Elisabeth Röhm’s Blog: Sharing My IVF Secret
Elisabeth Röhm, best known for her role as Serena Southerlyn on Law & Order, has a busy 2011 ahead of her.
There are certain experiences that almost every woman looks forward to as a right of passage. Pregnancy is one of them. To me, it’s as big as death, and it seems like an impossible situation when you discover that you will not give birth in your lifetime — or if you do, it will be after extensive medical assistance and cost a small fortune.
It is devastating when you simply can’t do it the natural way and your body can’t function as you believed that it would during your whole young adult life.
I never thought I’d come out and talk about my experience with in vitro fertilization (IVF). It’s not that I’m shy or hugely private — it mainly comes from the subject being socially taboo and very personal. As a woman who has had to receive assistance to be able to carry a child and deliver a healthy baby girl, I am grateful that I had the right to make a choice for my family and regarding my own body.
On the other hand, some of my quiet about my experience has also come from the burden of sadness and frustration. Of course, my closest inner circle knows about my choice to do IVF, and whenever I meet a woman who is struggling and lost in her pursuit of a natural pregnancy, I am very forthcoming. It’s mutually soothing to share this personal experience. We all need comfort and support when we are experiencing personal challenges.
Still, it never seemed like a subject I wanted to be public knowledge. Was I ashamed or embarrassed by my choices, and therefore, unwilling to be revealing? I don’t know. I just know that back then, I had decided that some parts of life are best left private and that was going to be one of them.
I was very lucky that I only had to attempt IVF twice. Many women have to go through the process plenty more times than that, especially if they want more than one child. It’s hard on your body and your mind. I am profoundly blessed that the result of all that manipulation in my body was my healthy and vibrant daughter, Easton.
Let me just say that the process of the discovery that I would be unable to get pregnant naturally was a huge heartbreak. I was at the doctor just doing the run of the mill check-up when we decided to do some more extensive testing. The results were disappointing, to say the least. My follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels were through the roof and it looked as if I might be going into early menopause. This is not what a 34-year-old woman wants to hear when she thinks time is still on her side.
As we began to explore my condition, it became clear that it was likely “now or never.” I had always longed to be a mother, way before I should have been thinking about it at all. No, not in that Juno sense, but more that I had really looked forward to being a parent that I would be proud of later in life. I had spent a lot of time thinking about parenting as a whole based upon my tumultuous childhood. In a sense, I had studied what I thought was good, right and healthy in parenting. It had been a long dream to finally one day be a mother myself.
Things were not turning out as I’d planned! If you’d have asked me 10 years prior what I thought of IVF, surrogacy or anything other than the God-given natural way, I might have condemned it out of ignorance. How quickly I had to acknowledge every individual’s right to choose what’s best for them and their family. Ron and I decided to start the long trek of IVF.
The truth is that most people, especially me, take for granted how easily our bodies function when they are healthy. Now all of these years later, I have many friends who have had children in an unconventional way. The subject has become more mainstream and people are more open about it. From friends who simply couldn’t hold pregnancies, to gay couples that have wanted to extend their family, to people like me, who simply were hormonally unable to conceive — there are a lot of us.
Nothing about our journey was easy or predictable. Instead, it was a roller coaster of emotions and physical challenges. What I have come to know through the journey is that everyone has the right to receive medical assistance. We have the right to — although we can’t conceive in a natural way — have sweet children and extend our families into big, happy and healthy clans.
Over the last few months I have become aware of Nicole Kidman‘s willingness to share her story and I have found that to be healing. It came as a surprise to me that I needed healing. I thought I was just fine on the subject as a whole. But I found the honesty and tenderness about her experience to be a gift to me and to society.
I understand the need and desire to have a private life. Over these last three years I have felt very comfortable with not sharing my own unconventional happy ending. However, I also recognize the power in being willing to speak the truth for others. I was grateful to Nicole when I watched her in an interview from Australia. I was grateful to her for trying to set us free from the judgement that can be laid upon women who cannot conceive naturally. Also, for helping me to recognize the judgements I had put upon myself. It’s not easy to be that woman and to feel a bit broken in silence.
As a witness to my own journey, I hope I can share a little reprieve and compassion with any person who is struggling with the decision to have a family in an unconventional way and to receive the support to do so. If you have to decide to have your child through IVF or surrogacy, or are going through it now after making the choice, I hope you know that there is nothing to be ashamed of at all. I acknowledge your strength in deciding that you have the right to parent.
It was hard for me to not feel conflicted about my decision, but in the end, I have my beautiful daughter and I thank God every day for the medical advancements that allowed me the choice to be the mother I had dreamt of being. Every family that has a child is blessed and every woman or man who deeply and lovingly wants to parent should have the right to do so.
— Elisabeth Röhm