There is joy in suffering. Apparently, that is a message from the book of Philippians. I can’t claim that’s true — I am a Conservative Jew and I really can’t believe I am quoting the New Testament. But I was having a chat with one of my favorite friends, Ali, and she repeated this verse to me, and it really resonated.
Ali couldn’t be any more different than I am. She got pregnant very easily two times — and has two gorgeous girls — and she leads groups in her church in Birmingham, Alabama. She knows how to make homemade pie — I think she rocks an apron when she cooks — and I don’t think I have ever heard a naughty word pass her lips. I met her at a work function, and we somehow started chatting on the phone regularly. Slowly, she became one of my best friends. When my husband and I were unsuccessfully trying to become parents, her support and guidance gave me strength and comfort in a way nothing else did. She was my “person.”
My infertility journey ended up being a painful, 4.5-year struggle, and Ali was my saving grace. On top of the strongest desire to be a mom ever, I put pressure on myself to “be fruitful and multiply” as the Torah commands. I married a nice Jewish boy and we were both ready — why wasn’t this happening?!? It was a rough few years.
My daughter just turned 3 and today, Ali and I were reflecting on the experience. That’s when she made the statement, “there is joy in suffering”. She pointed out that there was no way that she and I would have formed such a strong friendship had it not been for my infertility and my willingness to open up to her. Of course, had she told me there is joy in suffering while I was going through the process, I probably would have punched her in the nose. At the time, I couldn’t see through the weeds.
Being on the other side of my infertility journey, however, I see now that so much good that came from it — and not just the birth of my daughter (though of course that’s the highlight). Here are four gems I gained from the experience.
1. I learned about empathy and friendship. I had a friend that was going through assisted reproduction during the same time I was. I remember one conversation, where I shared details of a cycle failure, and it was as if he was trying to one-up me and prove how his situation was worse than mine, like it was a pregnancy-failure competition. I had another friend call me, laughing, because she heard somebody crying over one failed IUI cycle. Smugly, she said that person had no idea what a cakewalk one cycle was, compared to the pain I’ve endured. Yes, my friend was trying to be nice, but my heart hurt for that person. I learned that people‘s pain is people’s pain — it’s not a competition. Nobody can convince you that things don’t hurt if they do — no matter what the situation is, it’s important to honor people’s feelings and not minimize their pain. Sometimes all it takes is a small gesture like a text message letting somebody know they are thought of to make them feel a little less alone and less sad.
2. My marriage would not be what it is today. My husband and I were newlyweds when we started trying to have a baby and had no idea what “for better or for worse” really meant. The process ended up being so long and painful that it could have made us closer or torn us apart — and I’m so grateful it was the former. Over the years, we found ways to make the very unsexy and unromantic process of assisted reproduction a little more personal: We would sometimes have early appointments, so we’d watch the sunrise over the Charleston Harbor together on our way to the office. We had a tradition to go to a restaurant across the street from our doc, sit at the bar and share some appetizers. It was a way to have a little fun and connect during the long process. To give ourselves a break, we traveled to St. John and Aruba — these Caribbean vacations are some of my favorite memories we’ve made as a couple.
3. It inspired my work. My infertility journey showed me how much of a need there is for evidence-based nutrition resources for couples. As a dietitian, I was appalled by how much bad information was floating around — how many fertility miracles were being sold, and how most people had no idea that small changes in their diet can increase their chances of success (and that goes for men, too). My journey inspired me to start my own business, www.NutritionNowCounseling.com, where I give personalized infertility, prenatal and postnatal nutrition advice. (While going through infertility treatments, if my doctor had told me I had to take MORE time out of my day to meet with ONE more healthcare provider, I would have lost it! While I used to work for a major corporation, now my goal is to help families sort through the “muck” and give them the best personalized, low cost, and convenient nutrition advice from an expert who has been there, too.
4. Appreciation of my daughter. Yes, this may seem obvious, but it has to be stated. During the sleepless newborn nights, painful breastfeeding, and total change in my lifestyle, I made sure I appreciated every moment because I worked HARD to get where I was. Yes, there were times where being a new mom was hard (so hard!), but I tried to remind myself how lucky I am that I get to be a mama and embrace the cliché to “enjoy every moment.” Sometimes I still can’t believe my daughter is here and, looking back, all the needles, two week waits, tears, and frustrations were 100% worth it.