My body was failing me. As I sat there in the doctor’s office, listening to him talk, I felt as though I had fallen so hard the wind had been knocked out of me. How could these terms I had never even heard of apply to me? Premature ovarian failure. High FSH. Premature menopause. Secondary infertility. Even worse: “unexplained”—no explanation for why my body had turned on me.
I hadn’t had my period in several months. I’d chocked it up to the fact that I was running a lot, training for marathons, and exercise amenorrhea can happen with excessive exercise.
While I enjoyed the freedom from not having to deal with visits from Aunt Flo, I also knew it wasn’t healthy, and I should probably stop self-diagnosing. What happens, though, when you self-diagnose, and the doctor tells you something completely different? Holy shock and awe, and not in a good way.
As the discerning look on his face emerged, so did the lump in my throat, traveling to become a pit in my stomach. The specialist I then saw took one look at my blood-work and gave me the devastating news: “You have a less than 1% chance of conceiving a child with your own eggs.”
While having another child was not on my mind at that moment, I knew I wanted to give my daughter a sibling one day. Yet in a single breath of stinging words, he was telling me it could not happen, at least not in the way I envisioned.
My ovaries were shriveled, FSH (Follicle stimulating hormone) was sky-high, estrogen low. All signs pointed to early menopause—forget the fact that I was in my mid-30s. Could it be the marathon training? Not likely, said the doctor.
I had a child already. I was told by many to consider myself lucky. Sure, I was lucky, and beyond grateful for my daughter, Rio. But I wanted another child. Was I being selfish and greedy for wanting another?
It’s no wonder infertility and secondary infertility often go unspoken by many. That day, when I found myself walking in a daze out of the specialist’s office, it sounded like a dirty word, like I did something wrong, or something I did or didn’t do could have prevented this from happening. I felt broken, ashamed, and betrayed by my body.
All of my life, I’ve been told to trust doctors; they are the experts. The man I saw that day was a reputable doctor with a reputable practice. He went to a top medical school, and he practiced at one of the best hospitals in the country. Who was I to question him? The numbers don’t lie, and this is how it is, I thought.
But his telling me I couldn’t have a child on my own lit a fire in me to do just that. Was I fooling myself in believing I could prove these statistics wrong?
I took to the Internet to immerse myself in resources, education, forums, blogs—you name it. And I found that one in eight couples are diagnosed with infertility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11% of couples who already have a child go on to experience secondary infertility. That accounts for approximately half of all infertility cases. Wow. These statistics were mind-blowing—especially because nobody talks about it—or at least it seemed that way at first.
I spent countless hours perusing High FSH forums online, and I found a community of women who offered suggestions of acupuncture and traditional chinese medicine, encouragement by sharing their recent blood-work or pregnancy successes, resources that spanned across the globe, and support to one another. These women were complete strangers, but there was a sense of community, and so much knowledge through all of their collective experiences of dealing with High FSH and their quest for pregnancy. My diagnosis had felt so isolating, and I now took comfort in knowing I was not alone; there were other women not only dealing with it, but who were coming out on the other side of it with a baby. I became open to trying holistic modalities, and I was going to fight this like it was my J-O-B.
There were frustrations and second-guessing my body’s capability with every two-week wait that passed, as I wasn’t sure whether to rejoice that I could actually get my period, or cry that it meant I wouldn’t be seeing a positive sign on a stick that month. Then there was the cruel and utter heartache of three miscarriages along the way. Acupuncture every week for a year, vitamins, herbs, and concoctions galore.
There was suffering through the heartbreaking losses, but there was hope, too, and my story has a happy ending. I conceived my son, Arlo, naturally when my daughter was three years old, with my own eggs, and had an uneventful pregnancy. I could’ve easily been fooled into believing the doctor knew everything. My mind and heart would not accept that. I’m no fool.