I sat there in stunned silence after hearing my reproductive endocrinologist (fertility specialist) chime, “In my professional opinion, I don’t think you’ll be able to get pregnant again or stay pregnant. Have you considered seeing other specialists?”
Wait, did my RE just break up with me?! And what the hell did she just say???
This specialist looked stellar on paper, with staggeringly high success rates. I’d waited months for an appointment. I’d prayed she was the answer. When the day finally came to meet the fertility goddess, she turned out to be an insensitive wench who saw my case history of severe endometriosis, a painful condition where inflamed tissue grows outside the uterus, and kicked my ass to the curb.
I was “only” in my 20s. She told me callously that my miscarriages were “too early to matter.”
Except she was wrong. They mattered to me. A lot.
I slowly walked back to my car in a daze. I sobbed uncontrollably. The kind of tears where you snort and gulp like a suffocating pig while snot drips all over your face and the tears are so dense they soak your shirt. It seemed like I bawled forever. And then anger and bitterness set in. Followed quickly by sadness.
The following months, I was inconsolable. No one seemed to understand the tsunami of emotions I was experiencing. They spit out insensitive blanket statements of “just relax” or “God has a plan,” which infuriated me, as relaxing won’t cure endometriosis and God’s plan is for me to be happy, not miserable. I felt anguish and fear take deep hold in my soul. It hurt to breathe. At times I thought I was having a straight-up heart attack and was going to die. I suffered vivid nightmares and debilitating insomnia. Desperate to feel normal, I went to my primary care physician, who diagnosed me with severe panic attacks and crippling anxiety. She prescribed several medications (all safe if I did get pregnant) to calm me and help me sleep. They worked about as well as placebos, which is to say, not at all.
I thought I was a complete and utter failure at this time in my life. I’m a mammal. Aren’t mammals supposed to reproduce? I couldn’t even control my emotions, much less my ovarian function. I convinced myself I was losing at this thing called “life.” Never did I consider suicide. I already thought I was dying. Don’t you know anxiety and depression can slay you? Murder everything good in your heart, including your faith, hope, and dreams? The depression made me not want to give a damn about life, but the anxiety refused to let me forget the drama engulfing me. I had to quit my job as I couldn’t function. I never knew when a panic attack would strike as I could not determine my triggers.
Somewhere in the darkness, I found help through an anxiety clinic. I won’t lie and say I went willingly. My stay there resulted after I had a complete breakdown. Emphasis on the word “complete.” I don’t remember most of what even happened. It was as if a demon possessed me, except it was all me.
My husband, desperate to find a way into my world of sorrow, confronted me with some family members. Immediately I felt betrayed. He wouldn’t go to therapy with me, though I’d asked him to dozens of times, but he had the audacity to treat me like something was wrong with me?! I was pissed beyond words! Everyone acted like I didn’t have a reason to be upset, except they were all mistaken. I was entitled to my feelings, and no one had the right to be dismissive of my situation.
I vaguely remember yelling. Lots of yelling. And then I ran to my bedroom to avoid the family (you know, those traitors spewing negativity at me instead of offering support). I snuck out a window … except I fell in my haste and inflicted a ghastly cut on my eyebrow that required stitches. I learned three valuable lessons as I plummeted from that window: 1. That bastard window was higher than it appeared. 2. I was not a feline who gracefully floated to her feet. I landed on my face and that shit hurt. 3. That was a terrible idea.
At the emergency room, I argued with the nurse, who wrongfully accused me of being suicidal. She also accused me of being drunk. (I’d had nothing, but suggested I wouldn’t mind a little red wine after the dreadful evening I’d had. She failed to share my humor.) In anger and frustration, I may have also stammered something along the lines of, “Listen bitch, no one goes through fertility treatments only to blow it all on booze!” (In retrospect, pretty sure that was the comment that landed me in “lock up.”)
I made a point of telling her the stitch job on my eye sucked and would probably result in a hideous scar. (It didn’t.) And I cried. Big heaping sobs. Never in my life had I felt so alone and unwanted. The bitterness I harbored towards my family was excruciating. I was convinced in that moment that I was dying of a broken heart. Rock. Bottom.
At first, at the clinic, which was like a mediocre hotel with locked doors, I felt ashamed. Horrified at how I’d behaved. Then a psychologist at the clinic informed me that I was suffering not from insanity, but from immense grief as well as my already diagnosed anxiety and depression. I was relieved and yet also surprised. That was the first time in a very long time my feelings made sense!
Humans are not rational when grieving, and we are not at our best. Our decision-making abilities are hindered and we may experience anger, sadness, or denial, try to bargain with the situation, and – hopefully – someday accept that we deserve to be happy. No textbook outlines a specific timeline or path for grieving because everyone experiences it differently. In other words, there is no correct way to go through the stages of grief. In the same way, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks affect each of us differently. There is no magic cure or easy way out.
Infertility is in fact a form of grief. A part of your soul dies with every cycle that doesn’t result in a pregnancy. Millions of women are battling infertility right now. They mourn when their periods start. They feel isolated. They drown themselves in Dr. Google ideas, hoping to discover a solution to end their sadness. After year(s) of trying to conceive naturally and at their wit’s end, many seek the care of a fertility specialist. Except there is no guarantee of a successful pregnancy, which makes it daunting.
Infertility is powerful. It is evil. It is brutal. Being a woman (or a man) and knowing your body has let you down is a huge blow. Many of us females have dreamed of a baby since we were young girls playing with dolls. It’s not like being disappointed over being passed up for a promotion or Starbucks being out of soy milk for your latte. It’s soul-sucking, mind-altering, and affects you for the rest of your life. You are battling very much alone, since it is a fight against your or your partner’s body, and it can overwhelm you before you even realize it. The intense depression and anxiety quickly flood in and suffocate you. No doctor could have prepared me for that horror.
When I was discharged from the anxiety clinic, I felt strong, not defeated. If I couldn’t conceive and carry a baby, mentally I was now prepared for other paths to parenthood. I was me again – and yet a brand-new, super strong Hulk me with a newfound respect for life. Initially I thought admitting I had an illness made me weak. However, it just meant I was too exhausted to fight alone any more. Through the support I gained, I again felt loved and understood. I had learned essential tools to rebuild my life.
Part of recovering after a mental breakdown is rebuilding the relationships that were tarnished. My therapist warned this would not be easy, as people cannot feel what we feel and don’t fully understand. They lack empathy. Some family members mistook my personal battle as attacks at them when truthfully I was lashing out irrationally. One relative still won’t speak to me over six years later, though I’ve apologized at least a dozen times. Otherwise, everyone else really was just concerned about my well being.
I still at times feel resentful towards my husband. Then I remind myself that he too was grieving. Fear prevented him from going to therapy with me. (I should have gone anyway. I needed it.) Infertility had built a wall between us, as it does many couples. The sadness and stress are powerful deflators of your soul. Now we have reached the other side of this battle – stronger than ever.
My over six-year journey through infertility was the most painful time of my life. It still hurts. Time may heal wounds, but it doesn’t erase memories.
I’m no longer ashamed of my meltdown. I am a fiercely strong female who reached a breaking point. This is ME and if you can’t accept me, quirks and all, I do not need you in my life! Far too often society attaches a negative stigma to those suffering from anxiety and depression when in fact these are legitimate illnesses. Millions suffer in silence to avoid the negative stigma. That was me: I knew I wasn’t quite myself but failed to recognize to what extent.
There’s no gold medal for this solo agony. Don’t be the near-hysterical person with the bleeding eye at the ER who was too stubborn to admit the need for help. If you have a mega meltdown, you’re not alone! Hold your head up. You are not failing. You’re a human being making your way through this difficult process of life. I can never claim to be free of anxiety. Always it simmers just below the surface, waiting to attack. However, now I’ve learned valuable tools to cope and manage. And I’ll never again let it overwhelm me.
While the crummy fertility doc may have treated me like a number with a pocketbook, in my heart I knew she was wrong to condemn my body. With my newfound badass attitude, I refused to let her opinion crush me anymore. I found a new doctor who was kind and optimistic and prayed for a successful pregnancy. I began acupuncture with a new fertility medicine regimen, and within a year I was pregnant with my first daughter.
I learned along my not-so-merry way to always fight back at the world when it throws lemons such as infertility at you. Someday, somehow, things will not be as gloomy. Keep trying. You are not weak. You are not forgotten. You are not unloved. Repeat: I am a survivor. I am strong. Fuck you anxiety and depression! Fuck you panic attacks! Fuck you infertility! Demand to be happy today, in this moment, and fight for that peace. Refuse to hide in shame. You battled. You can rebuild. That makes you valiant.