Infertility and mental health— Amy’s Story

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“You have to see the most adorable pic of my grandson in his costume!!!”

My co-worker’s message went out over intraoffice chat. She can’t be more than a few years older than I am. At 43, even I’m old enough to have a child who’s old enough to have a child. But, I don’t.

It is Halloween Day (by the time you’re reading this, Halloween will have been a few days past)–so one would expect to have excited parents, aunties or uncles, and grands showing off their littles, all dressed up.

But expectation does nothing to stem the tide of mixed feelings, wrapped in grief, that washes over me the moment my eyes take in the message.

Infertility and mental health, sad woman, infertility, mental health

My birthday was yesterday (October 30th). For the first part of my life, I loved having my birthday near Halloween. I got to dress up. I got candy. Plus, I didn’t get shorted on presents, like my friends who had birthdays near Christmas.

But ever since I lost my one and only pregnancy, holidays have become a painful reminder of what I desperately want and do not have.

Where it all began

I was nineteen and in college when I began taking antidepressants. Overall, I did more or less swimmingly my first semester, but ended up withdrawing from all but one of my classes my second semester.

I began having migraines. My sleep schedule was all wrong. I was struggling under the weight of teenage life in general, the weight of my upper-level French coursework, and the weight of unrequited love.

I went to my school’s testing and counseling center to see a counselor. After I jumped through her hoops to get to the psychiatrist, I got prescribed me Luvox.

It took a few weeks of using Luvox (the same medicine that’s in Prozac) for me to know that it wasn’t the right medication for me. I felt really odd taking it–like, disconnected from my body–I didn’t feel safe driving while I was taking it, and that interfered with my busy life.

I switched to Citalopram (Celexa) after that, and have been on (and off and on) it since. There are more sophisticated meds these days, but with antidepressants, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Infertility and mental health, sad woman, infertility, mental health

She got some news

I was twenty-six when I found out I was pregnant. I had a great mom growing up, and though I didn’t know much about what I wanted to be professionally, I knew that personally, I wanted to have children. As many children as I could support.

Ten days after I found out I was pregnant, a miscarriage happened. Despite more than a decade and a moderate amount of medical intervention, I have never gotten pregnant again.

Infertility is elegantly insidious; it leaves no facet of your life untouched. Here in the US, infertility is treated as strictly a medical phenomenon, when the unequivocal truth is that the ramifications of infertility are almost entirely social, emotional, spiritual, and financial.

It can take a long time and an exorbitant amount of money to try to get pregnant. Infertility interferes with your body image. It interferes with your family relationships. Interferes with your romantic relationships. Causes your friendships to become awkward.

Infertility and social media

The proliferation of social media only magnifies social, emotional, and spiritual distress for someone like me.

Aside from struggling to be an actual, physical being inhabiting the world, we are constantly bombarded with images from both traditional media (tv, commercials, news, movies, radio) and apps like Facebook and Instagram. It seems as though someone is announcing a pregnancy every other day.

It is extremely jarring to see a sonogram while just scrolling through your feed the first time around, and then again, when it pops up as someone’s memory.

For me, the best coping mechanism is to unfollow or mute someone during that time. It’s frustrating, because I am genuinely happy for them, but at the same time, I’m sad for me. Containing the constant juxtaposition of contrasting feelings is difficult—it causes a lot of dissonance.

That can make creating and maintaining friendships a challenge. I am fortunate to have several close friends who have been with me every step of the way, and we’ve managed to maintain our relationships.

Infertility in the work place

Then there’s the world of work. My career is in a female-dominated profession. A little over five years ago, ten women in my office were pregnant and had babies over the course of two years. TEN. That fact, in and of itself, would send someone like me into a downward spiral.

I did what a lot of people who are facing traumatic events do: I dissociated. Pretending I was somewhere else. I psychically suspended myself. Changing jobs wasn’t a possibility at the time. I put so much of my mental, physical, and emotional energy into making it through work, that little of me was left during off hours. None of me, if I’m being honest.

I was pre-disposed to depression by virtue of my genetic make-up, and had experienced several bouts over the years. Living through the year of pregnancies and the year of births exacerbated my depression exponentially.

It’s extremely difficult, watching so many people around you experiencing the one thing that you had always wanted, and that you were taught would come naturally to you.

What happened as a result?

I believe my physical challenges now are a direct result of choosing not to pursue medication or therapy during that period. These things have a way of catching up with the body.

Two years ago, I began having physical symptoms that I later realized were a result of the co-morbid anxiety I had developed several years prior. I was started on a beta blocker to combat the effects of the adrenaline my body was churning out on my heart.

Since then, I have been off and on my antidepressant over the years. I began taking it again in the spring of 2018, when I enrolled in a class focused on memoir writing. I knew that the things that would be most important for me to write about would also be some of the most painful.

Since then, I have been off my antidepressant once. Within six weeks, I was deeply depressed, barely functional, and suicidal. I contacted my doctor for a refill of my medication, and began taking it immediately. It was then that I finally realized that I would be taking some type of antidepressant for the rest of my life. I am also in therapy with someone who is a good fit for me and my needs.

It’s not the fact of the miscarriage that is traumatic for me. One in four to one in five pregnancies ends in a loss, sometimes even before a pregnancy is realized.

Living my life for the last seventeen years and never having children of my own is what has been traumatic. It’s difficult being a member of a club nobody ever wants to join. It’s lonely, feeling like nobody shares your experiences. Except you know that, statistically, they do, but no one ever talks about it.

It’s time. Let’s talk.

Infertility and mental health, sad woman, infertility, mental health

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Thank you so much to Amy for sharing her story. Have you ever struggled with something similar? Feel free to share if you are comfortable.

About the Author

Amy Fowler hails from Lawrence, KS, where she shares a home with her partner, sometimes his two children, one surly Boston Terrier, one Scruffy Mutt, and one geriatric Doberman. Her essays have appeared on The Manifest Station, in the Slaughterhouse Collective, and Sonder Midwest, among others. You can find her blog, “Raising Someone Else’s Children, and Other Animals,” as well as more of her work, at www.amyeff.com


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