This one is close to my heart. I’m so honored to welcome Morgan Trinker to the I’m With Her fam today with her story in infertility. I started following Morgan years ago after falling in love with her blue sofa and strawberry laundry room and stuck around because of her infectious spirit and honesty about real life – specifically a difficult journey we are both on. Solidarity, sisters.
Tell us a little about yourself!
I am a photographer, formerly self-employed shooting weddings and now corporately-employed shooting homes. I’m married to Jamie, who is a web developer by day and fly fisherman by night, and we have a hound dog named Gretchen. Currently we’re back in our hometown of Knoxville living in a 100-year-old home in a neighborhood where we can walk to our favorite coffee shops. I love books and design and color and enjoy traveling as much as I can. The red hair isn’t natural, but the feistiness is. 😉
Do you remember wanting to be a mother when you were younger? If not, when did the desire to start a family begin?
I remember vividly feeling motherly instincts from a very young age. I played with a lot of dolls, and I started taking care of other people’s children when I was still just a child myself. (I’m still amazed they entrusted an eleven-year-old with their kids!) It’s just always felt like a part of my identity, even before I felt ready to be an actual mother. I’m that crazy girl always bonding with random kids in airplanes and restaurants and asking to hold strangers’ babies.
What was life like for you in other areas (career, community, relationships, etc.) at that time?
Throughout my twenties, I felt pretty focused on building my photography business. I traveled a lot for work, and Jamie and I moved around quite a bit (8 times across 3 states, to be exact). I also love interior design, and we purchased two different historic homes that I poured countless hours into renovating. So during this time, I felt very content and fulfilled creatively. We made amazing friends everywhere we lived, and I never felt like anything was necessarily missing from my life.
Are/were you married? If so, for how long?
Jamie and I dated throughout most of college and got married right after we graduated at 22, so in many ways it feels like we’ve grown up together. It’s crazy to think I’ve known him for more than a third of my life and have created so many memories with him.
Do you remember first recognizing that it may not be as easy as you’d thought to conceive? When was this?
I think because I have always felt motherhood as such a strong part of my identity, it honestly never occurred to me to be concerned about how it was going to happen. Every single woman on both sides of my family has been able to get pregnant relatively easily and in most cases bear multiple children, so I just assumed it would happen the same way for me. I guess I also viewed having children as a basic human right, as essential to life as food and shelter.
Jamie and I began trying to conceive when I was 28 years old (well over 2 years ago now), and after about 6 months of obsessive ovulation tracking, temperature taking, and the almost unbearable roller coaster of soaring hope and crushing disappointment, cycle after cycle, I decided to see a fertility specialist.
At that first appointment, when the doctor began the ultrasound, I could tell immediately by the look on her face that something was very wrong. She pointed to the screen and showed me a big black blob, which she explained was a baseball-sized cyst in my ovary. She then moved on to the ovary, where she found an identical cyst. I had been carrying around TWO BASEBALLS’ WORTH of toxic tissue in my body without even knowing it. She told me I likely had extremely advanced endometriosis, which, after performing surgery, she said she would classify as Stage 4+++ if there was such a thing. Endometriosis is a disease widely believed to be an autoimmune condition where tissue that’s supposed to leave your body during your period just kinda sticks around instead and grows all over your organs. It has a huge impact on a woman’s fertility. In fact, my doctor told me mine was so bad that I would likely need a complete hysterectomy within the next few years.
How were you feeling physically and emotionally at the time? (resilient, confused, frustrated, ashamed, alone, supported, celebrated)?
For the first 6 months or so after my initial diagnosis, I refused to lose hope that I would conceive. I had the surgery to remove as much of the tissue as possible, and then I tried pretty much every recommended remedy and therapy, including acupuncture, a clean eating diet, a daily regimen of 20-30 vitamins and supplements, Chinese medicine, yoga… you name it. My doctor told me these 6 months following the surgery were our best chance to conceive and we needed to make the most of it, so I also took Clomid (a.k.a. the crazy pill) and went through several rounds of IUI’s. Six months and thousands of dollars and many prayers later… no baby.
And then I lost it.
The depression I battled in my early twenties returned full force. There was a stretch of months where I cried almost every single day. I was surrounded by people who loved and supported me, but I had never felt more alone. I felt myself spiraling down a hole of bitterness and sadness and I couldn’t stop it. There were days I couldn’t get off the couch and had no motivation to do anything. I often felt angry with God for creating me with such a strong desire to be a mother only for it to become a seemingly impossible dream. I actually begged Him again and again to just take away my love for children and desire to get pregnant. The pain seemed (and to be honest, still sometimes seems) unbearable, like I would never get through it.
How did this season manifest in the other areas of your life (school, job, family, passions, talent, etc.)?
As this next phase of mourning was beginning, close to my 30th birthday (which felt more like impending doom than a milestone worth celebrating), another major change in my life was also happening. I decided to quit wedding photography, walking away from seven years of self-employment to go to work at a corporation. I was so anxious about how this would be perceived, since I had this amazing dream job, and after all, isn’t it usually the other way around – you leave a boring, soul-sucking 9-to-5 to pursue your passion full-time?
But it has been one of the best decisions and blessings of my life. At some point, especially as my emotions began to spiral and loneliness was sinking its teeth into the deepest parts of me, I realized I needed stability, routine, and people. Having an office job meant I had to get up every morning, had to shower and wear decent clothes, had to eat proper meals throughout the day, and best of all, got to work with great people and have actual human adult conversation. Each career path has its pros and cons to be sure, but for this particular season of my life, it has been such a relief to just have a regular rhythm to each day, a reason to get out of bed. One of my coworkers, who’s been through a lot of tough personal stuff recently as well, described this job as some much needed “cruise control.” I couldn’t agree more.
Did you confide in anyone? If so, who and when? What were their reactions?
I’ve been honest with pretty much everyone I know about what I’ve experienced and what I’m still going through. I made the decision to tell my story online a little over a year ago and the response has been amazing. Two of the most beautiful words in the English language are “me too,” and I got a lot of that. It definitely helped me feel less alone and very loved and supported.
Is there an especially negative memory/experience related to infertility? If so, can you describe it?
I made the terrible mistake of taking a pregnancy test “just in case” on Christmas Eve once. I had worked it up in my mind that it was going to be this miraculous Hallmark movie kind of moment. So silly. Needless to say, it was a big fat negative, and not a very merry Christmas.
Is there an especially positive memory/experience related to infertility (overcoming, sharing, empowering, etc.). If so, can you describe it?
The overwhelmingly positive and supportive response I received when I began telling people. I know there are so many out there who are hoping and praying for the best for me and Jamie, as well as so many who have walked this road before me and have offered so much wisdom and encouragement. In a strange way, I’m thankful to be able to wrap my mind around suffering more than I was able to before, because I feel like my own capacity for empathy and understanding has expanded so much. I find myself drawn to other broken, imperfect people more than ever.
I’ve found that some reactions, comments (meant to be encouraging), and “advice” were frustrating or offensive as I navigated this season. Is there a specific reaction to your struggle with fertility (supportive or otherwise) that sticks out in your memory?
In many ways I’ve found that the advice or opinions of others is much more reflective of what they’re going through than what I’m going through, so I’m learning how to accept their words with as much grace as I can. I’ve been told that everything happens for a reason, that our inability to have a child is some kind of blessing in disguise, or that I just have to keep on being faithful and hopeful and the Lord will surely bless me with everything I could possibly want. I think most people mean well, but they don’t realize that their words make me feel as if I’m a failure for not trusting God enough or not making the right choices regarding treatment or not being able to just shake it off and move on. The sad reality is that we often simply do not know how to handle other people’s grief or difficult circumstances and our first instinct is to try to fix it for them or smooth it over or give them a little pep talk. But sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is simply say, “Hey, this really, really sucks. And I’m so sorry. I don’t understand why this is happening. But I’m here for you.”
What are some specific fears or struggles you faced (or are still facing)?
I think probably my biggest fear right now is feeling left behind. Pregnancy announcements haven’t gotten any easier, though I hoped they would by now. I still feel the all-too-familiar lump rise in my throat when I see an ultrasound photo on social media. It’s a terrible feeling, being torn between happiness for someone else’s pregnancy and crushing sadness for the lack of your own. One weekend not too long ago, there were several announcements back to back, which was enough to send me to the couch curled up in a ball, unable to function like a proper human being, for an entire day. I couldn’t help but feel that I was going to be the last woman standing, and that everyone, even those who had experienced fertility struggles of their own, would move on with their lives without me. I know that this is an irrational fear, but it is a fear nonetheless.
What/who is/was your “saving grace” in those struggles?
All my people. My family and friends have been incredibly supportive, even when I’m not in an emotional state to be the best friend or wife or daughter back to them. I’m so thankful to have people who keep calling, keep texting, keep checking in, even when my tendency is to hide from the world.
How does the season you’re currently in compare to the darker seasons where infertility was more difficult to navigate?
This particular season is really kind of special and not at all what I imagined my life would look like a year ago. Last summer, in the midst of one of the worst stretches we’ve experienced in this journey so far, we heard about a woman from Colombia who had a two-month-old baby and needed a place to stay. And we invited her to come live with us for as long as she needed to. We met them on the evening they moved in with us last August, into the room that was supposed to be a nursery for our baby. Our neighbors gave us a crib and all sorts of clothes and books and toys, and we helped Liliana and baby Ian get settled in.
On paper, it shouldn’t have worked. It should have completely broken my heart to watch someone else mother and raise her baby in the house that was supposed to be my family’s home. But what I’ve learned is that maybe at this stage of my life, family means something different than I thought it would. Ian is not “my” baby, but I am helping raise him and he brings me so much joy. Liliana inspires me daily with her perseverance in the face of a lot of challenges. Her circumstances remind me that having a baby is not a magical solution or answer to all of life’s problems. Plus, she cooks us delicious Colombian food and we have dance parties and life has just generally been a little lighter with them around. 🙂
What was the most helpful or powerful encouragement you have received during this journey?
Jamie and I went to see the film Jackie earlier this year, which was a great movie, and there was a scene that I think has forever been etched in my memory. Jackie Kennedy (played so well by Natalie Portman) is walking through a park receiving counsel from her priest following John’s death. She is confiding in him that she feels suicidal and doesn’t really see the point in any of it anymore. And the priest responds that despite having lived a blessed life, he still finds himself, when he’s alone in bed at night, wondering, “Is this all there is?”
Jackie asks incredulously, “You wonder?” And he replies, “Every soul on this planet does. And then when morning comes, we all wake up and make a pot of coffee.”
“Why do we bother?”
“Because we do. You did this morning, and you will again. God, in His infinite wisdom, has made sure… it is just enough for us.”
– – – –
And truly it is. Despite the pain and sadness and hopelessness I feel at times, I’m able to wake up every morning and look forward to pouring that cup of coffee, to feeling the sun shine on my face, to hearing my favorite song on the radio. To enjoying small little pleasures and gifts that actually add up to a quite a lot.
Any particular resources you found helpful on your journey?
Rising Strong by Brene Brown. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. Following blogs of other women struggling with the same things I am.
What do you wish now, a bit down the road, that you had known in the beginning?
Having a baby is not going to fix me. It’s not going to usher in some magical, better chapter of my life. I must learn to feel contentment and gratitude in every circumstance, every season, or I’m doomed to a life of bitterness and misery.
What have you learned about yourself from this experience?
I am way stronger than I thought I was. I am way more vulnerable than I thought I was.
What have you learned about your relationships with others from this experience?
I have to be more vocal and honest about what I need. For too long, I’ve hated “needing” anything. I’ve got a pretty fierce independent streak, and in the past, I haven’t been willing to ask for help because I always think I can handle everything on my own, in addition to helping others handle their issues. And always, inevitably, I will buckle under the pressure I put on myself. It’s been a humbling but ultimately growing experience to learn how to say “I need help.” Still working on it.
What would you say to a woman currently battling/navigating infertility who may be feeling hopeless, conflicted or ashamed?
Friend, you are so much stronger than you think you are. Even when you’re crying in your car in a Target parking lot on a sunny Saturday morning. Even when, in the throes of your pain and suffering, you behave in ways you never thought you would. Even when you think you cannot possibly put one foot in front of the other.
Here’s what I’ve learned about life: it’s not always happiness or sadness. Most of the time, it’s both. The proportions may change depending on the season, but for most of us, some degree of sadness will always be there. Rather than bury it or deny it or hope that it will disappear when a new job, house, child, or phase of life comes along, I’m learning to accept it as an essential part of the human experience and all the more reason to revel in the happy times when they do come. I hope you are able to do the same.
Most importantly, feeling alone and forgotten is not the same as being alone and forgotten. Though I don’t know you or your specific circumstances, I’d be willing to bet you’ve got people on the sidelines, waiting to be let in to help you bear this burden, to bring some much-needed light and laughter to your days. Let them in.
You’re not waiting for your life to begin. Your life is happening, right now. I know it’s hard. So hard. Most days you’re doing good to simply survive. But don’t miss out on all the beautiful things you do have. Make yourself that pot of coffee and allow yourself to feel, in that moment, that it is enough.
Morgan, thank you, thank you for being so vulnerable. Friends, if you’d like to encourage Morgan, please do so in the comments! And as always, if you need a friend or listening ear – whatever you’re walking through – email me.