In the fall of 2011, after months of insomnia, anxiety, depression, and severe headaches, I decided to go see a therapist. Although I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, I take mental health seriously and knew that I wasn’t okay. When my therapist couldn’t figure out what was going on with me, he suggested that I get a full physical exam and extensive blood work done. His reasoning was that he suspected what I had perceived to be a psychological issue might actually be the result of a physical condition.
At that point in my life, I hadn’t been to a doctor in nearly two years. My time had been consumed by caring for my dying mother, grieving her loss, and then moving to a new city to take on a new job. I was beyond busy and overall, I felt healthy. Thankfully, I took the advice of my therapist and got checked out; I even decided to make an OBGYN appointment just to check the box and be extra sure I was truly healthy.
A few weeks later, at the request of my OBGYN, I was called back in for another round of blood work and a conversation with my physician. Having supported my mother through both multiple sclerosis and stage 4 breast cancer, I knew that a doctor-requested meeting was generally cause for some alarm. The news I received that day changed my life: as I nervously sat in the examination room while staring at an Obama campaign poster that adorned the wall, my doctor patiently explained that he suspected that I had a rare condition, which affects less than 1% of all women, and that had caused my body to go into menopause. I was so confused–how could this be? Afterall, I had just turned 28. In line with my new diagnosis, everything I had been experiencing: the headaches, depression, anxiety, and insomnia—were all caused by an extreme hormonal imbalance. I was in a state of complete shock.
At the time, I only shared my diagnosis with my closest friends and some family members, but no one else. It was too much to explain, and I just didn’t want to deal with it. Almost exactly a year later, I started dating the guy who I would eventually marry. Thankfully, he has never cared about my inability to reproduce but even then, we still mostly kept things to ourselves.
A year ago, I decided to share our experience with infertility in a published article and across social media. In response, people commended my bravery and strength, but I don’t feel either of those things. And that is not what is motivating me to share my experience again today. As my husband and I have tried to build our family, I’ve mostly felt tired, frustrated, sad, and overwhelmed. Infertility is simply exhausting, and it is also terribly lonely. But in spite of all of that, I feel it is important for me to share our infertility experience publicly. Not because I’m strong—but because in doing so, I hope to make someone else feel less alone. My belief is that from every shared story, we collectively reduce the shame and stigma that is unnecessarily experienced by so many of us.
In sharing my story, I hope that I can help normalize infertility. I want us all to feel like it is just as normal for me to recount an experience like mine as it is for you—and all women—to recount an experience like theirs, whatever that may be. Because I believe that your pregnancy announcement and baby shower pictures, should live side by side on Instagram with my stories of pregnancy loss and embryos that didn’t make it. It is all normal and there is room for all of us.
My body is not able to perform the way I want it to, or the way the world expects it to, but that is all actually more normal than we realize, we just don’t talk about it. 1 in 8 couples experience infertility. Annually 4 million babies in this country are born using some form of assisted reproductive technology. 1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage. It just seems unfair and unreasonable to me to make women (and men) bear this burden alone.
If you care about families, about children, or about motherhood, you need to care about infertility and work to normalize the processes that so many of us go through to have children.
Marisa Renee Lee is the co-founder of Supportal, a platform that makes it easy for people to respond when someone they care about is faced with a life-changing challenge. She can be found online @marisareneelee