Meet Mary Holland
December 30th 1999 I met my husband to be, and I knew it. I was visiting a friend in Chicago and my future husband and I had a very classy meeting at a “lounge” on a -33 below, snowy night in the city. Although we only talked for a few hours, and we would have 2000+ miles between us, I knew he was the one! In fact I told my parents, “I met my future husband”. How did I know, he said five magic words, “I was a camp counselor”. With close ties to camp, leadership and children, I knew it took a special person, with a love for children to be a camp counselor, and you could tell, he loved the impact he had on children.
Fast forward six years, we were happily married, stationed with the United States Army at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas for my husband’s orthopedic residency. I was practicing developmental therapy for children 0-3 years old, with special need and attending graduate school for family and community counseling. To pay my way through grad school, I continued to be a nanny, as I had done for the past 10 years, on top of my full time job. Clearly I couldn’t get enough of being around children. My husband would often nanny with me, accompany me on out of town trips and help with the children. When I watched his interactions with the kids, or our nieces and nephew I knew I married the best man in the world. He was going to be an amazing father and it was in every fiber of his being, I could not wait to start a family with him.
Since he was a busy resident and I was working two jobs and in graduate school, we didn’t “try” to start a family right away, but we also didn’t “not try”. Then came my graduation, his final year of residency and a future deployment to Afghanistan. I started to panic, we needed to start a family, I wanted to give him what he always wanted, a child, a family! At the time we were one of the few residents in the program without kids, and you could see his pure admiration for his peers that had children. In the Army, there are LOTS of family events, lots of functions and lots of times to be asked, “when are you all having kids?”. We started to feel a little pressure with the deployment approaching and consulted my OB. After six rounds of “bitch pills” as my husband still refers to till this day, aka clomid and no success we started to wonder.
June 2009 I hugged him goodbye as he boarded a plane to take him to defend our country. I traveled almost every weekend to see friends, did lots of shopping and working out and lived it up the best I could while he was gone. That was the fun part, I also had plenty of time to worry, wonder and agonize over why we had not gotten pregnant. So while he was deployed I started the lovely fertility workup on my own. Looking back, what was I thinking to do that all alone! We had no family around, I had little contact with him, but I was determined to find out what was going on, so when he got home we would hit the ground running. Countless blood draws, ultrasounds, sonohysterograms, hyserosonograms, charting ovulations, and all that jazz, we came up with….nothing!
He safely arrived home December 2009 and we got the results back from my workup…all was clear. No reasons, tubes clear, everything got the thumbs up. So we thought this was the year! 2010 would be the year we became parents. After all we had done everything right, right? We finished college, got our higher educations, bought a home, were financially stable, had extensive experience with children (I could recite every developmental milestone for children 0-3 years old, and he was embarking on a pediatric fellowship). We had every prerequisite to be parents! And nothing happened.
At this point my career I had transitioned from developmental therapy to family therapy, focusing on grief with parents, grief of their child having a delay or disability, grief of losing their children to a terminal illness and parinatal loss. I never thought this would be my focus of therapy, but it fell in my lap and I quickly became passionate about helping these families. Little did I know my practice would have such influence on our journey to come. Spring 2010 we visited an adoption agency in Dallas, but ultimately decided to try fertility treatments with our amazing doctor in Scottsdale, Arizona Jay Nemiro, M.D., F.A.C.O.G. with Arizona Center for Fertility Studies. We conducted a lot of research and decided to make the 6 hour commute over to Arizona for all our visits and care, after all we wanted the best, and El Paso was very limited in what they could provide, as was the Army.
I will spare you the details of all our injections, medications, additional workups, procedures and the agony associated with our first round of IVF. In short, I was consumed! Every number made an impact on me like never before, my FSH, my TSH, how many follicles on the right, how many on the left, how many eggs were able to be retrieved, how many fertilized, day 1,2,3… Numbers, and stats became my life, research of other people’s journeys, their failures, their success consumed me. Minutes, hours and days waiting for phones calls and results left me with heightened anxiety which was getting harder and harder to manage. In the end, we didn’t get many eggs to start with, so not many fertilized and only two made it, and only made it to day 3. We did a fresh transfer and I knew it didn’t work. And once again, I was right.
We had to cancel a luxury vacation as we got the news of the failure and had to decide what our next game move was. I wanted to move forward, I was now determined and relentless in making this work, while ignoring all the grief that was looming over me. With our first round we learned that I didn’t produce many eggs and clearly, not many that were of quality to make healthy embryos. This was a terrific feeling to have, especially after my husband’s sperm count and quality was, “perfect”. We moved forward the next month, my husband shot me up with every injection, managed all my medication and we were going to make it work! This would be the round! We got a few more eggs this time, a few more fertilized, eventually on day 5, when we should have done our transfer, we had to make the grueling decision with our only 2 embies that had made it, of letting them grow one more day or transferring them at day 5 when they really were not dividing at a day 5 rate. What if we let them go too long, what if we went in the next morning and they didn’t make it, what if, what if, what if???? They both made it to day 6, we transferred and returned to Texas for long 9 day wait.
Upon returning home the anxiety and grief of everything hit me! Looking back now I can clinically understand it all, but then I was in the complete “fog” as we call it in therapy. I was grieving everything, the inability to fulfill my dreams, my husband’s wishes, I was grieving the loss of us as a couple, the intimacy we once had, spontaneity (you KNOW that goes out the door when you are battling fertility), the loss of our chances to conceive without all this extra work, the loss of our first two embryos that had made it at least to day 3, the money (yes I was grieving the loss of what this cost us, as our insurance did not cover it), grieving my egg quality, you name it, I was grieving it. Grief was all around me and I was low, what if this round didn’t work out? We couldn’t afford to do another, what would we do, would my husband still want to be with me? The sadness and anxiety were suffocating!
Lucky for me I had an amazing support in my close friends as well as my family and husband, but a stronger support from women I had met through friends, that had embarked on the IVF journey. I only spoke with one friend and my husband about the grief, as I was too embarrassed to share that with anyone else. I lost a near and dear friendship with a friend that was like family because of this stage of my grief. For me, nobody understands it, no matter what they say, unless they have dealt with grief of parenthood. Personally for me, it doesn’t have to be fertility, but loss of being a parent is where I find my connection with others.
In therapy we say true healing comes from when you can truly emotionally connect with another person in relation to your presenting issue/s and the attached emotions. Many of my clients don’t know this, but their stories, their children, their losses, their love for their children and their families comforted me during my darkest days. Just to know other people were out there, feeling similar emotions, although their stories could be drastically different, they felt relatable emotions and it helped heal my soul, and it still does. You never know the full circle love for wanting, creating and having a family until you lose it. I have not lost any children, but I have sat with people for years that have, and that is the full circle. These parents loved their children when they were created, born, living and until their final breaths, they then had to learn how to continue that love once their child/ren, were no longer with us in the physical world. These parents have taught me lessons that no book or professor could ever provide.
After processing my own grief over the next 9-10 days, I had a good feeling, and I was right. We had a positive HCG, it wasn’t one of those moments where I got to tell my husband I was pregnant, he told me. We ran the labs at his hospital for a faster turn around and he was thrilled, yet cautious to report the news. 20 weeks later he was overjoyed, as was I to find out we were having a healthy baby boy. Two years later we did our third round of IVF, this time with chromosomal testing, which I highly recommend, and were blessed with twin girls in Sept. of 2014.
I continued to grieve throughout my pregnancies due to the fact I had the lovely pleasure of puking 3-5x a day during both pregnancies. Yes, I know, I should have been thankful for the blessings, but unless you have been that sick, you really have no idea, I was sad. I was sad that I had to go through ALL of the struggle to get pregnant and then I couldn’t even enjoy my pregnancies. This wasn’t an all day emotion, or one that interfered with daily functioning, don’t get me wrong I was thrilled to be pregnant, but I really wish I could have enjoyed it more. From time to time I still grieve the natural process that I wasn’t a part of, the little things like telling my husband I was pregnant, and a few other minor things. But all in all I have worked through it, and it was well worth it!
Grief is such a big part of this process many of us face, for some it could be minor grief symptoms, for others it can be more severe depressive feelings, the spectrum is profound. The majority of us grieve, our partners grieve and we overcome things together, by connecting. My hope is that I have connected with some of you, through telling our story. Grief is not the overwhelming feeling that I would use to describe my pregnancies and journey in fertility, but it was a profound emotions that I have found gets little attention, this is why I chose to focus on one emotion, that I had connected to our story. Many other emotions, both positive and negative are part of this experience, I was never diagnosed with anything clinical, but I believe healthy management of emotions is good mental health practice, and what better way to practice, than connecting with others.
I am thrilled to share our most recent family photo, the twins were 6 months old and our son was turning 3. I am truly blessed to have 3 healthy children that keep me going all day, my husband is more amazing then I could have ever imagined, his professional field is lucky to have him, as his gift for children is as natural as it comes. I have the most hands on, helping, supportive partner, that results in a very happy and balanced marriage and household. Mary Holland, MEd, LPC-S