I am a songwriter and artist. I’ve spent my entire adult life over-sharing in the form of metaphor and melody in 3.5 minute songs. But never so bold and bare as in a blog. Putting my ultra-personal struggles with infertility out into the world goes against the grain of my introverted nature. But I owe so much to the women who shared with me whom I can never pay back, only forward. As heartbreaking as infertility can be, it’s compounded by the fact that people rarely talk about these things publicly. And Oprah lit a fire under us all about speaking our truths. So here goes nothing. Here goes everything…
As I sit holding my beautiful newborn baby boy and listening to the rain fall over Los Angeles, washing away the soot from a year’s worth of pollution and fires, I close my eyes and give thanks for this moment. A moment that almost didn’t happen. A moment that was born of a miracle of hope, courage, determination, and unbelievable luck.
This time last year I was heartsick. I felt beat and broken. But I was at a crossroads. I had a big decision to make. One that would affect my life and the lives of my husband and daughter in a profound way…
I didn’t always know that I wanted to have kids, but one thing I did know was that if I had kids, I wanted two. For me it was the perfect balance between the joy of growing up with two siblings who are now adult friends-for-life, and the desire not to contribute to population growth. So when my daughter was 20 months old, we started trying for #2. With our first child we got pregnant right away, and while the morning sickness was pretty rough and long-lasting, it was a gloriously healthy and uneventful pregnancy and delivery. You never take these things for granted, but we didn’t realize just how lucky we were until we started the journey to have another child.
Just like with our first, we got pregnant pretty quickly. I was ecstatic. I had wanted to have my children close together and was already 38 so I didn’t want to waste any time. But this one was not meant to be. I started bleeding at 10 weeks and ended up in the ER. It was traumatic: I almost fainted several times, had terrible chills and was afraid that I was hemorrhaging. My body healed quickly but it took my spirit a lot longer. We had seen the heartbeat at eight weeks and thought we were in the clear.
My first miscarriage had been a terrifying experience, physically, but I was not prepared for the grief. The lost dream of a child. How can you mourn someone you never knew? And maybe even harder, that no one else had known or even known about. We had been waiting until 12 weeks to announce so barely anyone knew what I was going through. When my mom died of cancer when I was 23 it felt like the end of the world, but at least everyone knew and offered empathy and understood why I was not myself and wouldn’t be for some time. But with this loss I felt terribly alone until I started talking to my women friends. Turns out almost every mother I know has been through at least one miscarriage and many women have had more than one. I picked my heart back up, dusted it off and rallied my hope for trying again.
Over the next year we lost a second and third pregnancy. We always got pregnant quickly but couldn’t seem to get past the first trimester. After the second loss, my OB ordered some tests. All came back clear. After the third he ordered more. This time something came back as off. My AMH, an indicator of egg reserve, was really low. So low it would predict that I shouldn’t be able to get pregnant at all, which wasn’t the case. It was confusing and scary. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.
For the first time I started to worry and wonder whether we would be able to have a second child. I started second guessing having focused on my career and having waited so late to start my family. The only way I managed to pull myself up out of the rabbit hole was by reminding myself that if we had started earlier, we wouldn’t have our beloved daughter, we would have had a different child. I couldn’t imagine life without her, so I willed myself to stop looking in the rearview and instead put my energy into what I had any hope of changing.
We met with a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) who found our case confusing as well. We tested my husband. Clear. We tested for genetic conditions I might be carrying. Clear. But nothing was clear at all. My head became a foggy mess of medical details and what-ifs and I felt paralyzed. Our RE explained that we could try IVF and test the embryos before transfer to make sure they were genetically healthy. He said our chances were not very high but we could save ourselves time—which was important at this point since I was now 39.5—and save ourselves the heartbreak of another miscarriage. However, with IVF being so expensive and our insurance not covering a dime of it, he also suggested that we might consider trying naturally another time since we got pregnant relatively quickly.
We tried again on our own and sure enough within a few months I was pregnant again, but there was no heartbeat at seven weeks. This time I had a D&C and found out that there was a chromosomal issue. In retrospect I wish we had done a D&C with the previous miscarriages so that we could test the tissues and have that information, but I had thought passing them naturally would be less traumatic. Honestly it’s awful either way, but data is your friend in these situations so it would have been worth it to go through the procedure each time.
After four miscarriages, IVF was our last hope. Being able to know that the embryo was genetically healthy in advance felt like a much-needed silver bullet. I knew that it was going to be a hard process with all the hormones, the poking and prodding, not to mention all the waiting with your hopes hung so high. So I went into self-care high gear. I meditated, worked out, cut all alcohol, caffeine, processed sugars, processed anything. I laid in the hammock drinking tea, eating dark chocolate and reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things (a must read if you’re going through something hard and want to feel less alone). But most importantly, I reached out to all my women friends who have been through infertility issues. I asked them about their journeys and how they kept their courage up. I soaked it all up and found my own courage in theirs.
I had already known this, but the following became etched upon my soul: women are warriors. We fight for our families. We fight to get them here, we fight to keep them safe and happy and healthy and loved. We find reserves in the deepest darkest places of our hearts and we spend them on our children. That’s what women do. It’s in our DNA. My mom was a warrior. My two grandmothers were warriors. My family tree is rooted in the strength of women. I told myself I could do this.
As a songwriter I know well the power of expressing oneself: it’s free therapy. So I started writing songs to process and document the journey. This eventually led to The Wilderness EP but started simply as a means to survival. I knew I needed an uplifting mantra heading into IVF so I wrote myself a pep talk, “Best Is Yet To Come.”
there’s nothing like a second chance to make you wonder
did you hold on tight enough to your dreams?
did you love with the wildest hope that you could muster?
did you give it all, and find out what love really means?
i’ll keep waiting for you like I know you’re waiting for me
the best is yet to come…
We started our first round of IVF a couple months after my 40th birthday. Heart crushingly, my body did not respond well to the hormones and we didn’t get very many eggs. No embryos made it to day five when cells could be extracted and tested. The IVF hormones are supposed to make you release and mature more eggs with each cycle, thus upping your chances of a healthy egg. Maybe IVF would not help us after all. I mourned our diminishing chances. But we had decided to try three cycles so I readied myself for another round.
My RE adjusted the hormone protocol and in our second cycle we got two eggs that fertilized and made it to day five. I got the call one afternoon while sitting with an old friend. One of the embryos was healthy, and it was a girl. A GIRL!!! A sister for our daughter! I was breathless with joy and hope. I called my husband and we celebrated our good luck. Our RE had warned that there was still the possibility it wouldn’t take upon transfer, but since I had no trouble getting pregnant, I felt optimistic. This was the part my body was good at. It had been unhealthy eggs that were most likely our problem.
It takes several weeks of waiting and hormones to prepare your body for the embryo transfer, so I went back into self-care high gear and also started doing acupuncture, which statistically increases the chance of successful implantation. On the day before my transfer, my acupuncturist, Susan Minich, who is also a Nurse-midwife and lovely human, said “Upon the transfer you’re going to see a little light. Close your eyes and say a prayer at that moment.”
Tears welled up and overflowed. When meditating I had been envisioning our baby as a little light growing inside me and it felt like everything was falling into place- that this was meant to be. Sure enough there was a light at the moment of transfer. I had thought she meant a spiritual light, something inside me. But there was an actual light on the ultrasound screen when the embryo was injected. I smiled at the songwriter and hippie in me, and the scientist in me was satisfied as well. I went home for three days of bed rest with all the hope in the world. While waiting to find out if we were pregnant, I wrote a song of hope, “Little Light.”
little light stay with me
i’ll keep you safe and sound
soon you’ll blaze bright as day
for i am braver now
i would go to the end of the earth
to the great unknown to find the one i’m looking for…
The agony of waiting. And more waiting. The morning I went in for a blood draw pregnancy test, I came right home and peed on a stick. I couldn’t bear waiting all day on pins and needles for the call from my doctor. My hands were shaking, I felt light headed. Two pink lines…we’re pregnant!!! I woke my husband up whispering in his ear, not wanting to wake our daughter who always ended up in our bed at some point in the night. This is it I felt. Our happy ending, or more accurately, our happy beginning, had arrived.
I beamed for weeks. I told all my friends who had listened, supported and encouraged. Then at around seven weeks I started throwing up just as I expected, just like I had with our daughter, my only healthy pregnancy. I beamed again. Never had feeling so shitty felt so good. Also at seven weeks we had our last appointment with our RE before “graduating” to my regular OB. We saw the heartbeat, flickering strong on the screen. Our little light was shining and growing. My husband and I started talking names and he loved my idea to name her “Lucy” which means light. All was right with the world.
Until it wasn’t. At our 12 week ultrasound there was no heartbeat. I screamed a banshee cry of grief in the doctor’s office. I’m sure I scared the other patients but I didn’t care. I felt as if my soul was being ripped out of my body. How could it have happened again? What went wrong? Did I do something wrong? And why? Why? WHY? Why.
These questions tormented me in the middle of the night for months. I went over everything in my mind back and forth looking for an explanation. Daytime kept me busy with work and motherhood, but I dreaded the night, for in the insomnia I had to face my grief. Thank God for my daughter who buoyed me up like a little balloon and kept me from sinking. I often thought of women who go through these kinds of losses before having their first child. I don’t know how they survive and find the courage to keep going. I couldn’t have done it without my daughter and the beautiful distraction she provided. My husband was also a great comfort and my rock, and so I wrote the song “Holding Up The Sky” for them both.
this is not how the story was supposed to go
i saw it so clearly, so sure this time
if i live to a hundred i will still never know
how i could have lost what was meant to be mine
now i’m alone out in the wilderness of my heart
going over every piece of it in the dark
when it all comes falling and i don’t know why
there you are holding up the sky
Devastated and destroyed, it was all I could think about at any free moment. Was this it? Even if I wanted to try again, did I have it in me to be strong enough to open myself up to the heartbreak again and allow myself to hope? To dream? Not to mention the expense. I recognize how fortunate we are that we even had the option to try IVF, but were we irresponsibly throwing money away at a broken dream with our chances being so low?
My body would have to heal anyway if we wanted to try again, so my husband and I decided to wait until the turn of the year and see how we felt. I was depressed and anxious throughout the holidays with the decision looming. My heart was like a skittish horse, flitting this way and that anytime I tried to pin it down. Grappling with my grief and how to move forward, I wrote the song “Never Gonna Get Over You.”
the winter rain falls for days
turn of the year where do i go from here?
when it’s all uphill and i’m standing still
my love is gone and the world spins on and on
i’m never gonna get over you
January came and we talked to our doctor. He of course couldn’t tell us what we should do, but he answered all our questions with care and concern and told us we could start very soon if we wanted to based on where I was in my cycle. IVF hadn’t been the silver bullet we had hoped for, but my husband reminded me that we had decided to try three cycles at the outset. He didn’t care about the money, because after all, that’s all it is. What else could we spend money on that would potentially be as life-changing and meaningful? At that moment I counted myself extra thankful for my pragmatic, logical and wonderfully supportive German husband.
I don’t usually believe in things being “meant to be”, but in the end I couldn’t let go of the feeling that we were meant to have another child. When we got pregnant on the first try with our daughter after spending so many years of preventing, I had the feeling that her little soul had been waiting for us. I imagined her saying, “Put me in, coach!” and as soon as she got the chance, she jumped right in.
I had the same feeling about our second, that a little soul was just waiting for a healthy body to jump in. But I knew to survive this last round I would have to divorce myself from the outcome and let what would be, be. In a symbolic letting go, I gave away most of the baby clothes and gear that we’d been saving for years. I felt lighter and freer with all the physical and mental space that had opened up. I was ready. We booked an appointment to start our last IVF cycle. I wrote “Give Up The Ghost” about both the pain of letting go of the dream of Lucy, who had felt so real to me, and not giving up on the dream of the child that still could be.
i don’t wanna be sad, i don’t wanna be broken
all i need is time to sit by the ocean
i’m not ready to give up
i’m not ready to give up the ghost…
don’t wanna give you up
You already know how this story ends. We got the call the day before Valentine’s Day 2017 that we had a healthy male embryo. Best Valentines present EVER. My RE called me at 10pm at night to give us the news; he couldn’t wait until the morning because he was so excited for us. (He’s an amazing person…we wouldn’t be holding our son without the talent, expertise and encouragement of Dr. Sami Jabara.) He woke me from sleep and I screamed with joy. I ran out to the living room to tell my husband and we ended up staying up way too late like kids in love, getting tipsy and talking about all our hopes and how maybe we were meant to have a son and that’s why it all happened like it did and that this time HAD to be it.
And it was. It had been a stroke of outrageous luck. We had only gotten one egg this time. One chance for everything to go right. Somehow it fertilized and grew to a day five embryo, and the results came back genetically healthy, and it implanted and grew and I threw up many many times, happily. Our little big miracle arrived on November 19th, 2017. My son is a yummy little guy whom I can’t get enough of, and our family finally feels complete.
We’re going through all the usual newborn sleep deprivation and sibling jealousy and I feel so #@&%ing fortunate to have the good kind of problems again. It was a painful three years to get our son here. I sometimes mourn what we lost in those years…the five children that never were, and constantly being on a rocky sea, not knowing if there was land ahead. But I would do it all again without a second thought. One day I’ll tell my son (and my daughter) what we went through, and he’ll know just how much he was wanted and loved, long before he ever began.
I’m sharing this story as a lighthouse for all the women still out there in the storm, praying that if they keep being brave and keep believing, that they will one day hold their child in their arms. You are not alone. Not by a long shot.
Phew. I survived telling my story. It actually felt really good to put this out into the universe and let go of some of the weight of it. Thank you Oprah. And thank You for reading. If you made it this far and you’re struggling with infertility or pregnancy losses, don’t be alone with your pain, don’t be alone with your fears. Let’s all talk more openly about what we go through in the crazy journey of creating life. I hope you will share my story with someone who needs it. And while you’re at it, share your story too.
Share your story with the hashtag #WhatWeCarry