BAIE VERTE, NL — Sometimes you want something so badly it hurts, and others can be totally oblivious to that pain and suffering.
Infertility fits this scenario well, according to a young Baie Verte couple that has been trying to have a baby for about three years.
Stefanie and Christopher Howell live in a small, rural Newfoundland and Labrador neighborhood where children freely run the streets without a care, and they have friends whose families are growing.
The couple looks on with admiration and love. There’s no jealously or ill will.
But there is hurt — deep inside for so long, hiding in plain sight — a longing to have what others have.
“Pretty much all my life I have loved being around kids, Christopher too,” Stefanie said. “Being around kids and having them around seems like such a natural thing to do.
“I have always had this overwhelming feeling that I wanted to be a mother. It pretty much means everything to us.”
The couple — Christopher from St. Anthony and Stephanie from Baie Verte — has been together for almost seven years. He is a paramedic and she’s a nurse. About three years ago, with their careers set, the decision to have children was made.
A year later, the excitement of that decision faded to concern. Pregnancy had yet to happen.
The journey begins
In 2015, the Howells went to their family doctor to discuss and learn more about their situation. An ultrasound would reveal the possibility of a bicornuate uterus, which can impact a woman’s reproductive capabilities.
From there, they were referred to the Newfoundland and Labrador Fertility Clinic in St. John’s. Several options were presented to Stefanie, who chose exploratory surgery.
In November 2016, it was confirmed she had a bicornuate uterus, but also endometriosis — a disorder in which tissue normally lining the inside of a uterus grows outside. It can also impact fertility.
The surgeon was able to repair both. The Howells returned home with a newfound enthusiasm and hope. They expected their infertility woes were behind them, and before long hoped to have some amazing news to share with family and friends.
Time continued to pass without a pregnancy. The hurt returned.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” Stefanie said. “We thought everything was going to be OK, and that it was going to happen for us, but it just didn’t.”
Six months later, they returned to the fertility clinic. This time, intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) were contemplated. Primarily due to the IVF being so much more of an invasive and costly procedure, they decided to try IUI.
They went through four rounds over four months late last year. Hope returned, and each time the hurt returned.
Through it all, the Howells struggled to deal with their emotional journey. It has also been a financial challenge, adding to marital strain.
Other than her parents — who Stefanie said helped them tremendously — nobody really knew the extent of their problem. They decided not to burden people with it, especially not wanting anybody to change the way they related to them or worrying about bringing their children around.
That decision, with all the best intentions, also came with its own issues. The question of when they would have a baby was common. For the most part there were innocent comments, but the pain of the process made them sting. Stefanie said other comments, possibly less innocent, were even more hurtful.
“We were basically told we didn’t fit in on our street because we were the only ones without children,” she said. “That really hurt.”
At home, marriage was difficult at times, the couple acknowledged. While they both blamed themselves, it turned to blaming each other. The hurt was difficult to get past and fueled issues within the relationship. In time, it became better, they say.
“To see the pain that Stefanie was going through was the hardest thing on me,” Christopher said. “We don’t have anything wrong with either one of us, yet we still can’t get pregnant. The pain she was going through every month after multiple negative tests – she was just getting down over it. That was the hardest thing for me because I can’t do anything to take that away.”
Christopher believes it took some time and hard work to get to a point where acceptance could enter the picture.
That’s not to say they want it any less — nothing could be further from the truth.
Learning to Rest
The situation led Stefanie to open up about what they were going through, to end the hiding in silence. About a month ago, she started a blog — Learning to Rest. Once a week, she has picked a topic and shared their story and most inner secrets.
Going from pretending everything was OK to letting everybody — strangers included — know that it was not was a major life change. The support the Howells received through messages and in person has helped them feel they are no longer alone.
“It has been overwhelming, in a good way,” Stefanie said of the support. “People we know and people we don’t know — people from all across Canada that I have never had any contact with — have messaged us letting us know they are thinking of us, that they are praying for us.”
Hearing from people in similar situations saying the blog has encouraged them or made them feel better has been a tremendous help. Stefanie said this course of action, rather than hiding, is more in line with who they are as people and professionals.
She plans to continue a weekly blog, and hopes one day there will be an entry on the success story behind the whole ordeal.
The Howells have been more accepting of their challenge, but certainly have not accepted defeat. An IUI procedure in December was called off because the increased risk of multiple babies was determined to be high, but they are hoping to try again soon.
If IUI procedures don’t turn out positive results, IVF is not off the table, she says.
Stefanie’s blog is Learning to Rest