I long wondered about sharing my story on such a personal matter here. After all, this is a food blog and even if I share some bites of my life from time to time, I figured this was way too personal and maybe simply inappropriate.
Would anyone care anyway (except the curious minds who excitedly click anytime they see some crusty bad news about someone – sorry to be bitter, but yes, they exist)? And what’s the purpose of telling my story? Would it help me to feel better? Would it change anything or will I regret it immediately? So many questions I couldn’t answer and while continuing my journey to hell on my own, you kept seeing these beautiful yummy recipes coming to you, as if everything was great in a perfect world.
The truth is more complicated. There’s always the perfect balance to find between the blogging life and the real one and it’s not an easy thing. Eventually, I decided to open myself and be true to you. Even if it hurts, doesn’t lead anywhere, and makes me feel naked and exposed. After all, we’re all humans with our struggles in life, even those exposing their apparently glittering life.
Where it all begins
But let me go back to the beginning. To state the obvious, I have always wanted to have children in my life. This might sound obvious to you but I want to point out here that not all women want children. I have several girlfriends who never felt like being a mom and/or just don’t want any children for personal reasons that I truly respect.
But as far as I’m concerned, having children has always been part of my life plans. I was six when my younger sister was born and I remember every part of it. I loved taking care of her and preparing her morning breakfast just for fun (I was already into food, obviously). I also have another sister, plenty of cousins, and love this whole big family idea.
A story of 2 people
Fast forward to my mid-twenties, I met the one who would later become my husband. I lived in Sweden at the time (FYI I’m French) and we spent our first years together traveling the world, soaking into the Swedish culture, and living our best life (whatever that means).
When I turned 30, I got laid off after months of moral harassment from my boss and found myself without a job, drenched physically and emotionally, and wondering what to do with my life. I couldn’t seriously pretend to another job given my mental health and low self-esteem at the time, so I decided to give the blog a shot, trying to turn it into a business. I clearly underestimated that being an entrepreneur requires strong human skills and it all ended poorly at the time. I was simply not ready – yet. In the middle of all this, I started feeling ready to start a family. This was obviously not the best time, not the classic steady job-wedding-kids linear thinking either. But after all, did it matter if we did everything reversed?
As the idea was progressing in my mind, I mentioned it to my boyfriend but he was not ready. I don’t think there is such a thing as being ready to start a family anyways, but I couldn’t push him either. We had to both feel this strong desire of doing it together, and back then I was alone in this journey so I had to give it a little bit more time. We started not long after, on and off, slowly getting used to the idea together.
Is the body clock a real thing?
Then comes this endless question: is the body clock a real thing? I always pushed back against this idea, which was for me nothing but pure pressure from our society. And I, myself, didn’t really feel concerned by this whole idea. Until I finally felt ready in my body. I always knew I wanted children but there was no rush for it, until I started feeling it for real.
But then again, it might have been biased by seeing my friends around, because whether the body clock is real or not, you can’t deny that most people around their thirties start a family. Whether you like it or not, this plays an important role in your life choices as well. When your friends have kids, they somehow move on and you are left behind as if you couldn’t really understand what’s life is about. This is not true for everyone of course, but sadly almost.
Married. Now what?
Along the way, we moved to the US and got married, which somehow formalized the whole thing (in the sense that when you get married, people expect you to start a family not so long after). With another full time job in between and a full mental health recovery, I also finally managed to make a career out of the blog, learning from my previous mistakes and doing way better. Things are well in this regard, and I’m so happy and proud that I never gave up and kept fighting for my dream-job no matter what (and I don’t care about people who still think it’s just a hobby).
Preparing the wedding kept us busy for some time and somehow distracted our minds from the obsession of getting pregnant absolutely. Right after the wedding however, it became normal to everyone around us to ask about our next steps (pure pressure). One of my relatives reminded me that the clock was on and I had to hurry up as it wouldn’t always “work” (i.e. getting pregnant) for me. Another one shamelessly put her hand on my belly asking when the baby was expected. I was shocked and I still am today when re-thinking about it. A last one, openly asked in front of all my family whether I was pregnant. Surprisingly, the ones I feared the most would ask this question, my parents, never asked a single thing about it, and I thank them for that.
What’s up, doc?
In my now almost mid-thirties, the clock was officially on and I decided to meet up with an OB-GYN to make sure everything was functioning normally for both of us. My experience here is very American and it came along with a cultural shock. I first told the doctor that I had done previous fertility tests and they all came out normal. So, I asked her, is there a possibility it changed? Her answer was immediate and cold: Yes, you could be infertile now.
And my world collapsed. I have always been healthy in all regards, always had a pretty balanced diet with no deficiency whatsoever, never drank much alcohol, always worked out regularly… Without focusing on that too much either, let’s say that I have always been healthy overall. And then with no tact she suddenly destroyed my world and put me in the infertility category, and treating me that way straight away without having any test results yet.
There comes the cultural aspect about the medical approach. If we set aside the financial aspect of the American healthcare system (to which I dedicated a whole section below), there is a truth behind the medical aspect when you live abroad: we usually tend to find that our home country healthcare system is best, no matter the quality of treatments. Healthcare remains a human experience above all, and it comes along with a trust relationship between the doctor and the patient. The language barrier can add up but is very minimal compared with the human aspect.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
So there I was, with this cold American OB-GYN who clearly had no psychology notions whatsoever and put me in the infertility category with no evidence. In fact, all further fertility tests from both my husband and I came out normal and we were left in our loneliness.
Meanwhile, babies were blooming everywhere around us (age factor combined with the obsession of seeing around you what you want the most for yourself). I remember this one time last summer at a big dinner with friends, the one sat in front on me suddenly explained in details how she had just read the positive result on her pregnancy test. I stayed strong in front of everyone but cried every tear of my body deep inside. She now has given birth to her baby. Another dear friend who didn’t really care about motherhood announced me she got pregnant, although she didn’t really plan it (making things even worse for me actually).
And these are only two examples. I like these friends dearly and I know they didn’t want to hurt me in any way; they didn’t even realize the impact their words had on me and I can’t blame them for that of course. In fact I should be happy for them (and I try to believe that deep down inside I am) but the truth is that it has become a far too sensitive topic for me. Oh, and I don’t even mention all those success stories of everyone over-exposing their pregnancies on Instagram. It’s like a little reminder every single time.
So I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting again, looking at myself in the mirror in the bathroom and facing this flat belly (at least I got that – and don’t tell me that it’s because I never got pregnant). You slowly enter this vicious circle where there is no way out. Everyone keeps reminding you that the more you think about it, the worse it is, the more you stress, the higher chances it won’t work. Thank you for this awesome life advice, it makes me stress even more. And at the same time the doctors keep reminding you about the age factor. It’s a losing game on all sides.
Time for action!
“We’re in 2019 and luckily there are ways to make it happen anyway, so eventually it should happen” is what I kept repeating to myself while going on on this emotionally and physically exhausting and endless journey. But you can’t keep waiting forever, so at some point you need to acknowledge the facts and both start a survival process and a medical one.
I started hormonal medical treatments and at the same time I started my survival life. At this point, I was really drenched and was even blogging on automatic mode (while still doing my best to make every new recipe better than the previous one). So I looked for my options and I found two of them: working out and medical mental health support. The latter didn’t work so well on me, and I almost felt like everything was my own responsibility, so I stopped. Working out however was a much better option on the long run.
To make sure I wouldn’t give up, my husband and I joined a gym and even subscribed to a half marathon. Again, I was planning all this on a survival mode, and I clearly didn’t intend to run a half marathon for the right reasons – hence, I didn’t do it, ha! Yoga however, is what helped me the most. I took yoga classes at the gym, and even though I clearly never really cared about yoga and its spiritual principles (sorry to all yogi out there), I suddenly found an interest in it after I met a rather crazy yoga teacher who does teach some hip-hop yoga / upbeat yoga. I can’t explain why it works so well for me but I think it’s a combination of things: the teacher’s vibes, his voice (yes, for real!), the way things resonate in me and the idea of letting go while pushing my body’s boundaries a little bit further each time – yes, it’s a rather challenging type of yoga, but super fun too.
The crazy overpriced medical care system in the US
Now let’s dig in into the not so sexy or glamorous medical aspect of infertility (I won’t go too much in details here). I started with the basic hormonal treatments (clomid, if you ever heard of it) for a few months. It was a blessing I was working out at the same time because not only the medicine did not work but it also came with considerable share of side effects, the main one being the depression symptoms. I didn’t realize that until later and thought I was just not mentally healthy anymore. You also have the psychological effect of acknowledging that you need help to conceive. And this, believe me, can be very hard. A good friend of mine, now pregnant, told me once that infertility was ok because I had options. Overall yes, but it’s a mental journey too. You somehow have to mourn any natural pregnancy, which is hard.
When eventually I said to my OB-GYN that I was feeling sad, lonely and desperate in this journey, she sat down, annoyed, and gave me a list of therapy counselors to contact. I took the list and never went back to this doctor. It was time to change for someone more positive about my fertility/infertility journey. This turned out to be a dedicated clinic. I entered the two-level American medical system the hard way. At my first visit, I paid $1,000 upfront, without any guarantee of treatments yet.
I don’t want to go too much into details on this topic but to keep it simple, the two-level medical system I am referring to is based on two categories: the wealthy people who can afford an expensive and much better insurance, and all the other ones who are stuck with a poor insurance (or no insurance at all). If you add that wealthy people tend to be healthier as well, this means that the system is further dragging down lower incomes. When it comes to fertility – and life here as a matter of fact – it means that we are not all equal and can’t all afford to be pregnant. Being French where medicine is a shared national responsibility, I can’t stand up for the American medical system the way it is now – even though I know the French system is not perfect either.
The medical human experience also tends to be of much higher quality in a private clinic too. Actually, my new doctor is the sweetest you could possibly meet. She herself, dealt with her own fertility issues, and no one could express more empathy and understanding of this stressful journey better than she does. She is also very good when it comes to the educational part and really takes the time to explain everything, letting you ask as many questions as possible and trying to explore all the options, taking into account the financial aspects. She even took the time to call me over the weekend after I sent a long email full of questions about next steps. I could hear her kids playing behind her as she was on the phone but she took the time for me anyway. Because she understands. Because she cares.
Clomid was doubled with IUI (insemination for those who don’t know) and sadly none of these options worked either, after a few trials and something between 5 to $10,000 spent (I don’t want to count). Again, and even though we now knew we had some medical support, we were left in our status quo. The next step was… IVF. And then we discovered the cost behind it, learned that the price ranged between $26-30,000 to $100,000 or more depending on the number of trials. This is when we learned that our medical insurance did not cover infertility although it’s mandatory in Illinois, but there is a legal loophole. So it means we had to pay the whole process ourselves. And while we are still exploring our options today, time flies and the countdown is on.
Going through it all together
I chose to talk for myself here rather than for the two of us, my husband David and I, as I did not want to reveal too much of my personal life. This is my blog, not my husband ones, and I want to keep it that way.
Now if you ask me, I would love to tell you that at least, and despite all of what we are going through, we are a very solid couple, caring for each other, and strong enough to go through this all together. But the truth is that this journey has been shaking us way more we ever wanted to. It is brutal, it hurts, and you find yourself devastated with emptiness. We are together though, and our love for each other helps us to believe great things will happen.
Meanwhile I started some chiropractic and acupuncture sessions with an amazing and super kind practitioner in Chicago, trying to figure out what to do next. While I am suspended to a “maybe-hopefully” happy-ending, all options remain open, from either a natural pregnancy, an IVF or ultimately a possible adoption. Waiting and fighting has been my life for several years now and I will for sure need even more courage to go through the coming steps.
Before ending my personal story, I would like to point out here that we all have our struggles in life, and while I am going through this all, some are fighting even worse situations or diseases. I’m aware of that and I want you to know that my thoughts are with you too. As for myself, there is hope, I think, and life is great overall – I have a very supportive husband and I’m lucky to be able to live my dream job. It is just as not glamorous as you might think it is through a phone screen. Behind my large smile comes a more contrasted reality and it’s important you know it too. Because again, we are all humans, with everything it means.
Thank you for taking the time to read me. It took me months before I finally decided to write this post, weeks before I published it, and believe me it really takes courage to do it. But while I’m opening myself, I know some of you secretly suffer the same infertility issues, faking this smile in front of everyone while struggling inside with the hope of a baby that never comes. If you are one of them, I want you to know that I feel you a 100%. You are not alone, and feel free to share your thoughts either in comments or by email if you prefer to keep it private (you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org). I will make sure I answer to all of you individually. That was it for today. Again thank you for reading me and see you soon for more exciting foodie projects.