If you have a Facebook account, I’m sure you’ve noticed several people in your feed posting what they are thankful for that day during the month of November. While I haven’t participated in this trend, I am now going to share with you the two things I am thankful for that most people would not be: infertility and Multiple Sclerosis. You see, I am afflicted with both of these diseases, and yet I find myself thankful to have them. Why, you ask? Let me explain.
My husband and I have struggled with infertility for almost thirteen years. We suffer from a combination of both male and female related issues that make it impossible for us to conceive a child without medical intervention. Due to a lack of funds and insurance coverage, we have not been able to afford treatment in the hopes of trying to conceive a child via in-vitro fertilization. We’ve had to stand by watching on as family and friends create their families while trying to be as loving and supportive as possible. We have plenty of children in our lives that call us “Aunt” and “Uncle,” but never “Mommy” and “Daddy”. Infertility is a private, heartbreaking struggle that has been the cause of more than one failed marriage. This disease will make you question your self-worth as a person in a society that values the creation of families. Every holiday and family gathering has the potential to drive that knife a little deeper into your heart as you are constantly reminded of your “failure”. And yet, I wouldn’t change enduring this for anything.
I wouldn’t change it because of what I have learned about myself, my husband, my marriage and about people in general. I have been fortunate enough to meet some amazing people in person and online through blogs and support groups that I now consider to be some of my best friends. These are people I would have never connected with if it weren’t for our shared sorrow and pain. There were times in my marriage when my husband and I hit rough patches and had considered the possibility of separation or divorce. However, because we only had to worry about repairing our relationship and restoring the bonds with each other, we were able to pull through and now have a very loving, stable and happy marriage. I cannot imagine how difficult that would have been had we also had to consider our children. Would we have been one of those couples who try to work it out “for the children’s sake” and end up divorcing anyway? We are also more financially secure and emotionally and mentally mature than we were thirteen years ago. If we would’ve had children early in our marriage, there is a strong possibility that we would still be struggling to make ends meet. We also would not have had the patience and calmness that we have now with children. I know that I can handle parenting in a much more mellow fashion at 34 than I could have at 24. That’s not to say that we would’ve been terrible parents, but we probably would have made a lot more mistakes in raising our children. Now I feel secure in the knowledge that when and if we are ever lucky enough to become parents (either through IVF or adoption) our child will be as cherished as any long-awaited gift is. And if fate decrees that we are destined to not become parents? Well, at least we still have each other. Surprisingly, I find that’s enough – something I couldn’t have said in the past.
Back in April of this year, I was experiencing a host of physical problems and I couldn’t figure out why. I had steadily been dealing with increasing headaches, extreme fatigue, short-term memory loss, and some light tingling and numbness in my limbs. Due to a hectic work schedule, I mostly just chalked it up to stress, and figured that these symptoms would eventually disappear. However, I did mention it to my doctor during a routine checkup and she decided to have my thyroid tested and also see if I could have mononucleosis. The very next day after my doctor appointment, I was sitting at my desk at work when suddenly the most bizarre sensation came over me. It felt like everything on the left side of my body was not working correctly. I felt numb, tingly, disoriented and dizzy. Since I was only experiencing these feelings on one side of my body and because my best friend had the same feelings during her stroke five years ago, I was panicked that the same was happening to me. I called my husband and my doctor who then referred me to the ER. Lying in that hospital bed, not knowing what was happening was terrifying. After a series of tests – including a CT and MRI scan – the doctor came in to report that I did not have a stroke, however they did find white matter lesions on my brain. She then went on to say that these lesions could be caused by any number of things: MS, Lyme disease, head injury, and other auto-immune disorders, but that I would have to see a neurologist for further diagnosis. Honestly, my mind shut down after hearing the word “MS”. It’s like something clicked in me, and I just knew that was what I had.
I’m one of those “hope for the best, but plan for the worst” kind of people, so while my family and friends were trying to keep our spirits up by saying they hoped it wasn’t MS, I knew they were wrong. After months of testing that included blood work, another MRI and three follow-up visits to my neurologist, I was finally formally diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in August. While everyone else seemed to be devastated at my diagnosis, I was actually relieved. I hate the unknown and now that I knew exactly what was wrong with me, I knew I could find a way to help myself. My gratitude for this disease is due to several things. First of all, I am humbled at how amazingly loving and supportive everyone has been to me. Family, close friends, co-workers and even Facebook friends all were sending messages of love and support to me, and continue to do so. I really found out how loved I truly am by so many people. I had no idea that I had such an impact on other people’s lives. My husband has been absolutely amazing in taking care of me when I was having a bad day or a flare up. I know that no matter what, he will always be here for me. I’m thankful that I paid attention to what happened during my best friend’s stroke and knew that I needed to seek medical attention because so many people with MS go undiagnosed for years. They tend to just chalk their symptoms up to something else, as I did. Or, if they do seek medical attention, MS isn’t the first thing that most doctors think of, and patients will have endured invasive testing and spend countless dollars just trying to obtain a diagnosis. Because I thought I was having a stroke, I was able to have that initial CT and MRI scan that detected the tell-tale lesions that identify this disease, thereby saving me time awaiting a diagnosis and allowing me to proceed with treatment. I have also been able to find such wonderful support online and on the phone from both the MS Society and the company that manufactures the drug that I now have to inject daily to combat my symptoms. I’m also incredibly grateful to have found such wonderful doctors that I trust with my care.
Through both of these major trials in my life I have learned how incredibly strong I really am. Sure, I’ve had moments of self-pity, but that’s all I allow myself – a moment. Otherwise, all I would do is sit around and wallow in sadness and that would only be detrimental to my mental and physical health. I have not let the fact that I cannot bear my own children keep me from loving everyone else’s. I have not let the possibility that I may someday lose my ability to walk frighten me – instead I make jokes about taking my Hover-round to the Grand Canyon and how I’ll be able to score the “good” parking spots with my handicap tag. I refuse to let either of these diseases define me or steal from me who I am at my core. My gratitude comes from the fact that I would have never even known all of these things about myself, or met such wonderful people if I never had these diseases in the first place.
To me, that’s what Thanksgiving really means – to be thankful not for material things or just having your family around you for dinner, but to really look at what have been the most difficult trials in your life and knowing there are positives to be found even in hard times. I hope this year that you too are able to be thankful for the unthinkable.