Vincelli: Party of 6

Vincelli: Party of 6

Monday, April 25, 2016

National Infertility Awareness Week 2016: Emerging from Infertility?

It's National Infertility Awareness Week. NIAW is a project of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. The goal of the week is to raise awareness about infertility, to encourage grassroots advocacy, and help couples with infertility cope with their disease. 

Infertility affects 1 in every 8 couples. 1 in 8!!!

7.3 million Americans are diagnosed with infertility. 

In 2013, my friend, Jen, asked me to write a post on her blog about what it's like to have struggled with infertility and what it's like to emerge on the other side. I'd like to share this again, (with a few revisions and additions) for this year's National Infertility Awareness Week.

Emerging from Infertility?

It is interesting to think of me emerging on the other side of infertility, because I definitely have after the birth of my twin boys, Elijah and Will (who are now 5.5 years old!) and almost 2 year old singleton, Caleb. Others who don't know me, most likely look at me with 3 children and would never guess infertility is a part of my life. But it definitely is. And honestly, I don't think one can ever truly leave infertility behind. So, no, I know I haven’t fully emerged from it. It’s a big part of me and who I now am. It will never leave me. And I am amazingly okay with that.

My family
Even after the miracles of our twin boys in 2010, my husband and were thrown right back into the ugly world of infertility as we continued to struggle conceiving again for over a year in 2012 and 2013. My infertility story is just one of many. And each story is so very different.  Although there are many similarities of pain and grief, there are so many more differences: different doctors, different techniques, different procedures, different results, and different outcomes. For some couples it is the "male factor" because of low sperm count, or low motility, or the shape of the sperm. For others it is the "female factor" because the woman doesn't produce eggs, or she doesn't ovulate, or her fallopian tubes are blocked, or she suffers from endometriosis, etc. For others, the woman can easily become pregnant but cannot carry a baby without miscarrying over and over again. Having a gestational carrier may be an option for some of these couples. And yet for other couples, it is both "male and female factors" and surrogacy and/or adoption may be their only options. For others there are "no factors" which is called "unexplained infertility", meaning doctors cannot find anything wrong. And some have "secondary infertility" which is being able to conceive after you have successfully conceived other children. So yes, so many different factors and each story is so very different.

My story is meant to be shared. I feel it in my heart to do so. I always have. It’s a story of God’s perfect timing and God’s perfect plan. I don't share my story for attention. I don't share it for pity. I share it because there are many people out there who desperately need support. They may not be able or willing to speak out, so I will help be their voice. They need to know they are not alone. They need to know it is okay to be sad. They need to know they are supported.

It took my husband and I over 3 years to conceive. We wed in 2004 and started trying after 2 years of marriage in 2006. After one year of "trying on our own," we started doctoring and had many tests and treatments in both our own town and at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. We had 5 unsuccessful IUI's (intra-uterine inseminations). At one point, we were given a 3% chance of conceiving on our own, as the doctors came to the conclusion that my husband's sperm could not penetrate into my eggs. Finally in 2010, we became pregnant with our twins on our first round of a fresh cycle ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) IVF (in-vitro fertilization) transfer where they injected 2 embryos. We were grateful, overjoyed, and ecstatic to be doubly blessed and finally hold our own little miracles in our arms, almost exactly four years from when we first started trying to conceive.

When the twins were about 20 months old, in May of 2012, we started trying again on our own for another baby, but with no success. We started doctoring at the Mayo Clinic again and had a FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer) with 1 embryo in February of 2013, but I did not become pregnant. We were devastated. We tried again right away and had another FET (with 1 embryo) in April of 2013 and became pregnant. But at a little over 6 weeks gestation, I miscarried and we said goodbye to our miracle. (Blogpost about my miscarriage: Goodbye Sweet Baby) Heartbroken does not even begin to describe what we felt. But we took comfort in knowing that the first thing our baby ever saw was the face of Jesus. At this time, we still have 4 frozen embryos in cyropreservation. I call it "frozen daycare," because it isn't cheap to keep them in storage!

So yes, we had emerged on the other side of infertility, but then were thrown right back in it again. And like I said, it never really left us anyway. And now we have a miscarriage to add to our infertility story. Yet another part of my life story that I never thought would happen to me. From there, many questions remained. Do we keep trying on our own? Do we do another FET? Or do we see this as a sign that it's time to stop trying? Do we try a gestational carrier? Do we adopt for our miracle? Or do we adjust to a life of no more children and move on?

While we pondered these questions over the summer after our miscarriage, we kept trying to conceive. And 3 months after we lost our baby, we experienced another amazing and very unexpected miracle. We conceived on our own for the first time ever. Overjoyed and shocked and grateful doesn't even begin to describe our feelings. We couldn't believe this had happened. (Actually I still don't quite believe it and baby boy is almost now 2 years old!) Praise God!

Even with another incredible miracle, we still have fears. And we still feel the pain from infertility. And most likely always will. Infertility is many things. I know a lot about the medical side of infertility. Although most of it doesn't truly make sense to me. Because wow...our bodies are absolutely amazing and there are so many things that have to be absolutely perfect to conceive and carry a healthy baby. I know that each and every baby, no matter the circumstance, is nothing short of an absolute miracle. And I know that medical treatments can only go so far and do so much. Because that is where God comes in and the true miracle occurs.

But I know even more about the emotional side of infertility. I know most people won't understand just how truly destructive infertility is. Just as you cannot truly understand something unless you've been through it yourself. It's like the saying, "For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible."

Infertility kills dreams. It makes you feel like you are losing every good thing about yourself.  It exhausts your body with endless medications and injections. It makes you feel so frustrated with your body as to why you cannot do something so natural as create a baby. It breaks hearts. It makes you feel jealous. Then it makes you hate yourself because of those feelings you don't want to have, but can't stop. It makes you gain weight. It, along with the medications, makes your hormones all over the place. It makes you angry and bitter. It crushes your heart. It makes you feel lonely. It opens the most private parts of your life to random nurses and doctors, therefore making you feel awkward and invaded. It messes with your hope. It makes you feel irrational. It makes you wonder what you did in your past that was so horrible that now you are being punished for it. It emotionally drains you from happiness you used to so easily feel. It makes sex become a chore instead of pleasure. It steals your money. It consumes you.  And worst of all,  it makes you question God as to what is so horrible about yourself that you aren't good enough to be a mother. It makes you feel unworthy. Infertility pretty much sucks. Yup, it totally sucks.

You smile your way through baby showers, births, holidays, baptisms, and birthday parties of families and friends even though your heart continues to break inside. And it's not because you aren't happy for them and love children, because you truly do. You treasure the miracle and sweetness of babies and children. But your heart aches because you so desperately see the parents' joys and want to feel that in your own heart with your own children. You want to hold your own baby in your arms, but never know if you will get the chance.

1 in 8 couples will struggle with infertility. Therefore, odds are you know someone who is suffering. If you know any of those people, I encourage you to pray for them, support them, and just let them know you care. Because if they have told you about it, that is them reaching out for help. Women and men with infertility unfortunately do not usually get the support they need because it is commonly a hidden subject. People are ashamed, but they should not be. Be their support. Help give them hope.

One of the hardest things to describe and express about infertility is the loss each and every month: the extreme grief and despair. I have experienced the loss of month after month of not becoming pregnant. 52 times to be exact. 52 times of heartbreak. That is 52 months/cycles we tried with not becoming pregnant. And it is a pain like no other. You grieve your baby that could have been. And then you feel crazy for being so devastated for losing something you never had to begin with. But it is real. And it is deep. You grieve the hopes and dreams of yet another child that you so desperately wanted. You grieve time lost and thousands upon thousands of dollars lost with nothing to show for it. You grieve because you never know if you will ever conceive a baby. And every month you wait, for half of every month (during the 2 weeks you wait to find out if you are pregnant), you do just that: WAIT. Waiting, waiting, and more waiting. You spend half of your "trying to conceive" life pretending you are pregnant, just in case you are, only to be crushed when it is another negative result.

You tell yourself over and over that "It will happen in time." But did you know that if you have sex at exactly the right time with all perfect conditions, that you still only have a 20% chance of becoming pregnant each time? Seriously! A 20% chance! That is amazing. So, sadly the odds are often against you. Just another example of how each and every pregnancy is an absolute miracle. Also, along with the statistics that 1 in every 4 pregnancies results in a miscarriage. One in every four! You cannot tell me that each and every baby born isn't meant to be.

My miscarriage was hard. I was heartbroken. But I can honestly say that for me, many of the months of not getting pregnant during years of infertility were many times almost as hard as our miscarriage. Imagine grieving a loss every month for years. It tears your heart apart. You stay hopeful and then drop to a low again each month. But it just seems like the next time you get back up, it is not nearly as high as you had been the time before. You feel defeated. But somehow you keep on moving forward. Because we all know that if you want a child, making a family is worth anything.

The pain of infertility is deep: the waiting, the questions, the taking chances, the struggles, the longing, the sacrifices, the statistics, the money, the bills you owe, the crying, the loneliness, the praying, the enduring, the stresses, the planning, the countless medications, the many appointments, the questions, the never knowing if you will be able to conceive, the pain of watching so many around you having children, hearing of abortions, seeing yet another teenager become pregnant who doesn't want a baby, listening to pregnant women complain about being pregnant, reading about child abuse, and on and on.
Infertility isn't easy. I kept notes/charts and recently went back to add it all up. Throughout my personal infertility journey, I have:
- Taken 547 pills
- Received 160 shots (most given by myself in my stomach and some from Nick in my butt, yes my butt!)
- Given myself 169 vaginal suppositories
- Given 8 sperm samples (Nick's duty, not mine!)
- Had 25 vaginal ultrasounds
- Had 19 blood draws/tests
- Had 61 doctor appointments (40 appointments at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and 21 in Owatonna, MN)
- And therefore driven a total of 3200 miles for those 40 appointments at Mayo. That's approximately 54 hours spent driving. That's a lot of time to think.
- Had 1 Hysterosalpingography Procedure (HSG)
- Had 5 Intrauterine Inseminations (IUI)
- Had 1 Egg Retrieval Surgery (With 10 fertilized embryos!)
- Had 1 round of In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) with ICSI (Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection)
- Had 2 rounds of Frozen Embryo Transfers (FET)
- Had 1 miscarriage
- Currently still have 4 remaining frozen embryos in cryopreservation from original 10 (2 embryos became our precious twins, lost 2 embryos that did not survive the thaws for FETs, lost one embryo transferred that did not become a pregnancy, and lost another embryo due to miscarriage)
*None of these totals include pre-natal pills or anything pregnancy related (such as ultrasounds, appointments, etc.) with the twins or our singleton. This was all "infertility" related.

As you can imagine, by far, one of the biggest struggles for most couples is stressing over the cost. Unfortunately, many states and insurance plans have no coverage for infertility. None. Most people are paying for everything out of pocket. Fortunately, I had some coverage for our first round of IVF, but we used up our lifetime coverage right away, so everything since has been 100% out of pocket. I don't even want to think about how much we've spent on the other two rounds of FETs (Frozen Embryo Tranfers). But, I am truly grateful that we can afford these treatments, as I know there are many people who cannot because of finances. Many do not even get that choice. The treatments are expensive and the medication costs are atrocious. Also, the fertility drugs need to be shipped from specialty pharmacies. I searched all over the country and usually ordered mine from Texas, as they were the cheapest for us. Then when they arrive, you stress over measuring the doses correctly and giving the shot properly because you know if you mess it up, it can cost you hundreds of dollars.

As much as I wish I could take away infertility from everyone, I can't. And who are we to choose why suffering happens, who it happens to, and how it happens as well? We all have our crosses to bear. Yes, the struggle sucks. But your struggle is part of your story. And I truly believe God will not leave us and will give us the strength to carry on even when we feel like we are ready to give up.

When you cannot conceive a child, it is more than unfair. Reproducing is supposed to be so natural and a normal part of life. And as the Bible says, "Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him." Psalm 127:3. Children are a blessing, so why can't we all create new life so easily? I know there are people who will argue that infertility is "not that big of a deal." Yes, I know there are much "worse" things in life. So many devastating things that occur to people, from painful diseases, to abuse, to tragic deaths, etc. But honestly, someone will always have it worse. And I do not think it is fair for people to belittle other's emotions or what they are going through just because someone out there has it worse. Like I said, we all have our crosses to bear, and we never really know what is going to be our "worst" or who will have it worse. Suffering is suffering. And everyone needs support. Everyone needs hope.

Perhaps one of the hardest things about infertility is the unknown of not knowing what to do and not knowing what the future holds. You never know how long your journey will be or what the outcome will be.  How many medications do we try? How far do we go? What do we try next? How many treatments are we able to do? How many more thousands of dollars are we willing to spend? How much more are we willing to put ourselves though before we realize we are wasting our time, money, and hearts? If we only knew that by a certain point, we would be guaranteed a child, we know we would do anything. Anything! But it is all a gamble. There are no guarantees. That unknown is horrible. The waiting, the not knowing, is a pain I wouldn't wish upon anyone.

But I would be lying if I said infertility hasn't brought good things to my life. Because it certainly has. My faith and relationship with God is stronger. I trust more, I believe more, I hope more. I'm more compassionate and more giving. My relationship with my husband is stronger. We have always had an amazing, loving, and supportive relationship, but infertility has made our faith in God together stronger than strong. My husband did not grow up in a family who attended church, so to watch his faith grow has been nothing short of incredible. We have become even stronger as a couple and stronger in our faith together.  What a true blessing! We had over 6 years of marriage with just him and I alone before we had our twins. I know him better than I know anyone. I am so grateful for our years together. We celebrate 12 years of marriage next month.

Another blessing is that I have supported and encouraged many lives upon starting my “infertility journey” blog. I have "met" people from all across the country who read my blog and so deeply relate to what I write, which has given them comfort and hope. I hope and pray that through my blog and through my story, my heartache will help be someone else's hope. Because I truly believe that with hope, the odds don't matter.

And ultimately, if I hadn't left my job to take time off because of infertility, I would have never started my own business (Vincelli Designs and Decor) selling crafts online that I design and create.( It is something that has brought much needed confidence and joy to my life these past seven years. It is the perfect balance of staying at home with my boys and also having some time away for myself.

Blessings definitely come out of sufferings, even among the pain. This quote describes it perfectly: "Sometimes the hardest storms to get through are the ones your soul needs the most. And once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. But, survive you did. And one thing is certain: when you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what the storm's all about." - The Horse Mafia

I've experienced many different aspects of infertility. I've had a twin pregnancy via IVF, a FET that wasn't successful, a singleton pregnancy via FET, which resulted in a miscarriage. And a singleton pregnancy on our own with no medical assistance. I often think about how we've experienced all this and why we've had to experience each of these. I know I won't ever fully know or understand it, but I'll just keep trusting. For some reason, this was God's plan.

I truly believe that God has a bigger plan for all of us than we have for ourselves. And I trust in that. No matter what happens, no matter what your struggle is or what your cross to bear is, I pray you find hope and joy in His plan for your life, just as I have. I will continue to share my story in hopes of comforting and inspiring others. And if anything else for YOU, for everyone, to know that no matter what you are going through, to know that you are not alone. You are never alone. God has a perfect plan for your family and for your life. Everything is happening for a reason on your path that was planned just for you. Trust in that. Try not to second guess what you have done or what you are planning to do. Keep the faith. Whatever it is will be worth waiting for. And remember that there is always, always, always HOPE.

Looking back, even if I could go back and take away all our infertility, I wouldn't. After all, it’s ultimately given me my three beautiful boys. I praise God everyday for my precious miracles, Elijah, Will, and Caleb.

I am grateful for what I have endured. I am strong. I will keep surviving. Infertility has helped make me who I am today. It is part of me and will be forever. I embrace that.

Yes, I have infertility.

But it does not have me.


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