Lessons From Infertility

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

This is a topic that, up until recently, I have struggled to talk about. It is deeply personal, but I feel compelled to share about it because my path with infertility is intricately intertwined with my path to herbalism. This February marks five years of trying, and failing, to get pregnant. Through the years of sadness and disappointment, an unexpected wellspring of joy has emerged, leading to my life purpose and a wholeness in and of myself that I didn’t know was possible. That is the story I wish to share.

Throughout my teens and early 20’s, I was never someone who thought about having kids. I never envisioned my perfect family of four or imagined what it would be like to be a mom, but I did always think I would have kids at some point, because, well, thats what people do, right? I, of course, dreamt of my prince charming, and when we started dating in 2010, kids were the farthest thing from either of our minds. We got married in 2011 when I was 24 and Jim was 27. We both looked deeply into each others eyes and said, “we aren’t having kids anytime soon.”

As years went by and life experiences happened, we reached a point where we both agreed it was the natural and normal time to have a baby. I’ll never forget the month we decided to start trying. We were about to take a ski trip to Colorado, and we both assumed I would be pregnant in the first three months of trying. We kind of joked about it like, “enjoy this last vacation because our world is about to change!!” While I was terrified at the prospect of being a mom and all of the life changes that would bring, I was also really excited to start our family. I started imagining how we would tell our parents, what our announcement would look like on facebook, and what a surprise it would be to everyone we loved.

Six months went by, then a year, and nothing was happening. Every month felt like a failure, every missed opportunity a devastation, and all of this going on while no one in my family or circle of friends even knew we were trying. As I crept closer to my 30’s, many of our family members and friends were getting pregnant, and it seemed to be effortless. I saw everyone's life "moving forward" while mine remained stagnant. At times I would cry, other times I would bury it down deep and march on. All while repeating the same questions to myself “what is wrong with me? What is wrong with my body? This should be easy, what are we doing wrong?” Amidst this sadness and fear, there was always a deep feeling of, "everything will work out as it's meant to." These are words I have repeated over and over in so many circumstances in my life. But, when you want something and you feel like you should have it because everyone else does, it's easy to get wrapped up in grief and ignore your inner wisdom.

After several months of trying, I started researching herbs to help boost fertility. There was so much information, and soooo many herbs I had never heard of. My research led me to The Herbal Academy, where I started taking an introductory class. I also met with a lovely local herbalist who explained the holistic nature of the body. Instead of treating my infertility, she worked to build blood, bring warmth and circulation to my reproductive organs, and balance my overall well being, which at the time, was imperative on my healing journey. This was the start of a new way of looking at things. Instead of seeing my body as wrong, or flawed, herbalism was teaching me to see a whole human being with imbalances that could be healed in natural ways by supporting my whole body. This was about more than infertility, this was about true health and wellbeing.

*Now, I must pause and tell you that my healing journey is a long, arduous, and ongoing one. I did damage to my body over many years that will take many more years to heal. I was on antibiotics for over ten years for acne, which wiped out my microbiome and destroyed my gut health. For more than ten years I was on 2-3 pills a day for acid reflux, which my doctor told me I would be on for the rest of my life. Those pills shut off all acid production in my stomach, resulting in vitamin deficiencies and less ability to absorb nutrients (over many months I weaned myself off of all of those medications with diet changes, supplements, and herbal support, and I haven’t had a heartburn in over 4 years). I was on birth control for 5 years which did further damage to my gut and hormones, and I took high quantities of ibuprofen for the majority of my life to manage severe monthly menstrual cramps. Now I am so proud to say that I have not taken so much as an Advil in the last 7-8 years, and many of my past problems have been brought back into balance thanks to a mainly vegan diet full of supportive and nutritive herbs and supplements. But, this journey is far from over. I have symptoms daily that I am still working through, enough to warrant another blog post in the future.*

So, onward I went. I explored every possible natural solution I could find. I went to the best acupuncturist in the state and started a year long fertility acupuncture regimen. When that didn’t work, I moved on to fertility massage, where the practitioner had, literally, a 100% success rate (I guess not anymore…), and I stuck with that for over a year. I threw in chiropractic adjustments and fertility yoga to cover all my bodywork bases. In 2018 I even visited a well known psychic who apparently was great at predicting pregnancies (what can I say, I was desperate). She told me that she saw two pregnancies for me that year. One would be a miscarriage, the other would result in a healthy baby. I started envisioning my baby shower, the excitement on my parents faces, and what my new life with Jim would look like. Well, I don’t have to tell you, the psychic was wrong (go figure). With all these tried and failed attempts, I started to see things differently. By focusing on my whole body, I felt so much better in daily life. I was happier, healthier, sleeping better, and more fulfilled. Jim and I took a new stance, "when the time is right, it will happen."

As two years turned into four, we kept on trying, but I also pursued other interests. Instead of obsessively charting my cycle, I started planning more trips, and having conversations with Jim like, “what will our future look like if its just you and me and the cats?” And, that conversation didn’t scare me like it used to. I continued my herbal studies, taking hundreds of hours worth of classes, I got more involved with local legislation as it deals with animal welfare, and started volunteering with extremely fulfilling organizations (first as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster children, and now with the No One Dies Alone program (NODA), sitting with individuals in their final moments when they have no friends or family). I started to see that, in life, there are so many opportunities and ways to find meaning, to find happiness, and to find fulfillment. There is not only one path, there are endless paths.

By this time I was 32, and I decided it was time to talk to my gynecologist. She had been in the loop because every year at my annual appointment, I would tell her we had been trying. I would explain my journey through natural techniques, and she was supportive. She attributes her own pregnancy to both acupuncture and the use of clomid. Every year she would say, "let me know if and when you’re ready to explore your medical options". Well, finally now, I had decided it was time. I had been avoiding it because I didn't want to think there was something actually wrong with one of us. When you try as long as I do without so much as a missed period, there must be something structurally wrong, right?!

I was sent to a specialist who acted as if there was no time to lose, I was only 3 short years from reaching "advanced maternal age", and would then have "geriatric eggs" (can we all agree that those terms needs to change?). In addition to blood tests I was also set up for a procedure to check for tubal blockages and Jim was set up for a sperm test. We anxiously awaited the results, all of which came back 100% normal, better than normal actually for Jim 😂. I was completely stumped. Like, whaaaaaa? How could it possibly be that we had been trying all these years with absolutely no results if we were both, according to the doctors and the tests, perfectly healthy?! And so, the diagnosis became "unexplained infertility." I started to wonder, will we ever have kids? Are we meant to have children? If we don't have children, what does that mean for our future?

One of the things I have known since we started trying to conceive was that IVF would not be a part of our life together. It was actually one of the first things Jim and I talked about when we started trying. We discussed, at length, how I felt that IVF was not a path I felt was right for me, and he was in complete support and agreement. At 28, I did not have the connection with my body that I have now, but something in my gut just knew, IVF wasn’t for me. I wanted to work with the specialist to see if there was anything holistically that I could do, but I was also learning to accept and love my situation for what it was.

At this point I had let my closest family and friends in on our infertility journey, and giving them regular updates about the fact that we weren’t pregnant was really hard. Seeing their disappointment was difficult. Answering their questions was even harder. “So, what’s next? IVF?” Explaining my reasoning to my well meaning family and friends was not as simple. The question then becomes "wouldn't you do ANYTHING to have kids?" and while my simple answer feels like "yes" my true answer is "but, not at the expense of my true life path."

I went through several months of work with the specialist, going in monthly to see the ultrasound of eggs forming in my ovaries. She would tell me which days