My husband Cody and I met in high school when we were 14 years old. Cliche, I know. He asked me out over AOL Instant Messenger, and we’ve been attached at the hip ever since. Even MORE cliche, but there’s a privilege to knowing someone for so long. To growing through life together. To get to experience so many life stages together. To know so many different versions of the same person. I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
We got married in 2015 and set out to live a life we had dreamed of together since we were in the 9th grade. We moved a few times, took career risks, traveled far, ate good food, and enjoyed our time. We always knew one day we wanted children. However, we figured it would just kind of be there waiting for the taking whenever we were ready!
When that day came and went in August of 2019, something that always seemed like it would just be there….was not. After a year of trying on our own with no positive pregnancy test, normal lab work and testing on both ends, and A LOT of frustration, we were referred to a reproductive endocrinologist.
It was official: Unexplained Infertility, anovulatory cycles. All we had to do was get me to ovulate! We jumped right in with Clomid pills and Ovidrel injections. It seemed like a simple enough problem with a straightforward solution. After a year of no answers, we were renewed in having a plan and a doctor who was in our corner to give us a chance at something that had started to feel impossible.
And that’s EXACTLY how it felt when, during our very first cycle with medication, I got pregnant. Our wait was over; we were finally moving on! We felt shocked and hopeful and spent weeks in the dreamiest haze. Then it all came crashing down in an instant when no heartbeat was detected at our first ultrasound. This was complicated by an extremely painful miscarriage, a night spent in the ER, and two broken hearts that didn’t anticipate how hard this would be to bounce back from. How much this would change us. We spent months swimming in grief that no one else could understand or fully feel.
We licked our wounds and remained hopeful. We CAN get pregnant, and it was just going to be a roll of the dice. One month, we would get this right! We moved onward to three failed cycles in a row on medication. We were at the end of our emotional exhaustion. It had started to feel like our pregnancy had been a fluke.
And then, to our absolute disbelief, on our fifth cycle and right before my 30th birthday, we were pregnant again. Shock and disbelief ensued. Complicated emotions came as that light and airy feeling, that blissful assurance that a positive pregnancy test was going to end in a baby, was not there. We had experienced loss, and this time was different. We were optimistic, but beyond cautious, protecting ourselves from another blow.
We held our breath for weeks. We held our breath when I started randomly bleeding as all we could think was “of course.” We held our breath through the pain and confusion of rising and falling Beta HCG levels. We held our breath as I called Cody crying, driving myself to the ER from work alone because I KNEW something wasn’t right. We held our breath as we learned I was experiencing an Ectopic Pregnancy and a second loss. We held our breath as I went into surgery less than 24 hours later and lost a fallopian tube. We held our breath as we settled back into feelings we had felt with our first loss, greeting us like an old friend.
We held our breath a lot that month, actually.
Suddenly, we were at a turning point. The questions we asked ourselves through many moments of doubt returned:
- Where do we go from here?
- How badly do we want this?
- What if this just ISN’T going to happen for us?
- How much more can we take?
Having moved through a second loss, we now had a fresh perspective. We were emotionally exhausted, and we were ready for another step forward. The option that we feared this journey would come to for so long, IVF, now felt empowering. We weren’t just accepting of this, we were EXCITED.
There came a point in this journey that we realized we weren’t here for a short season. I became very open about our struggle with others and had moments that I couldn’t believe the words coming from our mouths: we were THAT couple. The couple dealing with infertility. The chick that had the pregnancy losses. Those people going through IVF. How do you shoulder that?
We embraced it.
We fought leaning into these identities for so long. We had such a nonchalant approach to growing our family starting out: we didn’t want to HAVE to THINK about this. It will happen when it’s “meant to be.” We didn’t want to view our fertility on the clinical level that we now do.
“If it gets to that point, we will just accept that we will not have biological children,” I said one night talking about our future family years ago.
But I declared these things before infertility. And you don’t realize how badly you want this, how much of a fight you are willing to put up, until it is not just “THOSE people” going through it: it is you. So much of this is long, drawn-out, painful, uncomfortable, life-upheaving, and uncertain. But so much of it is strengthening, eye-opening, empowering, and has changed our life outlook in positive ways.
We maintain a positive, but realistic outlook. Because I truly believe that one day, one way or another we will be on the other side of this in some way. I believe that even if the future doesn’t look like I once assumed it would, it will be bright. And I KNOW we will be okay with that because we get to move through this together. But we still have to deal with today. And today the reality is that infertility is a big part of our lives right now. To truly accept it, we had to acknowledge it.
So we leaned into our infertility. We took the throne as the infertility couple. We accepted it, we shared with others, we made light, we remained realistically hopeful.
Something really amazing happened beyond our vulnerability. Once we accepted that we are here, once we embraced being “those people,” a weight lifted as we allowed ourselves to tread water here. We stopped looking to the future, we stopped comparing ourselves to others, and we started to thrive in our OWN story. We felt normalcy in this as it IS normal, it IS common, it is just not talked about. We are truly never alone.
There’s a saying about things that seem insurmountable: “You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.” I find that to be true in this process. One step at a time, one day at a time. Embracing small wins and each tiny step you make. Every day is a day forward. Towards what? I’m not really sure. But I’m certain it will be beautiful.
Sarah Johnson is a clinical research nurse living in Charlotte, NC with her husband Cody. Sarah and Cody have been married for six years and enjoy traveling, food, and time with their two dogs and two cats. She shares their life of adventure and infertility and loss journey on TikTok @sarahrogersjohnson, Instagram at @sarahrojohnson, and her blog The Carolina Wanderer. Sarah is impassioned to be the voice in the infertility space that she did not have and shares her experiences to help others feel less alone.