April 24th – 30th marks “National Infertility Awareness Week” or #NIAW. This week basically serves as an opportunity to raise awareness for infertility and recognize it as a disease that affects thousands of women and couples worldwide. One can find additional information regarding this movement on Resolve’s website – the National Infertility Association. You may wonder why I’m posting about #NIAW on a blog that was established to document my experiences with breast cancer. You may also wonder why this blog has been silent for over 2 years now.
The truth is I am using NIAW as a way to ‘come out of the infertility closet.’ In a sense, my husband and I have been dealing with infertility since I finished chemo treatments or for the past 5 years or so. In reality, we’ve been dealing with preparing for and undergoing multiple fertility treatments for the last 2.5 years – when I made the big decision to quit Tamoxifen. Yes, you heard that right. I quit Tamoxifen after 2 years 4 months. I took my last Tamoxifen pill on November 30, 2013 and started to prepare my body for a potential pregnancy. Some breast cancer patients/survivors may be falling off their chairs reading this. Please be assured that I spoke to EVERY single one of my doctors before making this decision. It was not an easy decision. Please respect that it was my decision to make and I know what the potential consequences could be. Honestly, I have no fear of recurrence at this point.
On the same day, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was also told that the treatments I needed to combat that disease would likely leave me unable to get pregnant on my own. If you’ve read this blog before or know me personally, you may also know that we worked with some amazing docs to freeze embryos before I started chemo. It was a whirlwind of craziness and I honestly do not remember every little detail. I do know that I was quite naïve back then. I felt that these embryos would ensure that we would have a biological family one day. Now, we’re not so sure.
I have kept a running Word document journal of everything we’ve experienced over the last 2.5 years (as it relates to our fertility treatments/procedures). The document is mainly just bullet points with dates and results, but it is LONG. I’m not sure I have it in me to share every minute detail.
The Cliff Notes version…I personally feel that I have experienced more stress and complete sadness with my infertility journey than I ever did with my breast cancer diagnosis and treatments. And I think I know why. With my cancer treatments – I could see the end. I truly believed that I would one day be cancer free and I just knew I had to get through one surgery, chemo and then radiation. And I got through it. With my infertility diagnosis and treatments – I cannot see the end. There is also much more physical, emotional and financial stress associated with infertility treatments. Unfortunately, there have been many times where we have let this process take over our lives – declining invites due to my crazy injection schedules, being super sneaky about what information we shared and with whom and opting out of multiple activities (races, fitness classes, nights out, etc) as I was often on bed rest and physical activity restrictions following each procedure. If you’d like to catch a glimpse of the craziness, see my pic below. I eventually had to create Excel spreadsheets to keep all of my medications straight. It is not shown in the picture below, but there were times when I was up to four injections per day + oral meds (below was a light week – only 2 injections per day at the most).
We have had 4 unsuccessful frozen embryo transfers to date. It has been recommended and we have chosen to only transfer 1 embryo each time. After each transfer, we wait 2 weeks before going back to the doctor’s for a blood draw/pregnancy test. In the infertility world, this is called the 2WW (2 week wait) and its dreadful. There are so many emotions being tossed around during this time and with each additional failed transfer, it just became more likely to lose hope. I have read about and tried everything imaginable to prepare my body in hopes of trying to make each transfer work. Despite everything I have done or not done, we have still been unsuccessful in our endeavors to start a family. And it is heartbreaking. I have cried more in the past 2.5 years than I ever did with my cancer diagnosis and treatments.
We still have 3 embryos left and we are in the process of deciding what our next steps are. I am not sharing this to make people feel sorry for us. I am finally sharing our story because infertility is real and I no longer want to feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. I am also sharing our story in hopes of connecting with other women who have been down the same path as me (women who have experienced infertility after cancer and hopefully successful pregnancies after cancer). Through Resolve’s online community I did recently connect with another woman who has a similar history as mine. It was so great to finally find someone out there just like me (we were both young when we were diagnosed with breast cancer, we underwent the same treatments, had frozen embryos before chemo and are now undergoing FET’s).
I am also sharing our story because I want others to realize that infertility affects A LOT of people. Approximately 1 in 8 couples will experience infertility. Most people usually don’t realize this because most couples undergoing fertility treatments do not share this information. Well, now I’m officially out of the closet. I’m ending this post here with some words of advice from a sensitive woman who’s suffered silently for the past few years. Please remember that even the best intentions and curious questions can be hurtful…I want people to think twice before they ask a newlywed couple when they plan to start a family. I want people to think long and hard before they ask the couple who has been married for almost 10 years (as we are) “what they’re waiting for” when referring to babies/family making. I want people to stop telling couples to relax or go on a vacation and it will just happen. News flash – my diagnosis is diminished ovarian reserve. This means I’m at the bottom of my basket and I have NO eggs left. I have no desire to waste my energy on hoping that if I go on vacation, it might just happen on its own. And finally, I want people to think it over 10 million times before they ask me why don’t you “just” adopt. Dealing with that last question deserves a whole other blog post in itself. Adoption is a BIG decision and not one that should be taken lightly.