Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Cost of Infertility: We’re Not Just Talking Money

Recent research has shown that the stress levels of women with infertility are on par with women with heart disease, cancer and AIDS.

I liken the feelings of being infertile to those of losing a loved one. For some time after a loved one dies, you wake up in the morning and for a split second, everything is ok. You don’t remember that you no longer have that person in your life, but then it all comes flooding back and although you get out of bed and continue with your life, you are constantly carrying this burden of loss in your heart.  You are reminded of that person throughout each day and you mourn them.

Because I have experienced both, I can say with certainty that being infertile carries a lot of the same emotions. I wake in the morning and have a blissful moment in which I do not think about the fact that my body has betrayed me.  When the realization comes rushing back, sometimes it’s like a brick wall and other times it is just a constant nagging feeling.  Some days I don’t think about it too much but then I will see a show on TV or a Facebook post about a happy family and it will remind me that I can’t have that. When you are infertile you are mourning the loss of a dream and coping with the fact that you are unable to procreate.

For me, seeing pregnant women or hearing pregnancy announcements, does not make me angry. There is a misconception that infertile women are bitter and angry regarding other women's pregnancies. I am not mad at anyone else for getting pregnant. On the contrary, I am so happy for them and especially happy for those that are able to do so without medical intervention because I wouldn't wish infertility and treatment on my worst enemy. I am jealous of their joy though. I am jealous that they get to experience the joy of motherhood – that overwhelming love that no one can quite explain, that only a parent can understand. I am jealous that I may never get to experience that.

Add to those emotions the stress of multiple doctor visits a month and it is stressful and overwhelming. Most people go to the doctor once a year, maybe a few more times if they get the flu or a terrible cold. I go at least twice a month. And these aren’t the kind of appointments in which you just sit on the table and talk to the doc. Twice a month (at least) women going through treatment have a date with Mr. Transvaginal ultrasound wand. Let’s just say it requires that you undress from the waist down and leave it at that. The best is when the small group in the exam room multiplies because I happen to go to a clinic that is associated with a medical university. You know what that means? You guessed it: INTERNS! And third year interns need experience, so occasionally the doctor will ask if I mind if the intern conducts the exam. This is always fun because it’s like they are playing pin the tail on the donkey. Like blindfolded, dizzy children, they spend half the exam just poking around trying to figure out what they are looking for and the other half commenting on how they’ve “never seen to many cysts,” or “the amount of scar tissue is unbelievable.”

The poking doesn’t just stop at the doctor’s office. There are medications you have to administer to yourself, at home. When I was first told I would be giving myself injections, I thought, “You’re going to trust me with needles?” It was almost laughable. And terrifying. The first time I gave myself an injection it took a half hour before I could get up the nerve to do it. When I finally injected myself, I was so surprised by the sharp pinch, I pulled the needle out before injecting the medication and had to re-inject myself! Oops!

Then there is the stress the financial impact of pursuing treatment has on your life. I find myself feeling guilty for any extras in life. Want a candy bar? Nope. We need to save the money for IVF. How about taking a drive to the bay to go see your nieces play softball? Nope, we need to save the money for gas to drive three hours (each time) for doctor appointments instead. How about stopping for lunch to break up the drive back from the Fertility Clinic? Nope, that money we spend at Taco Bell could go towards treatment. It is difficult to not allow your life to revolve around your infertility diagnosis when everything you would like to do has to be scrapped so you can save money to pursue medical treatment. 

With other diseases, you are diagnosed and you seek treatment. The disease and treatment alone are overwhelming but insurance covers a large majority of the costs of the procedures and medications. Now imagine being diagnosed with a disease but in order to seek treatment you have to come up with all of the money to pay for it. The Affordable Care Act certainly doesn’t cover it. Private insurance won’t either.

While there are loans for infertility treatment available, the interest rates are incredibly high. Just the idea of applying for a loan is daunting. You find yourself thinking, if I get a loan that I have to make payments on for two or three or four years, what will I be depriving my future child of in order to be able to make the loan payments? How will I pay for their needs and contribute to a college fund and pay for the loan I had to take just to be able to get my body to work properly so I could have the child in the first place? Instead of just the normal financial concerns of how to afford having children, you have to add the amount of money you have to spend just have the chance to have a child.

And then there is the “Two Week Wait” this is that horrible time between the procedure (be it IUI or IVF) and when your monthly visitor should arrive. It is a time when you can do absolutely nothing but wait, second guess, pray and live your life as if you are pregnant, just in case you are because you certainly don’t want to drink, eat lunch meat or exercise too strenuously and do anything that could hurt that little bean that could potentially be inside you. If you do eat lunch meat or sushi or exercise too much and the cycle fails, you will forever wonder if it was because of that piece of salami you popped in your mouth at midnight the night after your IUI. Is there a medical reason to prove that that could have been the cause? Absolutely not. Does it matter? Absolutely not.  Sound crazy? Yup. And it is, but that’s what it comes down to when you are infertile, second guessing every move you make in your everyday life and wondering what you could do differently to change the fact that you cannot get pregnant.

Sometimes it gets to be too much but at those times you just have to remind yourself what’s a stake. If you don’t at least try, you don’t have the possibility of one day holding a child of your own in your arms. For every disappointment, there is that hope and it is that hope that keeps me going. If all the doctor visits and money spent and depression and craziness and despair means that I will someday hold my own tiny human, I’d do it a thousand times and then a thousand times again. For our child, I’ll move mountains. 

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