Why are we socialized to ask this question to people, especially strangers? What does having a child, or holding the identity as “parent,” really tell us about someone? Do we perceive an individual as being a better person if they are a parent? Are they smarter? More responsible? More capable of giving love? Perhaps there’s research out there proving otherwise, but my gut is that those associations are fallacies.

In the year after my doctor dropped the “I” label on me, I answered such questions with a hopeful response of: “Yes, I want kids. We’re working on it!” I soon learned this opened the door to the laundry list of unhelpful statements people utter that are both good-intentioned and make you feel like a 21st century Hester Prynne.

Hester Prynne

Enduring heroine or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s views on women’s sexual freedom? You decide!

I want to be upfront that I can only speak to my perspective on what is helpful and unhelpful in supporting a friend grappling with infertility and the swirl of exhaustion, guilt, blame, self-loathing, hope, outrage, confusion, and pain that infiltrates the mind, body, and spirit. So, in that vein, here are some of my suggestions on what actions to take — and which ones to avoid — when trying to be supportive:

  • Do: take cues from your friend on how much they want to open up about their experience. Ask permission to ask questions. Be patient. It is their story to tell, and they deserve the chance to share it when they are ready.
  • Don’t: don’t share a story about your brother’s girlfriend’s aunt who tried getting pregnant for 100 years and then — lo and behold! A baby was born. Leave all comparison stories at home. I do not care. That is their experience, and bully for them. But, those stories do not fill me with hope because our bodies are completely different vessels.
  • Do: if you feel sadness as a friend, share it witnessing another friend go through this, share it. “I am sorry that you’re going through this.” I am sad too. I wish you weren’t sad, and I wish I wasn’t sad. But, I feel your compassion and care in your words.
  • Don’t: don’t unload a pile of advice on my doorstep. Have I thought about working out less? Decreasing my coffee intake? Standing on my head in the middle of the street? The short answer: YES. Yes, I have cut out x,y, and z and taken this supplement and added this and — you get the picture. Yes, again, well-intentioned. Let us not forget that intention does not negate impact. I feel worse after hearing this advice because it makes me feel like I’m being perceived as not doing enough to fix this situation. I’m trying — believe me, I WANT to get pregnant! If I want advice, please allow me the chance to ask for it.
  • Do: if you are willing, share your story if you have also had trouble conceiving. Even if you did eventually get pregnant and now you’re a rockstar parent, I appreciate your willingness to name the challenges you endured. Even though you achieved your desired outcome, you still experienced sorrow and loss.
  • Don’t: don’t tell me to just relax and have fun. Ever. My response to this statement is not appropriate for the Internet.giphy
  • Do: be my friend. That may seem silly, but let’s continue to do things together that bring us joy! Sure, some of those could relate to women’s health (or MINDFULNESS! See, I could sneak it in there). But, it can be all of the other activities that people – fertile or not – take up: go bowling, start a book club, attend a concert, dance like no one is watching (except that one creepy person in the corner). Distractions are welcomed. Having fun and creating spaces for laughter are appreciated. Finding time to build our bonds of kinship remain a priority.

One situation, where I don’t feel like there’s a clear or justified do/don’t, is around sharing your own personal good news if you become pregnant. This happened to a friend of mine not too long after I had revealed my own struggle. Later on, she confessed that she was afraid to tell me as she was attuned to my situation and didn’t want to hurt me.

Now, this friend is by far one of the kindness, most selfless people I know. I appreciated her honesty, and I expressed that her decision to withhold her celebratory news made me feel sad. I reveled in her happiness — and now get to do that to an even greater extent by holding her beautiful child.

At the same time, there are days where I catch a friend’s social media post announcing their pregnancy and my first reaction is not one of celebration. There was a string around the holidays where it felt like everyone in my circle was holding up little baby booties and onesies and I was like:

C’MON ON NOW UNIVERSE.

A friend reflected that the infertility journey is truly a roller coaster. There are moments of such anticipation and excitement — you try to temper it as best you can — but there’s something so visceral when you allow yourself to be filled with that hope.

Then, there are times when the bottom drops out; your body sucks your breath back in by the sheer force of your current reality. You want to hold on to something — someone — and yet you are often alone. You may be on a bathroom floor. You may be laying on some awful table with your legs in stirrups. You have to find a way to pick yourself back up. Slap a smile on that face. Be ready to shake hands with someone new as they ask:

“So, do you have kids?”