It took me six years and two minutes to become a mom.
On November 5th, 2018, my life changed in the craziest and most wonderful way when at 5:19 pm, I gave birth to my son, Malachi, and at 5:20 pm to my daughter, Amalia. I’ve always wanted to be a mom and really did always dream of having twins. But in those two minutes, my dream came true after seeing the impossible made possible.
Becoming a mom is by far the project I’ve worked on more than any other over the last decade of my life. Of course, no one ever plans on that; my husband Isaac and I thought the road would be straightforward and quick (doesn’t everyone?).
Let me back up here.
Our journey to parenthood began on a romantic trip to Italy when we’d been married for two years. We’d had friends who had trouble conceiving and always felt grateful that our story would be different. We just had a feeling that it would happen for us, and we were confident we’d be great parents. I ran around Italy with ovulation tests, peeing on sticks, and setting timers at fancy museums and vineyards. By the plane ride home, Isaac was convinced that we were pregnant and that it had happened on the first try. Two weeks later, when our first “not pregnant” appeared on the stick, Isaac said, “OK, here begins our journey.” And he was right; it did begin our journey, but little did we know what that would involve.
"I remember throwing away that first test that read 'not pregnant.'"
I tossed it in the bathroom trash, went to work, and when I got home, I saw it still sitting in the trash, face up, and was like, “I GET IT! I’M NOT PREGNANT!” After that, I learned to place the test face down and under a tissue… a guaranteed way to ensure I didn’t have to see it again.
A year of trying went by, and then two. By the end of those two years, I was referred to multiple fertility doctors. Yet, we still weren’t acknowledging that there was a problem. It’s tough to explain, but I think the brain makes excuses for you to protect you. Mine did, anyway. It was stress, it was diet, it was not the right time, it was my job, or it was his job. It was a lot of things, but it wasn’t infertility. We decided we’d keep trying “naturally.” (“Naturally” is a term I have come to hate because it implies that ART, Assisted Reproductive Technology, is not natural.)
So after three years with no success, we were finally ready to enlist help, and though we were disappointed to need it, we were still optimistic. We started with IUI (the “gateway treatment”) as a first step since no specific fertility issues were found.
Too many IUIs later (four procedures in four months – each with more intense drugs) and with no pregnancy to speak of, our dreaded IVF journey began. Hearing the words “IVF” upped all stakes. Our emotions soared. Everything felt important, precious, delicate, intense, and expensive. It added stress to our marriage, as is to be expected. It felt like everything about Isaac had to be perfect — even more perfect than usual — because if it wasn’t perfect, why were we going through this insane effort and financial strain to procreate with each other?
In addition to all the interventions on the medical front, I tried all sorts of Eastern medicine-inspired boosters, diet tips, teas, and Chinese herbs. I’d started going to acupuncture as the first line of what I call “oomie goomie” help because many fertility doctors actually believe that acupuncture can help with fertility and some studies have shown success. My acupuncturist put me on an eating plan: no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, and no nightshades (eggplant, tomato, pepper, potato). I followed the diet to a T, save for wine since, as I saw it, wine was fruit, so therefore, should be allowed. I felt great, actually. It wasn’t easy, but I think following this regimen kept me feeling balanced, healthy, and thin in the face of all those hormone shots. Of course, I’d have traded it all for a pregnancy.
We spent all those years trying not to get pregnant, and then when we wanted it, it didn't come, which just seemed cruel and twisted. It made me think about things I didn’t want to think: Why was G-d doing this to us? What lessons were we supposed to learn? Why did I feel so strongly that I was meant to be a mother when clearly I wasn’t? How could I keep going? How could I not?
"Having unexplained infertility is like waking up every day in a state of grief."
There’s a part of your heart that permanently pangs with sadness and sometimes anger, a sense of void, and also sometimes a teeny bit of hope. Infertility took its toll on us, of course. But what we didn’t expect was the way it would take a toll on our other relationships. We had friends who knew what we were going through, but in trying to be polite and respectful to us, never once checked on us or asked how we were. Sometimes, it became awkward, but most times it was just isolating. Even with some of our closest friends and family, we didn’t know how to share our grief and didn’t always feel the support we needed when we did share.
Another major piece of this process was the cost. We fell into the category of no insurance help or supplementation and went out of pocket for everything. We thought, “Everyone has the same right to want a family,” so we pulled from our small 401(k)s, and we went through our savings. Every penny we had went towards this venture, plus pennies we didn’t have, also known as credit cards.
For me, it was always about this: I didn’t want to wake up one day thinking, “If only I’d have found another $10K, would we be parents? If only I’d have maxed that one card… would I stop yearning for a pizza birthday party with a dinosaur cake?” I had these thoughts. A lot. I rationalized it like this: Money can (hopefully) come back into my life, but fertile years can’t.
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So maybe you’re wondering how we finally got the happy ending: our IUIs, four retrievals, two clinics, 1,233-second opinions, eight (EIGHT!!) transfers, a ton of healthy embryos that went nowhere, an 8-week loss, an ectopic pregnancy, two hysteroscopies, and a reduction (from three to two - the chances of which were under 3%)…brought us to our twins.
When I did finally emerge on the other side with babies in hand, I founded InCircle Fertility. I personally understood the immense gap between the clinic, doctor, patient, and therapist experience. I knew there was a niche there to be able to provide support from someone who’s been there. With a background in Behavioral Science, Drama, Improvisation, and Marketing, and as a Certified Life Coach, it was an unexpected way to bridge all of my skills and truly hold the hearts of others navigating this path.
"I really never thought I’d get pregnant. Nearly 5 years later, it's still hard."
Half the time, I still look at Malachi and Amalia and can’t even wrap my head around where they came from. The other half of the time, I look at them and ask myself how the f*#k I’m going to do this. A fellow mom-of-twins friend recently compared the experience of raising infant twins to getting on a roller coaster and discovering your seat buckle doesn’t work. She’s exactly right, and you could say the same about infertility. Before you even have a chance to tell anyone about the buckle, the ride is pulling out of the station.
Abbe Feder is a Certified Life & Fertility Coach and the host of Rescripted’s virtual support group for those navigating infertility and pregnancy loss. Abbe went through 12 IVF attempts, a miscarriage, and an ectopic pregnancy before finally emerging on the ‘other side’ of infertility. She now combines her professional expertise and an abundance of empathy as the Founder of InCircle Fertility.