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My Favorite "F" Word

National Infertility Week – in honor of this week, let’s talk about my favorite “F” word! It’s Fertility, in case you were wondering. ;)

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Fertility challenges affect 1 in 8 couples of all shapes and sizes. Here are the basics - First, you need to be able to have intercourse during your fertile window. Next, your partner needs to have good swimmers in all the categories (count, morphology, and motility). Then, you need follicle(s) in your ovary or ovaries that grow and form egg(s) that release into your fallopian tube. Which means you also need a functioning fallopian tube or tubes so the egg and sperm can meet. And after all of that, you need a uterus that can house your babe for the next 9-10 months. You also need good cellular makeup and hormone balance for this to all come together. According to science, if one of those factors is off, it is likely that you may have to try meds, injections, surgeries, IUI, IVF, or a surrogate in order to have biological children. When I think about the checkboxes you need to make a baby, my mind is blown . . . it’s truly a miracle.

Once you decide now might be a good time to start trying . . . you likely will first try all of the regular things like “fun sex” and “not preventing” that can quickly escalate to tracking your cycles, basal body temps, cervical fluid, and ovulation predictor kits. Then you may research anything and everything: books, blogs, online forums and groups, and of course Dr. Google. Depending on your situation, you might try a variety of traditional medicine tests and procedures with your gynecologist and/or reproductive endocrinologist like transvaginal ultrasounds, MRI, CT scan, HSG dye test, a variety of meds and injections, and blood tests (quite possibly MANY blood tests). You may also try all sorts of holistic techniques like eating fertility foods, seed cycling, anti-inflammatory dieting, detoxing your toiletries and household products, essential oils, castor oil packs, herbal supplements and teas, yoni vaginal steaming, lunaception, cycle charting, acupuncture, Mercier therapy, Mayan abdominal massage, functional medicine, and pelvic physical therapy. Have questions on any of these? Let me know. I’ve literally tried it all!

My husband and I have been on our own fertility journey for about 3 years now. I am a unicorn. I have a unicornuate uterus (half of a normal sized uterus), an ovary with PCOS and another ovary that is actually more of a “splat” up by my spleen, and only one fallopian tube without an opening at the ovarian end. The fimbriae that are supposed to be at the end of my tube are actually free floating on the opposite side of the ovary.

This year, I had a surgery to open my fallopian tube with the hopes of slightly increasing our chance of getting pregnant “naturally.” This was a chance we were willing to take. {This swollen, sad belly picture was taken 2 days post-op.} During my first cycle after the surgery, I took some fertility meds to try to stimulate ovulation, but I didn’t ovulate. We increased the meds and tried another cycle this month, but I still did not ovulate. In addition to the ovulation challenges, we ran into another hurdle after the surgery. The tube that was opened with surgery is blocked and filled with fluid now (this is called a hydrosalpinx). Sometimes on this journey it can feel like one step forward, two steps back.

I have jokingly said, “God either doesn’t want us to have kids, or wants us to work really hard to get them.” :) All joking aside, the biggest thing holding us together is that we’ve kept our faith in God and have stayed focused on each other throughout this journey. It can be very easy to make sex “mechanical” and just for “making babies.” It is also easy to find yourself only talking about your fertility woes. We’ve been very intentional in continuing to pursue God and each other first and foremost. Marriage is hard, and it’s easy to see how curveballs like this could really put a wrench in a marriage. Putting God first, our marriage second, kids third is always our goal. Our kids are in the making, but we continue to use this model in order to keep ourselves rooted. I feel very blessed to have such a steadfast husband. He is my rock. One of the hardest things for me is that I can’t give my husband those babies we long for. If you’ve ever seen Ryan Marshall with kids, you know that this man was MADE to be a dad . . . and a hot dad at that. A super hot, awesome, loving dad.

Here’s the thing . . . no one enters this life with a free pass against challenges and obstacles. What we are able to control is our response to these trials. I am very realistic, and mostly optimistic, because I know the alternative to that is a very dark place that I don’t want to entertain. Although there are a lot of things you can try during a fertility journey, the main thing you have control over is how you choose to respond to your situation (if you’re not pumped with too many extra hormones -- haha . . . but seriously). This is hard for a Type A person (like me) to admit. Here are the top three things I tell myself --

  • It's okay to have a bad day, or heck, even a bad week . . . but don't live there.

  • Picture yourself 10 years older and wiser. What advice would you give yourself for this time in your life?

  • If you wrote a book about this time in your life, would you be proud of it?

Life is a series of ups and downs that mold you into the person you are. This journey has given me the ability to deeply connect with other women who are going through or have been through their own fertility struggles. Maybe I don’t have a mother’s womb, but I have a mother’s heart. I’ve always wanted to be a mom, and it will happen one day. I’m just not sure when or how. In the meantime, I will continue to help women and meet them where they are on their own journey. I also love helping mamas on their pregnancy and postpartum journey. Whether it’s working through fertility challenges, the pains of a traumatic birth, pain during intercourse, leaking urine or pooping your pants . . . Every woman has a struggle. THE.STRUGGLE.IS.REAL. But, no matter where you are in your journey, YOU ARE NOT IN THIS ALONE.

Helpful tips for those of you who have friends or family with fertility challenges:

I am SO incredibly thankful for my friends and family who have come alongside us on this journey. Whether or not people know exactly what you're going through doesn't matter. It's those people who reach out and let you know they care that make this world go round. If you are not personally going through a fertility challenge but know someone who is . . . ask them how it’s going (if they feel like talking about it), listen to them, and be a shoulder to cry on. But, unless they ask for your advice, I would recommend you NOT give your opinion or tell that story about your friend’s cousin who adopted and then miraculously got pregnant. I’ve been guilty of giving unwanted advice, too. Giving advice in any hard situation can come across as not helpful or can do more harm than good. Instead, you might try saying something like: Do you know what your next steps will be yet? I really want to be there for you; let me know what I can do to best support you. I think about you and your husband (partner) and pray for you guys all the time. You are the strongest woman I know. You guys will make THE BEST parents one day! And, if you don’t have any words, because let’s face it . . . sometimes, there are no words. You can say: I’m so so so sorry, that really freaking sucks . . . I don’t know what else to say but this just SUCKS and I’m here for you.

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