What I've Won In My Eight-Year Battle With Infertility
By Lauren Citro
Infertility is a thief. Anyone who has been dealing with this diagnosis for any length of time knows that.
Next month, I’ll hit my eight-year mark of trying to conceive. Eight years is a long time—long enough to see how the experience is making a real, lasting impact on me and influencing the way that I approach life and see the world.
Some of these impacts have fallen into the “negative” category. I’ve lost a lot of innocence when it comes to starting a family. Pregnancy announcements no longer bring only joy like they once did. I know now that seeing a positive pregnancy test doesn’t guarantee a baby like I once thought, and the idea that my future baby would be a “spontaneous love child” seems to be gone for good. Infertility has waged war on my dignity (so many invasive exams!) and has left me feeling out of control of my own life.
But eight years is a long time—long enough to learn to fight back. Long enough to teach me that infertility isn’t just a thief, it’s also a worthy opponent, one that has left me (in many ways) better-off for having battled it. If you’re not convinced, just stick with me.
Infertility strips you of your facades. Once you’ve found yourself in stirrups with an ultrasound wand probing your most intimate parts (multiple times a week, and a new doctor every time), you realize there’s just not that much to hide anymore. From a physical standpoint, infertility has led me to be more vocal about important health topics that at one time felt faux pax to discuss.
This is truly a point of liberation. Being able to talk about our bodies means we’re empowered to advocate for ourselves. I mean, how is someone expected to know that their debilitating period cramps are a potential symptom of endometriosis if we get sheepish talking about “that time of the month”!?
From getting my period to the physiology of reproduction, to how my body reacts to all the different “fertility diets” I’ve tried, infertility has taken the taboo and made it fair game for discussion. Our bodies are temples and there’s no shame in how they function.
The freedom that has come from being able to discuss how our bodies work is a key ingredient in my next point of victory: battling infertility gave me an opportunity to recognize and connect with my own and other people’s humanity.
Infertility breaks down our barriers. We’ve been stripped bare, not just physically, but emotionally, too. Infertility brings with it a rush of emotions (many of which we’ve never faced in this extreme way before), and there’s simply no use trying to hide them.
The grief. The frustration. The jealousy. The disappointment. The depression. The hope. The fear. The anxiety. The feelings that can only be expressed through the shedding of hot tears. We’ve all been there.
Read that again: we’ve all been there. Even those of us in this world who have been blessed with a fully functioning reproductive system have faced our own setbacks & trials. None of us get out of this life without battling adversity. It’s part of what makes us human.
We live in a world of highlight reels and photo filters. We’re constantly bombarded with images that make us feel like everyone else has their life together but us. As Glennon Doyle says, we imagine an idealized woman whose life is “easy” only to find out we’ve been chasing a “ghost.” But life isn’t easy. It’s really, really hard.
Infertility was my wake-up call. I’m human. My emotions aren’t shameful, they’re natural. If I’m willing to acknowledge them in myself, I can heal. And if I’m willing to acknowledge them in others, well, we can heal together.
Battling infertility, and, in turn, owning my own body, owning my emotions, and recognizing my own humanity, led me to another discovery: I am fantastically resilient. There have been so many times that I looked at other people’s journeys who I perceived to be on a harder path and thought “I could never do that,” only to find myself in the same position years later doing exactly what I thought I couldn’t do.
I recently found some old pictures on my phone from a previous IVF cycle. My stomach was covered in bruises from all of the injections of IVF. It sounds like a strange thing to take a picture of, but to be honest, I wore those bruises like a badge of honor.
Infertility takes a toll on you in many invisible ways. Bruises from injections may be the most temporary manifestation of that toll, but it’s one that you can actually see. Looking at my bruise-covered stomach tells me, "you can do hard things."
I remember the first time I considered that IVF was potentially in my future—it was devastating. I truly believed I would not survive. But you do what needs to be done. You lean on your faith, you lean on your friends, and you find the strength within yourself. Knowing that I have such inner strength brings me to a final prize in my eight-year battle with infertility—it’s made me realize how much power I truly have over my own choices.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Infertility has taken away a lot of choices too. I remember my pre-TTC days, thinking that I would be able to perfectly space out my children and that they would all have summer birthdays (that’s easy, right?). I thought I would have a lot more determination over if or when I got pregnant than it turns out I actually did.
And yet, not all agency has been taken away from me. And I’m acutely aware and grateful for the choices I do have. The choice of what doctor to go to, the choice of what treatment to pursue, the choice to take a break from treatment, and the choice of when to begin again.
There are days when it feels like all my choices have been stripped away. Those days, I focus on the smallest variables inside my control. What music do I want to listen to on the way to the clinic? What outfit do I want to wear that will make me feel cozy and safe? What special coffee do I want to treat myself to? Every little decision, no matter how inconsequential, is empowering at this point.
Reflecting on these choices changed my mindset. No longer am I a victim of infertility. I am a warrior, and I can choose my own strategy on how I fight.
Infertility felt like it was doing nothing but robbing me in a season of my life. It dictated my schedule and my finances. It took away the joy of what I imagined getting pregnant to be. I hate it and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But it gave me something too—something I wouldn’t trade for anything. Infertility laid the groundwork for me to become the mom I hope to be someday, someone who is comfortable in her own skin, who doesn’t hide her humanity, who knows how to overcome adversity and who has chosen to persevere.
Infertility and all its related treatment have yet to make me a mom, but it has made me into the type of woman I can be proud of. And that is something worth fighting for.
Lauren Citro and her husband Andrew live in San Diego, California. Lauren feels a deep connection to other couples walking through a diagnosis of infertility and is passionate about sharing her story in hopes of building community and encouraging others in their journey. Lauren loves traveling and exploring just as much as she loves staying home with a good book, but her perfect day would always be spent at Disneyland. You can find Lauren sharing bits of her story, as well as encouragement for other infertility warriors, on her blog www.growmyfamily.com or on Instagram @growmyfamily.