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Shame on Me: The Story of an Infertile Woman by Elizabeth Halstead-Stephens


Little girls play with dolls, developing their motherly instincts. We play house, dreaming of our future, delighting in the joys of a happy marriage with lots of children. Once married, motherhood emerges as we surrender to her sweet embrace. But what about me? As an infertile woman, I am left ashamed, my sweet surrender falls on deaf ears. This journey of acceptance is not unique. Many women, scrutinized by a judgmental society, must unlearn shame, layer by layer.


Here is my shame: my tubes are blocked; therefore, I cannot get pregnant. Not ever, no matter how hard I pray or try. This is my story.


I didn’t always carry this burden. The journey of motherhood brought this on me. When I first stepped onto this path I had hope, hope that diminished into heartache. Throughout my life, I have changed my mind about many things, given up countless dreams, but becoming a mother was never a discarded dream. I have always wanted children. My family used to call me the “Pied Piper” —wherever I was, children just gravitated towards me — making the fact that I might never have children even more difficult to swallow.


After almost a year and a half of trying, I started to worry. I went for my yearly well-woman exam and I mumbled the words to the nurse, “I can’t get pregnant.” She ordered a slew of intrusive tests and told me not to worry “yet”, the doctor would be able to help. I sat impatiently in the cold examination room as my hopes and fears rapidly began their typical boxing match. I tried my hardest not to get hit by my negative thoughts. After what seemed like too long, my gynecologist finally walked in and shook my hand with a frigid limpness. She told me I have PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome — a misdiagnosis at the time — gave me a six-month prescription to Clomid, a drug used to increase the quality of eggs, and said, “You are under 35; you still have time before your eggs start to become stale,” Those words haunt me even now.


That same day, I went to my pharmacy, convinced that all I needed was the Clomid to get pregnant. There I met what I consider my first comrade on this infertile journey: the pharmacist, a young, intelligent, beautiful woman, with skin that illuminated who told me her story of infertility, and I listened, not because I wanted wisdom, but because I wanted to bond with her, to connect our paths in our shared struggle. She slowly glanced down, and I saw “shame” that masked her words as they fought to get out. “I can’t get pregnant, I have been on Clomid for months. I sort of… just gave up,”she said with a sigh.


I expelled words of hope without even thinking, “This is a fluke. Our time will come. We both have time.” At that time, I really believed that we would both end up pregnant, but life is full of dreams deferred. So we boxed up each other’s support for the rainy days to come. I had no idea, then, that my rainy days would result in the evacuation of hope.


My husband, always optimistic, never surrendered our dream to have a baby. Because of him, I still felt that we were destined to have that “miracle” baby. You know, the one who is conceived when you stop trying, the kind of story that starts off with, “I was told that I can’t ever have babies, but oops, I got pregnant.” These stories always seem to find me like debt collectors. Unfortunately no miracle baby ever showed up at my door. I am still infertile, and while I pretend to celebrate each woman’s miracle-baby story on Facebook, I am filled with sadness. I feel that I will never get pregnant.
I have gone to “specialists”. Justified, argued, denied my experience with family and friends. I tried modern science, IVF with fingers crossed only to hear, after a month of hormone shots in the stomach, that it failed — my baby a victim of an early miscarriage.


“This will work; I have faith,” said so many over and over as I roll my eyes. And yet, I still keep trying, and in the process, keep spending money only my mother is willing to invest. She, like my husband, tries her best to stay positive as my hope keeps diminishing.

 


IVF dangled its ginger chance. The doctor spoke lies, veiled in grey. He gave me hope, “Do this, do that; either way, you have a 50% chance of getting pregnant, and I will do everything I can to make it happen.” But I had an early miscarriage, what doctors call a chemical pregnancy. During this failed attempt, the doctor stripped me of my grief. He made me feel like it was my fault. “Well, I had a feeling that your eggs were not a great quality. This failed attempt confirmed my suspicion. Here are your choices, try again but you only have a 10% chance, get donor eggs, unblock your tubes, or adopt.” His words devoured my hope, shred it into millions of pieces, leaving me ashamed, my age dangling before me in neon lights.


Being 36 makes me check things, my hands, my crow’s feet, my memory, my body, I now feel too old to have a baby. The doctor’s heartless dismissal, branded the letter “I” on me, a constant reminder that I am infertile.


But I refuse to make him and society tell me how to feel. We, as women, will always feel unworthy, whether about our looks, weight, motherly abilities, or intelligence. Why? We watch reality TV shows that pit woman against woman. We continue to vote in lawmakers who decide what we can and cannot do with our bodies. But most of all, we allow our insecurities to infiltrate our thoughts--always--to devour our self-worth.


As I start to come to terms with my infertility, I realize that I am not alone. My shame is not unique. Women struggle, suffer pangs of heartache silently. We deny our pain and heartache because we are ashamed, ashamed of what we can’t control. Women need to stop judging and criticizing one another. Let’s instead celebrate our differences, high five our happiness, hug each other in support. Let’s remove our glasses, so that our beauty can fan out its colors.

United, we will become stronger, continue to change an unjust world that allows the establishment to dictate our existence. I share my story because I am not ashamed. I share my story because I am not alone. Talking is the kryptonite people fear. Let’s stop hiding and start talking.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Halstead-Stephens is a genuine Florida cracker—born and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida, with short stints in New York City and Los Angeles. She likes to run, bake delicacies, and prepare healthy, vegetarian meals to the lamentations of her carnivore husband. Due to her caring and considerate nature, Elizabeth has gone into the world of teaching, helping the youth of America differentiate between the correct forms of their/they’re/there. This daily struggle makes her long to get back into the calming and beneficial effects of yoga, and is currently looking for a craft beer/yoga combo class. While she fiercely loves her husband of 4+ years, she can be found worshipping at the altar of Edward Sharpe whenever he comes to the tri-state area.

12 comments


  • Jennifer Cipolla

    Leesa
    You are strong, beautiful, and one of the sweetest women I know. This struggle is real for so many of us and you’ve captured it so eloquently. It’s something no woman prepares for but there should be no shame. We are a part of a community of women who share this (oftentimes) silent struggle and we need to remember: we are validated in our feelings. We have a right to feel sad, angry, and every emotion in between. We should never feel trivialized or invalidated for our journey. Love you!!!


  • Jason Petronella

    We love you, Leesa. You are perfect just the way you are.


  • Paul Stephens

    I know 3 women that have had such an amazing impact on others lives by just being themselves that everyone they meet loves them. These women would do anything for anyone and expect nothing in return. My mother in law, my mom, and my wife. You all get a glimpse of how amazing Leesa is, I am the lucky SOB that gets to experience it for the rest of my life, or until that dirty hippy Edward Whatshisname comes calling. Words can not express how proud I am of my wife, and how unsurprised I am at her openness and ability to touch others. She will be the first to tell you this is our journey, but this is her story and I am glad she gets to share it. I love you Chica.


  • Nancy Lester

    Thank you for your beautifully expressed honesty.


  • Sharon Marsh

    Leesa,
    You are magnificent and a treasure!
    Love you,
    Sharon


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