Permission to Feel by Erica Stepteau
Today I am sharing my In Vitro Fertilization story dedicated to National Infertility Awareness Week and to the launch of Justine Brooks Froelker’s latest book The Mother of Second Chances, based on her blog Ever Upward releasing on April 17th. For five weeks 25 amazing women will share their stories of infertility and loss as part of this incredible blog tour, because together we can shatter the stigma.
Yesterday Heather shared her story and Monday we will hear from Kristy at TTC a Taxon Baby. We would love for you to participate by sharing these posts far and wide. We’d especially love to see your own broken silence by sharing your own infertility story using the hastags: #NIAW, #infertility and #EverUpward.
PERMISSION TO FEEL
In 2013 my husband (Joshua) and I decided to give In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) a try in hopes of achieving the dream of becoming parents. For those who don’t know much about IVF; it is the process of fertilization by manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish, and then transferring the embryo to the uterus. It is a very long strenuous 6-8-week process of daily needles, vaginal ultrasounds, and raging hormones.
Five percent of couples with fertility issues seek out IVF. With top chances of IVF success have per-cycle success rates of 40% or higher. During a regular cycle, there is a 15-20% chance to conceive naturally in any month for any couple. Our Fertility specialist shared with us before proceeding with IVF and after our 2nd miscarriage that we had a 2% chance of getting pregnant on our own. Hearing such a small number as a chance to become parents was devastating for us. We honestly thought going with IVF would be the answer to solve our uncertainty, frustrations, and void in our hearts.
I remember us being so excited to get started with IVF because we had just celebrated our 10 year Anniversary/Renewal of Vows ceremony and just knew this was our year! We had thoughts that since we originally married in a courthouse, that maybe we didn’t consecrate our marriage effectively in 2003 and God was waiting on us to do it the “right” way before blessing us with a child. When you have tried to achieve a dream for this long, you start creating all types of thoughts and philosophies to the mix to provide deeper understanding to be at peace. As humans, we tend to have to KNOW it all and know WHY something is happening to actually embrace it. Can you relate?
For the first time in our whole marriage we shared with everyone that we were trying to conceive. Before starting the process, we got our friends involved and co-workers. For 10 years, we kept it to ourselves and mourned with BFNs (Big Fat Negative Pregnancy tests) in secret. So, this time around we thought if we shared with others this will automatically manifest the babies we desperately desired. We thought it would rally up prayers, high vibes, and good goo-goo to provide a chance for others to witness a miracle unfold with their human eye.
We just knew it was going to happen this time around, we felt it in our deep core and was so assured God will not let us down since we were being so transparent and open. Everyone was so beyond excited for us and cheering for success. Every day we would have conversations with others about us having twins and how life would be so different and even MORE meaningful.
I began to pin every picture on Pinterest of women pregnant with twins. We even started to pick out nursery colors and themes because we were obsessed with the idea of becoming parents. All of the pics are still on my iPad to this day and when I accidently come across them I feel all the joy and excitement I had at that time to obtain a dream I have been waiting on for over a decade.
As we begin the process, our IVF team assured us we were on track and everything was looking great. No one could tell us there was 100% chance of success, but after doing our baseline biomarkers: hormone levels, ovaries and sperm analysis they felt confident we would be parents as well. Our physician even stated the results we had so far was practically “text book” and this provided to the team even more assurance that this will work for us.
At this time, I was very active and working out with a cool team during lunch hour at a medical device company in Highland Heights, OH. I decided to stop all running which hubby and I did almost every evening in the Metro Parks and the intense Shaun T (Insanity) workout. Instead, I started meditative Yoga. I was really thinking that my high intense physical activity could prevent pregnancy and the success of the IVF process. I didn’t want to take a chance since this procedure was close to $25,000 plus the cost of all the injectable medications.
After using contraceptives for approximately 2 weeks to suppress ovarian production we begin the 4-week process of IVF with the crazy daily fertility injections. I remember being so freaked out by putting a needle in my belly. Joshua had to help a lot with this because I would freeze up and start shaking. Around day 5 I started to feel a bit moody and irritated, and the following week I was having all types of meltdowns about food, work, and the feeling of overwhelm. I had to take a leave of absence from work to finish off the IVF process because how crazy I was feeling.
I remember going into the doctor office starting day 5 of cycle every day for blood work and pelvic ultrasounds. They poked me so much that I began to have bruises on both forearms and I was afraid that I looked like a drug addict. I had to wear long sleeve shirts (thankfully it was still a bit chilly in Ohio) to hid the bruises. And those internal pelvic ultrasounds were so annoying, but I know they had to constantly check how the ovaries were doing during the process. For 7 days, I almost got use to walking in the office getting poked with a needle 2-3 times then jumping on the table and spread my legs open for internal ultrasound.
As we begin to get closer to egg retrieval day the technician stated that one of my ovaries were the size of a golf ball. I already looked 5 months pregnant and was beginning to have cramping and very uncomfortable pelvic pain. I believe at this time we had 15-18 follicles (eggs) to use to proceed with process.
Egg retrieval day came. We prayed so hard the night of, we ask God to have his way. At this point of the process I was so bruised and beat up, sore, tired, aggravated, and uncertain on the next steps. As they prepped me for surgery Joshua held my hand and we locked eyes. We didn’t say much because we both were very nervous and scared. They grabbed my husband and had him exit room so that they can collect sperm to seal the deal after retrieving my eggs.
I was placed under powerful anesthesia and a needle was passed through the top of my vagina under ultrasound guidance to get to the ovary and follicles. The fluid in the follicles was aspirated through the needed and the eggs detach from the follicle wall and were sucked out of the ovary.
When they completed the 30min surgery, they were able to create 8 embryos. Those were our 8 babies in production. Now the waiting game began to see which 2 embryos do they transfer to my uterus. This waiting game can be up to 5 days. We went home and I was still in excruciating pain. I went from pain at a level of 6 on the scale of 1-10 to like a 20 in a matter of one hour. Joshua rushed me to emergency. We explained to them that I just had an egg retrieval surgery. They did an external ultrasound and found that my right ovary ruptured. So yeah, the pain at the rate of 20 made complete sense at that time. I was in so much pain all I did was sleep, they gave me some low dose meds since I was anticipating to put my “babies” in the oven within a few days. We went home the next morning and I was feeling much better.
When we returned home, we were glued to the phone awaiting information about our “babies”. The nurse called the first thing that morning and said 3 of them started to dissipate and were not valuable to place in uterus. We started to get sad, but had a very small amount of hope for the other 5. The next day the nurse called again and said 2 more dissolved and then the next day after that she explain we had no more. Our IVF failed. We were crushed because we told everybody and their mama that we will be parents this time. We thought the vulnerability would be the key and sharing our story will solidify our dream. I questioned God on this decision and outcome.
We were very lost on how to move forward at this time. I took another week off work on FMLA because I was so depressed and humiliated. I was disappointed in myself thinking maybe I ate something wrong, didn’t relax enough, or missed a step with injections. I also felt horrible that my hubby had to endure all the mood swings, nagging, and errands to accommodate me along the journey without providing to him a very special gift of a child. I was worried about how hubby felt.
He was so sad and there was a lot of silence for a few days in the house. He went to work and came home, I cooked, we ate and that was it. Neither one of us wanted to talk about it. Our phones were blowing up. Everyone wanted to send their condolences, we received flowers in the mail, encouraging text messages, and when I returned to work my team even had a card for me.
After a few days, I allowed myself to actually feel the pain and allowed a few to witness the pain and know that I was struggling to keep my faith and sanity.
What I learned from this particular situation is that it’s important to give yourself permission to feel. Since this incident, I have been able to share my journey towards fertility a bit more with ease and flow. We are currently still on our journey towards fertility and just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. We still have hope to be parents one day, sharing has allowed me to heal some deep wounds associated with this journey. Not that every layer is healed, but I am better off allowing myself to feel the pain instead of hoarding it and allowing it to kill me internally.
It’s something liberating about allowing yourself to feel, don’t numb emotions or play like everything is ok. It’s ok to be vulnerable. Find a confidant who is willing to be present NOT just provide guidance or their input. Remember you can’t specifically numb these feelings without numbing joy in your life at the same time. So, cry, yell, scream, and grieve when you have to then get back up with confidence and assurance that it will be ok.
If you are grieving or experiencing a painful moment in your life right now, give these tips below a try. It will for sure help you embrace your journey a bit more and heal from within while you still keep the faith alive on the outside!
- Journal thoughts about a time you needed to “feel” instead of masking emotions. As you reflect back, allow yourself to scream, yell, cry, or grieve when necessary.
- How have you lost your tolerance of vulnerability? You cannot selectively numb sections of vulnerability because by default you will numb your joy. The best ways to embrace vulnerability is to have gratitude for all your blessings and give yourself permission to feel.
- What masks are you wearing? In what ways, will you start removing them? What is your biggest fear of exposing yourself?