Conceiving Support

The Baltimore Sun

Jaime Sayers comes from a fertile clan: At last count, and it seems to be constantly changing, her grandparents had 16 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. Likewise, her father-in-law is one of 13.

Given her fruitful line, Sayers never expected that she and her husband would have trouble conceiving, and when it became apparent that getting pregnant wasn't a sure thing for them, she felt she had no one to talk to about it.

So, last March, she started a blog about her struggles with infertility. She lives on the Eastern Shore - far away from family - and the frequent posts were a way to keep her loved ones informed. Also, she wanted to remember her trials later on, in happier times. And she wanted to connect with others with similar stories, to educate and, when necessary, to vent.

"It's a nice way not to just take it out on my husband or family member but to type and let my fingers just go crazy while tears are streaming down my face," said Sayers, 30, whose parenthood quest began in 2003. "To get it off my chest and put it out there."

With more than 7 million people in the U.S affected by infertility, and a growing number of people undergoing assisted reproductive technology procedures, many people are dealing with infertility issues by blogging about their experiences. As she poked around online, Sayers stumbled into an incredibly intricate blogging world: Hundreds and hundreds of people, like her, who were chronicling their battles against biology with pathos, rawness, humor and, sometimes, numbing sadness.

"There are tons of them. I had no idea," she said. "I knew I wasn't alone. But I didn't realize I really wasn't alone."

A Silver Spring woman who writes under her first name only - Melissa - created a blog called "Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters" that serves as the infertility blogging community's central meeting place and clearinghouse. Among other projects on the site, she has a book club and keeps lists of peer infertility counselors and bloggers in various cities (including the Maryland-D.C.-Virginia metro region) who have real-life gatherings. She has a vocabulary page for newbies unaccustomed to the ubiquitous abbreviations some regulars use on their blogs, terms such as "TTC" (for trying to conceive), "DH" (dear husband) or "BFN" (a big fat negative on a pregnancy test). She also writes a daily newsletter with updates about who got back a disappointing test result, who received good news from a surrogate and the like.

Most importantly, she has the definitive list of blogs that deal with infertility, loss or adoption - a categorized roll that numbers 1,400 and grows by about five every day. The blog names, in a glance, say it all: Drama 2B Mama, Who Shot My Stork?, The Impatient Patient, and on and on.

The blog entries themselves also run the gamut from raging tirades to gracefully written entries that resemble mini-essays. Writers ask questions, share the most intimate details, blurt out good news or seek solace.

"ick. feeling crappy," Emily the Hopeless wrote on her blog recently. "i'm an infertile worthless broken woman...i hate my body and i really hate my insurance company!!!!!!!!"

On Father's Day, a blogger wrote about her husband's reaction to the holiday. "T's biggest fear is that he will never see his children as adults. Because we are getting older and will be close to 40 when becoming parents for the first time, this fear gets stronger and stronger as every anniversary passes. We have T's birthday, the anniversary of his father's death, his father's birthday and Father's Day all as reminders of time passing. I a[m] expecting another round of these anniversaries to pass before we become parents."

Chat rooms, listservs and blogs can be therapeutic outlets for some people and seem to be replacing old-fashioned support groups, said Tara Simpson, a psychologist who works at the Baltimore office of the Shady Grove Fertility Clinic. "I've noticed a trend where people are going home - because of time and travel and how hectic everyone's lives are, is what we hypothesize - and talking to people or maybe writing about themselves online for other people to appreciate their struggles. Not as many people are coming in as years ago, when people would get together and talk," she said.

In any case, such support groups aren't available to many people, including Sayers, who travels an hour each way to get to her clinic in Annapolis. She began her blog "Sayers Journey" last year, around the time she and her husband were stepping up their efforts to get pregnant, after years of disappointment and the diagnosis of "unexplained infertility."

Last winter, she and her husband opted for intrauterine insemination, which involves placing sperm inside a woman's uterus to facilitate fertilization. The IUI procedure cost her $1,600 that wasn't covered by her insurance, but worked the first time. Then she had a miscarriage at seven weeks.

All of that is detailed in the blog, which is read by an average of 40 people a day.

"It's kind of like a sisterhood. We can relate to each other's ups and downs," she said. "This is stuff I wanted to share - to get the things going on in my head out. Sometimes it's venting but often times, the blog is positive. It's reminding myself that I may not have a child, and it's been five years. But I have a house. I have a great husband who supports me through this."

Morrisa Vollmerhausen of Jessup has been trying to have a baby for six years, a mission that has been complicated by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, an endocrine disorder. During that long stretch, which included a two-year break to pay off debt and raise money for more procedures, she tried 12 rounds of IUI and one cycle of in vitro fertilization, in which the egg is fertilized outside a woman's body then transferred into the uterus.

A year ago, she began writing about her tribulations on her blog, "The Making of Baby V." Impressed by the connections she was making - as many as 200 readers visit her blog a day - her husband, Shawn Vollmerhausen, started his own blog.

"After seeing the response she gets and the support, I thought it would be good to blog about a different aspect of it," he said. "It's good to get the word out. ... It's been helpful for me personally to see that we're not alone in this."

Morrisa Vollmerhausen sometimes searches for information about a specific procedure; other times, she is fighting off loneliness or keeping up with friends' stories. Also, "sometimes you have the tendency to feel sorry for yourself when things don't go right," she said. "I've realized that there are other people out there who have it worse than me, and I should be thankful."

Moreover, it's not all doom and gloom: Plenty of women do get pregnant eventually - that's the beauty of modern technology and one of the reasons to read on. In fact, many of the blogs on the Stirrup Queens' list - at stirrup-queens.blogspot.com - are about pregnancy and parenthood after infertility and loss.

It can be hard to read someone's happy news and not feel pangs of "I wish it were me," but those stories of triumph can also offer hope amid despair, Vollmerhausen said.

Indeed, it took a while for Sayers and her husband to feel ready to move forward after the miscarriage, but they finally went back to their clinic last month. At the end of June, she found out she was pregnant. "After 4 years and 10 months of trying to conceive, 2 IUI's and 1 miscarriage, we've gotten our 2nd BFP!!! (BIG FAT POSITIVE). We are pregnant again!!!!" she wrote in her blog.

Similarly, in May, the Vollmerhausens found out that they are expecting a baby in 183 days - as her blog shows in a box that's updated daily.

Vollmerhausen thought she wanted it so badly that she was imagining the positive result on her home pregnancy test. "I ran to my husband. I kept saying, 'There are two lines! Two lines!' " she said.

She took a dozen tests - to be sure and for the fun of it - and photographs of all of them, lined up, made it onto her blog, along with some breathless posts.

But the long-awaited double lines are not bringing the Vollmerhausens blogging career to a close. Pregnancy is different - perhaps tainted, they said - after all those years of struggle, and they feel they have more to say.

In June, Morrisa Vollmerhausen wrote this: "I am still scared something is going to go wrong because it still seems too good to be true. It's almost like I'm reading someone else's blog wishing it was me...But I'm leaving it in God's hands...He knows what's best for me, but I sure do hope it's to have this baby stick around and come to meet us in January."

rona.marech@baltsun.com

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