Infertility is the Most Painful Journey of Self-Discovery You’ll Ever Take

I was selfish, fickle, flighty and distracted four years ago. I still am, but the difference today, four years later, is that I recognize these qualities about myself now.

I am also brave, strong, bold and empowered.

If you told me four years ago I would one day say that about myself, I would have laughed in your face.

“I’m nothing,” I would have said. “I’m broken. I’m a failure. I have no idea what tomorrow is even going to look like, let alone feel bold or empowered.”

That’s how I felt in the hours and days following my diagnosis. How I felt for months. And then gradually, I started to move beyond the feelings of failure and shame. I don’t know what the exact moment was, but it was like a gradual realization, like the slow opening of a flower bud or a seedling poking through the soil to touch the air for the first time.

And while I can’t pinpoint that moment of change, I know that I must have made a choice fairly early on to stop letting infertility dictate my life and instead learning to live with it, merely a part of me instead of consuming me. I couldn’t choose to magically resume my fertility again, but I could choose to decide how to live with my infertility.

It’s how I approach my depression right now, too. I can’t choose to magically balance the chemical responses firing away in my brain and endocrine system, but I can choose to decide how to live with my depression.

(Depression and infertility are basically interchangeable in this instance.)

I described this phenomenon to Esperanza, as we chatted online recently. I talked about how over the course of the last four years, I’ve let pain become a part of my life instead of consuming it. Rather than drown in the pain, I learned to breathe it in like a fish. I learned and accepted that pain was simply a part of my environment but that it wasn’t the ONLY thing in my world. It’s almost like swimming through a polluted stream: I still have to breathe, but the water will clear again.

In these past four years, I’ve learned to swim with the current: honoring grief, pain, messiness, anger, guilt, shame. But I’ve also learned to swim against it, too.

Infertility is the Most Painful Journey of Self-Discovery You'll Ever Take

Photo by Beth Punches via Flickr

And I had a LOT of time on my hands before we ever dived into the madness that is fertility treatments. I kept myself busy, but it wasn’t “busy work.” I’d like to think I’ve been doing important work for this community that’s made a difference. It might not be on some grand, paradigm-shifting level (which, is still my goal) – but I see it in the emails and comments that people leave telling me how much this space and my words have meant to them. That’s what keeps me coming back to the space, but I know it matters to others. (So fret not: this is not some parting soliloquy of blog abandonment.)

And during all that time, all this waiting – it allowed me to really re-evaluate not just my whole life, but fundamentally, who I am as a person.

I’ve realized now that infertility is the most painful journey of self-discovery you’ll ever take.

And you know what? Nine times out of ten it’s a journey that you’re pulled into against your will, whether you’re ready to take that journey or not. Infertility is not just putting your feet to the fire… it puts your very sense of self to the test.

I have learned some stark truths about myself. I have seen darkness and shadows and grief and pain within me like I never even thought was possible. But I’ve also seen resolve and light and hope and peace within me too, with reserves so deep I wonder just how deep those emotional reserves really go.

This weekend was my first retreat for the Boston New Leaders Council Institute. To say that it was transformative is an understatement: I was surrounded by 17 NLC Fellows whose life stories, triumphs and ambitions overwhelm me to the point I almost wonder exactly how the hell I got into this group of greatness. In 48 hours, I identified – I mean really dove deep and identified my strengths. I put to paper and my soul the work I really need to be doing: not the work I want to do, not the work that’s easy to do, not the work that others expect me to do – but the work that feeds my purpose.

And so I’m taking the remaining five NLC Institute weekends and the rest of this year to commit myself to this work, the details of which will be slowly forthcoming here in this space. And, shocker – I’ll be creating (yet another) website in the next few months as I sort it all out.

None of this would have been possible without my infertility.

I would never have had the courage to take the great leaps of faith and bold risks that I intend to take over the next twelve months if I hadn’t dug as deep as I have over the last four years: examining the kind of life I have, the life I seek to create, the woman I want to become and the legacy I intend to leave.

There will be false-starts and disappointment and frustrations. But I also hope there will be growth, success and new ventures that are going to benefit of LOT of people – beyond the infertility community. I’m just not ready to share any plans yet, simply because there ARE no concrete plans yet, just lots of bold ideas. But as committed as I was to seeing my way through infertility, I intend to see these plans through as well. And I can’t wait to share the fruits of those labors with you when it’s time.

And remember: no matter how painful this journey of self-discovery might be – just hang on. Do what you have to do to work through it. It is worth it so that you can look yourself in the mirror, look at all the invisible scars of this long-fought battle and say to yourself:

I am brave.

I am strong.

I am bold and empowered.

Because you are.

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Comments

  1. Johnna says

    “I’ve realized now that infertility is the most painful journey of self-discovery you’ll ever take.
    And you know what? Nine times out of ten it’s a journey that you’re pulled into against your will, whether you’re ready to take that journey or not. Infertility is not just putting your feet to the fire… it puts your very sense of self to the test.
    I have learned some stark truths about myself. I have seen darkness and shadows and grief and pain within me like I never even thought was possible. But I’ve also seen resolve and light and hope and peace within me too, with reserves so deep I wonder just how deep those emotional reserves really go.”

    ^That right there, yup.

  2. says

    “None of this would have been possible without my infertility. I would never have had the courage to take the great leaps of faith and bold risks that I intend to take over the next twelve months if I hadn’t dug as deep as I have over the last four years: examining the kind of life I have, the life I seek to create, the woman I want to become and the legacy I intend to leave.”

    This is so true. Infertility has been the most painful thing I have ever lived through. And yet, it’s also been the test that has shown me how strong and resilent I truly am. Without infertility, I wouldn’t know this potential and, hence, would not be taking the next steps in my journey through life (I would have believed that I wasn’t good enough to try).

    Thank you for the continual examples and reminders that not only can we conquer infertility; we can soar.

  3. says

    Your strength and power have amazed and inspired and simply filled me up since the day I really found your blog (I count your video as the time I really found you). Thank you for sharing your journey with us..

  4. says

    For so long after my infertility experience, I felt like a teacup: fragile, about to break. There is so little good that comes from infertility but finding inner emotional reserves, the resilience to carry on was a victory of sorts. What you have done: use your resilience to help an entire community is freaking amazing, I hope you never forget how much we all appreciate what you have done. Your courage, bravery and grace are beyond value.

    Xoxo

  5. says

    I love what you say about learning to breathe through the pain. To let it be part of your environment, but not what defines you. But of course, once you make that choice, once the pain no longer defines you, you get to lay bare what DOES define you … and that is both scary and thrilling at the same time.

    I don’t know … I’m somewhere in the middle right now … I thought I knew who I was, and then I lost myself by allowing myself to be defined by other things I could not control … and it is easy to feel like a failure. But I also think that I can see clearly enough to know that I’m not just those things, and that it’s a matter of stripping them away to discover what is bold, and beautiful, and powerful, underneath.

    You are among the people who inspire me to do that.

  6. Pamela says

    So true, Keiko. The moment I allowed the pain out rather than build a higher dam, I felt a sense of release as it washed over me, along with a new ability to go with the flow. It hasn’t always been easy but it’s far more useful to make sense of the experience than to deny it…

  7. Lisa nreame says

    Thank you for your beautiful words.

    I feel strong n brave But right now the tears are coming.

    I recently in the last 24 hours suffered my 2nd missed miscarriage where my bby passed away at 9 weeks but my body held on to that baby till 12 weeks. I had a d and c procedure to remove my baby which they are genetic testing the product as they call it not my bby just some product .
    They put me near a women who was in labour n screaming who gets to see her bby n keep it where mines taken away put in a beautiful casket and buried with they’re brother so I can see them every other day and tAlk to them. Sometimes you have to accept that you will never be a mother or a father and that’s so heartbreaking.

    Gods testing my strength I have stay strong on my lower back in Latin and believe me that’s what I am doing I need to stop been brave n admit its ok to just cry for women like this women in labour xx

    I hope one day in future after all I am 25 that I can have a child on my own just after three years of just heartbreak n losing my babies I cannot handle pregnancy and kills me I will never have a child naturally but my cousion n hubby try a year n half n they’re older 30s and they’re baby’s fine just not fair.

    Infertility the most horrendous thing a women should endowed xx

  8. says

    I am finally at a point where I can see the benefit of my infertility experience, Infertility solidified my relationship with God. The development of that relationship produced a beautiful, life sustaining faith. Infertility was the tumultuous force that blew 3 spirit babies my way. Infertility introduced me to adoption and adoption opened me up to a love that I credit with my spiritual resuscitation. I am a completely different woman. I know the blows I endured were used to strengthen me. I am not invincible, but I am certainly so much stronger than I ever imagined.

    • joni says

      My infertility definitely drew me closer to God. All I ever wanted was to get pregnant…..to have a baby. I didnt understand how the thing that I wanted so much, I would never have. Isn’t everyone having babies? You marry, and not long after, you get to tell everyone the joyful news. So, I started asking questions. And at some point in this never ending barrage of questions, I thought to myself, this cant be it… this can’t be all that life is about. My mother passed away when I was twenty one. This cemented, for me that this life is so short and temporary. I remember telling a cousin of mine, who happened to be “fertile Myrtle!” that this couldnt be the real deal. this couldnt be, the end. If it was, my mother would still be here. The real deal has to be “eternity”. What continued to draw me even closer to God, was trying to fill all those empty places inside me. I discovered that nothing was working. And the days, months, years of no children, while surrounded with Moms’, and their babies, took me to places I didnt want to be. Gods’ still, small voice called me, and told me that He understood. And He wanted to fill those empty places with His love. As I write this, I am reminded of how it is easy right now…thinking on God my Father. But those days, and hours when it is all in my face, and I crumble inside, those can be so paralyzing. So, I tell myself that He is with me…inside me, and He does understand. He is my creator, and He hurts , when I hurt. He picks me up, and carries me. And He gives me the Beautiful moment of a brand new day. Open your arms, Joni. He tells me. And give me all that hurt, and yes…anger. I cant fill up your arms, if you are holding on to all that stuff. And I have nothing but the best for you. So, I don’t muddle thru those days. I walk, with a heart full of joy, and anticipation, of what comes next!

  9. says

    Every single day, for the past 3 years I have been considering myself a failure for not being able to give my husband and i the baby we deserve. This feeling of infertility is just so choking sometimes and comsumes my entire livelyhood. I feel so depressed for not being a “full woman” at times. Your blog is really inspiring and I will be taking a lot out of it with Regards to a learning curve. Thank you so much for your amazing honesty and for sharing your journey!