Infertility isn’t just a woman’s issue, it’s a man’s issue and it’s a couple’s issue. So when I asked Chris to do this interview he said ‘sure’, but he later let on that he was actually anxious about it. Even though our story is here on this blog, he finds it hard to still talk about. So I am very proud of him for pushing through his fears to tell you his story.
Chris, my husband, is here to #FlipTheScript for national infertility awareness week, here’s his story…
First of all, tell us a little bit about you and your partner….how did you meet?!!
You know a lot about my partner, Dani, this is her blog!!! But you probably don’t know how we met. We met at a work event, Dani was organizing a conference and I was a guest presenter. Although she will swear blind that I wasn’t a presenter, potentially because the amount of wine we had drunk the night before fogging her memory. We got along very well…the wine may or many not have been a factor. We married in 2012 and moved from the Cotswolds, UK to Virginia, USA, 6 months later, where we still live today.
When did you realize that you were facing a diagnosis of infertility, how did you find out and what were the issues that you faced?
I married Dani thinking that we probably wouldn’t be able to have kids. It wasn’t a surprise. But I loved her enough that it didn’t matter. So finding out we were infertile was more of a confirmation of a strongly held suspicion. Mind you, we did have a go at it naturally for a year before hand. It never really felt like a diagnosis of infertility, instead it was an increasing realization of infertility over time. The failures added up after repeated unsuccessful attempts, we never had a diagnosis – it was just unexplained infertility. This changed how I felt going into each round of treatment. The first round of treatment, an IUI, was exciting, we went in full of hope… but by the sixth treatment- our third IVF- each cycle was no longer exciting. It filled me with a sense of dread, and I went into it wishing it was over before it started. Some of this was my own personal journey and some of this feeling was because it hurts to see the person that you love go through the physical pain and hurt with all the drugs, surgeries and hormones.
Where are you on your infertility journey now?
I don’t know. While that may sound like a strange answer, I don’t know if our journey is over or not. Is infertility ever really over? The great news, the wonderful news, is that our sixth round of treatment, our 3rd IVF cycle, was successful and we now have a 16 month old daughter, Aviana. The reason I am not sure if the journey is over has two parts. The first is the question of whether we can have a second child, and in part do we want to have a second child, knowing full well the challenges and stress we experienced to conceive Aviana the first time. The second is that I will always have a nagging question in the back of my mind about whether Aviana is destined to follow the same path as us. By using science to overcome our infertility challenges, do we pass on our ‘duff parts’ to our future children? So our infertility journey may continue into the quest for grandparent hood. But having experienced all that we have, I will never pressure Aviana into having a family.
Oh, and we have one frozen embryo from our first IVF cycle. Every month we get the $60 bill for the storage of it, a constant reminder of both hope, and the potential for disappointment. We don’t know what we will do next.
Has infertility changed your relationship with your partner?
This was the hardest thing we have ever done. At times through our journey I felt a small amount of hate towards Dani for what felt like forcing me to go on to the next cycle, and I also hated myself for not having the strength to immediately, and willingly, support her. I thought long and hard before making these statements but we spend so long and so much effort hiding our feelings, experiences and the challenges of infertility that we often put a positive slant on the pain, therefore this is my honest answer, although I must confess it is uncomfortable to say out loud.
The good news is that despite these low points throughout our journey we became closer. It has brought us closer together because:
- You have to be close to stab your partner with 200 + needles. Nothing says togetherness like shoving a 2.5inch needle into someone’s body.
- You have to be forgiving when being stabbed by your partner (thanks Dani, sorry for the mistakes).
The only way we got through it was as a team. We talked a little and often, we talked in the shower, we talked in the car, we could stop and start the conversations as either one of us felt willing. Being open, truly open, about how we felt meant being vulnerable and at times brutally honest. After being so vulnerable and so open, I now feel a level of comfort, closeness and companionship that was more than we had before.
How has infertility impacted you financially? Did your healthcare insurance provide coverage for infertility treatment?
We are very fortunate, we are among the few who have infertility treatment as part of our healthcare coverage in the US. The majority of our costs were covered by Dani’s insurance and yet we still had to plan and budget for the portion we had to cover. I’m amazed at those who are forced to self-pay for IUI and IVF treatments because it adds another level of stress to infertility that we didn’t have to deal with.
How have you taken care of yourself physically and emotionally during your struggles?
In the early part of our journey we tried many things to help improve our chances. We cut out alcohol, we cut out sugar (all good advice that come from ‘It starts with the egg’). These two acts by themselves served to improve our general well-being and we made a concerted effort to do more exercise.
To be honest, as the journey went on I cared a little bit less about my physical health and focused more on my mental health. Our first IVF ended in a suspected ectopic pregnancy, leading to us having to terminate the pregnancy of unknown location with the drug methotrexate. Because methotrexate is to toxic we were not allowed to conceive for at least 3 months after. After our second IVF failed and as we began our third cycle I began to hate the process, hate the ever present doubt, dread and stress. This was the lowest point for me and where our relationship was most challenged. I didn’t want to do it again, I didn’t want Dani to hurt again and I didn’t want to hurt any more either. On top of all that, Dani was caught in the Brussels terrorist attack at the airport and was blown up, I didn’t take care of my mental health. I wanted it all to be over with. We knew that it would be our last attempt, there was so much pressure. I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t get that positive result or we had another loss. I don’t want to think about it.
How have your friends and family supported you through your journey? Have you had any experience of lack of support or misunderstandings?
Overall friends and family have been awesome. Everyone was supportive, many people asked how they could help. The flip side of this, which many people going through infertility have probably experienced, is the good intention, but totally uninformed advice and suggestions. ‘Just Relax’. ‘My friends tried this…’ ‘Have you tried herbal tea…’ At one point we had received so much of this “advice” that Dani and I started writing a book as a guide for friends and family for what not to do and how to better support loved ones going through infertility. This is not a criticism, this is a statement of fact, and weeks like this infertility awareness week and #FlipTheScript are part of an ongoing process to educate, inform and raise awareness so that more people know about the challenges faced by 1 in 8 couples. Their good intentions and enormous support and generosity can be coupled with better information so they can truly support the people they love as they go through this truly shitty experience.
What has been the hardest point of your journey and how did you deal with it?
I can’t and won’t pick one point in this journey. To do so would diminish all the other moments. Every part of this journey is difficult. This whole experience has a price, not just a ‘$ price’, but an emotional price that we pay for every minute and every day in our struggle to conceive. Low points come in many forms, the most obvious is the doctor saying we are not pregnant. The less obvious come when you are sat in a café and look up to see a family enjoying time together, it is just another reminder of what we don’t have. And in that moment that’s a low point. As with all journeys there are twists and turns, highs and lows and the journey is different for each of us. There were some very low points for me, but I’m not comfortable sharing them specifically. (you may be able to guess some of them from my previous answers 😦 ).
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
None. I don’t think any advice I could give now would change how I felt then. We had so much advice from so many people, much of it good, some of it not, some of it just plain weird, but when it came to it, what really mattered was how Dani and I felt in any moment and how we handled that together.
As it’s national infertility awareness week, what message do you want to share about infertility to the general public?
1 in 8 couples are affected by infertility. Looking around you on a train, in a café, at you work place and realise that as many people are affected by infertility as they are breast cancer. Charities and support groups have done a great job of raising awareness about cancers like breast cancer….we need to do better to raise awareness of infertility. Talk about it. Help raise awareness. Get more research funded. Help us to bring this topic out from the shadows. Play a role in removing the stigma from infertility.
Is there anything else you would like to share that I haven’t asked you about?
One final thought, infertility can create some surreal moments that can be laughed about after the fact. For example, there is nothing quite like sitting in an open waiting room at a hospital holding a test tube containing a bright pink sample of your sperm.
Please leave a comment or message of support below for Chris (and me if you like too!!!) 🙂