Up until recent years, I was completely unaware that there even was a National Infertility Awareness Week. Even though so many I know suffer from infertility, and as I get older, more and more of my friends and family have shared or discovered they suffer from infertility, it wasn’t something I would bring up. It completely breaks my heart that I know so many that suffer and that it took me this long to speak up about the topic. I wish I could do more for them to help ease their pain, but I never knew what to say. I didn’t know what I could do to let them know I was there for them. The theme this year for NIAW is “Flip the Script,” and is about changing the conversation about infertility.
Since I don’t feel as if I could do this post justice, yet I feel it is of utmost importance to share and educate about infertility, I thought it appropriate to have my first guest blog post. Elena Ridley is an amazing mom of the sweetest little girl, and a loving wife to her husband, Joe. I asked Elena if she was willing to share her journey (that makes me tear up every time in happiness for them), and to talk about what is infertility.
“Infertility, a disease that effects 1 in 8 couples in the United States. Approximately 30% is female factor, 30% is male factor, and the rest is usually a combination of male and female factors, or factors that cannot be determined. Simply put, it’s defined as the inability to conceive children, but what the dictionary definition fails to recognize is that there is really no way to truly define the word so simply.
When I think of the word infertility, I think of it as a multifaceted word, a single word with so much meaning; a word that symbolizes the hardest but also most rewarding parts of my adult life. A span of 5 years of trying to conceive (TTC) either naturally or by means of artificial reproduction such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or invitro fertilization (IVF). It defined the first years of our marriage, it was all I could think about, it was at the forefront of my thoughts and always in the back of my mind. Anyone in a similar struggle will tell you that it becomes an obsession, it becomes all your life is about. Infertility will rob you of relationships, money, and so much more. Couples will pay thousands of dollars, take out second mortgages, max out credit cards, drain life savings, all for something that is never guaranteed to work and all for the sake of the child they so desperately desire in their hearts.
Every April we celebrate National Infertility Awareness Week, or NIAW. It’s kind of a shame that a disease that effects so many only gets one week of recognition, but there are many of us in the community that are constantly advocating for infertility education and awareness. This year’s theme is Flip the Script, meaning we want to change the conversation around infertility, in some cases maybe even start the conversation. There are many many ways that this can happen, the simplest way is just by sharing our stories without feeling guilt or shame. I encourage anyone who is suffering in silence to gather the courage to openly share, especially during NIAW.
Another important way we can Flip the Script is by helping those who do not suffer from infertility with how to address a conversation with someone who does. Saying things like “why don’t you just adopt,” “you need to just relax”, or “if it’s meant to be it will happen,” can all actually be extremely hurtful to someone who is struggling. Although people who say these types of things aren’t typically doing so to intentionally hurt feelings, unfortunately that’s often what happens. What many people don’t understand is that adoption is an extremely expensive (upwards of $40k) and the process can take several years, it is not the answer to infertility. Being compassionate and supportive by saying things like, “I am here for you”, and “I support you” are much more appropriate.
As infertiles it’s really up to us to make sure that we are educating others and speaking up when we feel as though someone may be addressing the conversation incorrectly or in a negative manner. We know that it’s hard to relate to something if you haven’t personally experienced it, but we can certainly do our job to help people understand the disease and how it effects us. For me, it began with blogging. I started my blog in 2012 shortly after being married as a way to document our journey to get pregnant. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that after over a year of trying naturally we probably needed to seek medical intervention. Another year would pass before that intervention took place & from that point on we delved deep into the world of infertility treatment.
We started with a Reproductive Endocrinologist who performed a laparoscopic surgery on me in October 2013. We followed that with an IUI which failed, then a second IUI which ended in a chemical pregnancy (another term for early pregnancy loss or early miscarriage), and then thought it best to move forward with IVF. With every round our hopes would grow, and then quickly plummet as we realized they weren’t working. With 3 “fresh” IVF cycles, 3 “frozen” IVF cycles and a total of 9 embryos transferred between those 6 rounds, we never got a positive result. It wasn’t until December 2015 that we finally decided to take a major turn in our journey by using donated eggs.
I was lucky enough to have a complete stranger who had been following my blog and Instagram message me and offer herself up as a surrogate because she felt a calling to help us. I was in total shock and awe because here was this total stranger willing to sacrifice her body for us when she didn’t even know us in real life. At that time we were not ready to pursue surrogacy, we wanted to try egg donation first so that I could attempt to carry the pregnancy. I was again totally blown away when she told me that she would gladly donate her eggs to us!
In March of 2016 we flew from Illinois to Georgia to meet our prospective donor and her family. We instantly clicked and we knew that all of the pieces were falling into place perfectly. In June of 2016 our donor completed her egg retrieval and we ended up transferring 1 perfect embryo on June 16, 2016. A little over a week later we got a very positive blood test result and we were officially declared pregnant! On February 22, 2017 we welcomed our daughter Georgia June into this world and life has never been the same.
Since becoming a mother via egg donation I have found an even bigger passion to share our story. So many people know so little about the world of egg, sperm, and embryo donation, so I have made it my personal mission to shatter the stigma that surrounds not only infertility, but donors as well, and educating people on the options that are available to build families in todays world thanks to the amazing advances in science.
If you’re struggling with infertility, please know that you are not alone. There are many many couples in this country and around the world who I have connected with that feel as though the are suffering in silence and we need to break that thought process so that people know that there are so many others out there just like them.”