National Infertility Awareness Week: Interview with Charmeia Shell
This week marks the beginning of National Infertility Awareness Week….
…and we understand and empathize with women all over the world who struggle with infertility. In honor of this week, we have one of our former clients, Charmeia Shell, who was kind enough to share her story and journey through infertility to the birth of her baby girl. We hope that through her story, those of you who are struggling with infertility can be encouraged.
1. How long have you struggled with Infertility?
2. What treatments did you try before doing IUI?
3. What made you decide to do IUI vs. IVF?
We decided to start with IUI because our insurance covered 50% of the cost. IVF is not covered under our insurance.
4. Did infertility impact the way you wanted to give birth?
I think the process of becoming pregnant due to infertility did have an impact on the way I wanted to give birth. Daily injections and hormone medications for months does affect the body.
5. Can you tell us how you would describe your birth?
My birth was stress-free and very calm. The pain management techniques helped with the contractions.
6. Did you have a doula? If so, in what way did this impact your birth?
Yes, my doula helped keep me on my predetermined birth plan and helped encourage me along the way.
7. What would you like other Black women to know about infertility?
I would like people to talk about it. Seek support groups to help with the possible depression and loneliness.
“My husband and I got married on November 7, 2014. Our conception plan was to wait until after my best friend’s wedding June 2015 to start trying (I did not want to be the pregnant bridesmaid in Cancun, Mexico.) Although the plan was to “wait” we did not try to prevent having a child. After months of not “preventing”, I started to get frustrated but not alarmed. All of my friends got pregnant right away. As soon as they started “trying” they were pregnant within the first few months. At this point I thought ok, let me start doing a little more research. I starting reading blogs, articles and referencing “Dr. Google” for everything. I actively monitored my cycle, purchased ovulation predictor kits, tracked my temperature after ovulation etc. Fast forward six months later, to no avail, I still was not pregnant. That is when I decided to seek help. I knew being over 30 and actively trying for a year was a reason to seek medical advice. Without hesitation my OBGYN wrote a referral to the Fertility Specialist.
We started seeking fertility assistance in 2016. Both my husband and I were tested for all fertility related disorders but everything seemed to be fine. My cycle was always on time, like clockwork. I did not have any pre-existing conditions that would minimize my chances of becoming pregnant. We were diagnosed with “unexplained infertility”, meaning doctors could not find anything wrong with neither my husband nor I after analysis of sperm and fallopian tubes or uterus. Not having a sure diagnosis was devastating. Most couples experiencing problems with fertility are able to receive an explanation for their infertility. These causes range from low sperm count, poor sperm motility in the man to blocked fallopian tubes or endometriosis in the women. Once the causes for infertility are established the appropriate course of assisted conception treatment can be undertaken.
Fertility treatments can be very expensive. Before starting treatment, I decided to become healthier, working out more and watching my diet, all in the attempts to help my chances in becoming pregnant. We decided to start with the least expensive option, timed intercourse. Timed intercourse requires monitoring starting day three of your cycle. They monitor your follicles every other day or so until ovulation is forthcoming. When ovulation is expected the doctor tells you what days to have intercourse. As you would imagine, this was a very regimented routine, not fun! After a few months of this we were still unsuccessful. The process started to become too emotional for me so we decided to take a small break.
In 2017, we started the new year off refreshed and ready to take the next step in my fertility journey. We prepared ourselves financially during the break to start the IUI process. IUI or intrauterine insemination is when the sperm is inserted directly into the cervix using a catheter. I switched my insurance during open enrollment to a plan that partially covered the procedure. I also started infertility acupuncture as research shows that it can increase pregnancy chances while undergoing fertility treatments. The IUI procedure required numerous injections and medication. The first IUI failed…the second failed… the third failed. I was emotionally drained but decided to give it one more time. The insurance only covered 6 IUI attempts. On the forth attempt we were elated, we became pregnant Sept 2017! All of our prayers were answered…Finally!!! Unfortunately, 5 days after we found out, the baby was not developing as it should. The doctor performed an ultrasound to see if I was having an ectopic pregnancy but it was really too soon to see anything. I had two options 1) wait to miscarry or 2) terminate the pregnancy. We decided to wait for the baby to miscarry naturally. This was by far the most pain I had endured. Waiting for my baby to die inside of me was crushing. Every other day I was monitored by the doctors. By week three I had not miscarried, at this point my HCG numbers were still rising (which caused concern) but not as they would in a normal healthy pregnancy. It was decided for me to have a forced miscarriage via an injection, November 2017. I then miscarried about two weeks later.
After the miscarriage, I had to take a break. I was mentally and physically exhausted, not to mention tired of the injections, medications and extra hormones pumped into my body. It took me months to get over my loss. A few months into 2018, we decided to use the last few IUIs that our insurance would cover before discussing the IVF route. The first round failed… The second round was a success. Much like the first pregnancy my numbers were monitored every few days. But unlike my first pregnancy my HCG numbers were doubling normally, even above average. The gloom of the previous miscarriage weighed heavy on us. I relied heavily on my faith to get me through. At 8 weeks I graduated from the Fertility Specialist back to my OBGYN for care. We were so happy but still had reservations. Days, weeks and months passed and the baby was growing, healthy and happy. In February 2019, I had a peaceful unmedicated birth. We welcomed our beautiful rainbow baby Zuri Grace. After the four-year journey I decided on a name with purpose. Her first name is Swahili for Beautiful and her middle name symbolizes Blessing. She is definitely our Beautiful Blessing!
The infertility journey can be a lonely road. No one talks about it and everyone is seemingly able to get pregnant whenever they decide. But the truth is more people suffer in darkness then you think. Luckily, I found solace in a gym mate who was open about her infertility journey and miscarriage. She was indeed my shoulder to cry on, my grief counselor, and my spiritual confidant in my time of need. I also joined an Infertility and Loss support group at my church. A group of women with similar stories gathered monthly to pray, support and encourage one another. Also, my husband was a great support but sometimes you need another sister to help you keep it together!
I want to advocate for no one to feel alone during their journey, especially within the black community. We just do not talk about infertility like other communities. The more I talked about my journey with others the better I felt. Some people did not understand, especially people who did not have issues becoming pregnant. A lot of people would say “it’s all in God’s timing”, “oh, it happens when you do not think about it”. All which may be true however, seeking medical help and finding out what the underlying issues are will not hurt. Although, I did rely heavy on my faith during my journey I did not hesitate to seek help.
Infertility does not have to be suffered in silence. When we start talking about our individual journey’s we will find that you are not alone.”