Our Austin fertility center is proud to share the fertility story of our 2018 Advocacy Day grant recipient. Erin shares her story and why Advocacy Day matters.
My name is Erin Nicole Steward. I’m a 36-year-old elementary school teacher in Corpus Christi, Texas. My husband Justin works for the government, and we are what I consider to be your typical working-class family.
I am also a mother, daughter, sister and patient. Yes, a patient. I am a patient of Kaylen Silverberg MD at Texas Fertility Center in Austin. My husband and I have struggled with infertility for most of our marriage. You would never know it just by looking at us, but we have experienced much pain and heartache in our time together as we have tried to grow our little family. We love each other with all of our hearts, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t had more than our fair share of difficult times.
We’ve grieved as a result of two miscarriages and suffered through two ectopic pregnancies. I’ve had my fallopian tubes surgically removed, and I take medication regularly to manage my anxiety. That’s the thing about infertility. It doesn’t discriminate. Its victims are all around you – your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends and for many, your family members, too.
Just saying the word “infertile” is a lot for me to deal with because it forces me to acknowledge my condition and its implications. It means that I am unable to do the one thing that means the most to me in this world – have children of my own. It is such a loaded word and full of misinformation. It is most often associated with dangerous and invasive medical procedures and painful treatments. It is also, though seldom discussed, incredibly isolating.
Coping with infertility and loss is like living a horrible nightmare every day that I can’t wake up from, or riding an out-of-control roller coaster I can’t get off of. For me, it is also followed closely by bouts of depression. It means debt is knocking at my door if I try to do something about it. It means long waits in cold and lonely hospitals, and too many life-or-death moments to count. It means numerous three-hour drives each way because the city I live in doesn’t have high-quality programs or access to the specialists I need. I would not wish this on anyone. And yet, it has found me. I have chosen to act.
I was blessed in 2010 with a beautiful baby girl through an expensive and complex IVF procedure. Her name is Raelyn, and she is the most special, perfect little person. She is Justin’s and my world, and she just turned seven. While we’ve still not paid off the debt accrued as a result of her and my medical treatments, we are still grateful for the procedure. In the same breath, I can’t help thinking about all of the other families out there who can’t do what we did because IVF is so expensive and cost-prohibitive. We are still faced with having to decide if we can afford to grow our family. That’s a miserable place to be.
Infertility is a tough thing to explain to a young person and an even tougher thing to rationalize to myself. I watch Raelyn with her cousins and our friends’ children, and I can’t help thinking that she would be an amazing big sister, and that our family still has so much love to give.
You would think that after years of painful procedures and wishful thinking I might have had enough, but outweighing all of that frustration, sadness and pain is hope. Hope that the process will work just one more time. Hope that you will see me and hear my story, and understand that I am not unique— I am not an exception. I am not the first to suffer marital problems or experience depression as a result of my infertility. I am not the first to struggle with how to pay bills or make ends meet. And, I am not the first to wonder why our government doesn’t provide more support to women and families suffering as a result of infertility.
We’re talking about a disease. It is a diagnosis that often is not covered by health insurance. Fertility treatments are seen as a luxury rather than a necessity. It is this type of misunderstanding that impedes progress.
Many people ask me why I don’t just adopt. Adoption is a beautiful thing and a wonderful solution for many, but it is also a choice. I am advocating for more choices. There should not be a one-size-fits-all solution in meeting the needs of families. Many of you have children, so you know what it’s like to hold a tiny piece of you tightly in your arms. To look into her eyes or to hold his hand and know that precious little human is a part of you that will live on.
I will end my story where I started, though I know my journey is not complete. Not anywhere close. I am a wife, mother, daughter and now, an advocate. I am asking for your help in addressing infertility. Help me navigate this complicated and misunderstood disorder with grace. Help me explore the possibilities without adding pressure to an already heavy burden. Help me grow my family.
Our Austin fertility center is honored to have Erin and her husband join Dr. Silverberg in Washington, D.C., for Advocacy Day. Follow their journey on our website and social media.