Monica Caron on Giving Yourself Grace While TTC
Tell us a little about yourself.
Hello there! I’m Monica Caron. I live in Atlanta, GA with my husband and almost six year old daughter. I’m head of business development at Fruitful Fertility, a fertility mentorship program that matches those struggling emotionally with infertility with someone who has experienced the same thing firsthand. I have my own experience with infertility, so this job is more than just a job for me—it’s a true passion. I have secondary infertility, which is the inability to become pregnant or to carry a baby to term after previously giving birth to a baby. I’m happy to report that after three years, three rounds of IUI, and a round of IVF, I’m pregnant and expecting a baby in October!
Tell us about your journey to motherhood.
In 2014, my husband and I conceived our daughter naturally with no issues. When she was about two-and-a-half years old, we decided to start trying again, and I just wasn’t getting pregnant. My OBGYN said I had nothing to worry about—I had gotten pregnant before. There shouldn’t be an issue now. A year and a half later I still wasn’t pregnant, so I saw a fertility specialist. After months of testing, I was diagnosed with secondary infertility. I learned that I have a closed tube, a lazy ovary, and my husband had sperm motility issues. Either our daughter is a miracle baby, or a lot changed over the course of a few years.
What was happening in your life when you decided to start your family?
My mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. By the end of 2013, her cancer was at stage four, but stable. I not only wanted to give her the opportunity to be a grandmother, but give my parents an opportunity to be grandparents together. So while my husband and I weren’t “ready” for a baby, I wasn’t ready to pass on the opportunity to see my mom being a grandmother. My mom passed away in August of 2015, when my daughter was just ten months old. I feel so fortunate we were able to conceive, and she was able to be a grandparent.
How did your secondary infertility diagnosis change your perspective on women’s health and inspire you to start @monicas_so_called_life?
I started @monicas_so_called_life to connect with other people who were in the process of going through infertility treatments. I was TOTALLY in the dark on infertility before it happened to me. I had no idea that secondary infertility was even a thing. I thought if you conceive once, you won’t have an issue conceiving again. And I was under the impression fertility treatments were a guarantee and with a few stomach and butt shots, you get twins (spoiler alert! That’s not how it works!). Infertility treatments are TOUGH. Whether you’re doing a medicated cycle, an IUI, IVF, or anything in between, there’s a giant mental and emotional toll that hits you. The hormones and drugs they give you are wild, you’re dealing with the possibility that all of this may be for nothing (because there are no guarantees a baby is at the end of your treatment), and finally, you’re coping with the fact that your plan and dream for a child isn’t happening the way you thought it would. It’s a lot!
I quickly started to see common themes within the infertility community. The anxiety. The fear. The confusion about our bodies. There is a serious lack of real reproductive education we receive. For example, I had no idea what AMH was (a hormone level that tells our ovarian reserve) or that it was something I should be aware of. I could go on and on about what I didn’t know about my own body. We are taught at a young age to practice safe sex and use protection to avoid getting pregnant. After all, it takes just the once! But the reality is, it’s not that simple. No wonder it’s such a slap in the face when we find out we have fertility issues—it’s definitely not something we are properly prepared for.
But the reality is, it’s not that simple. No wonder it’s such a slap in the face when we find out we have fertility issues—it’s definitely not something we are properly prepared for.
@monicas_so_called_life has become a place where people can come together and discuss ANYTHING. No subject is too taboo. No question is too gross. And no topic is off limits. Plus, I try to provide some humor since the road of infertility is so intense and serious most of the time.
Tell us how you found out you were pregnant each time. We'd love details!
The first time I got pregnant we had been trying for about five months and nothing was happening, so we decided to take a breather. I was working from home one day and reached over to grab something from the table, and my boob hit the corner of the chair. IT REALLY HURT. I realized then I was supposed to have started my period the week before and hadn’t. I took a home pregnancy test and sure enough, it was positive. I called my husband. He came home from work, and we went out to dinner to celebrate. Yes, that’s right. I went from being the person “who just stopped thinking about it and got pregnant” to an infertile. The world works in mysterious ways.
After we started our infertility treatments I had a few chemical pregnancies (a term I HATE), which means the sperm and the egg meet, but the embryo does not implant. You get a positive pregnancy test, but you quickly get your period. Needless to say, it’s a real emotional rollercoaster. We also had a miscarriage at about seven weeks, which was rough. I never understood the devastation around an early miscarriage until it happened to me (and shame on me for even questioning it). I was devastated that we had to start everything all over again. I was emotionally and physically drained.
My current pregnancy is via IVF. After we transferred our embryo, we waited about ten days before our first beta blood test to confirm if we were pregnant or not. I personally couldn’t wait the ten days and started testing about five days after our transfer. We got positive test after positive test, but because of our previous history with chemical pregnancies and miscarriage, I wasn’t over-the-moon excited. We got our first beta test back, and it was positive. It was a strange experience as I was sitting in a Starbucks doing work when I got the call from the doctor. It was anticlimactic to be honest. I had to go back two days later for another beta test and then go back again a week after that. I candidly wasn’t really able to celebrate this pregnancy until I hit 24 weeks, which is what is deemed as “viability week,” meaning the baby has a chance of survival from that point on.
How do you care for your body while pregnant?
It’s been a very different experience for both my pregnancies. With my daughter I was able to workout through my entire pregnancy. After I got over the hurdle of morning sickness and food aversions, I nourished my body with healthy fats, lots of vegetables, and a nightly portion of Phish Food ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s.
This pregnancy has been like the wild west. I was throwing up daily for the first ten weeks and survived mostly on grilled cheese and pasta until about 17 weeks, when I could start to imagine eating vegetables again. I did workout with @obefitness—they have incredible at-home workouts and have a ton of prenatal workouts. I also took long walks, which were more about me getting some “me” time. But recently, I’ve been instructed by my doctor to take it easy, so I’ve been doing just that.
The one thing that has stayed consistent for both pregnancies is the nightly portion of Phish Food. It’s good for my soul!
What is your favorite part of pregnancy? Least favorite part?
Favorite part: Feeling the baby move and being overwhelmed by how incredible it is that my body can morph to carry a child.
Least favorite part: The fact that it takes about half of the pregnancy to get to the point where you can feel the baby move.
Tell us about your experience breastfeeding your first.
Breastfeeding is hard. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed and put a lot of pressure on myself to do so. In my opinion, there’s so much focus around “breast is best” and not enough focus on “fed is best.” At our first pediatricians appointment, the doctor was concerned with how much weight my daughter had lost in the 24 hours since we brought her home from the hospital. She encouraged me to supplement with formula. It felt like a gut punch. And I didn’t listen.
In my opinion, there’s so much focus around “breast is best” and not enough focus on “fed is best.”
At our next appointment about four days later, I still hadn’t introduced formula, and my daughter had lost a full pound since we left the hospital. It wasn’t good. My pediatrician gently said she wasn’t letting me leave until I gave my daughter a bottle of formula. She was losing too much weight and she was entering a place where she could be deemed as a “failure to thrive.”
Here I was determined to exclusively breastfeed—and my own determination and fear of failing to breastfeed was actually failing my baby.
I took the formula, fed my daughter, and went from feeling like a failure for not producing enough milk to feeling like a failure for basically letting my daughter starve. Oh motherhood—she's so emotional and tricky.
A few days later, my milk came in, and we would later learn that my flow was too heavy for my daughter to manage (how the tables turned), so I was able to nurse a bit, but had to switch to exclusively pumping and bottle feeding.
Like I said, breastfeeding is hard. And I champion any way a parent decides is the best way to feed their baby.
How do you think about doing your best work while being a parent? Has that understanding shifted over time?
The bottom line is—it’s really hard to “have it all,” no matter what anyone tells you. Over time I have realized that my definition of “best” needed to shift away from “perfect.” I spent so much time trying to be the perfect wife, perfect mom, and perfect employee, that I was inadvertently setting myself up to fail at everything. I’ve now found a balance that includes raising my hand when I’m overwhelmed (not easy to do, but so important) and letting the dishes sit in the sink a little longer. Truly understanding what is a priority and what can wait has been my saving grace in terms of doing my best.
What stigma(s) in women’s health do you wish to lift the veil on?
I want to lift the veil on any shame associated with a struggle to get pregnant, or a struggle with being pregnant. The bottom line is—it’s not as simple as the poem we were fed as kids—love, marriage, and a baby carriage. Life is filled with ups and downs. Some of us conceive when we least expect it and that can be just as emotionally difficult to process as it is for those of us that struggle for years to get pregnant. The journey to motherhood looks different for all of us. We should support each other’s emotional struggles instead of spending our time comparing the road each of us has traveled. There should be no shame in discussing our inability to get pregnant or our miscarriages. And there should be no shame in discussing how hard pregnancy can be, or how hard it is to bring a baby home. None of it is easy, and no woman should feel alone in her struggle.
None of it is easy, and no woman should feel alone in her struggle.
Is there a larger vision that keeps you going, even when your motivation is down?
Even in my darkest dark during my infertility struggles, I was motivated to speak out because I didn’t want any woman to feel alone on top of feeling so emotionally raw and wounded. I was confident there was no way I was the only one feeling like a lost lunatic. I’m a part of an amazing community on Instagram, filled with women who don’t want anyone else to feel alone in their struggle.
In addition to the community, I was excited when I discovered Fruitful Fertility. To know there was a network out there providing a one-to-one connection was really inspiring. I was lucky enough to be pregnant at that point, so I signed up to be a mentor. I was matched with someone with a very similar diagnosis, and it’s incredibly rewarding to know I’m helping someone feel less alone. Soon after I signed up, I saw there was a job listing for head of business development, which is my background. I applied for the job, and for the first time in my career, I’m doing something that is truly helping other people. So even when I’m having a tough day, I can silence the noise and focus on our mission—to make infertility suck less for as many people as possible.
What advice do you have for other aspiring mamas?
Give yourself grace! For a lot of us, the road to motherhood takes time and can be far from simple. And most importantly, listen to your body and advocate for yourself. I was confident something was wrong when we were trying for our second, but I silenced myself instead of advocating for more testing sooner.