Monday, April 10, 2017

Healthy Habits: Infertility

Nadine Kenney Johnstone is author of Of This Much I’m Sure (She Writes Press, 2017), a memoir of her experiences struggling with IVF and illness, and the healing power of hope and love. Ultimately, Nadine is forced to come to terms with the stark differences between reality and the notion of “happily ever after” she once harbored, and to recognize that amid great unpredictability the only thing she can be sure of is the healing power of hope and love.
I had a chance to interview her to learn more about her story.

Why did you decide to write this book?

I decided to write this book because I felt like I was carrying a secret. Going through IVF (in-vitro fertilization) felt like having an affair. I was living a double life. During business hours, I was a university professor, but, before work at 6:30 in the morning, I’d be at the blood and ultrasound lab. Then, in the afternoon, I talked on the phone to the nurses about my results. In the evenings, I did my injections. It was all-consuming, and we told no one besides a couple of family members. But then, when I almost bled to death after my egg retrieval procedure, I needed to talk about it because I was fighting for my life. I was in the hospital for five days and then out of work for two and a half weeks. I could have lied about why I was out of commission, but I suddenly realized that our infertility struggles were nothing to be secretive about. Was I not allowed to talk about our story because, god forbid, it involved reproductive organs?

I went into my emergency surgery as one person, and came out a completely different woman. There’s a quote in my book that describes how I felt at the time. When I was clothed, no one could see the long scar down my abdomen from the emergency surgery, so I didn’t necessarily need to explain my story, but I wanted to warn the world that I wasn’t the same:

“There's no outward proof of what I've been through, so I don't have to talk about it, and yet I want to wear a pin that says, Tread cautiously, I've been through some shit lately.”

So, I started talking about it, and I started writing about it. I published an essay in PANK about our frozen embryos and the mental anguish of infertility, called “Nine Babies On Ice.” When I realized that our journey could fill a whole book, that’s when the memoir was born.

For those who haven't dealt with infertility, how can they support their friends and family that may struggle?

One of the hardest moments in our journey was when we found out that my sister-in-law was pregnant and had the same due date that we would have had if our IVF cycle had been successful.  I wanted to be happy for her and my in laws, but I was so jealous and heart-broken that I couldn’t help plan her baby shower or look at her ultrasounds. I couldn’t even go past the baby section at Target without sobbing. During that time, I felt like no-one was saying the right thing. Looking back, I now know that there is actually no “right thing” to say.

The number one thing to do is listen. This is actually much harder than it sounds. Listening is the only thing you should do, but there are many things you shouldn’t do. You shouldn’t tell them that everything happens for a reason, or that they just need to relax and they’ll get pregnant. You shouldn’t try to sell them on hormone treatments or IVF or adoption. They will decide what’s best for them when it’s best for them. Your job is to listen, acknowledge, and hug. Forgive them for being more sensitive than they normally would be, for being angry at other people’s joy. Give them a hall-pass.

What words of wisdom can you share for others who are struggling with fertility and treatments?

Repeat this mantra or find someone who will say it to you: “You will have your baby. Of This Much I’m Sure.” When I was at the lowest point in our journey--I’d almost died after the egg retrieval procedure, I was an anxious mess, my marriage was near dissolving, I was jealous of every mother I saw, all the doctors were telling us how low our conception odds were--I got an email from my husband’s cousin Amy. She’s a life coach and a doula. Her first sentences were: “You will have a baby, of this much I am sure.” I cannot tell you how hopeful and uplifting it was just to hear someone speak in affirmative, confident language.

Speak. Speak to yourself, to other people. But whatever you do, do not keep this journey a secret.

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