I Wasn't Prepared for the Other Side of Infertility

Today is not a day for fancy and aesthetically pleasing details.
Today is about sharing something real. Today, I am sharing pieces of my heart and as we go through this together, I hope that you'll allow me some grace to read through this whole post before you cast any judgements.
This post is not an easy one to share, but it's one that I have wanted to write about for quite some time. I've withheld this piece of our story because, at the time, I had no idea what I was experiencing. Heck, I'm still trying to navigate the complexity of these emotions, but I do feel like I'm at a place where I'm ready to talk about what we went through at the start of this pregnancy.
I'm sharing this with you today because I'm nothing if I'm not honest and I know for a fact that we aren't the only ones who have experienced this. I share because our struggles make us real, they make us human. There's more to life than the aesthetically pleasing squares that social media has to offer. Life is messy. It's chaotic. It hurts. And if you, too, have experienced this pain- I see you. 
I didn't realize that I couldn't swim until I was drowning. That's how it feels when you're side-swiped by something that you didn't expect to experience. And honestly, that's how I felt for almost the first half of my pregnancy.
People would come up to me and be so excited and so thrilled for us. They knew our story and they knew how hard we had struggled. They wanted nothing more in that moment than to give me a hug and I wanted nothing more than to be hugged and loved. I was thankful to have the joy from others and I was so grateful that people cared so much for our baby. But it never failed. They would ask that burning question: "Aren't you just so happy?" and I would find myself pausing.
Now, let me make myself perfectly clear: The answer is and always was- YES. I was happy. We were happy. Yet, something seemed off and we didn't understand why.
It was a challenge to say, "Yes, I am so totally, whole-heartedly happy" and this weighed on me like a fifty-pound weighted blanket. We had waited for this magical moment for such a long time and I always imagined myself being blissfully happy upon hearing the news.
Yes, I was happy. But why wasn't I happier?
Well, here's what you don't see and what you may not understand:
It didn't seem real.
For three years, all we had known was "no." For three years, all we had been told was "not yet." For three years, all we knew how to do was to navigate disappointment or pain and we got to be pretty darn good at that. In one day, one single moment, one phone call, one word- everything changed. Receiving our "yes" was the scariest and happiest thing I've ever experienced. And no one tells you how to navigate that. No one prepares you for that moment when the ground shakes beneath you and you shift into a new section of life.
Every new and good emotion, came paired with a daunting one. I was internally struggling on how to navigate all of these conflicting emotions that surrounded me all of the time and for the longest time, I couldn't even pinpoint what was holding me back. I just knew that something wasn't settling well, I felt numb.
By this point, I had seen so many negative pregnancy tests and I had received so many phone calls from the doctor saying, "I'm sorry Stephanie, not this time." It's hard to imagine that the phone call after our embryo transfer would be any different. In the eight days between our embryo transfer and the results, Alex and I had a lot of flip-floppy conversations. Conversations that went like this:
"What do you think it will be- a boy or a girl?"
"Should we start on the room?"
"Are we sticking with the names we have picked out?"
"How should we tell the family? I want it to be really special!"
"...maybe let's just wait and see. We don't know if it will be positive."
"How do you feel?"
"Cautiously optimistic, trying not to get too excited. How do you feel?"
"I'm scared."
Our chances of success were higher with IVF, we knew that and I think it gave us more hope than we had ever had before. My body had responded well to all of the medications we did and we had an outstanding amount of good embryos, which all seemed to be promising. But the truth is, ya just never know. We had gotten our hopes up so many times before and coming down from that is really hard and it hurts like hell. So, over time, we learned how to manage our expectations. We became cautiously optimistic and never allowed ourselves to fully invest our emotions one way or another.
"We never allowed ourselves to fully invest our emotions one way or another."
The sentence above is the most accurate description of what was happening internally. Although we had our positive test and a baby growing in my belly, we were still tied to this emotional wall that blocked us from being hurt through the struggles and pain caused by infertility. That wall was our safe haven. Blocking ourselves from vulnerability and clinging to middle ground assured that we would never get hurt, or it would at least soften the blow. For the first month or so of pregnancy, we were living in the land of the bliss on cloud nine. Thinking of all of the wonderful things we would finally get to do- bump photos, prepping for baby, and watching my belly grow.
But as time went on, those feelings of uncertainty began to rise to the surface and it became something I couldn't ignore.
Ultrasound appointments were laced with happiness and anxiety. I prayed fiercely to hear the heartbeat and once that sweet sound came through, I felt like I could breath again. When we would leave the clinic, I would cry. Tears of happiness? Absolutely. Tears of relief that baby was okay? Oh, heck yeah.
Trips to the bathroom became a neurotic check for anything abnormal- bleeding, discharge, etc.
Trying new foods became paralyzing. I constantly checked my pregnancy app to make sure I ate approved foods. Was that meat cooked enough? Was that cheese pasteurized?
Every new and strange twinge or cramp had me up all hours of the night. Is this normal?
Workouts became a challenge. What can I do? What can I not do? Did I push it too hard?
But whatever you do- don't be too stressed! It's not good for the baby! ...which would in turn, make me feel more stressed.
All of these new worries and fears stemming from the realization that we were actually pregnant. We were having a baby. There was life inside of me. And I was absolutely mortified of losing that.
Halfway through our pregnancy, I found these feelings slowly fading away. And bit by bit, I noticed that I was starting to become genuinely happy again. A feeling that I'm not sure I was familiar with since the word "infertility" came into our lives.
I started talking through these feelings with Alex and, surprisingly enough, he started to see that he was experiencing something similar. We bonded over this new shared struggle and we had a lot of conversations about why we were feeling this way or why we hadn't shared this with one another sooner.
After a lot of conversations, we were finally able to pinpoint the exact reasoning of why we were feeling what we were feeling.
When you are so incredibly comfortable with negativity and bad news, the most intimidating thing is positivity. In a way, we were grieving the loss of negativity and learning to navigate the uncharted territory of positivity all at the same time. Negativity was easy for us, we knew how to handle that because we had for so long. Positivity, full blown positivity, was new to us and we had to learn how to live in that again.
Basically, we were waiting for the bottom to drop out. We were nervous that we would lose our baby prematurely and go from one statistic to another. If you ask me when or why things changed, I'm not sure that I can give you a specific reason or day. Pregnancy was our final step of grieving the life and struggle that it is to be classified as "infertile." We had been grieving different aspects of this life for three long and hard years.
Being infertile means that nothing about building a family will be easy for you. It means that basic and beautiful emotions or events are now tough and complex. It means that things that are easy for others, may not be easy for you. It means that you're thrown into the deep part of the pool and have to learn how to swim on your own.
There was no guidebook given to us with the title of infertility. There was no road map or fast-fact list of guidelines to make it easier. We had to learn and we still are learning how to live with this every day.
Because here's the kicker: just because we are about to have a baby does not mean that we are no longer dealing or struggling with infertility.
Pregnancy announcements still sting. Baby showers (my own included) are still a struggle. All of those feelings don't just go away, but that's a different story for a different day.
According to a study done by womensmentalhealth.org, they found that, "...mild to moderate psychological symptoms associated with infertility may persist even after a woman conceives. These findings emphasize that infertility is a clinical condition with complex psychological issues, and suggest that conception through ART may be associated with an increased risk of depression symptoms during pregnancy and the postpartum period."
Basically stating that infertility can potentially bring on a handful of complex psychological issues, including depression during and after a successful pregnancy.
Another article by Shady Grove Fertility explains it best, "Women may be surprised that as much as they wished to lose the label of “fertility patient,” they may feel like impostors in the world of pregnancy. Initially, women may feel a sense of isolation and as if they are in limbo belonging to neither the infertile or fertile worlds."
Google the odds and you will see, we aren't alone. These two articles pinpoint exactly what we felt and guess what? There are hundreds more just like them. Infertility, IVF, IUIs...all of these connect to create a messy web of sloppy emotions that are not easy to navigate. And successful pregnancies stemming from these are no different. They're equally, if not, more chaotic to navigate. Now to answer the question I'm sure you have: was I depressed?
Honestly, I wouldn't say yes, but I most certainly wouldn't say no. The best description is to say that I felt numb. I felt like an imposter, balancing between these two identities. Where do I belong? I felt like I wasn't sure that I could trust my body to do what it was created to do- grow life.
And I had no warning.
Now looking back, I feel naive. I feel like I should've seen this coming, but I didn't. I just thought that there would be an automatic switch when I became pregnant. That I would be so overwhelmed with joy and everything else would fade away.
But it doesn't. And I had no warning.
It's taken me a long time to navigate this process and to figure out what was going on. It wasn't until I opened up to Alex and saw that he was struggling with similar feelings that I realized it could be something more than "just feeling off." And it wasn't until we began talking about it openly that I really allowed myself to heal.
But I think the true and natural healing took place when I began to feel our baby move inside of me on a daily basis. Feeling our son move, giving him a name, and watching as my belly actually began to grow reassured me day after day that this pregnancy was for real. Our baby was here and he wasn't going anywhere. So, we're here today to talk about the hard stuff. The stuff that no one else wants to talk about. The stuff that impacts hundreds of people every day, yet many suffer in silence because vulnerability is considered "weak" or "weird" or some other bullshit adjective. I'm sorry, but talking about our struggles is not weak. If anything, talking about your struggles helps you to heal and it helps you to become stronger. It helps you to become a warrior that fights a friggin' tough battle and comes out on top. It shows that your circumstances do not define you, but they can empower you.
If you are going through infertility, I share this with you today not to scare you, but most definitely to prepare you. I can see how these feelings would've been tempting to lead me down a path of darkness and deep depression. Please do your research and read more on this topic so that you can be prepared. Being aware of the continued struggles of infertility will do nothing but benefit you!
If you know of someone going through infertility, please reach out and be present. It's not an easy path. Many studies show links between depression, anxiety, etc. and infertility. Please don't allow your friends or family to go through this alone. They need you now more than ever.
If you've never experienced any of this or don't know of anyone that has, I share this with you today to make you aware. Conception, pregnancy, family building... it's not a linear line as many people are lead to believe. It's a zig-zag line with loops and swoops, dips and dives.
And again, let me make myself loud and clear: if this is something that you, too, have struggled with- it does not mean that you love your baby any less. We're now weeks away from meeting our baby and I am so thankful to say that we have really embraced and thoroughly enjoyed the last half of this pregnancy. I feel free from the chains of "numbness" and as I type this, I can honestly say that I am genuinely and exuberantly happy.
Post-partum depression is on my radar now that I know I'm more at risk to have it. Alex and I have had many conversations about it and we have done some preemptive things to hopefully prevent that from happening.
All of this just goes to say- the fight for a baby has been a tough one and I will never look back at our journey to parenthood and say it was easy.
But I know what I will say:
It was worth it. We fought like hell. And I wouldn't change a thing.
This is our story. It's not perfect, but it is beautiful.