I'm An OB/GYN Struggling With Infertility. Here's Why I'm Finally Breaking My Silence
I’ve been strong my whole life. For the most part, it has served me well. But over the past several months, my strength has been tested time and time again.
Since April 2014, I’ve been through two hysteroscopies, five cycles of IVF, two attempted embryo transfers, and one failed embryo transfer of the only normal embryo that was achieved out of the multiple cycles of IVF. Just typing these words puts a pit in the very bottom of my stomach.
I’ve had my moments of despair, mostly at home alone. But overall, I’ve soldiered on with a smile on my face. Although I’ve never been shy about sharing my experiences, I've largely kept my true feelings on my fertility to myself.
But I’ve decided that for myself and for other women who are in my shoes, I now need to break the silence of infertility. This is how I really feel:
1. I feel guilty.
I remember during my years of medical training and career-driven madness telling people that I’d be OK if I didn’t have children. I was a career woman with lofty goals and a Type A, obsessive-compulsive personality who had convinced herself that a successful career in medicine would be fulfilling.
At 37, I thought about freezing my eggs but never pursued it because I was too busy with my studies and still wasn’t “there” yet. But I realized I was totally bullshitting myself the moment I met my husband.
Marrying at age 39, I knew time wasn’t on my side. And yet for some reason I felt I had time. I was so wrong. I should have frozen my eggs. I should have tried to get pregnant before we married, as my husband suggested, instead of insisting we wait until after. I should have looked at the bigger picture.
Being an obstetrician with infertility is not a good combination.
2. I feel trapped.
The first year of my OB/GYN residency I made the decision to become a high-risk obstetrician. I absolutely love it. To this day, I get excited every time I deliver a baby.
However, being an obstetrician with infertility is not a good combination. I am around pregnancy and babies every day. I have friends and friends of friends contacting me nearly daily with questions and announcements.
I am surrounded by all things pregnancy. I'm constantly reminded of my own situation with appointments, telephone calls, emails, injections, pills, and ultrasounds. I just can’t get a break.
There is literally not one moment of any day when I am not thinking about it. I sometimes have to block my own situation out of my mind, which allows me to get through the day and do my job. But that doesn’t allow me to address my feelings about my own situation. No matter how hard I try, there is no escape.
3. I feel like a failure.
My sister and I were the first ones to graduate from high school in my family and the first to go to college. I just kept going: Over the next several years, I finished medical school, residency, and fellowship. Whatever I put my mind to, I achieved. In all my years of pursuing my dream career, I've never really been disappointed. I've been able to step over any roadblocks along the way.
Trying to have a child has been the one thing I have not been able to achieve. It’s humbling. It’s sobering. It’s ego-shattering. It’s hard to stomach.
After years of finding a way to reach my goals, why is this the one goal that must elude me? I have failed. I am a failure.
No matter how much I am willing to talk about it, infertility is still taboo.
4. I feel lonely.
When I first started my IVF journey, several of my friends were involved, interested, and supportive. Sixteen months later, that is no longer the case.
It’s not because I don’t want to talk about it; I'm very open. I think it’s that they don’t want to talk about it. It’s uncomfortable. And they probably feel guilty for all of the “You’ll be pregnant in no time!” and “You guys are going to have beautiful babies!” comments. They probably assume I am devastated and heartbroken and just can’t talk about it. I am devastated. I am heartbroken. However, I’m not crumbling into small pieces.
What people don’t realize is how isolating infertility can be. I find myself trying not to bring it up because I hate seeing the uncomfortable looks on people's faces. So I contribute to the silence for the benefit of others.
I have realized that no matter how much I am willing to talk about it, infertility is still taboo. It’s literally the big childless elephant in the room. Although there are a few people who do ask and know where I am in my journey, I still feel like I am on my own.
5. I feel hopeful.
My five cycles of IVF yielded one chromosomally normal embryo that did not survive the transfer this past May. I have a picture of my “could’ve been” on my nightstand.
I have accepted the fact that I cannot have my own biological children — but I will never, ever get over it.
And yet I know there is still hope. I am grateful that there are other options still available to me and a door is still open. I haven’t given up yet.
I will continue to pursue my dream of becoming a mother just as I pursued my dream of becoming a doctor. My strength and Type A personality are serving me well through these months of tribulations. I know that in my darkest hours, I still have the guts and grit to pull myself toward that one ray of light. Hope is the one thing that can get me to where I want to be.
I feel guilty. I feel trapped. I feel like a failure. I feel lonely. But I am hopeful.
Dr. Shannon M. Clark is founder of the pregnancy and fertility site BabiesAfter35.com.