NIAW – Spotlight on Infertility | Sound Shore Moms of Westchester

Hi, it’s Whitney!

I wanted to chat about something very near and dear to my heart today – infertility. April 23rd–29th is National Infertility Awareness Week, and given that approximately 1 in 8 couples in the United States have experienced infertility, chances are you or someone you know has been impacted by it. A little over 7 years ago, we were told IVF was the only way we would be able to conceive a baby. I felt completely alone, and it was only years later that I realized so many other women I knew were also impacted by it in some shape or form. I wish I had known then just how common it was because infertility can be so incredibly isolating. Many people who experience it do not feel comfortable sharing, and those who haven’t may not know just how stressful the process is or what to say.

When I shared a post about my own journey last year, Cassandra Merolla reached out to share her experience as well. She is a Larchmont mom and at the time, was pregnant with her son, Miles, conceived via IVF. We both felt compelled to share our stories and hopefully bring some awareness to what can be such a sensitive topic to talk about. Below is some of what Cassandra has experienced dealing with infertility. If you are struggling with infertility, I hope this post gives you some comfort and lets you know that you are not alone. If you know someone who is, I hope this post gives a little insight into what your friend or loved one is currently experiencing.

Can you tell us a little bit about your family? Where in Westchester do you live?


My husband (Jamie), son (Miles, 9 months), and I live in and love Larchmont! Jamie was born and raised in Larchmont and we knew we wanted to move back around when we were ready to start a family. Jamie works at a corporate credit card startup and I’m a real estate agent at Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s in Larchmont. We have a mini bernedoodle, Murphy, who is quite popular around town.


You struggled with infertility and miscarriage before having your son – what prompted you to seek help for infertility?


We were trying to conceive for about a year and I just felt in my gut that something was wrong (it took us ~3 more years once we started fertility treatments). I was using ovulation tests and they never showed that I was ovulating. I suffered from pelvic pain and ruptured ovarian cysts in the past but birth control, which I was on for many years, masked the symptoms. Once I went off birth control, the symptoms started to return and I went to my OB GYN for a consult.

Tell us a little bit about your path to IVF – did you consult with your OB/GYN? Did you seek care from a Reproductive Endocrinologist?
During that appointment with my OB GYN that I just mentioned, the doctor found a uterine septum, which is a congenital anomaly that puts you at higher risk for miscarriage, premature labor and some studies have shown it is also linked to decreased fertility. We scheduled a surgery for the septum but before the surgery I was suffering again from severe pelvic pain. We decided with my doctor that I would undergo a laparoscopy (3 small incisions in the abdomen) to see if there was the presence of anything abnormal beyond the septum issue. From that laparoscopy, I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis, which informed our treatment plan moving forward and the need to undergo fertility treatments with a reproductive endocrinologist manipulating my cycles using drugs.
What were some of the treatments and procedures you went through before moving to IVF?
First, I had my septum corrected and a laparoscopy during which they removed endometriosis lesions. After that, we did a few rounds of IUI unsuccessfully and then moved onto IVF. Our first two rounds of IVF were unsuccessful (we had 1 normal embryo from both cycles, which is the embryo I later miscarried). Thankfully, after my miscarriage, we had one successful round of IVF, which brought us our son.
Were there any tips or tricks you learned along the way to make the process a little easier on yourself?
Experiencing infertility is a very isolating process over which you have very little control. The effort involved is immense and it often feels like you’re working so hard and getting nowhere. It can take a long time to get the results you want during which your body will undergo changes, your spirit can be compromised, and certain relationships with close friends or family may become more challenging. It’s important to control what you can control (and recognize what you can’t). What I felt I lacked when it came to control of my body, I channeled into taking control of other aspects of my life, mainly my career. I knew I wanted to be a real estate agent for a very long time but envisioned it as something I would do once I was a bit older and had already established a family. I left a wonderful job in tech with great benefits that I had worked towards for years because I decided that my primary focus and goal was first to become a mother. The nature of going for monitoring appointments around 7am multiples times a week and the impact of continuous rounds of IVF was not well aligned with a demanding corporate quota carrying sales job. I’m so glad I made the change and that I was more established in my career before I had my son!
From your experience, when do you think someone should raise the question of infertility with their doctor?
It’s a tough question because it’s so personal. For me, I had a partner for almost 10 years by the time I went through fertility treatments. In retrospect, I wish we had approached it sooner. We knew we wanted kids and our relationship was solid. But it just didn’t work out that way. We started seeking answers when we were trying to conceive unsuccessfully (as most do).
There is something I think to be said for understanding your familial medical history. We later learned that my mom had struggled with some of the issues I did and perhaps there were some red flags missed along the way. I think it’s never a bad idea to familiarize yourself with your ovulation cycle because that’s ultimately your key to getting pregnant. There’s no harm in being in touch with that well before you want kids or even if you don’t.
What is something you’d like those not experiencing infertility to know?
Fertility treatments can truly wreak havoc on someone’s mind and body. There is a huge time commitment involved, which typically (at least for IVF cycles), consists of multiple days a week of monitoring appointments in early morning hours and blood labs. You’re injecting yourself (or having a loved one help you) sometimes multiple times a day for weeks at a time. It’s really hard if you’re afraid of needles..!
There is also a ton of waiting. We wait for the body to respond to the drugs and to be in the perfect state for an egg retrieval. If you’re creating embryos, then you wait a few days to see what got to the blastocyst stage and then if you choose to do genetic testing, it can be another 2-3 weeks for results. That waiting period is incredibly anxiety provoking.
Lastly, it’s just a heavy process. Did you know that people going through IVF have to predetermine what to do with their embryos if they or their spouse dies or they get divorced? And that many people pay for embryos to be stored in freezers for years because they can’t stand the thought of discarding something they worked so hard to achieve .. ?
Is there anything you suggest doing to help support someone who is experiencing infertility?
Being a good listener is paramount. In my experience, the relationships I had to dial back were the ones where people tried to relate to me but just didn’t share my experience and ultimately said really hurtful things. No one ever meant harm but unless you’ve personally gone through infertility, it is hard to relate and to understand the physical and mental pain associated.  People want to suggest things to help you: acupuncture, therapy, vitamins, diets…and they also may try to suggest other ways to have a baby. People going through infertility know that adoption, egg donors, surrogates, etc all exist and are beautiful pathways to parenthood but the way that they wish to embark on their own journey to parenthood is their own choice. It’s important to just listen but I also felt it was usually ok when friends or family asked me questions from a place of wanting to understand. Other than listening, be mindful of how you’re showing up for your loved ones going through this. If you’re blessed to have your own kids, have you thought about how you speak about them? I personally found friends and family complaining about their kids to be very triggering. Have you asked your friend to go to lunch or for a walk? Checked up on them? Have you thought about your friends who don’t have partners? Maybe they are doing egg freezing proactively and feeling even more alone. The little things really matter and I’m so appreciative to the supportive community I had that lifted me up and got me through. And I thank my lucky stars every day that I have a beautiful baby boy who brightens my life in ways I could have never imagined.

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