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'Inconceivable' mom: Promoting infertility awareness is a mission of hope

Carolyn Savage was thrust into the role of surrogate mother when an IVF clinic mistakenly implanted her with another couple's child. She carried that child to term and gave the baby to his biological parents, even though doctors told her it would have to be her last pregnancy. She and her husband recently announced they're expecting twins through a surrogate. In honor of National Infertility Awareness week, here Savage talks about the importance of being compassionate when it comes to understanding that infertility is a common and treatable disease.

Savage Family

Carolyn and Sean Savage and their three kids.

By Carolyn Savage, TODAY Moms guest blogger

I don’t remember deciding I would be a mom someday.  I don’t think most women do.  I guess that’s because it was ingrained in me at a very early age.  I’ve seen pictures of it happening: The birthdays and Christmases when I was given a new doll and told, “Now you’re the mommy!”  I burped, fed, and dressed my baby.  I pushed her in my doll stroller and tucked her in at night, loving her the same way my mom loved me.  As I grew, I learned there were many options for my life in addition to motherhood.  I learned I could have a career and be a mom! I was also thoroughly educated as to how to avoid pregnancy until I was ready--but eventually--when I was ready, I could choose to be a mom.  Imagine my surprise, when the time was right and I couldn’t get pregnant?

Early on, in our quest to conceive, I’d talk with others to see if anyone had any helpful advice.  No one did.  “What do you mean you can’t get pregnant? Relax…it will happen.”  How could I relax when I was scared and confused?  No one ever told me that I might need medical intervention to become a mom. The idea that my body wasn’t cooperating with my lifelong dreams also messed with my sense of identity.  I knew I wasn’t alone.  One in eight couples struggle to conceive.  More than a million women go through some kind of fertility treatment each year.  Why the silence?

When my husband and I turned to in vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive, we decided to be open about it.  We answered inquiries about our treatments candidly and that often put us on the receiving end of some very hurtful remarks.  Some of the hum-dingers were, “You’ll have children if it’s God’s plan” or “Be happy with what you have!”  We don’t think infertility is God’s plan anymore than we think cancer is God’s plan.  And our desire to have another child didn’t mean we were ungrateful. Probably the most offensive comment has been, “You should just adopt.”  Don’t misunderstand.  Adoption is a wonderful option for building a family, but the words “just” and “adopt” should never be used in the same sentence.  Anyone who thinks a family “just adopts” is ignorant to the complicated process that is adoption.  Perhaps the reason so many couples choose to keep their fertility struggles private is to avoid such insensitivity.  Being infertile is hard enough.

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week.  The week’s objective is to evoke a compassionate understanding of infertility as a common and treatable disease.  Hopefully, through awareness, family and friends of fertility patients will understand that they can help by offering sensitive and loving support.   It is also important that the millions of men and women struggling with infertility understand that there are medical professionals, advocacy groups, and online forums that are willing to advocate, educate and support.   Most importantly, this week is about hope.  Hope for beating the diagnosis, and hope for attaining our lifelong dreams of motherhood.