We have kept up a professional relationship for some time now. For the past few years, I have been working as a counselor and advocate with those whose lives you have impacted most. But, it has been awhile since I addressed you personally. I have some things to say to you.
I will be turning 38 years old this August. Exactly ten years ago, you were the center of my life. I had tried conceiving naturally for some time with no luck. I had pushed my gynecologist to send me to a fertility specialist, even though she stated that I was “too young” to have fertility issues. I had gone through extensive and invasive testing with my reproductive endocrinologist and came out with more questions than answers. I had an exploratory laparoscopy to see if endometriosis could be the cause of my trouble conceiving. After my surgery, I was told my endometriosis was mild and would not be an issue. I was assured I could now most likely conceive naturally.
You, Infertility, had other plans. You kept persisting. You tried to break me.
Eventually though, after multiple treatments, I was able to conceive my daughter. While I was so grateful and felt so lucky that she was in my life, I tried hard to expand my family further. It wasn’t until then that I realized not only did I have endometriosis, but I also had a genetic defect with my eggs. This issue was causing me to miscarry. The next few years were filled with more fertility treatments, IUI’s, IVF’s, embryo genetic screenings, pregnancy losses and exploring options such as embryo donation and adoption. They were also filled with more pelvic surgeries, as my endometriosis was causing many serious health issues and greatly impacting my quality of life.
I spent years trying to fight you, Infertility, trying to beat you, all the while feeling beat up. When I could not fight you any longer, physically, emotionally or financially, I went on to spend years healing. I found hope and built a life around the acceptance of my new reality. Even still, my other unfortunate reality was that I couldn’t totally forget about you. Endometriosis, even with the best of care (which I was fortunate enough to have), is a chronic condition with no cure that I am mindful of daily. Also, while it is not easy for me to get pregnant when I do, I am prone to miscarry. These physical reminders of you are still with me daily, causing stress, loss, and anxiety.
Still emotionally, I am in a much better place compared to where I was in the midst of treatments. But the scars from the torture you inflicted still twinge or ache where the wounds run deep. As I help patients who are struggling, I see how you work your destruction in the lives of others. Infertility, you are relentless in nature. You are exhausting. You deplete your prey of emotional, physical and financial resources. You symbolize hopelessness, powerlessness, and helplessness. You embody uncertainty and anxiety. You are a deep rooted grief that constricts the breath and clenches the heart. In your path of destruction, you often leave behind relationships, opportunities, happiness and community. Yet, you have a way of doing this quietly and privately, eliciting shame and capitalizing on the societal stigma of it all.
I want to let you know, despite all of this, Infertility, I have survived you. I also see my patients, friends and fellow advocates also survive you. Some of them do this by building families through fertility treatments, adoption, surrogacy or by using egg, sperm or embryo donations. Some of them do this by building a meaningful life that challenges the idea that one needs to be a mother or father to have a life of meaning. I am especially proud of those that use their pain to help others who may feel hopeless and alone. These advocates show their wounds and scars not only to fellow patients but also publically to chip away at the stigma and even to congressional aides and representatives so that patients enduring your wrath can have every support they need.
In a little over a month, I will go again to Washington D.C. to advocate for patients everywhere with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Every time I go, I feel like I take back a little bit more of the power you took away from me all those years, as well as the power you take away from my patients. Every time I go, I feel like you, Infertility, get a little bit smaller, a little bit weaker. Even though I medically cannot give back what you rob from so many and even though I cannot heal the grief that those you touch struggle with, I can at least fight the stigma that you have crafted and advocate to give those struggling more tools and support. My hope is that many others will decide to join me. The more voices we have fighting you, the stronger we will be.
Infertility, I can’t say that I am grateful for you. What I will say is that I am grateful for the friends I have met and the empowering experiences I have had because of you, or maybe in spite of you. I have tried to take a lot of positive things away from what you have taken away from me. I have witnessed others come together in your name to support one another and to heal. I have seen those deeply impacted by you learn to thrive after unspeakable loss and hardship.
This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. As it comes to a close, I am reminded that although you are a devastating force, Infertility, you are no match for the human spirit which has the incredible ability to endure, persevere and ascend.
Casey Berna is a patient of Dr. Seckin’s and an endometriosis and infertility counselor and advocate. To learn more about her story and her practice go to www.CaseyBerna.com.
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