Meeting Melissa was such a joy! She brings an inherent grace and resilience to a story that is full of hopes and heartbreaks. In her effort to become a mother, Melissa faced a Lupus diagnosis, a stroke, and a complicated journey through surrogacy. She is at the beginning of her Childfree story, and like so many of us (myself absolutely included), figuring out what it all means.
Laura and I often talk about how impossible it is to pinpoint the moment in time that left us childfree after infertility. Women’s health and reproductive systems just don’t work like that. Our stories are long and unpredictable, with highlights and low lights and everything in between. Melissa’s is no different.
What made you want to share your story?
I wanted to speak to the women who have recently ended their fertility treatments and made the decision to be childless for whatever the circumstance may be. They are not giving up, but rather choosing to live life. This was really important for me to believe in with my full heart to start the healing process. For 5 years my life revolved around trying to get pregnant through test after test, followed by disappointment every month during my cycle as a reminder that I was not pregnant. I’m no longer held hostage by the fertility rollercoaster. Now that I accepted living this new life being childless, I am starting to find joy and plan for my future that looks different than expected but still beautiful.
I thought this would be a great way for me to sort of just dive in. I’m just going to tell my story out loud publicly, and I felt like this was the best way for me to work on accepting this story of mine.
I’m so glad that you did reach out! We think every story is important, which is why Laura and I started this project. Every voice and every story is important. The more I hear other women talk about their experience, the more connected I feel to my own.
Right! So this is my story.
My husband and I got married in 2007, and we always talked about wanting kids.
And while we both knew we wanted kids, we prioritized doing things we enjoyed first, like traveling and seeing live music, and focusing on our careers.
In 2012, we decided it was time to start really trying.
Almost immediately, reality woke me up with a lupus diagnosis. I did some research about what lupus means for fertility. Ultimately, we decided to put the baby plan on hold.
I started to work towards a more natural lifestyle, trying to figure out some food allergies, and got off some medications. I was feeling very emotionally and physically healthy so we started trying again. But in 2016, I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility.
We started trying with IUI, and then decided to do IVF.
In 2017, we were going to do an international IVF because the cost in America is just absurd. We planned to do the IVF in November of that year, but in October, I had a stroke. A few months later, I found out that I have a clotting disorder.
That obviously shifted our plans. The risk factors involved with trying to conceive at that point were just too great.
Not long after, we began to look into surrogacy, but using an agency was not attainable for us financially. We just sort of put it out there to the Universe, and told a few friends that we were going that route.
In the summer of 2018, one of our best friends said, “I would love to try to make your dreams come true and be your surrogate!” It was amazing. We spent all of 2019 going through the surrogacy steps.
But I continued to have hiccups with my health. I had an egg retrieval, and there were some complications with internal bleeding. I was in the ICU for a few days, which was my second ICU admission within a year and a half. It was a lot significantly traumatic events, that were secondary to fertility treatments. So that shook our world again.
My husband, who witnessed both the stroke, and the internal bleeding, had a lot of fear of progressing through our steps. But ultimately, my part was done and we resulted in one healthy embryo. So we had one shot.
I almost died twice trying to produce that embryo, and I knew we wouldn’t try again if it didn’t work.
We discussed our options – adoption, donor eggs – but we had been through five years of so many ups and downs. It felt right to try this one embryo with our surrogate. But I knew if it didn’t work, that would be the end of my journey.
We transferred the embryo on January 22nd of 2020, which was actually my surrogate’s birthday. The whole day was magical, and it felt like the stars were perfectly aligned. No regrets. We did everything we could.
We found out February, 5th that it didn’t stick. We weren’t pregnant.
It’s still pretty fresh. We found out in February, and then in March the pandemic hit. There has been so much darkness this year.
I feel like even though it’s been seven months, I feel like a lot of my grief and processing sort of put on hold, just trying to process.
But the past two months I’ve been ready to circle back! I’m ready to do the work and revisit the healing, but I was finding my social media just filled with people still on the journey to conceive. I realized I didn’t know where to go.
I did just some deep searching, and thought that if I share my story, maybe I’ll find people.
So a few months ago I created my current Instagram page that is basically intended for me just to share my journey. I’ve found all these other amazing women that are embracing childless life whether they’re childless-by-choice or by circumstance. I searched #childlessbycircumstance and it was like I opened a floodgate! So just ironic I found my support through a hashtag.
That’s amazing! Our community has opened up like crazy like in the past six months. I’ve seen more new people participating and chiming in.
I was on the fence of creating my Instagram page @autoimmuneresilience. But ultimately, I didn’t go through this for nothing. If I can impact just one person on their journey, and help to support them or make them feel less alone, then the risk of sharing so much publicly has been worth it.
In the beginning of my journey as I was doing a lot of the treatments, I remember be a little surprised that my girlfriends weren’t reaching out more. I think a lot of my friends, specifically friends with kids, didn’t know what to say and they were worried about triggering me, or checking in and finding out that I had bad news. It felt like we were all sort of walking on eggshells with each other.
How has not having children or had should be how has not having children impacted the relationships around you?
I think that is still to be seen because it’s all so new. Before, it was always, “Well when, when the Millers have kids…” so there was always that possibility. But because of COVID, and going through lockdown I haven’t really seen a lot of my friends with kids, or been around a lot of kids. I don’t know what it’s gonna look like. I think I’m still really new in my journey.
I do have a lot of friends locally here in Seattle that have chosen not to have kids. It’s nice to have that strong community that I’m exposed to, where I know I won’t be triggered. I am a little nervous about the holidays.
How do you feel that your relationship with your body has sort of changed as you’ve gone through all of this?
I’m trying to make peace with right now, and finding a way toward forgiveness for my body. I think there are. I was an athlete growing up so when I got robbed of my health by lupus, and then got robbed of my ability to conceive, I felt very angry and resentful.
I’m finally at a place where I’m trying to flip that script a little bit, and it’s actually pretty phenomenal that I’m still standing!
I had a full blown legit stroke. I had internal bleeding and, so much trauma that the fact that my body bounced back is something that I have to honor.
I sometimes wonder, if I had gotten pregnant, or was able to have had a child, would my body be able to support that? Maybe it was saving me from further trauma. That’s something I’ve been holding on to.
Although it feels like so much awfulness, what if it was actually protecting me? That’s a new perspective for me, and I’m really working on forgiveness and just loving my body.
When you are trying to conceive, every month you’re reminded that it wasn’t successful, and every month that bleed is just so hurtful. It’s a physical reminder that your body’s not doing what you want it to do.
But now, I’ve been trying to shift that relationship, and actually be excited when my cycle starts. I’ve been exploring astrology and moon cycles, and that’s been really fun!
I’m truly realizing that my body is more than just meant to carry a human for nine months. I’m excited by how my relationship with my body is changing. Our bodies are so amazing, and there’s so much more to discover.
Have there been any positive aspects to your journey that you’re surprised by as you dive deeper in?
Definitely! Finding this community when I created my Instagram page right away felt like found my people. I’m excited to see the different connections and there’s like there’s just so much going on.
And for all I’ve been through the last year, I mean there’s been some friends that have stepped up in ways that are just overwhelming.
This whole journey has brought my relationship with my husband to a who new level of strength, and opened up the possibilities for could hold.
Of course the timing is so strange. Finally, we can make all these travel plans, but, NOPE, not during the pandemic!
What have been some of the unexpected challenges?
The biggest challenge for me is just constant triggers. I know the triggers aren’t going away, so I’m trying to figure out how I can process them, or change my viewpoint.
And despite the travel plans, one of the biggest struggles is just envisioning the future. Last year we were envisioning this Christmas to be with the little one, and now I don’t know how that will look.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how our community handles the holidays, and what sort of suggestions and support will be floating around. I’ve been brainstorming different things that my husband and I can do to avoid just being at home and scrolling through social media.
If you could change anything about how not having children is viewed in society, what would you change?
I found this from a hashtag, but it really stuck with me: #familyoftwo.
And it’s true! Two partners is a family, or maybe you don’t even need a partner to have a family. Family is what you make of it.
Check out Melissa’s Insta @autoimmuneresilience