When I first started breastfeeding, I was faced with many challenges, from a NICU stay due to failure to latch, to a milk protein allergy that had my doctor telling me to quit. But I persevered, and by around five months had established breastfeeding as a comforting (for both of us) routine and ritual. I loved it.
The thing about breastfeeding for me was that it helped prove to myself that my body was capable of doing something right, after years of infertility and miscarriages. It helped heal me, in a way. I was able to feed my baby, to make him grow. All that weight he gained? That was from me! It was an amazing feeling.
After I got laid off and decided to stay home, I ditched the pump and the bottle, and continued to let LM nurse on demand. Breastfeeding was a big part of our first year or so together, a way of bonding us together. This was something special only we shared.
As he passed a year, the age at which most babies are weaned, many of my mom friends stopped breastfeeding. But I didn’t see any reason to stop, so we kept going. Luckily, I faced no pressure from my husband or family to wean. They were supportive of my decision to keep nursing.
Eventually, though, in the back of my mind I started to think it might not be a bad thing if he weaned. Nursing a toddler is not as calming as nursing an infant. There is a lot of twisting, kicking, pulling, twiddling and general gymnastics going on. I wanted to tell him, “Just stay still!”
Plus, I wanted to think about having another baby, which would entail fertility treatments yet again. Now, doctors will generally tell you to wean before attempting an IVF for two reasons. One is concern about the medications, and another is that a raised prolactin level may impede your lining’s growth and make implantation less likely. But, both of these concerns are greater when you’re talking about an infant who gets all of his nutrition from nursing — less so when talking about a toddler who nurses once a day. Plus, although there haven’t been any studies on fertility meds one way or another, the little research I could find said that the drugs, which are naturally occurring in a woman’s body anyway, are safe.
There seems to be a bit of a “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude when it comes to fertility doctors and nursing. I was worried when we saw our RE (reproductive endocrinologist) that she would ask me if I was nursing, but she didn’t. I talked to a few other moms who cycled while nursing toddlers. I felt confident that I was producing so little milk that LM would not be at risk from nursing, nor would my prolactin level be too high (and bloodwork showed it wasn’t).
Then in a serendipitous turn of events, LM started weaning as I geared up for my fertility testing. The first to go was the nursing around naps. Our routine became such that he would fall asleep in the car on the way back from our morning activity, and then I would transfer him inside. When he woke he would sometimes ask for it, but after telling him no a few times, he stopped asking. He still threw a big tantrum after waking up from naps cranky, but he didn’t seem to connect that with needing to nurse anymore. Then, because he started staying up super late when he napped, we started encouraging him to go without napping anyway.
Then it was the morning. Because I’m lazy, I would generally take LM back to bed with me to nurse. But on the days Foggy Daddy got up with him, he just took LM straight downstairs. And LM didn’t seem to miss it. One Saturday morning LM burst back into our room after Foggy Daddy changed his diaper. I was still in bed, and he hopped up, asking to nurse. FD asked if he wanted to go downstairs with him. LM thought about it for a minute, said, “downstairs,” and got off the bed. He actually chose his breakfast (or his father) over me.
That left nursing before bed. It just so happened that last week my sister was visiting my parents, so we spent several evenings there. We’d change LM into his pjs before leaving, and he’d fall asleep in the car on the way home, and we’d transfer him to the bed. One night as I went to lay him down he woke up. “Mama, lay down,” he instructed. Here we go, I thought, believing he wanted to nurse. But he just cuddled next to me and went to sleep.
The last night at my parents’ house I decided to stay over. LM stayed on an airbed on the floor, and he made me sleep next to him. But, he woke up throughout the night, frequently asking to nurse. Because I had put my foot down on night nursing a long time ago, I felt comfortable refusing. In the morning, though, he asked again, and the desperate look in his eyes made me give in. A few sucks, a few minutes, and he was done. I was so tired I had my eyes closed the whole time, but now I wonder if I missed the last time he would ever nurse.
The real test would be putting him to bed at home. So far, two nights have passed in which I’ve put him down without nursing. The first day he asked, settling into position in the cradle of my arm, but I asked him if he wanted to read a book instead and he popped back up.
Last night he didn’t even ask.
So this might be it. This morning he did briefly ask, but I gently redirected him and he was OK with it. I don’t quite know how I feel about it. Part of me is glad — now I can pursue fertility treatments without worrying about it. But what if I can’t cycle after all, or if I don’t get pregnant? I feel like I would have encouraged him to wean for nothing. I could have maybe had a few more months of nursing my baby.
I will miss that special relationship. I tell myself that if I’m determined to have another child, I will nurse again. Even if our second child ends up being adopted, I will try to induce lactation, or at least feed him or her with a supplemental nursing system (in which a tube is taped to the nipple through which breastmilk or formula flows) in order to experience some of the same bonding I had with LM. There is no reason a baby can’t be nursed for comfort, even if he or she gets her nutrients elsewhere. I recently read about a tribe in Africa where the fathers actually nurse the babies when the mothers aren’t available.
So maybe it’s just time. There were no (or few) tears. True, there was gentle encouragement from me, but LM seemed to be going down that path anyway.
So, breastfeeding, thank you for allowing me to feel like a woman again. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to bond with my baby in that way. Thank you for this special gift that not everyone is able to experience.
I will miss you.
(Of course, there is a chance that LM could ask for nursing again. In fact, by writing this, I’ve probably jinxed it. So stay tuned.)
Extended breastfeeders, how did you feel when your child finally weaned? Did you have to encourage your child, or did he or she do it on their own?
Sometimes I think I’m a glutton for punishment. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I sometimes feel like I am living the same day over and over again, just trying to get it right. I often fail. And I often bring it on myself.
Case in point: After five years or so of relentless testing, poking, prodding and disappointment, I finally freed myself from the dreaded RE (reproductive endocrinologist, or fertility doctor)—but tomorrow, by choice, I’m going back.
I have a sense of deja vu about the whole thing: the making of appointments, the gathering of medical records, the filling out of senseless forms when they have all the information anyway. I’m sure I will feel that way when I walk through those doors tomorrow, hold out my arm to give blood, open my legs for my date with the vag cam (sorry if that’s TMI, but you fertility patients know what I’m talking about).
I don’t know if it’s a good idea to try to get pregnant again. Part of me wants the doctor to say, “You know what? Your messed-up body just can’t handle it. So don’t.” But will she say this? True, clinics want to hedge their bets to increase their success rates, but they also want to make money. Would they turn away a willing and eager participant? I do know my doctor, and I should give her more credit that that, I suppose.
I know that’s passive aggressive anyway. I should make my own decision. And I can’t afford to wait any longer. I want to know what the deal is, what our plan is. I’m not going to spend another five years on this. It’s now or never.
Adoption is on the table. I actually contacted our preferred adoption agency, but they are not accepting new families until the spring. Well, spring is fast approaching (didn’t Punxsutawney Phil predict an early one?) and I want to make a plan.
That is really what’s behind my whole drive to figure this thing out. Why on top of everything I’ve got going on with LM’s hearing loss do I want to open myself up for more responsibility? Not just the responsibility of going through treatments, but of having another baby? Because I need a plan. I can’t stand to have this hanging over my shoulders, the will-we-or-won’t-we have another baby. There is never a good time to have a second child, just like there is never a good time to have a first child.
So we’re going to just do it.
Well, hopefully. After all, that’s not totally up to us. I wish I could just get pregnant on my own terms, like so many of my mom friends are doing. I wish I didn’t have to think about it. I wish I didn’t have to go all through everything. Again. Like Groundhog Day.
But that is my choice, isn’t it?
I posed the question to my FB group of infertility survivors: How did you make the decision when and how to have a second child? Many of the moms responded that simply, they didn’t. They decided to be one and done. They couldn’t go through that again. And they couldn’t start a new process (adoption) that could very well involve years of waiting as well. They just didn’t have it in them.
Do I have it in me? I don’t consider myself stronger than anyone else. I don’t know if this is an utterly stupid thing to do, to decide to go back down the rabbit hole of my own personal Groundhog Day (how’s that for mixing rodent metaphors?).
But I really want another child. I know I could be happy with just LM, but it’s there, nagging at me, this thing that I really want that I feel I at least have to take a shot at.
So here we go.
Let Groundhog Day begin again.
Fellow fertility patients, how did you decide what to do about having more children? One-and-done moms, how did you make that decision as well?
After reading this article about whether celebrities should “come clean” about their infertility treatments, I then made the mistake of looking at the comments. Despite my usual motto when it comes to the touchy (and for me, very personal) subject of infertility – don’t read the comments – I was curious to know what the general population thought about the piece.
Not surprisingly, most bashed the story, saying, “Why should anyone be forced to share something so personal?”
While I generally agree with this, the problem is that infertility is still so surrounded by shame and secrecy. It is, in many ways, still in the closet. The general public does not understand infertility treatments, thinks they’re weird or icky or that they go against “God’s plan,” and can’t comprehend why infertile people don’t “just adopt.” There is so little understanding, not to mention compassion, about what it’s really like to go through this particular struggle.
I might compare the question of whether celebrities should open up about infertility to the question, “Should celebrities reveal that they are gay?” I could argue that their sexual orientation is no one’s business, which is true; but would they deny being heterosexual? Of course not, because it’s the cultural norm. But celebrities who’ve come out of the closet have, no doubt, helped thousands of other gay people to feel that they are not alone, that if so-and-so can open up about it, so can they. By throwing off the cloak off shame and fear of rejection, gay celebrities have helped it to be much more accepted than it was in years past.
Infertility is in many ways the same. We hide it under the heading of “it’s personal,” but the real reason we are so hesitant to talk about it is because we are ashamed and fearful of what others might think. Would we hide the fact that we had cancer? Probably not, since there is no real stigma attached to cancer. So why should infertility, also a medical condition, be any different?
Celebrities are of course under no obligation to talk about their private life. Maybe they don’t want their children to suffer in any way from revelations about how they were conceived. Maybe if their children were conceived with donor eggs, which, let’s face it, is the most likely way so many celebrities have had babies well into their late forties – it’s just not statistically very likely that they would be able to conceive otherwise – celebs are especially wary about making it public because of how it may eventually affect their child. (Although child psychology experts tell us that children conceived through donor eggs, like children of adoption, should be told early and often in age-appropriate ways so that they don’t remember a time when they didn’t know. It just becomes part of their identity.) But children learn what they live, so if no one gives them the impression they need to be ashamed about how they were conceived, they won’t be.
There’s no question that opening up about something that society deems weird or strange requires bravery, and maybe celebs don’t want to deal with that. This is understandable, but it also keeps the circle of shame and fear going.
Plus, so many middle-aged celebrities having babies perpetuates the notion that it’s easy. It’s not. It’s not impossible – but it’s just very, very unlikely. Many commenters to the article I read responded with anecdotes about people they knew who had a baby late in life, but anecdotes are just that. Knowing one person who had a baby in their forties has no bearing on the fact that most women didn’t have babies in their forties.
But female celebs need to appear young. Telling the world that you needed help conceiving because you’re peri-menopausal could negatively affect your career. Our youth-worshipping culture has made it difficult for women to feel valued past their child-bearing years.
So, whatever celebs’ reasons for keeping quiet, those of us that used IVF feel betrayed by these famous IVF-deniers, like they could have had our back but chose not to. It leaves us feeling even more isolated than we already do. In contrast, those celebs who are open about it make us feel that we are not alone, raise awareness and put a human face on infertility.
Celebrities are in a unique position to influence public opinion, like it or not. So when they do “come out of the closet,” they further societal acceptance of whatever it is that they are opening up about. Should they do it? That’s a loaded question. But it would be great if they did.
Do you think it would help others if celebrities opened up about the personal issues they’re dealing with, like infertility?
I was talking recently with a friend who is having some fertility testing done – not because she is currently trying to have a baby, but just so she knows where she stands – and she remarked on the grim mood of her doctor’s waiting room. “There was one woman who seemed really upset,” my friend said. “The nurses were going over to her and asking if she was alright.”
As my friend spoke I started having flashbacks to the waiting rooms of the four REs (reproductive endocrinologist, i.e. fertility doctor) I saw during my infertility journey. In this purgatory where your reproductive fate is to be determined, no one speaks or even looks at each other. You’d think the women there would want support from each other – but instead we are all alone together, staring down at our phones or the magazines in our laps. It’s a tense, lonely, scary place to be.
The waiting room I remember best is Cornell‘s, which is on the Upper East Side of NYC. I’m not sure why this one sticks out in my mind – maybe because of how packed it was, full of women from all walks of life. I had to leave my house before the sun came up so that I could be in the city by 7:30 am (any later and I’d get stuck in traffic). I would park in a garage (parking for medical treatment is tax deductible if you can claim medical expenses) and walk to the building. I’d get off the elevator and sign in with a key card at the front desk. The chairs were covered in a mod orange-and-brown print. I would search around for an empty seat, which was sometimes hard to come by. It was as if half of the women in New York needed fertility treatments. The nurses would come out and call us by our first names, lots of nurses, one after another. Everyone had their heads down – except for the Orthodox Jewish women, who somehow all seemed to know each other and would carry on conversations. There were women in burkas and saris. Some had husbands with them but most were alone.
Anyone who brought a baby in a stroller got a lot of nasty glances. Rule number one of the RE waiting room: Don’t bring your baby. It’s hard enough to be here without having your success pushed in our faces. We’re glad you’re trying for number two, but please, for the love of God, get a babysitter (now that I have a child I can see how this would be difficult, but I also remember how soul-crushing it was to see babies there, so if I ever try again I would do everything in my power not to have my son with me). If you must bring your child, do not make cooing sounds at him. Pretend he is invisible, like the rest of us are trying to do.
In glancing around the room, I’d observe some women who seemed unfazed and stoic but still aloof. Some looked like they were about to cry. Some just looked anxious, tapping feet and fidgeting. Some seem happy and hopeful – those were the newbies doing their first cycle. I’ve been all of them in the waiting room, depending on what was about to happen. See, when you’re in the middle of a cycle, you need to be monitored about every other day, usually with bloodwork to read your hormone levels and an ultrasound to see how your eggs (at this point they’re called follicles) and uterine lining are developing. Based on these things the doctor will decide when to do your insemination if you’re doing IUI, or when to do your egg retrieval if you’re doing IVF. The men have it easy – after an initial workup to determine how their sperm looks, all they have to do is show up the day of and give their sample.
Then of course there’s the blood test to see if you’re pregnant. I was always one to POAS (pee on a stick) ahead of time – I didn’t have the patience to wait. So the initial beta didn’t usually make me too nervous, because the first number doesn’t really mean a whole lot, unless it’s super-low. It’s the second number that would freak me out, because it needs to double. If it doesn’t that likely indicates a “chemical pregnancy” (i.e. early miscarriage).
So depending on what’s going on with you that day, you might be a bundle of nerves. If you are pregnant, you might be there for your first ultrasound, which is probably the most nerve-wracking experience of all. If you’re miscarrying, that’s obviously the saddest, and I bet what was happened to the woman my friend observed.
Forget purgatory: The RE’s waiting room is basically hell on earth. The only good experience I had there was during my first and only IUI. We were sent to the waiting room on the floor above. It was empty and strangely quiet. While I waited for my husband to do his thing, I pulled out my book, settled into one of the comfy chairs and put my feet up on the coffee table in front of me. I was reading Julie and Julia, which coincidentally has an infertility storyline. (Although at the end when Julie’s husband tells her that of course they can make a baby – because if she can accomplish mastering the art of Julia Child’s French cooking she can do anything – I laughed at the naivete.) But in any case it was actually a relaxing moment for me amongst all the madness of cycling.
If I go back to try again, I don’t think the waiting room will elicit the same feelings of dread and desperation, because I already have my prize at home. But looking at the other women in the midst of it all will surely bring back the feelings of the darkest time in my life, one I’m so glad I’m past.
Fellow infertiles, what was your experience in the RE’s waiting room?
As LM becomes a better sleeper and my mind becomes a little less foggy, I’ve been able to take a step back and reflect on my life before and after I had him. Certain things – smells, places, even songs – remind me of how different my life used to be, back when I was in the throngs of infertility treatments. It was such a dark time for me. I had thought about writing then, but I was worried that instead of helping, exploring my feelings would throw me into an even deeper depression. I was barely hanging on to my sanity, and I needed to keep my emotions in check lest they put me over the edge.
I’m finally in a place where I can look back on it with a clearer head. In some ways I want to forget about it, just pretend like it never happened. Now that I’m part of the mommy club, it’s like I’m a normal person. Like I fit in. Like I’m not a total freak.
But I don’t want to deny who I was, or who infertility made me. Because it did change me. It changed how I look at the world and how it works, how I feel about God or any kind of higher power, what I want out of my life and what kind of person I want to be. It cost me friendships, some of them dear ones that I didn’t think could ever be broken. It taught me to see good where I didn’t think there was any, and how to deal with the bad. It left scars. There are things that haunt me, that I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of.
Those of us who’ve done many, many treatments or had many losses call ourselves “veterans.” We went through our own personal battle. I’m not sure if military veterans consider it offensive when others use the metaphor of war to describe traumatic experiences. If that is the case, I apologize, but that’s what it felt like.
When you start out doing treatments you are all full of promise, so excited that you are finally getting help. The doctors have found out what is wrong, and they know how to fix it. You’re in their hands, and they are the experts. Couples doing their first IVF often have a sense of hopeful anticipation, that this is going to be the thing that solves all their problems.
And for many couples it does. But we veterans had been here a while. We looked on these rookies with cynicism, because we no longer felt anything resembling positivity. We watched couple after couple pass us by as they had success. But we were still here.
It was that way for the miscarriages, too. After we lost our daughter at 17 weeks, we went to a support group at our hospital. All the other couples kept saying things like, “when we have another baby” or “when we get pregnant again,” and it made me feel that my sadness was deeper than theirs (not that I want to play the Pain Olympics, which I’ll talk about in a later post) because I didn’t know if I would ever be pregnant again. Or even if I was, could I carry a baby to term? I had already had three prior miscarriages. Maybe that was my last shot.
I was in a hopeless situation. I couldn’t get pregnant without help, and I couldn’t stay pregnant once I was. Adoption was on the table but that involved so much, from home study visits to waiting to be picked to the fear the birth mother would change her mind. It seemed overwhelming. Plus, I just really wanted to experience pregnancy. That might seem selfish, but I felt like it was my right as a woman. I didn’t want to have to mourn the loss of that, too.
Sometimes it scares me how close I came to not having LM. I know I would have been a mom anyway, that I would have pushed myself through the adoption process and eventually I would have had a child. I wasn’t going to accept living child-free. I told myself that I could do it, I could be strong, even if it took years longer before we found a baby to adopt (or rather, before the birth mom found us).
LM was our last egg, our last hope. I had begged our fertility clinic to freeze whatever embryos we had left from our last cycle, no matter what shape they were in. And they did. We had two little guys, and they were both transferred on our last-ditch-effort frozen cycle.
The pregnancy did not go well at the beginning and I was sure I would lose him. But he hung on, and somewhere along the way I morphed from bitter infertile to fairly normal pregnant person to regular old mom.
Sometimes I feel like I’m hiding some big secret, like I’m pretending to be someone I’m not. I hang out with all the other normal moms and feel like I was rescued from a terrible fate. Like somehow someone lifted me up and pulled me out of my dark, depressing life and gave me a shiny new one. And that someone was my son.
Any other infertiles-turned-moms out there? How has your experience affected your life as a parent?