Everything happens for a reason or does it?

When I hear the statement ‘everything happens for a reason’ my insides start to gurgle a little, my heart rate begins to rise, I feel a bit sick. I try not to let it spin my head around. Being able to truly believe that everything happens for a reason must be amazing. I used to believe it, I used to believe it because it would help me get through some of the crap in my life. I’d tell myself that this shit has happened to me because it’s going to make me a stronger person, a better person, a more empathetic person, more resilient. I can turn these crappy things that happened to me into life lessons. I would be that great oak tree that gets stronger after it gets struck by lightning.

But then life got really shit when it came to growing our family. Infertility and pregnancy loss. And I questioned it. I met some other incredible women who had been through some shittier shit. I questioned it. I always sought the good out of evil…I still do, but I can’t always see it right now. So I settle with, ‘Everything happens’. Period. Full stop. The end.

But what does a mantra like ‘Everything happens’ do to me? Does it make me bitter? Does it make me a fool for not seeing the good out of the bad?

I don’t talk about religion much here on this blog, but when people say ‘it’s god’s plan’, to me that’s even worse. When I was a kid and I was upset about something I used to close my eyes tight and through my tears ask god why? Why me? And god would reason with me. Actually, I was reasoning with myself, I just pretended it was god talking to me because somehow it made me feel a little better. But telling someone when they are going through struggles ‘it’s god’s plan’ is surely enough to make someone lose their faith, because it is so hard to understand why god would let a baby die…because… it’s his plan. It’s hard to understand why god didn’t bless a family with a baby of their own. It’s hard to understand why our loved ones are taken from us before their time. It’s hard to understand why god would let a terrorist kill people at an airport who are about to go on holiday with their children (innocent children) or who are separated from their loved ones because of work. It’s truly hard to understand what the greater good or plan is. If this was true, surely god is evil? I honestly don’t think that would be the case. For me, I think it is probably better to say that it is god’s plan to be with you, if you let him, when shit is thrown your way.

My current feelings are that time spent thinking about the ‘why’ is time spent wasted. Infertility has taught me how to be in the present. It is therapeutic, it’s survival. Although, it could be argued that by saying ‘everything happens for a reason’ and ‘it’s god’s plan’ would actually HELP with living in the present, but I feel it would be like living in the present with your head in the sad singing lalalalala!!

So for now I’ll try to ignore those few words ‘everything happens for a reason’ and live in the present otherwise it will eat away at me, little by little. I’m glad I’m mentally able to do that right now. I know it won’t always be like that.

Perhaps I’m just parking it for another time when I feel like thinking about the bigger why. Or. Perhaps infertility has actually taught me coping mechanisms for shit thrown my way.

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I am 1 in 8 speech

For my first international toastmasters speech which is known as ‘The icebreaker speech’ I decided to talk about my infertility. I thought I’d go big or go home! Talking about infertility to a bunch of work colleagues and a few strangers is nerve wracking!! This speech is the first of many I must give to gain my ‘competent communicator’ award. The idea is that the icebreaker speech is 4-5 minutes long and aims to ‘break the ice’ by talking a little bit about yourself as an introduction to your fellow toastmasters club members. Talking about infertility seemed like a bold challenge. 

It was hard to focus a speech that is only 5 minutes long to what has been a challenging part of my life. But in the end here is what I said…

“Ladies & Gentlemen, let me ‘break the ice’!! Let me take you back in time to when I was 9 in a leafy suburb playground of London. I was a bit of a Tom boy. I liked cars and transformers, so whenever I played with the boys, the girls would taunt me with the school playground rhyme…

“Dani & Chris, sitting in a tree

K-I-S-S-I-N-G

First comes love,

Then comes marriage,

Then comes the baby in the baby carriage”

Well ladies and gentlemen, that nursery rhyme isn’t quite so simple as it sounds after all. Because I am 1 in 8. I am 1 in 8 who suffers from the disease that is infertility. A baby in the baby carriage is not always what comes next.

Let me introduce you to Chris, my husband of 5 years….


Here he is winning the District 66 toastmasters humorous speech competition. You can see I have some competition!!!

4 and half years ago we moved to the US to work here. And it was at that point all our friends and family asked us….’so…when are you going to have a baby??!!’ Little did they know that we were trying but not succeeding. After many tests, thr doctors couldn’t tell us why we couldn’t have a baby. We were diagnosed as unexplained. So we tried InVitro Fertilisation or IVF.

Our first round of treatment we created these beautiful embryos…


We named them huckleberry and huckleberina because they looked like raspberries. Just 8 cells smaller than 0.1mm. One decided to stick around and I got pregnant!!! We were so happy! Until we discovered that it had implanted in the wrong place, the pregnancy was ectopic and so we sadly had to terminate the pregnancy as it threatened my life. 

We were devastated. We had to wait a while to try again.

Second time we created these 5 day old blastocysts. At first we didn’t name them because it was too painful. But in the end we did nickname them Petrie and Spike.


But it didn’t work. I didn’t get pregnant. It was very stressful and even Chris didn’t want to try again so soon. But we decided to try again. Third time lucky they say?!? This time we created thee 5 day old blastocysts – and as you can see we got a better photo of them  third time around!


And it worked!!! Today we have our beautiful daughter Aviana who is now 6 months old.


We are the lucky ones. Not everyone of the 1 in 8 gets to take a baby home in the baby carriage. It was a hard journey and involved hundreds of injections and there were many tears. People ask me now that I have a baby when will number two come along, or will we have another baby? But I tell them it’s not quite so simple as that. It’s hard. I wanted to share this with you today as my icebreaker because this is a subject deep to my heart and I hope you have learned something interesting about me today.

Ladies and Gentelemen, Thank you.”

I really enjoyed giving this icebreaker speech. It probably wasn’t what people would have expected as a first time topic. I got a great response from the audience. There was actually someone in the audience who was going through IVF themselves and have done two cycles at the same clinic as we used. They were about to decide whether or not to go for a third cycle and whether to stay with the same doctor. I offered details of our local infertility support group. It was obvious it was meant to be that I talked about this topic for my icebreaker. 

Infertility leaves a scar. I am grateful we were the lucky ones, but it doesn’t suddenly disappear from your heart when you have a baby. For me, continuing to talk about it and spread awareness helps the healing.

Creating a family friendly culture in the workplace

How important are family friendly policies and benefits in organisational culture?

Is there a correlation between a high performing organisation and a family friendly workplace?

It seems obvious that the answer is yes…and yet, there are many organisations who put family friendly policies and benefits at the bottom of the pile.  Family friendly policies and benefits are known to increase retention, recruitment, morale and productivity.  Arguably, these policies and benefits come at a cost to the organisation, so do the benefits outweigh the costs?  It can be difficult to put a figure on this type of benefit and return on investment.

There is also the unseen or lesser known part of family friendly policies and benefits that organisations can adopt; these are related to family building options such as infertility treatment insurance coverage, adoption grants, sick leave (for miscarriage or medical treatments), flexible working and egg freezing.

Simply having these policies and benefits will certainly contribute to a family friendly culture…but there is something deeper than these – a family friendly organizational culture that builds on the policies nd benefits.

You may have heard the saying – “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. This simply means that no matter how good the policies are they need to be supported by the organisation’s culture.

Going beyond the policies and benefits, leaders and staff need to develop the values and behaviours that make up the family-friendly culture:

Open Communication – on both work/life needs and institutional priorities.  Staff need to be able to freely communicate to their leaders and vice versa without incrimination or judgement. The ability to give 360 degree feedback freely about what works and what doesn’t contributes to this open communication environment.

Flexibility – at all levels of the organisation.  Creating an environment that makes it OK to ask for flexible working or time off by creating space to.  Believing that employees are less loyal or productive for asking for these creates will creates negative culture.

Commitment – recognition that a good work/life culture benefits everyone.

Fairness – fair doesn’t mean equal; leaders need to understand that one size doesn’t fit all, applying family friendly policies consistently is important.

These values can’t be written down in policy or given away as a benefit…they have to be enacted out by the people we work with every day and inspired by our leaders in our day to day lives.

What other values and behaviours do you think make up a family friendly culture that we can live by in our workplaces, including family building?

Do your leaders say they are family friendly but don’t live by the values they preach?

What drives you to advocate?

Last night I was talking with my local Resolve infertility support group leader about some things.  I asked her how she was able to find the courage within to tell her story to the world in order to advocate for change in family building policies.  She has done many inspirational things as an advocate and has an amazing way with finding the right words that hit home.  Quite frankly, sharing your infertility journey in the public’s eye is terrifying.  She told me her courage comes from an underlying belief that we have to fight for change so that our children don’t have to go through what we have been through.  It is so so simple, but so so powerful.  And it probably seems obvious, but it really hit me hard. In fact, I love it.

If I don’t advocate for change in family building policies…who else will? Who else will make the difference so that my unborn child and her friends won’t have to struggle with the road blockages that face us in growing our families when infertility hits?  Financial stresses, friend and family stresses, work stresses all on top of the physical and mental stresses of being infertile.  Some of these stresses can be removed with a little help of legislation and education.

I’m going to raise my voice and share my story of success.  I may be judged, I may be scrutinised, others’ words might hurt me on the way…but that won’t compare to the potential opportunity for positive change in the future for my children if I don’t speak out.

My blog is one way…writing letters to politicians is another, but there are many other ways, and I’m going to start by having the courage to fight with this mantra supporting me.

Watch this space my friends, I’m feeling empowered 🙂

Natural Conception after Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Treatment

Today at work I was putting together a presentation on “What is correlation?” (I know, my work is full of excitement and such geekery 😎 ), and I came across an interesting example of ‘illusory correlation’ from the infertility world that I thought I would share with you all.  I was about using it as an example in my presentation.

Have you ever heard someone say

“Adoption increases the chance of an infertile couple getting pregnant naturally?”

Many people have heard or say this, and many can tell you a story of someone they know/know of that this happened to.  The rationale behind this can be hypothesised as:

Once the pressure is off and the couple is less anxious, it will happen naturally.

But how true is that?

Apparently it turns out there is NO empirical evidence to support such a hypothesis.  Research (from Resolve) has shown that the percentage of women who become pregnant without adopting is no different to the percentage of women who become pregnant without adopting.  What this means is that, while a small percentage of people who were having difficulty getting pregnant do not get pregnant after adopting a child, these are likely the same people who would have gotten pregnant after having difficulty, even without the adoption.  It has nothing to do with the adoption.

So why do so many people believe this myth?  Because many people can tell you of a story of someone they know that this happened to.  But the thing is, most people can only tell you ONE story.  And they don’t tell you all the stories they know about the infertile couples that adopted a child and didn’t get pregnant naturally afterward.  The examples of where it did happen are salient to them, perhaps because they remember thinking to themselves “This couple is going to have two babies within a few months of age of each other!”  What happens when something is salient – or when it produces a vivid memory – is that people tend to overemphasize the likelihood of its occurrence.  And they give it a lot of attention.

This is known as vividness bias.

The vividness bias is supported by what’s often referred to as an illusory correlation – the impression that two variables are related when in fact they are not.  In this example, because of one or two very salient or vivid examples, many people believe that there is a relationship between adoption and getting pregnant, when in reality, there is not.

(Extracted from: Intentional Interruption: Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform By Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack)

Similar to the case made for getting pregnant naturally after adoption, you may have heard a similar argument for couples who stop assisted reproduction and get pregnant naturally afterwards.  There is research that was published in 2012 that found that 17% of women who became pregnant, and gave birth, from IVF treatment, became pregnant again naturally (NB….within 6 years!).  For those women who were unsuccessful with IVF, 24% became pregnant naturally after stopping infertility treatment.

Other recent research has found that 16% of infertile women conceive naturally after stopping treatment (within 13 years!).  And by the way, let us not forget that a fertile couple’s chance of conception is 20-24% for every menstrual cycle!  So that 16% statistic still SUCKS.  In addition, the original cause of a woman’s infertility made a difference as to the chance of achieving a successful natural pregnancy after IVF – if the infertility was due to uterine, cervical or ovarian problems, endometriosis or infertility in their male partners, the women had a significantly greater chance of achieving a successful natural pregnancy after stopping IVF.  However in comparison, if the couple’s infertility was ‘unexplained’ or the problem was with tubal pathology, her chances of a natural pregnancy decreased 😦

So there are many illusory correlations out there in the infertility world.  And now you know how to respond to people that say to you:

“ohhh you will get pregnant naturally after adopting/stopping treatment, that happened to my friend/friend of friend”

you can reply

“……the evidence is contrary, my dear, and you are suffering from vividness bias”

It’s a whole lot politer, and factual, than – “F*#$ you”.

Reblog – Start asking friends and family for support —

Day 4 of the Bloggers Unite Conference at missconception.com!  I don’t know who this lunatic blogger is, she is harping on about something for infertility awareness week…..oh wait….it’s me! I’m excited to be part of the bloggers unite conference this year, and very grateful to Miss Conception for hosting it!

I discuss how we opened up to our friends and family about our infertility journey and yet had never actually asked for support from them.  I assumed I didn’t need it.  But I was wrong. People find it hard to know how to help their infertile loved ones, so if you ask, they will leap, I have no doubt about that as we have experienced.  I suggest ways you can ask for support from your friends and family.  You don’t need to be as open about your infertility journey as we have, but knowing when and how to ask for support will help get you through those tough days. Click the link below to read more!!!  XXX

Hi! My name is Dani. My husband, Chris and I, have been trying to conceive (TTC) since December 2013. We were diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility‘ in January 2015. I decided to blog about our journey of TTC as I quickly realised that talking to friends and family about our situation can be difficult. It can be hard for them to […]

…..read more of my blog post here via #niaw – Day 4, Bloggers Unite Conference – Start asking friends and family for support —

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Why can’t we make a baby? #NIAW

Why?  Why me?  Why can’t I make a baby like all my other friends and family? I have so many questions about why after almost 2.5 years of trying to conceive and failing miserably, month after month.  What have I done to cause this?  Why won’t my body just get pregnant? What am I doing wrong?

It’s human nature to want to know why things happen.  But these are the type of questions that run through my head round and round, continuously ever since we decided to grow our family.  I have yet to answer any of these questions.  It is exhausting.

Chris and I are 1 in 8 couples of child bearing age in the US that struggle with the disease that is infertility.  We tried the good old fashioned way – sex – for 11 months before we went to seek specialist help from a reproductive endocrinologist doctor after we discovered that Chris’s testosterone levels were “below normal”.  It turned out for us that testosterone levels do not actually matter that much when it comes to fertility.  Chris actually had super sperm, and lots of them!  But it did lead us to start the typical tests for diagnosing infertility.

We thanked our lucky stars that all our test results came back normal – there was nothing seriously wrong with either of us.  In fact, we passed all our tests with flying colours, we were top of the class!  But this put us into the category that 20% of infertile couples are diagnosed with – unexplained infertility.  This meant that the doctors could not tell us why we hadn’t been successful so far in trying to conceive the way they teach you at school.  We were about to embark on a journey that was going to take us beyond what they taught us at school – we were going to try to get pregnant with medical assistance.  We were heading into the world of the unknown.  We knew little to nothing about infertility.

At first it was difficult to explain to our friends and family why we were seeking treatment, because there was nothing ‘technically’ wrong with us.  The infertility was inexplicable!  It was embarrassing, it was awkward to explain.  So this is why I started this blog, to help us get over this difficulty in explaining what we were doing and why, as well as helping to explain our feelings about our disease in general.

Unexplained infertility in someways has been a good thing – there is always hope that this treatment will work.  But ultimately it is difficult to accept that there is just no known reason that this isn’t working for us.  In some cases, going through medically assisted treatment for infertility can reveal the explanation of a couple’s infertility.  But in our case, after 3 IUIs (Artificial Insemination) and 3 cycles of IVF (In-Vitro Fertilisation), 1 suspected ectopic pregnancy,  and over $90k of medical bills we are none the wiser as to why we do not have a baby in our arms yet.

Conception is a wondrous act of nature, but it is also an incredibly complex process  – there have to be many stars in line for a healthy baby to be born.  For something that is the very basis of our human race’s existence, we still know very little about the disease that prevents us from growing our families.  It’s incredible, right?

I am currently in the dreaded two week wait of our third (and final) IVF cycle.  If this cycle fails, apart from being devastated, I do not know how we will ever be able to move forward without knowing why this has happened, why medical treatment didn’t work for us.  Our infertility will never leave us.

For National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), the national non-profit infertility organisation Resolve is promoting this year’s theme #StartAsking.  The theme is about promoting the questions that we want to be answered, whether this is asking for our Employers to provide insurance coverage, asking for legislation that supports family building options or asking our friends and family to support us.  For me, the one question I have and want to raise more awareness about is to:

 #StartAsking for more targeted research on unexplained infertility.

Perhaps if we can understand more about how or why some couples are infertile, then better focused medical interventions can be developed to defeat infertility.

I want answers!!!! But we won’t ever get answers if we don’t talk about infertility and unexplained infertility.  It shouldn’t be a secret.  We can do this by speaking openly about infertility, by getting organisations like Resolve to help raise our community’s voice and build awareness.

If you would like to know more about infertility, please visit Resolve.org.

If you would like to help, you can contribute by fundraising or donating for Resolve.  Or just comment below with your questions and thoughts to join in the discussion!

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National Infertility Awareness Week #StartAsking

It’s almost National Infertility Awareness Week here in the US, 24-30 April 2016.  I don’t know if there is an equivalence in the UK, Canada, Australia, NZ or wherever you are in the world, but seeing as my blog lives in an international community I believe it should be an International Awareness Week (So doth Dani declares!).  So join us!

Here are some ways you can ALL get involved to help spread awareness of this disease, whether you are infertile or an infertile loved one’s supporter.

Learn more about infertility.  Because knowledge is power.

If you are family or a friend of an infertile loved one then change your facebook profile picture to this.  You can download the picture from here.

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If you are 1 in 8 couples you can change your facebook profile picture to one of these:

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or my favourite…..

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Let people know that infertility is a disease by using the phrase, “the disease of infertility” whenever you talk or write about infertility.

If you don’t know what to say to someone who has infertility, then you can read this article: “25 Things to say (and not to say)” from Resolve.  If you are finding that some friends just don’t understand your infertility and are saying unintentionally hurtful things – share this link with friends and family so you can help them to help you.

Infertility is a couple’s disease, there is a mis-perception that infertility is a woman’s disease, this is not true.  So don’t forget all the men who are affected too.

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So what am I doing for National Infertility Awareness Week?  I have been prepping some microblog posts, one-a-day, on the subject of this year’s theme #StartAsking – I will also be posting on my personal facebook page – eeeeeeek!!!!

I am participating in Miss Conception Coach’s Bloggers Unit Conference!!!!  Watch this space for my article!  You can follow her on wordpress and see all the inspiring articles for the conference, her instagram is @missconceptioncoach – she posts lots of beautiful and inspiring words of wisdom 🙂

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My local infertility support group is running an information desk at our local clinic throughout the week, and I will help man it for a few hours to make people aware of who we are and what the support group does 🙂

As part of Resolve’s Advocacy day some members of my local infertility support group are visiting Washington DC to talk to members of congress about important family building issues.  I can’t go because I have to work (Boooooooo) but they will be taking my letters I have written to our Senators and Congressman with them!

And of course I will be doing all the social media stuff too.

 

OK that’s a lot for now!!!! TTFN!!!

 

Infertility is a disease

Infertility is a disease.  It is a disease that results in the abnormal functioning of the male or female reproductive system.  The World Health Organisation, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recognise infertility as a disease.

So why don’t I think of infertility as a disease?  Why do people not think about infertility is a disease?  Because we don’t understand it.  We don’t learn about it at school.  We might learn about it through friends and family, but only if they choose to share their diagnosis and treatment.  Many do not because they are embarrassed that they cannot successfully procreate.

But I am finally beginning to understand infertility, and I have been suffering from it, for over a year now.  It’s taken me a while!  So how can I expect non-infertile people to understand when I live and breathe it daily?

Why is it so important that infertility is recognized as a disease?  Because generally people understand that a disease is something that is fought against.  The concept of letting a disease consume a human being is horrifying, whether it is physically or mentally consuming.  Disease is bad.  Disease should not be tolerated.  Disease should be researched and studied until we figure out how to overcome it.

I personally have been ignorant to the fact that we are fighting a disease.  I have advocated for education and learning about infertility through my blog, and yet I have only just realized that I was ignoring it.  That might seem to be an absurd statement considering the number of blog posts I have made in the past year….I think about my infertility every waking day.  May be I am obsessed by it.  But I have ignored it at large too.  Why?  Because I have been led to believe that I have a choice to procreate.  And luckily, I do have a choice.  I can choose not to procreate.  But my choice to be able to procreate has been taken away from me by this disease.

Here’s an analogy for you.

One day I wake up and notice that I have an open wound on my arm. Hmmmm. I don’t know where that came from!  Well, it doesn’t hurt, so I get up, get dressed and continue with my day.  That small bloody wound on my arm is noticed by a couple of people at work.

Someone asks me…

”Errrrr……Dani……..do you know you have an open wound on your arm?”

I reply nonchalantly,

“Oh yes, I saw that this morning, it doesn’t hurt, so I figured I’ll be OK, I’ll just let it heal on its own”

My colleague looks at me strangely and says, “OK…..if you say so! You may want to get that checked out though, it looks a little nasty”.

I think about this encounter, thinking may be my colleague is right, perhaps I should get it checked out and then wonder when I can fit in a doctor’s appointment to get it looked at.  I look through my calendar and see I have an open space in three weeks’ time after I have made a trip to Europe and back, and a major milestone is complete in my project.  After all….it doesn’t hurt so I’ll be fine.  I make the appointment to see the doctor for 3 weeks and 4 days time.

Meanwhile, I begin to learn that my arm wound offends people, so I cover it up in creative and inventive ways so as to not gross people out or distract them in meetings.  But the wound is getting bigger by the day…it is spreading and now covers my entire forearm.  But don’t cry for me, I can still type OK so, thankfully, I can still do my work.  So no more questions are asked.

3 weeks and 4 days comes and my boss asks me to complete an urgent piece of work.  I think about my arm and weigh up the pros and cons of not going to the doctor’s appointment.  After all…what is the worst that can happen?  My arm might need surgery. May be.  OK I can cope with that, they will give me anesthesia, I’m sure.  Or the absolute worst case scenario.  I lose my arm.  They have to amputate my arm.  Yeh, that would REALLY suck.  But I mean it doesn’t hurt now so that probably won’t happen.  But who needs an arm anyway? Not me….Lots of people cope without their arms. I’ll be fine!

Infertility is the flesh eating disease on our arm.  If it was visible, people will be telling us to go the doctor’s EVERYDAY to get it fixed.  And infertility is like this analogy, because for the past year I have been constantly trying to fit in my infertility treatment around my work life.  Like this anology, if I don’t do anything I could end up losing my arm – and we all know that I’m not going to die if I lose my arm.  My life would just SUCK a lot.  And people would feel sorry for me.  Similarly, if I don’t attempt to fight this infertility like this flesh eating thing, I would just end up with no child.  I’m not going to die.  But that would SUCK a lot, and people would feel sorry for me.

But today, no more, I stand to FIGHT THIS INFERTILITY AS IT IS – A DISEASE.  I will make sure to do my best to fight it, by keeping myself mentally healthy as well as physically healthy.  If this means I need to make sacrifices at work, then this is what I will do to fight this disease.  No more will it simply ‘fit in around my work life’.  If I am going to advocate for infertility awareness and education, I need to fight it like I mean it, and it starts with recognizing infertility as a disease.