“A Marathon, not a Sprint”

The Boys Celebrating Father's Day

After the marathon: Kathy’s Boys Celebrating Father’s Day

For those of us in the infertility club, our diagnoses may be similar, but we have different ways of coping and different limits on how far and how long we are willing to keep trying. Kathy    went through more than most people, and credits her faith- and her mix CD of favorite songs- with getting her through 9 cycles of In Vitro Fertilization in addition to a legal battle with her husband’s employer.

This is Kathy’s story:

When we began our infertility journey, I could laugh at being in the Over 35 bracket and referred to by the lovely moniker “Advanced Maternal Age.” A doctor in the family cheers us on, “You have to be strong mentally and emotionally. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Don’t expect success in the first or even second cycle. Be prepared to hang in there for three cycles, at least. Infertility treatment is not a one-time fix. For most patients it’s a series of cycles and fine-tuning.” I compare myself to an old car in a bitterly cold New England winter. OK, so it’s gonna’ take three (or more) turns of the key to get this old engine to turn over!

My husband and I are open with family and friends about our doing IVF. Thankful that Assisted Reproductive Technology, or “ART” as it’s called, is available to us. I never thought any differently, nor any less, of myself for needing that assistance.

Then my world turned up-side-down.

On the verge of completing 6 years of employment, after achieving 23 straight quarters of 100% performance reviews, and garnering all of the 23 bonus payouts related to his perfect performance, my husband is placed on a Performance “Improvement” Plan. His employer communicates its intent to place him on this Performance “Improvement” Plan 3 days after making arrangements for its first payment of our infertility treatments under their health insurance plan.

It still shames me to believe that I am a wife whose husband’s employment was terminated because I am not woman enough to get pregnant without medical assistance. Expensive medical assistance which my husband’s employer’s health plan is supposed to cover.

Our journey through infertility was a multi-pronged battle. Against Infertility. Against his employer. Against the insurance industry. Our infertility journey was a roller coaster ride of eye-popping legal and medical ups and downs, twists and turns, tears and laughter, hopes and dreams, and blessings beyond our every pleading prayer. Our journey entails 9 IVF cycles, 3 miscarriages, and switching IVF doctors. With alleged unwarranted termination and a legal case thrown in for a little extra fun!

Ours was a journey that tested my faith. And sadly, many times I failed the test. But I learned a lot along the way. I share my story to give hope to others that no matter what is thrown in your path (and we had plenty!), there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You have to keep going. Keep dreaming. Keep believing. Don’t give up hope. Sometimes, it’s the only thing you have. Hope can carry you an awfully long, long way. Hope can move mountains.

Life isn’t fair. But maybe, just maybe, you have to go through the tough times to truly appreciate the good times. We went through hell and back. But today we are a family. And there is nothing more important than that. With the help of IVF we have two precious boys. And when we look at our boys everything we went through pales in comparison.

I remember starting our 1st IVF cycle. Such hope. Such excitement. Such fear! The First Shot. Standing at the vanity. Agonizing over giving myself this first fertility drugs shot. My mother is a nurse. My sister Shannon is a nurse. My Auntie Babs is a nurse. My cousin Maeve is a nurse. My sister-in-law Cher is a nurse. My niece Jorani is a nurse. I AM NOT A NURSE! I am a Bean Counter. And I am terrified.

I hate needles. Can I really do this? Is it going to hurt? What if instead of injecting the fertility drugs, blood comes gushing out filling the needle back up? (I was given a “what-to-do” instruction just in case this very thing happens!) What if I hit a vein? Or an artery? I get myself all worked up. Finally, I lecture myself, “Nothing bad will happen. It’s the “Pinch An Inch” around your belly button. It’s all fat! Just give yourself the damn shot!” I cheer myself on with reminders that “This is for us. This is for a baby.” And with that, I do it. I jab the needle in pushing the syringe in really fast before fear can get the best of me. And you know what? Surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad! I worried so much over nothing. I can do this…  I can do this…  I  CAN  DO  THIS!!

Then after nearly 2 years and 5 failed IVF cycles with our 1st doctor we switch doctors. Don’t ask me why we stayed so long. We should have left much sooner. But you put all of your faith, all your trust, all your reproductive hopes and dreams in that IVF doctor’s hands and it’s difficult to change course midstream.

Our success came after learning the hard way that an IVF Doctor is not a God. Not all doctors are equal. As in any profession, there are good doctors and there are bad doctors. My advice to anyone embarking upon IVF: Make sure you get to the right doctor the first time around. Do not waste tears, heartbreak, and precious time as we did. Do your homework. Educate yourself.

Knowing we wanted more than one child, we rigorously researched and compared IVF clinic success rates for both fresh and thaw cycle success rates. The Society for Assisted Reproduction Technology, SART, publishes reports with interactive searches for clinics. Go to their site, http://www.sart.org and click on “IVF Success Rate Reports” to compare and contrast various clinics’ statistics in your area.

In hindsight, looking back on our darkest days, I ask myself, “How did we ever make it through?” My advice: You have to find whatever helps get you through. Find an escape. Take an art class. Sign up for dance lessons. Do something TOGETHER. For us it was reading. Becoming engrossed in a good book. Escaping into a different reality, a world of other possibilities. Because the roller coaster ride of infertility treatment can run a relationship, even a solid one, right into a ditch. You start with the hopes, and dreams, and all-consuming yearnings for a child. All you want is to be a family. You put your heart, your soul, every hope, every prayer, and every atom of your being, into your fertility treatments. Only to be hit with the crushing heartbreak of failed cycle after failed cycle. Then top this off with the financial cost of infertility treatment. At some point, something’s gotta’ give if you and your partner are not on the same page TOGETHER. My husband and I read the same books to keep open some line of communication. So that we have something to discuss. Something other than failed IVF cycles, finances, and his job search.

We are so powerless in all of this. I have to believe in a Higher Power. I have to make the conscious decision to totally surrender. To put it in God’s hands. Every day, multiples times a day, I played Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take The Wheel.” And I let myself cry.  And I played Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” preaching to myself not to forget to live life while on this IVF journey… to search for some joy in each day…  to dance.

On my darkest days I kept hitting replay. These songs carried me. They revived and invigorated me for the next mile of this marathon. My advice: Make your own CD of strong, meaningful songs – IVF anthems that will inspire you to find strength for your journey. Because there is so much to overcome before achieving your happy ending.

Life’s journey is all about how you handle what’s thrown at you. You have to be resilient. Maybe that’s why the infertility action group is called Resolve. With resolve and resilience, keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get there. Remain strong. And someday… somehow… you will get there. And then as a family, you too will have a lifetime of joy and parenting adventures ahead of you.

Our life now is so different from our life then as to be a completely different life. Our journey through infertility was an excruciatingly difficult one. But I would not change any step of the journey. Because every step was a steppingstone in bringing our boys to us. And today our boys are our greatest joy. Today we are exceptionally blessed. We are blessed beyond our hopes. Beyond our dreams. Beyond our every pleading prayer.

Today I consider myself to be the luckiest Mom in the world because I am a Mom. I am an IVF Soldier. A veteran of 9 IVF cycles. I live in Massachusetts with my husband and our two children. I am a Soccer Mom and a Mac-‘n’Cheese Chef Extraordinaire!

Kathy is the author of “My Journey through Infertility.” If you have any questions for Kathy, you can contact her on Twitter at: @Kathy_Vaughn or at her blog: http://www.myjourneythroughinfertility.com/  


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