There is isolation in infertility. There is sadness, anger and loneliness. It is a fight that is whispered about, a fight that is difficult to overcome and win. Yet slowly, the darkness that surrounds this battle is lessening, becoming infiltrated with a soft light that can only be described as hope and resilience.
Hope and resilience are two words that could easily describe Jennifer Rutner. Jennifer is a new mom living in Beacon, New York, who spoke to me while juggling her nearly 2-year old daughter (who’s name shall remain anonymous). As blissful as motherhood is for her, the time it took her and her husband, Josh, to get to this point was anything but.
“I have endometriosis, which is incredibly difficult for even the most experienced doctors to detect and it took 5 years for me to be properly diagnosed,” Jennifer says. Endometriosis is a chronic condition in which endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus, which can cause severe pain and, most commonly, infertility.
Married at 26, Jennifer and Josh always knew that eventually they wanted a family. It was when Jennifer turned 28 that they started actively trying to conceive. At 29 she decided to get tested. “There wasn’t really anything in my medical history that said this could be a problem for me,” Jennifer explains. “My cycles looked and felt regular and most doctors would just say ‘it’s only been six months, chill out and keep trying’ but I kept asking ‘why isn’t this happening?’ and ‘should I be concerned?”
Jennifer listened to her body and went to her gynecologist who addressed her concerns and supported her decision to get tested. “My gynecologist did a list of tests in-house and my numbers came back slightly off but nothing concerning,” Jennifer says. “She said I could go to an infertility clinic and get a full workup to see what was going on. I am very thankful that I had a supportive and informed doctor or else who knows how long I would have gone undiagnosed.”
By the time the Rutner’s went to an infertility clinic and began undergoing a list of tests, it had been one year since they had started trying to have a family. “We were diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility,” Jennifer says with a tone of exasperation. “Unexplained infertility is it’s own special kind of hell, there is no clear way to fix it and you just have no idea what is going on with your body.”
This was devastating news for Jennifer and Josh. They went to three different clinics to get to the root of the problem but still the doctor’s came up with the same diagnosis: unexplained infertility. “The doctors were just point-blank saying ‘your ovaries are kind of weird and don’t seem to be cooperating’ and that was basically my diagnosis which was incredibly frustrating.”
The Rutner’s were given their options and were facing the uphill fight against infertility. Originally Jennifer wanted to go straight into IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) treatments, but because her insurance at the time didn’t cover IVF, the Rutner’s had to wait 5 months before they could proceed with their chosen treatment plan.
“Because of my personality, I was like we should go right into IVF, ‘let’s get this DONE!” Jennifer says with fierce tenacity. She wanted to attack infertility straight away with IVF, which is aggressive and invasive. But they had to wait until Jennifer could switch insurance plans to start IVF. “We decided in the meantime to try IUI, which was covered by our insurance. The IUI treatments really helped me prepare for IVF,” Jennifer says. “IUI treatments gave me a sense of what it was like to have injections, what it was like to go to the doctors office 100 times a month and prepared us for how it was going to impact our marriage.”
Jennifer underwent IUI treatments, or Intrauterine Insemination, in which the ovaries are stimulated to produce 1-2 eggs. The patient, in this case Jennifer, takes different hormone boosters and is monitored closely by doctors to perfectly plan insemination based on the ovulation schedule.
IUI is about precision and taking your best shot at pregnancy. “IUI gets you a step closer but with less eggs, as opposed to IVF which typically gets 10-12 eggs per cycle,” Jennifer also points out that the doctor’s focus is on getting the sperm as healthy and as clean as possible before insemination.
The Rutner’s didn’t get pregnant. Not on their first round of IUI and not on their second round. “It was very hard, especially our second round of IUI when we didn’t get pregnant again,” Jennifer says while reflecting on those tough moments. “Those were really hard cycles in general.”
Jennifer, being a hopeful person, goes on to say, “but in the end, it was great medical information because I got to know how my body responds to things before going into IVF.”
Six months and two rounds of IUI later, Jennifer was cleared by her insurance and began IVF treatments. “I got pregnant, and then a week later was told I had a miscarriage,” Jennifer sadly states. “I had what’s called a chemical miscarriage, which means I was pregnant but from looking at the blood work and hormone levels they could tell very early on it wasn’t a healthy pregnancy.”
HCG levels (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) in pregnant women are typically around 200, which mean there are a lot of pregnancy hormones running through the body. Jennifer’s HCG levels were at 19, which rarely result in a successful pregnancy. “So I was pregnant but we knew from the first pregnancy test that this was probably not a viable pregnancy and unfortunately it wasn’t,” Jennifer says.
The emotional journey couples go through when coping with infertility is nothing slight of exhausting. Jennifer describes her infertility battle as the most strenuous period of her life. “It was devastating and challenged me, my husband and our marriage on every level,” she continues to say, “I had never experienced anything like it before and suddenly you’re a patient and having doctors involved in every detail of your body and every aspect of your life…it completely disrupted everything.”
Jennifer and Josh attended couple’s therapy throughout their entire family building process. Although they were a unit during this struggle, they were experiencing these hardships in two different ways. “The reality was that the drugs were being injected into me and I was the one who could have been pregnant or not, and I was the one who was having the miscarriage,” Jennifer elaborates, “I am sure he (Josh) would say he felt helpless and we both felt overwhelmed.”
But Jennifer and Josh were partners every step of the way, “we mourned together, but we are different people and because of the different experiences, every couple struggles uniquely because your own individual experience as man and as a woman are distinct.”
As much as they were a team, at times the stress was staggering, “we weren’t always holding hands and crying together, it was a very real strain…not all marriages survive it.” Jennifer and Josh fought through the darkness, “we worked really hard for years to be able to get through it together and to be able to understand it together. It becomes even more arduous when you each need so much support and you’re both in crisis mode at the same time, it was about balance.”
Jennifer remained focused during this fight by making self-care and self-preservation her number one priority. “Self-care became my full time job. The stress physically and emotionally was completely overwhelming so I couldn’t let myself wear down.”
During these times Jennifer was anonymously blogging and Tweeting about her trials and errors, which helped her tremendously. She began writing around the time she went to the fertility clinics because, “this crazy thing was happening to me and my world was upside down and I didn’t know how to talk about this with other people in my life,” Jennifer explains.
When she started reading other women’s accounts online about their methods for coping and overcoming infertility, she became inspired and hopeful. These forums became her go-to before doctor’s appointments so she and Josh were always over-prepared for whatever was coming next.
“It changed my life. Those experiences would have been so much harder without these other women sharing their experiences so I felt like I had to share mine too.”
Jennifer’s personal blog is more of a journal expressing where she was at emotionally, what was happening at the time and how she felt about it all. “I just needed that outlet and I needed to feel comfortable sharing about it which is why I made it anonymous because it felt honest and safe.”
One of the most hauntingly beautiful posts from Jennifer was written on December 1st, 2012. In her blog post she describes human emotion and experience in a very raw and palpable way. She never gave up and somehow, someway, picked herself up everyday and carried on. “You just have to. You get up and you go to your doctor’s appointment and you go to work and you go home and you have a glass of wine and then you do it all over again!” Jennifer says with a laugh.
“Blogging and Tweeting really helped, completely life changing, because I had a support group in my pocket 24/7,” she goes on to say, “everything that was happening to me I could freely express.” She would write about her intimate experiences and share them with her support network, “I would say ‘I feel like this today’ or ‘I am taking this drug’ and sometimes, ‘I am just pissed off at the world!”
Jennifer had about 30 other women that were always there responding and telling her what she needed to know or suggesting questions she should ask during her next appointment. “Those things, combined with my own regiment of self-care, really helped me get through the day,” Jennifer says.