After Infertility: Filling the Void

January 6, 2019

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I’ve written a couple of blog posts about my experience with infertility including advice to people who have never gone through the ordeal and how they can be more helpful and understanding. As of this writing, it’s been about five years since I finally realized that having a child was impossible for my husband and me. For those who don’t know my story, here’s a brief summary.

After more than a year of trying to conceive naturally, I visited a fertility specialist who advised that I start trying through IUI. After running several tests, it was confirmed that no problems were found to indicate that I might have trouble conceiving with a little bit of help. Three IUIs later, nothing. Moving onto IVF. Four rounds of IVF later and a now empty savings account, we were still childless. Obviously, this was the end of the road especially since five embryos, averaging between seven and eight cells, were transferred into me and not one of them implanted themselves. Each time I received that call from the clinic informing me that the pregnancy test result was a big fat negative (BFN). The call was usually made by a nurse. After that last round, my doctor personally called and recommended that I try other alternatives. The husband and I had discussed adoption or hiring a surrogate but for various reasons, neither option was meant for us.

Shortly after that ordeal I adopted my first dog—Norman, a toy Maltese—and of course, I fell in love. In time, Norman would change my life significantly, and you will see how later. He definitely helped start the mending process of my broken heart but it would be several years before I could finally say that I was at peace with the direction my life had taken. Prior to that, things got ugly. Long story short, I began drinking a lot, spending money I didn’t have on things I didn’t need, I lost interest and began slacking off at my job. The most absurd thoughts and obsessions began taking over my life. One insane example: cancer runs on both sides of my family and one day I began hysterically crying to my husband because I had convinced myself that if I was unable to accomplish something as basic as getting pregnant this just might indicate that if I’m diagnosed with cancer, I’ll be completely incapable to combat it. In my insanity, I believed that my inability to conceive meant I will probably die of cancer. (I have no idea how I made that ridiculous connection, but there it was.)

To make things worse, it seemed as if every day I was learning about someone new who was pregnant and each time, without fail, it sent me into a tailspin. I hated being like this. I knew I was being self-destructive and I knew this wouldn’t rectify or change anything but there seemed to be no stopping it.

As a child, I loved writing. It wasn’t something I did consistently, but every once in a while I’d be inspired by something or I’d need an escape from whatever was happening at the moment and writing provided this. While going through the nightmare that is infertility, for the first time in almost ten years, the urge took over and I sat in front of my desktop and ended up writing the first two chapters of what would eventually be my first book. In my younger days, I never allowed anyone to read what I wrote for fear of embarrassment, criticism, you name it. This time around was different. There’s something about sticking your feet in stirrups and exposing yourself in front of various strangers almost every month while they stick objects inside you, pressing on your abdomen until you’re screeching in pain because they can’t find that ovary that likes to hide. It makes you realize there are other things more humiliating than people not caring for what you write. Breaking down in tears during your commute on the subway in front of a bunch of people because you hear a baby crying and just learned that your last IVF treatment failed will do that as well.

Anyway, after taking a few deep breaths and asking myself what I had to lose, I shared my writing on Wattpad, expecting the worst. (Let’s be brutally honest, people online can be assholes.) But surprisingly, the response I received was positive. As it had been many years since I had written and it wasn’t something I had practiced consistently, I did receive some constructive feedback but I didn’t mind; feedback could only help me if I chose to continue. However, it didn’t take long for life to get in the way plus, at this point, I hadn’t given up on my goal to get pregnant so the story I had initially been so excited about was pushed to the side.

About a year after my last BFN I was working a temp assignment in Manhattan when something began nagging me about that story. Soon, I started a blog, posted and finished that story which I published shortly thereafter. Soon I was writing about other topics such as true crime cases, animal rights and, obviously, infertility. For the first time in many years, I felt accomplished at something. Every once in a great while I still come across someone negative but I choose to ignore those anonymous pessimists. They are not worth anyone’s time or energy.

While I was completely elated discovering this newfound passion, there was a part of me that was still angry and unsatisfied. I continued to feel that twinge each time I learned about someone who was expecting or I’d go into a rage after hearing or reading a news story about someone who harmed or abandoned their child, thinking to myself, “They can have a child but I can’t?”

Eventually, I came in contact with a local animal rescue organization. I had two cats that I adored recently pass away from natural causes and I was devastated. A mutual friend, associated with this organization told me about two kittens—a brother and a sister—that were looking for a forever home. It was difficult finding one for them because the brother and sister were a package deal and not many people were eager to adopt both. I was not one of those people.

As I mentioned earlier, Norman is the first dog I ever owned. During my twenties and early thirties I was very transient and always lived in places that didn’t allow animals or had roommates who didn’t allow them, so I never realized how much I loved dogs until Norman came along. A couple Christmases ago, the contact at that rescue organization made a post on Facebook asking if anyone was available to help foster a four-month-old puppy for the following two weeks. The puppy already had a permanent home lined up but his owner was out of town and wouldn’t be able to take him in until she came back. I had never fostered before but something inexplicable caused me to reach out as soon as I saw that post. My husband was understandably apprehensive when I told him about it, but I have a feeling he knew there was no arguing with me and, like a child trying to reason with their parent, I had convinced him I would take complete responsibility, which I did. Long story short, it was the most fun and rewarding two weeks for both of us. I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t heartbroken when we had to let the pup go to his new owners. Since then, I’ve fostered a few other dogs and cats with only one “foster fail.” My second dog, Emma, was a foster but decided she wasn’t going anywhere. They most definitely choose you!

Then, a few days ago, it hit me that I couldn’t remember the last time I got upset, angry, or jealous of someone with a child. I recently learned that several people I know are having children and it barely phased me. What shocked me even more was that I eventually found myself saying “I’m glad I dodged that bullet” when I noticed people dealing with their difficult children while out and about, or when I overhear others at my temp assignments talking about their kids getting in trouble at school. In addition, not long ago the husband and I decided to travel to Prague for a long weekend and this past summer we spent ten days in California. (Our dogs are small enough to travel with us within the country.) We have yet to meet one couple with children who have that type of freedom. Suddenly, I was no longer resentful and it felt amazing.

Abstract drawing of a black background with colors inside.

“Terms of My Surrender” by Judith Cooper

Writing and fostering animals aren’t for everyone. The point that I’m trying to make is that, after my infertility journey, it took some time but I found new passions. I’m now volunteering with a couple of rescue organizations and while it can be tough, it’s more rewarding than anything I’ve ever experienced and currently, I’m working on a seventh and eighth book.

Please keep in mind that there absolutely is happiness after an unsuccessful fertility journey. The best piece of advice I can give to anyone is to find what you truly love and pursue it even if it momentarily feels a little illogical. It may sound trite, but I always ask myself “what is the worst that can happen?” One lesson all of us who have suffered through infertility learn is that we have the strength to overcome more than we ever realized.

All of us have a gift that we were born with and some of us discover what it is later in life than others. I was one of those people but at least I finally discovered those gifts and putting them to use has brought nothing but joy.

Now that the holidays are here I know there are many out there struggling and all I can say this: do what makes you happy. If you are able to keep your distance from relatives and friends who are painful reminders of what you’re going through, then do so this year. If this makes them unhappy, trust me, they will eventually get over it. And, more than anything, please know that there is hope once you’re done with all of this. Regardless of whether or not your fertility journey is a success, the world has so much to offer that there will be something out there to fill that void that you thought would follow you around for the rest of your life.

And for those who are reading this and getting ready to give me the line “now that you’re not trying maybe it will happen,” please don’t. I can tell you without a doubt that no survivor of infertility likes to hear such platitudes. When someone you know has stopped trying to conceive and has moved on with their life or is attempting to do so, simply be happy for them. It’s a very long journey that takes even longer to recover from so all we ask is that you show your support.

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