Shipwrecked on Infertility Island

Imagine you are on an island. Not a lush tropical island. But a barren and cold island, surrounded by a grey and stormy sea.  You never imagined you would end up here, on this island. In fact, you don’t even know how you ended up here. But one day it crept up on you…and after years of sailing through uncharted seas, on a voyage that you thought would bring you to safe and happy shores…you shipwrecked here the day that the doctor called you up and explained the test results.

And now here you are, on the literally ‘barren’ island of Infertility. Even though you may have shipwrecked here with your partner, you still feel isolated and lonely.

This morning when I was brushing my teeth, I was struck with the image of this cold and barren island. I was trying to find a metaphor that could explain what it feels like every time I receive the news that yet another friend is pregnant or just gave birth. It feels like my friends and I were once on this journey together…sailing toward the magical and distant land of parenthood. None of us knew exactly how it would turn out, and in the beginning it was exhilarating. We were in it together, hand in hand, smiling with encouragement and anticipation. One by one, each of my close friends made their way through calm and yes, sometimes stormy seas…but ultimately they made it to their destination.

I can’t tell what feels worse…standing on this cold and desolate island, not knowing how or when or if my husband and I will eventually land on the shores of Parenthood…or the growing sense of distance and envy I feel for my friends, my amazing and deserving and wonderful friends, who only want me to share in their elated joy. I want SO badly to celebrate, to shower them with unadulterated love and joy.

But this is what Infertility does to you.

It makes you think things that make you feel small and ashamed. It taints your ability to glow with blessings and happiness for the people you love so dearly who are embarking on the incredible journey of parenthood. Each pregnancy announcement is a sting, each birth is an ache, each baby photo is bittersweet. And you watch these women, who you grew up with, who have gone through the best and worst of times with you…you watch them grow as mothers, which is beautiful and sweet…and you cherish being a part of their journey. But you have no idea how to relate, and you are scared whenever you entertain the thought that you might never get the chance to relate. Though the love between you remains strong…it still feels as if you are drifting further and further away from them, lost at sea.

Last year, after 2 and a half years of trying, we saw a fertility doctor who gave us our first round of crushing news. But there was a silver lining. Perhaps all that was needed was a lifestyle change. For a whole year I thought that we could change things around and leave Infertility Island without spending an exorbitant amount of time, money, and stress on medical intervention.

But then new test results came a few months ago, and with them, the second round of crushing news that although things were better, we would need to undergo assisted fertility treatments. More bad news…the common IVF (in vitro fertilization) approach is not available in Alaska. We will have to fly to Seattle, increasing the expenses and stress and disruption. But the good news…we are candidates to try IUI (intra-uterine insemination), which is available in Anchorage, and it’s 5% the cost of IVF.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been hanging onto the idea that IUI will be our rescue boat. But today, more bad news, as I finally looked into success rates….which tend to be around 4-7%. The more successful IVF approach, performs somewhat better with a ~25% success rate…which as a scientist who constantly deals with probabilities, isn’t super encouraging…especially when knowing that each round of IVF can cost as much as $20K per round.

Realizing that we might have to go the IVF route, my anxiety suddenly skyrocketed today, when it really hit me that it’s not just about the odds of success, but I became overwhelmed with the realization of HOW THE FUCK WILL WE AFFORD THIS?!  Because NO, the federal government does not think that infertility is a medical condition worth paying for. So my insurance will only cover the diagnosis, but not the treatment. Apparently the ability to reproduce is a luxury, and if you struck out in the Pregnancy Lottery, oh well, too bad for you.

Infertility is confusing as hell. Because I constantly feel guilty about my emotions. I know others who have been through MUCH worse. True tragedy, enduring painful traumas that will never fully heal. I think about this a lot.

Yesterday when I told my husband how I was feeling pretty awful, he reminded me of how bad others have had it. Friends who suffered the loss of their child, lost loved ones to suicide, are fighting for their lives with cancer, ALS, and other terminal diseases. Friends and loved ones who have suffered abuse, in which every day is a struggle to survive and move forward. I know he feels positive and luckily he’s not struggling with dark emotions like mine. And both he, and my mom, remind me that it’s counter-productive to be overwhelmed with negative emotions.

Perspective. I get it.

I get what they are saying. I say these things to myself constantly.  I certainly never want to be stuck in a perpetual pity party. And on most days, I feel optimistic and grateful for what I do have, and do my best to be there for others who are going through their own personal struggles.

But every now and then…I fall into this pit of despair. I don’t feel this way every day, but right now…in this moment, it feels like I’m stuck on this barren island, and that the chances of being rescued are becoming more and more remote. And damnit, every now and then, I have every right to feel this way.

Because this sucks, this totally sucks.

Maybe another day I’ll be able to end my thoughts with the wisdom, optimism, peaceful and exuberant glow that many of you have known me for. But today, I got nothing. Albeit my best attempt to explain the confusing, complex, and sometimes dark emotions I’m struggling with.

Thanks for listening.