Coping With Emotions & Infertility Struggles
- Olympic figure skater Tara Lipinski, who recent welcomed her baby girl Georgie Winter via surrogate, has opened up about the emotions she felt during her five-year struggle with fertility.
- Lipinksi was previously diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition when endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus, and ultimately learned she had a reproductive immunology issue which caused her body to reject their fertilized embryo.
- Endometriosis, a painful disorder that has been associated with infertility, is a condition when endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus.
- When a stressful life event occurs, people may react with a range of different (and quickly changing) emotions, just as Lipinski experienced during her fertility struggle. This is completely normal.
- Psychiatrist Dr. Lori Plutchik tells SurvivorNet that the patient, or person going through the stressful event, should accept that emotions will be fluid. You may feel fine one day and then feel a massive wave of stress the next. It’s also important for those you look to for support whether that’s a therapist, friends and family, or both to understand the fluidity of stress-related emotions.
Lipinksi who was previously diagnosed with endometriosis, a painful disorder that has been associated with infertility, and ultimately learned she had a reproductive immunology issue which caused her body to reject their fertilized embryo, admitted in a recent interview she felt “so alone” during those years.
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She continued, “I felt so alone and I had all of these feelings that I didn’t know if they were normal or if other people were experiencing it because you just don’t hear these stories as much.
“You hear about IVF or infertility, but you don’t really know what the day-to-day life is, especially when it goes on for half a decade.”
Lipinski said she decided to go public with her fertility journey on her self-published podcast “Tara Lipinski: Unexpecting The Podcast” after feeling “so tired” of what felt like she was “keeping a secret.”
“I was doing my day job and obviously my family, my inner circle knew, but not everyone else. I’ve been in the public eye and I’ve shared so much that we eventually just decided, ‘lets just tell our story and talk about all these emotions that come along with this life of trying to build a family,” she added. “And we did that and we talked about our surrogacy journey.”
Recounting how once she and her husband understood why she had experienced miscarriages during her years-long fertility struggle, she said they ultimately used a surrogate with one of their embryos, “and now we have a baby girl.”
Lipinski, who told Hudson that her “precious” daughter is now seven weeks old, continued to express the daily joy she now feels after her daughter was born.
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“I can’t believe it, it really is shocking. Every day I wake up and its just this surreal feeling that it happened,” Lipinski said.
Despite Lipinski’s excitement to have a daughter, she insists she won’t be forcing her daughter to follow in her ice skating footsteps, telling Hudson, “I feel like that’s a lot of pressure! I feel like that’s a lot. Maybe I’ll take her to the rink and then if she wants to skate, then I guess I’ll have to skate with her. But hopefully, she finds something of her own that doesn’t have to follow in mom’s footsteps.”
In a sweet video clip shared on Lipinski’s Instagram, showing her baby daughter smiling, the sports star wrote, “All I ever wanted… I have this overwhelming sense of peace and purpose that I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before. Her baby giggles are just heaven.”
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In an earlier interview with People, spoke about the instant connection she had with Mikayla, her surrogate, who became pregnant earlier this year from one of Lipinski and her husband’’s fertilized eggs.
She recalled that during her daughter’s birth, she felt very emotional while playing Dave Matthews’ “You and Me.”
Lipinski had four miscarriages, various unsuccessful attempts at in vitro fertilization transfers and two surgeries stemming from endometriosis, she previously explained on social media back in August.
She wrote, “My husband and I have seemingly hit every roadblock imaginable from the moment we began this process in 2018 and since then I have been under anesthesia 24 times, have had 4 miscarriages, 4 D&C’s, 6 failed IVF transfers, 8 retrievals and a diagnosis of endometriosis that led me to 2 major surgeries.
“It has been an excruciatingly painful journey that has been filled with loss & dealing with the grief that comes along with that.”
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In a more recent post, featuring a photo of her daughter wearing a T-shirt reading “Mommy’s Little Ice Skater,” Lipinski wrote, “Meet Georgie Winter. We are so grateful that we get to make this announcement that our baby girl is here. It feels so surreal and I’m experiencing a feeling of happiness that I have never felt before.
“This little embryo that Todd and I made together has come to life! We are so grateful and forever thankful for our surrogate. Mikayla, thank you for carrying her safely into our arms.”
Looking back on her difficult five-year surrogacy, she continued, “I can’t help but think of all those shots, surgeries, multiple retrievals to replenish all of the miscarriages and failed transfers I endured, the miscarriages that felt like they broke me more and more each time and to the times that Todd and I thought are our dream would never come true.”
“I wish we never went through it but I’m grateful that somehow I found the strength to keep going when I thought I couldn’t because we got very lucky. Georgie, we have thought about you for half a decade. You are so loved. You are EVERYTHING,” she said, with some positive words for those dealing with fertility struggles, adding, “Ps. For anyone still in the wait, I’m sorry for what you are going through. I see you and I know the pain you are going through – I’m rooting so hard for you all.”
The Importance of Mental Health: Coping With Emotions
When a stressful life event occurs, people may react with a range of different (and quickly changing) emotions, just as Tara Lipinski experienced during her five-year fertility struggle. This is completely normal.
“The way people respond is very variable,” Psychiatrist Dr. Lori Plutchik tells SurvivorNet. “Very much consistent with how they respond to stresses and challenges in their life in general.”
In this video, Dr. Plutchik is speaking mostly about how people react after a cancer diagnosis which can be a huge range of emotions from fear to anger to determination. However, the conclusion remains the same no matter what stressor someone may be dealing with: your emotions are valid and seeking mental health help may look different for every person.
“People have a range of emotions when they’re diagnosed with cancer,” Dr. Plutchik explains. “And they can include fear, anger … and these emotions tend to be fluid. They can recede and return based on where someone is in the process. Going through a cancer diagnosis is just the beginning of a complicated, complicated process.”
Dr. Plutchik explains that the patient, or person going through the stressful event, should accept that emotions will be fluid. You may feel fine one day and then feel a massive wave of stress the next. It’s also important for those you look to for support whether that’s a therapist, friends and family, or both to understand the fluidity of stress-related emotions.
If a stressful event is affecting how you think and feel, it may be time to seek some sort of mental health treatment. This could mean traditional talk therapy, medication, changing lifestyle habits (like exercise and diet), seeking out a support group, or many other approaches.
Endometriosis, which Tara Lipinski was previously diagnosed with and has been associated with infertility, can be a very painful disorder. Essentially what happens is the abnormal tissue outside of your uterus thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. But because this tissue has no way to exit your body like normal endometrial tissue, it becomes trapped. This can cause cysts, irritation and scar tissue and adhesions abnormal bands of fibrous tissue that can cause pelvic tissues and organs to stick to each other to form.
The Massachusetts General Hospital states that “between 30-50% of people with endometriosis may experience infertility.”
“The normal chance of getting pregnant each month for people with no endometriosis is approximately 10-20%, while people with surgically documented endometriosis have a chance of only 1-10%,” the hospital explains.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “The word endometriosis comes from the word ‘endometrium’—endo means ‘inside,’ and metrium means “uterus,” where a mother carries her baby. Healthcare providers call the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus the endometrium.”
Endometriosis usually occurs on or near reproductive organs in the pelvis or abdomen, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Other areas is can be found in are the fallopian tubes, ligaments around the uterus (uterosacral ligaments), lining of the pelvic cavity, ovaries, outside surface of the uterus, space between the uterus and the rectum or bladder. In rare circumstances, it can also grow on and around the bladder, cervix, intestines, rectum, stomach (abdomen), and vagina or vulva.
Fertility and Cancer Treatment
Infertility can be a side effect of some cancer treatments, but there are options to consider. Fertility preservation, for example, is available to women of childbearing age. Options for women include:
- Egg and embryo freezing (the most common practice)
- Ovarian tissue freezing
- Ovarian suppression to prevent the eggs from maturing so that they cannot be damaged during treatment.
- Ovarian transposition, for women getting radiation to the pelvis, to move the ovaries out of the line of treatment.
No matter what course of action you choose to take, it is important that all women feel comfortable talking about their options prior to cancer treatment.
In an earlier interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Jaime Knopman said time was precious when dealing with fertility preservation for women with cancer. Basically, the sooner the better when it comes to having these important fertility conversations with your doctor.
“The sooner we start, the sooner that patient can then go on and do their treatment," Dr. Knopman said. "A lot of the success comes down to how old you are at the time you froze and the quality of the lab in which your eggs or embryos are frozen in.”
Surrogacy and Gestational Carriers
In some cases after cancer treatment, women may have difficulty giving birth to a child or they may be unable to at all. Having someone else carry their baby may be an option, either through surrogacy or a gestational carrier.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a surrogate pregnancy is “a type of pregnancy in which a woman carries and gives birth to a baby for a person who is not able to have children.”
“In a surrogate pregnancy, eggs from the woman who will carry the baby or from an egg donor are fertilized with sperm from a sperm donor to make an embryo,” the institute explains.
“The embryo is implanted in the uterus of the surrogate mother, who carries the baby until birth. Surrogate pregnancy may be an option for men or women who want to have children and have had certain anticancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, that can cause infertility.”
As for a gestational carrier, the institute describes this person as a “woman who carries and gives birth to a baby for a person who is not able to have children.”
“Eggs from an egg donor are fertilized in the laboratory with sperm from a sperm donor to make an embryo. The embryo is implanted in the uterus of the gestational surrogate, who carries the baby until birth. The gestational surrogate (or carrier) is not genetically related to the baby and is not the biological mother.”
If you or someone you know is deciding on whether or not to go the route of surrogacy or gestational carrier, it’s important to know that each state has different laws and it may be necessary to speak with an attorney before moving forward.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you’re facing cancer treatment and wondering about your fertility preservation options, here are some questions you may consider asking your doctor:
- How do you expect my treatment to affect my fertility?
- Are there specialists I can talk to about my fertility preservation options?
- Is it safe for me to preserve my fertility before treatment?
- What resources are available to help me pay for fertility preservation?
- What mental health resources are available to help me cope with this?
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff