As women, we don’t often talk about the struggles we face. Maybe it’s just part of the role we’re taught to play in society: strong, in control, and totally okay…even when we aren’t. I’m starting to rethink that philosophy.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love my job. The ability to craft whatever romantic story that suits me at the time has always been an exciting prospect. As I write, I can’t help but put parts of myself into my work. I think that must be true of most writers, and let me tell you, it’s incredibly cathartic. Some of my characters have small traits that are mine just for fun. Some of the locations in my books are important to me for personal reasons, and I drop them in as reminders of those connections. But sometimes a storyline itself will intersect with a struggle I’m facing in the real world.
That very thing happened last year.
When I wrote Autumn Primm’s storyline in Hearts Like Hers, I was very much aware of my own personal parallel. The storyline didn’t happen by accident. If you haven’t read the book, I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that Autumn wants very much to have a baby. It’s something I’ve wanted for myself as well, and a journey I was smack in the middle of when I decided to include that arc in her story. When I concluded Autumn’s journey with fertility, and turned in the book to my publisher, I didn’t yet know how my own very long and difficult saga would end up, but was feeling quite discouraged.
A friend recently posted on Facebook, remarking on the solitary journey most women take on the road to fertility and creating a family. There are so many bumps and bruises (both figurative and quite literal) that come with procedures like IUI and IVF (which doesn’t even touch on the financial burden). Yet, it’s a topic we’re often encouraged not to speak about. So, we keep those things to ourselves for the most part, and continue down that lonely and scary road without the support of the wider world. I now think that’s a mistake, which is one of the reasons I’m writing this blog.
In 2015, I walked into a fertility clinic for the first time, seeking help. It was meant to be a consultation, but the timing worked out so that some of the very basic and early tests that were necessary for a diagnosis could be performed that day. I don’t mind telling you that I suffer from severe endometriosis. That condition and those simple tests created the perfect storm for a very aggressive infection to wreak havoc on my body for the next three months. I was hospitalized twice for a total of sixteen days. When I was home in between, I was on an IV of very aggressive antibiotics every few hours. I was taken in for an emergency surgery one Sunday night and at the time didn’t know if I would wake up without a reproductive system, which would put an end to my ability to have children of my own. There were tears streaming down my face as I was wheeled into the operating room, as my entire family gathered outside in the waiting area for five hours. Luckily, I woke up with a bit of a compromise situation. The surgeons had been able to leave me with the bare minimum I needed, removing all the rest. Getting pregnant would be incredibly difficult now with what little I had left to work with. While not impossible, it would take a hail mary and my doctors were very frank with me about that. I wrote First Position during my time in and out of the hospital, and identified with Ana’s sense of loss each step of the way, knowing I very well may have to give up on something I wanted, much like she did.
When I regained my strength, I started IVF treatments and entered into what would be the hardest period of my life. The emotional rollercoaster, the crazy mood swings, the tears for no reason in the middle of a restaurant, the painful shots in the stomach (and elsewhere), the multiple doctors appointments each week, the painful procedures and recoveries, and the embryo transfers that just never seemed to take left me with one phone call after another from my doctors telling me that I was, in fact, still not pregnant. One of those calls came while I was in the airport on the way to a book event. I took a seat in the waiting area for a flight that was not mine and let the tears flow as strangers looked on, perplexed with sympathetic looks on their faces.
I had been through so much and simply wasn’t sure I had anything left in me to give. My body was riddled with pain and exhaustion and the emotional toll was enormous. Adoption was always a possibility for me, a bright spot to hold onto, but I did want to see this effort through first. I wanted to know what it would be like to be pregnant, to give birth, to experience all of it.
On my fifth round of IVF, on an impulse and against my doctor’s request, I took a home pregnancy test like so many I’d taken before. (I learned to do this so the phone call after the official blood test would be less of a blow, as I would already know my fate.) I was shocked that there seemed to be a very faint second line on the strip. A double take. How in the world could that be? I was surely seeing it wrong. It just didn’t seem possible after years of failure, the slim chances, the tears. But it was. A blood test confirmed it.
We were pregnant.
I told the people close to me and as time went on, expanded that circle a bit. I didn’t make any grandiose announcements on my author Facebook page, or social media accounts, because once you’ve been through so much disappointment, it’s hard to imagine that there’s not another blow waiting for you as you turn the next corner. But that hasn’t happened. We’re weeks away from delivery, and things are becoming very real. I’m uncomfortable, and dealing with all the typical symptoms of a third trimester, and at the same time, I’m nothing but eternally grateful for days.
I look back on the entire journey now and wonder why I didn’t share more, ask for more help (emotionally and physically) when I needed it, or tell those around me that I was not doing okay when they asked. I didn’t have to go it alone, and wouldn’t want anyone else to either. We should use each other more, lean on one another, and take advantage of the wonderful community of woman (and men) around us. As I now look forward to meeting my son, it’s looking like my ending might just be a happy one, but that’s not the case for everyone. That’s not something a person should have to hide or shoulder quietly. As humans, as women, we should prop each other up when we need it.
Share your story. Share this blog. Or just share your words of support with someone who needs them. The road doesn’t have to be lonely. And if I can be that supportive person for you along your journey, I will be. You heard it here.