When author and journalist L'Oreal Thompson Payton found out she was pregnant after four unsuccessful in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles, she had trouble letting go of the anxiety and embracing the joy. Support from her "sister in infertility" and therapist helped her realize that what she was feeling was okay — and that, regardless of what happened, feeling excited was okay too. Here, L'Oreal explains her journey in her own words.
It's the most wonderful time of your life, so they say. But the early months of my pregnancy were anything but wonderful for me. Instead of feeling happy and joyous, I was constantly anxious and afraid of "jinxing" myself. After all, my husband, Jeff, and I had endured four failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles after a year of trying to conceive naturally, so can you blame me for being a little cautious?
On the last Friday in February, we got "The Call" notifying us that our fifth cycle of IVF had worked and the blood pregnancy test had come back positive. We were shocked. If I'm being honest, we'd mostly undergone that last cycle in order to get our health insurance plan to cover the tests our reproductive endocrinologist had recommended to get to the bottom of why IVF wasn't working. And unlike previous cycles, we didn’t tell our family and friends — neither of us expected it to work. We'd been on our way to IKEA to get out of the house and distract ourselves in anticipation of more bad news.
Typically after these appointments I'd surrender my phone to Jeff because I couldn't bear to hear the news directly from the nurses. I'd rather hear it from him. He was driving at the time the nurse called, so I had no choice but to answer it myself. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and put the phone on speaker expecting to hear, "I'm so sorry…" Instead, we heard, "Congratulations, it's positive!" I don't remember what else she said. I'm pretty sure I mentally blacked out. Jeff pulled up to a stoplight and we looked at each other in disbelief. We were so silent that the nurse asked if we were still there. "Hello?" she asked. "We're still here," I assured her. "We're just shocked."
I wasn’t allowing myself to accept the reality that this was real.
After the initial excitement wore off, fear and panic started to set in as our nurse went down the list of next steps. My human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) level needed to double within 48 hours, so I needed to come back on Monday for another blood test. We'd never made it this far in an IVF cycle, so I had no idea what to expect. I spent all weekend praying my hCG wouldn't drop. We made it to Monday and the hCG levels looked good. Now I needed to come back three consecutive Wednesdays for ultrasounds. Well, crap. Here I thought we were in the clear and there was yet another hurdle we had to climb — three of them to be exact. When would it end?
With each visit, I held my breath praying there would be a heartbeat and exhaling a huge sigh of relief through a teary-eyed smile. Because of COVID precautions, Jeff hadn't been allowed inside the doctor's office. Thankfully, I could FaceTime him, but I have no idea what I would've done if something had gone wrong and I had to face the bad news by myself.
Even after we "graduated" from our fertility clinic after a month and transferred care to our OB-GYN, it still didn't feel real. Or rather I wasn’t allowing myself to accept the reality that this was real. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop out of fear that if I'd allowed myself to feel even a modicum of happiness, it would be taken away from me at any moment.
Beyond getting our hopes up, I didn't want to disappoint our family and friends who've been rooting for us since the start of this journey, so we kept the news to ourselves until the end of the first trimester. And even then, I was in no rush to announce our pending bundle of joy to the world, much to Jeff's disappointment. I was living in constant fear that this was all too good to be true.
I was googling pregnancy symptoms and week-by-week changes in incognito mode as a form of self-preservation.
Whereas Jeff jumped in headfirst watching all sorts of YouTube tutorials and doing research to find the best products for baby, I was googling pregnancy symptoms and week-by-week changes in incognito mode as a form of self-preservation in case anything bad happened. I'd read about a woman who was bombarded with Instagram ads for pregnancy and baby products even after she'd miscarried and I didn't want to suffer the same fate. If I googled in secrecy, it'll be like nothing ever happened, I told myself.
In June of this year, I came face-to-face with everything I'd been strategically avoiding at a Buy Buy Baby in Ohio. We were visiting family in preparation for our upcoming relocation from Chicago when Jeff thought it'd be fun to do something baby-related to remind us of why we were dealing with the stress of house hunting. Spoiler alert: it was not fun. Not for me, at least.
As soon as we walked in and I saw the wall of strollers to my right, I felt my heart begin to race. We slowly made our ways over to the strollers and I refused to go any farther, stopping in my tracks and bursting into uncontrollable tears. Jeff tried to calm me down, but I was inconsolable, shaking as I cried. It was all too much. After the tears finally subsided, Jeff asked if I wanted to try out one of the strollers. I vigorously shook my head "no," afraid if I even so much as touched the stroller that this would all become too real. And if it became real, then there could be loss. And if there was loss, I didn't know what I would do.
As my therapist reminded me, this moment is worthy of celebration regardless of what happens.
The following month, I was talking to my sister in infertility, Regina Townsend, founder of The Broken Brown Egg, an infertility advocacy blog for Black women, about the guilt I felt for not being as joyous as I thought I should have been given all we'd gone through to get pregnant. And like the angel that she is, Regina assured me my feelings were not only valid, but to be expected even. That's when she told me PTSD after infertility was a real thing. After all, infertility is trauma and my anxiety was definitely triggered by all the worst-case scenarios I'd made up in my head. But as my therapist reminded me, this moment is worthy of celebration regardless of what happens. This baby is worthy of celebration. I am worthy of celebration.
Slowly but surely, I stopped expecting the worst and started celebrating the now. I don't know what the future holds, but I'm taking it one day, one doctor's appointment, one milestone at a time. As Michell C. Clark once tweeted, "A gentle reminder: Expecting the worst won't protect you from disappointment — it will only detract from the joy that you could be experiencing in the present."
Fertility could be top of mind or on the back burner for now — but it has the power to impact everything. We're sharing your stories to both celebrate and create space for the many ways we navigate our careers, relationships, and finances in relation to our reproductive health. If you have a story to share, get in touch.