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After Infertility: 'Normal' Isn't Always What It Seems


a blog by Traci Shahan, RN, WHNP-BC, Doctor of Nursing, Albrecht Women’s Care: A Center for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, July 6, 2011

To read more of Traci Shahan's Fertility Chick Chat blogs, CLICK HERE.

The last few weeks I have been impacted by how incredibly informed, strong and lovely our patients are. One of my greatest sources of joie de vivre is to counsel and walk alongside people who are struggling, which, in my profession, means persons affected by the inability to become pregnant and carry a pregnancy without medical intervention.

Earlier this morning, one patient capitulated to the stress of having felt inundated by babies — she was awash, it seemed, in invitations to baby showers. I like to think of my role during pivotal times like this morning as crucial. Not because I am facile with an ultrasound transducer, peering at people’s innards, deciphering their reproductive system’s messages. Nope, my role is critical because, without even a glance toward the ultrasound machine, I am obliged to listen to the story of the woman sitting in front of me. I am never quite sure how these times may unfold: She may cry, she may rage, she may sigh, we may sit in complete silence while I hold her hand as she musters the courage to tell me about her woundedness, her reality as a woman who desperately longs to hold her newborn.

At times like these, I have absolutely no business looking at her chart, the clock or toward the door. As Dr. Albrecht likes to say, we turn off the clock when we go in the room. No healing will ever take place if it is cordoned off by time. It is an honor to work with these people, many of whom find themselves at one of the nadirs of their lives.

I can relate.

As I have written in many blogs, I was one of those patients. My personal hell went on for four years, stemming from a dud uterus with which I was born, a birth defect hidden for 30 years until I tried to become a mom. Yes, I now have two incredible daughters who seem every bit to be normal American teenagers — they are 14 years-old and all that that implies: torrents of hormones, mad crushes on Justin Bieber, overdue library books, players in the decidedly ugly social dynamics that I pray are limited to middle school. Taylor just returned from Moscow and is now showing off her ersatz Russian culinary talents: I like Borsht; I don’t love it, but this avocado salad she whips up conjures exotic gustatory utopia. Hannah is hanging out in the mountains at a month-long camp, where she has gathered with kids from all over the world, honing and plying their skills as mountaineers and equestrians. This is all wonderful and part-and-parcel, coming-of-age stuff. And this all seems so, well, normal.

But few know the secret that their birth was so comically unlikely that any chance I have of saying the word, “normal” in regard to children, I do with great abandon. “Normal,” is such a reassuring word. It feels like some days that I’m finally part of the club, you know, the Mom Club where you get on the phone and rant to your girlfriend about your children’s adolescent angst, which skin regimens zap acne and which driving school is best for student drivers. I even trade country idioms with other moms: the days pass slowly but years fly by…a mother’s work is never done.

But the nasty little fly in the ointment is that I know I will never feel quite normal, settled wholly into my middle-aged skin, sure that all is well in life, that the other shoe is just the other shoe and will not drop. The ghosts of failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles past still frequent my psyche, whispering to me in the middle of the night that my children, after all this, may yet be snatched from me in the cruelest of ways in, say, a diving accident, a car wreck or due to Ewing’s Sarcoma.

My brainiac, Stanford-educated friend, a mom-of-four who conceived normally, perhaps even in a seize of passion (Imagine! People actually conceive as a result of emotion, not because of catheter.) counsels me that I am a typical female parent affected only by the ”Mom Disease.” But I know differently — that courtesy of years of failed pregnancies and IVF cycles, my angst is a little deeper than that. I have accepted that I will remain this way, and no amount of outward normalcy is going to hand the ghosts their pink slips.

And I’m okay with it, figuring that we all have owies — some are visible, some audible, some palpable, others completely hidden. One of mine is that I am a survivor of infertility. I made it through to the other side. But I only did so with the help of a stellar doctor, lots of love, a really great nurse and by eating my body weight in chocolate on my more despondent days. (If anyone ever badgers you that chocolate is not good for you, arch one eyebrow, do an about-face and pretend that you never heard such propaganda!)

I want to thank the patient who lovingly tapped me on the shoulder this morning, asking when I would post my next blog. Here you go, Dear. I wish all persons affected by fertility to have love, peace and joy in this crazy, mixed-up passage we call “infertility treatment.” Too, I want to thank the people who place their faith in our practice to help them co-birth the family for which they so ardently wish and dream. Your day will come — this, I believe — if you stay perseverant and open-minded.

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