Friday, April 29, 2016

National Infertility Awareness Week 2016 #StartAsking

Nearly 6 years ago, BJ and I decided to throw our hats in the race to parenthood.  I had no clue, that it would be the beginning of the most tumultuous period of our lives.  I, probably like many young women, had no clue that getting pregnant would or could be difficult.  My mother conceived easily, so I assumed that I would, too.

But here I am over a half decade later with my first child who is not even 4 months yet. A child that took 4 IVF cycles including 2 donor egg cycles on top of multiple tests.  What happened?

What happened will probably never be totally figured out, but I should have been more aware that problems conceiving were not some rare curse reserved for career-driven women that put off having children into their forties.  In fact, I should have been aware that age was not the only risk factor for infertility.

I grew up in the south with mostly an abstinence-based sex-ed program.  My biology classes in my small hometown high school always skipped reproduction.  I think my health teacher spent 20 minutes glossing over a menstrual cycle sometime when I was in 8th grade.  By the time I started my period, I "knew" almost everyone had some cramping or discomfort with their period, but it shouldn't keep you from missing work or school - that's a little subjective, don't ya think?

So instead I spent month after month in high school gritting my teeth, sneaking ibuprofen in my back-pack, and tearfully praying that this would not be my life for the next 30 years.  When my mom caught me pacing while clutching my heating pad to my abdomen in the wee hours of the night did I finally land in my pediatrician's office.  His answer, was along the lines of "all girls cramp to some degree" just take ibuprofen right before you start your period.  He didn't ask how bad, how long, or even what I was doing to manage at that point...and neither did the next 4 health care providers...Including a Women's Health NP, and 3 OB/GYNs...NSAIDS and birth control. So by the time I saw my current OB/GYN, I just glossed over my cramps like all the other health care providers glossed over them.

Birth control did nothing, but taking ibuprofen helped if I started taking it before my cramps set in.  Problem being that while I had periods almost every month, they were very irregular (first of one month, 25th of the next, 15th the month after that...).  So my physical activity was blamed.  It wasn't for another 13 years, that I understood how important the hormone balance that creates regular cycles were to the whole conception process.  I just thanked God for sparing me that month from the ridiculously painful "normal cramps" I had.

It may have made no difference in the long-run, but I will always wonder if the lack of treatment I got for endometriosis lead to the demise of my ovaries, and therefore my ability to conceive my own child?  I didn't ask, and worse, I didn't even know what to ask.  At some point the not asking turned into not advocating for myself, either.

Fortunately, once I accepted that infertility was my plight in life through no fault of my own, I was able to #StartAsking.  I started tracking my cycles, researching, and figure out that I needed help if I wanted to have children.  I found a medical team and plan that ended in a healthy pregnancy and a beautiful bouncing boy.  He's just the best thing, ever.

Conceiving a child is supposed to be this simple process that you don't really talk about.  And that works just fine for 7 of 8 couples...but for 1/8th of us, it's a confusing, maddening, heartbreaking and lonely process.  And when it doesn't simply happen, it becomes super-complicated.  You need to #StartAsking, you need to advocate for yourself, and you need to know you are not alone.

Peace, Love, and #StartAsking,

Mary Katherine & Matt


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