I recently had the opportunity to write an article for the women empowering bookazine, Ziva Voices. I met Dr. Kinga Mnich in March, shortly after I had left my Executive Director position. We were guest speakers at a Women’s Worth Alliance networking event, both asked to share our money stories.
While the “Davonna Money Story” warrants an entirely different blog entry, it goes without saying to anyone who knows me well …. this talk was the most vulnerable, personal, and one yet. I am grateful to Sherry Holley for encouraging me to speak. I needed to acknowledge my money philosophy and understand how I was going to go from a comfortable salary to a new business startup.
So much good came out of the evening… and the main byproduct was a friendship and instant connection with Ziva’s founder, Kinga. After a couple “let’s get deep real quick” coffee dates, authentic conversations, and in-depth story-sharing, she asked if I would be willing to write an article for Volume 3 of Ziva Voices. “Of course, I would love to!,” I responded….
…and then she said, “This is a big ask. I want you to write about your infertility journey…”
Whoa. Experiencing it was enough. Did I really want to put it on paper? Relive the three years of struggle through the writing process then worry about how people would receive it.?.?
Wisely, she told me to think about it. And I did.
I knew I needed to practice what I preached. I spent hours on this piece. A lot of tears, emotion, and reflection went into it. It was not easy, but it has been more healing than I could have ever imagined. And as an extra blessing, my sweet husband helped edit it. What a true testament of love to have been willing to reexperience (via storytelling on paper) the struggle and challenges that went into such a difficult time in our life.
So here it is. Please consider going to the Ziva page and downloading the FREE bookazine. You will receive a code once you share your email, and you don’t have to worry about spam. If you’re a woman or one that champions women, you should follow “Ziva Voice – Her Story in the Making” anyway.
The Pain of Infertility
By: Davonna Saier
I can never remember a time in my childhood that I wasn’t toting a baby doll. Every Christmas I was gifted the latest model – dolls that burped, crawled, and even cried if their sensor detected I was not nearby. I gave these “babies” the utmost care and love, knowing one day I would have a real one.
As a teenager, I had the typical millennial ‘American girl’ dream to go to college, meet the right man, establish myself in a responsible career, and then become a mom. That was the plan that I faithfully and diligently worked to bring to life, and it all came to pass… until the last step. I was 31 years old and had the most wonderful husband, a master’s degree, a fulfilling job, and supportive friends. I was ready to put my energy into raising a family. However, my attempts to carry a child, the ONE THING I always thought would be the easiest and most natural part of my journey, turned out to be the biggest challenge of my life… one that brought great despair, loneliness, and pain.
“Your AMH levels are incredibly low for your age. The only option you have is IVF.” I remember the doctor explaining my egg count and quality were below average. It was gut-wrenching news, but I was assured by the medical team and my own self-confidence that I could get pregnant. I believed it. After all, I had accomplished everything else I had planned to do. And so, for the next three years, I did things to my body, mind, and spirit that I could never have imagined as that little girl caring for my doll babies.
My daily routine and reproductive organs fell under a microscope of calculated regimens and instructions. I gave myself shots in my stomach that burned and caused my endocrinology system to completely consume me. I traveled 2-5 times a week to a clinic that was hours from my home for blood work, consults, and procedures. I endured multiple surgeries to have my eggs retrieved, hoping they would fertilize so embryos could then be put back in me. And when we got lucky enough in the process to get to the implantation stage, we would then have to wait for two forever-weeks in hopes of a positive pregnancy test.
I lost count of the number of trips, retrievals, embryos, surgeries, etc., but what I do remember is how many times I saw the two lines on the pregnancy test. Exactly twice. I bought fun announcement cards to surprise my family. I had the special blanket from my grandmother, enough onesies to dress the neighborhood, and the ‘nursery ideas’ Pinterest board marked as my favorite. We had names picked out. I bought the “Mom” car, and I was actively changing all aspects of my life to prepare for the child that was on the way.
Looking back, I have to laugh at how seriously I took trying to get pregnant. But I am also very proud of how I managed to do everything in my power to achieve the result I wanted so desperately. Anything scientific or superstitious, I did it. I took yoga classes, had acupuncture treatment, saw a chiropractor, drank only room temperature water out of glass, wore pearls, rubbed incense on my belly, put a rabbit’s food under my pillow, and kept my feet warm and legs elevated. I ingested special supplements and ate Brazilian nuts and goji berries. I prayed. I meditated. I consulted anyone with an opinion, including wet nurses, clerics, life coaches, wise older women I would meet on the street, and even a professional clairvoyant.
While the physical pains were a lot to endure, the psychological and emotional pains were greater still. I was and am to this day so fortunate to have a husband that loves me unconditionally and wants for me only what I want for myself. With him having two children from a previous marriage, it was all too easy for me to compare what I couldn’t give him to that which was given him before, and it was tearing me apart from the inside. I also come from a very small family, and the pressure I put on myself to give my mother a grandchild and make my grandparents great-grandparents was immense. I felt that because so many of my friends had and were having children, somehow, I was not measuring up to anyone’s expectations.
During the entire process of trying to conceive, and especially after the miscarriages, the smallest thing would break me down. I would pass the baby aisle in the department store and panic. I would hear a child crying and start crying myself. There were even times when my arms physically ached to hold a baby. So many people would ask me why I didn’t adopt a child, insisting that was the perfect fix for someone whose nature was denying motherhood. Friends and acquaintances would remind me women miscarry all the time and attempt to reassure me by saying “at least you know you can get pregnant” and “god has a plan.” I became exhausted having to explain myself to every well-meaning person that I eventually just started to smile and nod, and then quickly and abruptly change the subject.
I felt incredibly incomplete and unworthy of love. I resented the immense pouring of blood from my body with each miscarriage, and with every ensuing menstrual cycle, I relived the trauma. The ‘wasted’ time, the painful procedures, and the ‘trust the universe’ rituals I had practiced, all left me empty but for the terrible ache of a broken heart and the symptoms of PTSD. Add to that the fact that insurance did not pay a single penny. This journey had wiped out our savings and left us with nothing to show for it but debt and despair, and the financial strain only exacerbated the guilt.
I was hungry for empathy from other women but found it difficult to find friends who could relate. The loneliness and shame I felt was unbearable. My body was broken. My soul defeated, my heart lost. I had become so focused on what I thought I needed to complete me, that I no longer knew who “I” was. My doctor no longer offered reassurance, but instead simply stated as a matter of fact, that after this many failures, the only viable next step would be choosing an egg donor to replace what my body could not provide.
My spirit was exhausted, and I shut down. In the years we spent trying to get pregnant I had lost sight of why I even wanted a baby. I realized I was at a crossroads, and it was time to take a break and re-evaluate my life and my priorities. I needed to work on Davonna. I went to therapy. I went back to eating and drinking whatever I wanted. We adopted a kitten that was extremely pitiful and had health problems. I was immediately drawn to him because he looked the way my heart felt at the time. And I slowly gave myself permission to feel again.
During this break, I stopped forcing myself to be strong. For the first time in my adult life, I acknowledged my road was blocked and I had to find a detour. I let myself grieve the death of a little girl’s dream. I intentionally practiced self-love and thanked my body for all the good it did for me. I rediscovered the cherished relationship I have with my husband. I asked for what I needed from my friends. Ever so slowly, and with great tender care, I began a journey of re-discovering who I am and more importantly who I wanted to be.
Gradually I was able to acknowledge this truth – “The fact that I am not a mother does not define me as a woman.” I also came to realize that neither does my career, my car or home, my bank account, or even my marriage. Putting hard-earned sacred space between the pain of the past and an unknowable future has resulted in a newfound clarity in which I get to decide where my energy goes. Rediscovery for me now has become a never-ending process of growth and renewal, and I revel in each new opportunity to engage with our broken world as my best self. I am Davonna Saier. And I am childless by choice.