When you ‘come out’ about infertility

Editor’s Note: Michelle Sukhdeo, 31, from Long Island, New York, is an instructional coach in a Bronx middle school. She has been married for five years and has one daughter.

Story highlights

One in every eight couples struggles to conceive or to maintain a pregnancy

Michelle Sukhdeo's polycystic ovarian syndrome caused her to struggle with infertility

After sharing her infertility journey with CNN, Sukhdeo learned a lot about herself

CNN  — 

I am one in eight. One in every eight couples struggles to conceive or to maintain a pregnancy. I did not realize the magnitude of that statistic, the amount of women I would meet who also are one in eight. I did not know the journey into heartbreak, heartache, sisterhood and loss that I would experience.

Last year, seven months after the birth of the daughter we fought for, cried for, prayed for, I decided to open up and share my story. For years, we had hidden our infertility struggle, only letting my parents and sister, my best friend and a few of our closest friends know the journey we were on. I wrote a CNN iReport in honor of Infertility Awareness Week, hoping to inspire others and let other women know that they weren’t alone. I “came out.”

I didn’t expect the outpouring of support or anticipate the number of women messaging me, seeking advice. I shared in what they were experiencing, some too timid or afraid or unsure of where or who to turn to. Women I went to elementary school with, high school acquaintances, sorority sisters, co-workers, strangers and family asked me to retell my story, listen to theirs and offer them advice. And I did and still do. It is my pleasure, my responsibility, my duty even, to be there for these women, like four of my best friends – my pumpkins, as I refer to them – are there for me.

Yet the aftermath of sharing revealed something else about me that I didn’t know. Even though I have “come out,” I’m still not OK. I’m not over it. In fact, 19 months after the birth of my miracle rainbow baby, the emotion is still raw, the anger real and the helpless feelings still alive.

My journey through infertility

I knew from a young age that I would have a hard time getting pregnant, as I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, known as PCOS, at age 18.

After six months of taking Clomid, a fertility drug, with timed intercourse and then intrauterine inseminations, called IUI, there was no success. Although the side effects of blurred vision, migraines and vivid dreams were growing, my follicles were not. It was around that time that I reached out to strangers on the internet, some of whom I then met in real life. These women, my pumpkins, have become my support. They encouraged me to switch medical practices and to request different medications.

Read more about her story here

I called Long Island IVF and met amazing nurses and a doctor who thought outside the box and didn’t approach my case like I was simply another number. After three more cycles, which included a failure and two miscarriages, I felt destroyed.

That period in my life was also the darkest in my marriage. I didn’t know how to come back from that, but my doctor did. I was desperate and willing to do anything to accomplish our dream. With tweaks in medications and a couple of more injections added, the next cycle worked. Not only did I get pregnant, but my pregnancy was viable.

At 38 weeks, our precious, miracle rainbow baby, Emily, was born. Our daughter was finally here. And she is perfect.

Behind a smile, trying not to cry

And yet, I find myself still thinking daily about the shots, the hormones, the testing, the appointments. I think about the babies I lost. I cry when I get my period. I feel jealous when I see a pregnant woman and become envious reading a pregnancy announcement. I may never get to experience being pregnant again, as the struggle is all too real, and that cuts me deeply.

Though my daughter undoubtedly filled the void in my heart, I still have a chip on my shoulder. I can’t shake it.

To be clear, it’s not because I often rehash my experiences in my head or support my pumpkins on their continuing journeys. It’s not because of the pregnancies and births of my infertile friends.

It’s nosy people, people without manners or common sense who think it’s their place to tell me, even plead with me, to provide my daughter with a sibling. It’s even people who know the journey I’ve been on but have very quickly forgotten my struggle.

Having my baby did not cure my PCOS, my blood-clotting disorder or my body not producing progesterone on its own. Now, my response to the great sibling question is “No.” I smile, say that one is enough.

Yet, I hide behind that smile, trying not to cry. Would I love to give her a sibling? Absolutely. Do I really want to go through the emotional and physical torture of tests, the waiting, the IUIs, daily blood work and internal sonograms at 6 a.m. and months of shots in my stomach, hips, butt?

In fact, giving birth caused a further problem: postpartum anxiety.

No longer afraid but still not OK

Doctors warn patients that the “baby blues” can occur within five days of giving birth, as your body naturally releases the hormones it had held on to during the nine months of pregnancy, causing extreme emotions, sadness, crying, even depression. After two-plus years of taking medications and injecting myself with drugs, followed by becoming and staying pregnant, I had a constant overflow of synthetic and natural hormones pumping through my veins.

I was not myself after our daughter was born. I cried, I worried, I panicked. I feared that the little girl whom I had hoped and prayed over for so long would vanish or be taken away. It seemed too good to be true; I felt blessed and terrified all at once. Now that she was finally here, in a time when I should have been able to relax, I couldn’t. Thankfully, my husband, pumpkins, friends, family and doctors helped me through.

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    At this moment, I cannot say with my whole heart that I will ever do it again. Might it be easier? Harder? Would I miscarry and have to deal with that pain again? For sure it would be costly – mentally, physically and financially. And I’m just not ready. I’m scared. I’m tired. I feel beat up. I went through hell and got my baby. Do I really need to push my luck? I’m fortunate that my husband supports me and recognizes the trauma we both went through together.

    Will I eventually change my mind? I can’t predict that. But what I do know with certainty – even more so now than a year ago – infertility doesn’t end with the birth of a child. It lives on within you, in varying degrees, depending on the day. It doesn’t end. It has seeped into my soul, twisted into the fibers of my being. There’s no magical button that switches off. It’s a constant struggle, even if the battle is seemingly over. Through sharing my story, I did not obtain closure, but more doors have opened with more chapters left to write. The envy, jealousy, self-pity, anger, even rage – it does not vanish or disappear. It may not even diminish.

    I’m infertile. In some ways, it’s a badge of honor. I am no longer embarrassed or afraid to admit it. My family represents the 12.5% of the population that struggles with infertility and pregnancy. I am one in eight – and forever will be.