If you are experiencing problems conceiving, you are certainly not alone. Infertility impacts one in eight couples worldwide—that’s a whopping 15 percent of the population. Although it’s a common issue, it often goes undiscussed due to negative stigma. Timna Sherman knows this all too well. In an interview—that ironically took place while she was rushing to the hospital to support a friend in labor—she opened up about her own struggle with infertility.
Timna, an elementary school teacher and one of five siblings, always knew she wanted to have kids. She began trying to conceive naturally at 39 years old. In the world of fertility, this classifies her as a “woman of advanced maternal age (over 35 years),” which is the leading cause of female infertility. After many failed attempts at traditional conception methods, Timna turned to intrauterine insemination (IUI), a relatively simple fertility treatment which involves inserting sperm directly into the uterus during ovulation. She was thrilled to discover that despite her age, the process was successful. Timna gave birth to her first daughter, Willa, and not long after, took to the task of trying to give Willa a sibling.
Because the chance of a woman over 40 conceiving through IUI is so rare, Timna’s doctor suggested she skip straight to IUI’s far more invasive and complicated counterpart, In Vitro Fertilization. In IVF, the doctor extracts eggs, retrieves a sperm sample, manually combines the egg and sperm in a laboratory dish, then inserts the fertilized embryo into the uterus. Timna found that the intense monitoring, needles, and strong hormonal medication that came with IVF made it a “beyond depressing” two-week experience, one that forced her to sacrifice her teaching job. It was also an expensive experience, as her insurance covered only parts of the process, and wholly excluded the pricy medication. She remembers feeling defeated after doctors’ visits, and telling her husband she was on the brink of giving up. They often thought: “If it didn’t work now, it just wasn’t going to.”
Holding On To Hope
Each day at the crack of dawn, Timna took hormone-altering medication that caused mood swings, weight gain, and fatigue. She sat in the hospital waiting room for hours on end, sometimes the entire day, anxiously awaiting news. As she looked around the waiting room and stared into the eyes of other hopeful moms-to-be, she wondered, what were these women’s infertility stories? Did they buy into the same fertility myths that she did? Bogged down with information from various fertility blogs, Timna’s life became full of fear and worry that one wrong move and poof!—no baby. She turned her back on sodium, exercising, and her favorite stress-reliever, the occasional glass of wine. She blamed herself if she didn’t get pregnant that month, which took an enormous toll on her emotional well-being.
Timna became so consumed by trying to conceive her second time around that she worried whether she was neglecting the daughter she already had. She grew accustomed to people telling her to be grateful for having even one child at her age and for her two stepsons—were they not enough? Others made her feel greedy, greedy for wanting her body to do what women’s bodies were designed to do. Nonetheless, her determination to give Willa a sibling was unyielding.
Timna did everything in her power to increase her chances of conceiving. She met with a nutritionist and an acupuncturist, who, she jokes, also doubled as her therapist. Once her acupuncturist recommended she meet with NYC-based fertility clinic CCRM, run by Brian Levine, M. D., the founding partner and practice director of CCRM New York, her entire fertility story changed. Unlike her frustratingly impersonal previous visits with only doctor’s assistants, Timna established a real relationship with Dr. Levine, and CCRM made sure to test each embryo before inserting into her uterus to ensure it was fertilized. Much to Timna’s surprise, this had not always been done at prior fertility clinics, and it made all the difference. After three more IVF procedures, Timna finally got what she was hoping for: A positive pregnancy test result.
Timna does not believe she would have been able to overcome her battle against infertility without her husband, doctor, and acupuncturist as her support system. If she had listened to those who told her to quit, she would have never succeeded. She urges women enduring a similar struggle to seek out a fertility specialist who motivates you, and makes you feel more comfortable and trusting in the overall process. Try to establish a more personal relationship with your fertility specialist, and you may be surprised in how much less painful the process seems. Dr. Levine and Timna both agree: The best advice for couples facing infertility is to research more. “Knowledge is power,” Dr. Levine says. “You can only treat what you know you have.”
Even if you’re just starting the process, don’t be afraid to meet with a fertility specialist to get to know your body and your natural cycle. Take control of your fertility. Download apps that track your cycle and let you know when you’re most fertile. Be cautious, however, not to overwhelm yourself with every fertility myth under the sun. Listening to all the things you “shouldn’t” eat, drink, or do will make you crazy during a time when reducing stress should be your top priority. Timna’s advice is to have that occasional glass of wine if you really want it, that won`t make or break your pregnancy. Invest in creating a strong support system, whether it be your boyfriend, neighbor, therapist, nutritionist, or acupuncturist; but keep in mind that someone else’s fertility story is not your own. Above all, plan ahead. Remember that age is a crucial factor in conception, but as Timna proves, it is not the end-all, be-all. Be mindful of your overall health, educate yourself, and don’t give up at the first sign of trouble. Evidently, there’s a lot more to conceiving that the “stork-drops-a-baby-at-your-doorstep” story left out!
Fertility Fun Facts
- Did you know that having sex everyday does not increase your chances at getting pregnant? Studies show that sexual intercourse every other day is more effective, because male sperm counts will be higher. Thanks for the tip, Dr. Levine!
- Contrary to popular belief, taking birth control for a long period of time does not cause infertility. It only limits your understanding of your natural cycle by masking your menstruation symptoms, which is why it’s so important to meet with a specialist, get a blood test, and learn about your own fertility!