By: Pirie Jones Grossman
Photo Credit: Andrii Yalanskyi/Getty Images
One woman opens up about her struggle.
My story begins on a hazy, late August afternoon, when I returned home from my fertility doctor’s office in Pasadena, California after he had extracted eggs from my uterus for the seventh time within eight months. This extraction is part of the process known as in-vitro fertilization or IVF. The lab mixes my husband’s semen with my eggs to potentially create healthy embryos to be transferred to our surrogate. Blindsided by my inability to carry a pregnancy, my husband and I remained hopeful that our surrogate, a healthy 26-year-old who had previous success carrying two babies for another couple, could carry our baby. This was the second time we transferred our embryos into this surrogate. And take note, she was our second surrogate.
You see, I was 37 and my husband was 42. We had been together for four years when we decided to get married. We were in love and giddy with the thought of having a child. Steve had a fabulous daughter, and I loved them both with all my heart. They were the reason I wanted to become a mother. I witnessed the beautiful relationship between them and that inspired me to have a child. We were excited about growing our family.
So, back to when I was at the doctor’s office for my seventh extraction.
As soon as the procedure was complete, we returned home where I climbed into our bed to rest. My husband went to work and our housekeeper took care of me. My body, mind, and spirit were exhausted. I felt depleted, yet optimistic. Maybe this time our surrogate would get pregnant! I soon fell asleep, dreaming of a healthy pregnancy.
Within a few hours, I woke up with severe nausea and cramps. I felt weak and dizzy, and when I stood to walk into the bathroom, my world went dark. I’m not sure how long I lay on the floor or who even found me. All I remember is waking up in an emergency room, my body burdened by tubes and a headache so mind-numbing that it felt as though a hatchet had been left in my head. My husband was standing beside my bed, holding my hand with a look on his face that struggled to adequately describe my situation. My sister was also in the room, whispering into the phone. She and my husband were conferring as to what to do, as I was told later. I felt lifeless and all I wanted to do was sleep. The next thing I knew, I woke up in a different hospital. I had been transported across town from the Huntington in Pasadena to Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. This time, my internist swayed over me trusting I could understand his words and the reason for my move. He proceeded to tell me I had lost a massive amount of blood and within the last 48 hours had received three blood transfusions. And, yet I continued to hemorrhage. I was now in the ICU and soon would be prepped for surgery to correct the tear in my uterine wall. I was so thoroughly exhausted at this point that I slept for another three days. When I finally woke, my weight had plummeted to 100 pounds. I saw Steve’s face leaning over me, his eyes squinting in distress. He told me that he was worried he was losing me, his wife. He wanted me to give up trying to have a baby and forego our efforts to create our child. I didn’t think I could feel worse, physically or mentally, yet my chest tightened with each of his words pushing my heart up to the back of my throat where it burned like an uncontrolled forest fire. I felt like a failure.
A mere 48 hours later, my husband brought me home. My body, achy and riddled with vast amounts of fertility drugs (in addition to sleeping, pain, and anti-anxiety medications) acted as a dull reminder of the hospitals where I had taken up residence for 12 days. The lingering depression had wrapped itself tightly around me forbidding me to react to anything other than where I might next curl up in a fetal position and drift away.
What came next, I could have not predicted. As I lay in bed, trying to heal in my own way from this short-circuited and dangerous attempt at motherhood, my husband announced that he needed a break. He and his daughter were headed to our home in Sun Valley, Idaho. He asked me if I wanted to join. It seemed like a bad joke. How could I? I could barely walk! My doctor gave me stern instructions and those included round-the-clock bed rest. Travel was absolutely out of the question.
In the brief time, he spent thinking about the events that had interrupted our IVF cycle Steve became cold and indifferent. Something had changed the man I loved; this man was a stranger to me. He reiterated that I had to stop trying to have a baby and that he and his daughter needed to be enough for me. He missed his life… our life. In a clipped tone, typically reserved for his business affairs, he stated he didn’t like who I had become. The words burrowed into my vacant body and at that point, nothing was making sense. There was a distance between us that I never encountered with him. He always took care of me. He was that husband. But this man was shut down and unsympathetic to my pain, my health, and my well-being. I didn’t feel an ounce of compassion or love from him. I remember thinking that we may not make it. Yet that seemed inconceivable to me. How could I live without him? He and his daughter were my family. And, then the real pain inside me, in my heart, became insufferable.
He turned away, walked out of our bedroom, and left. His casualness only exacerbated my confused and lonely reality. There was no one in our home to help me. Within moments of his departure and absence, I felt a noticeable shift in my state of mind. Despair had become my new partner; I knew I was in trouble.
My sister called to check on me. I told her what happened and she rushed over, furious to hear that my husband left me alone. She decided to stay with me until he returned.
Over the course of a couple of days, I learned more about my experience at Cedars-Sinai. My sister said that my doctor told her they almost lost me… twice! He confirmed, “Your sister is very strong on the inside, but her body is weak.” He also agreed it would be better to take a break from trying to have a baby.
During that Labor Day weekend, I was alone in my thoughts. Not once did my husband call or check on me and I felt the sting of his negligence from afar. He was definitely pulling away from me physically, emotionally, and mentally. With that, I detached from the rhythms of normalcy. I subconsciously staged my own disappearing act; slipped into a dark and disconnected place, away from everyone I knew and loved. All I could think about was how I was such a failure. I couldn’t create our baby. Not only could I not get pregnant, but also neither could the two surrogates we used who each tried twice. At that time, I never once considered my husband’s virility! My fertility specialist paraphrased numerous times that I was too old and so were my eggs. I was judging myself so harshly for not being able to create life and now I was the one responsible for my marriage being in shambles. My hopes and dreams vanished and were quickly replaced with helplessness and hopelessness.
Family and friends knew me as strong. I could get up time and time again through any failure. I’d try again with a big smile on my face; I was the perky girl!Nothing could keep me down. I had faith in God and believed that bad would change to good with his divine power and I preached that belief to family and friends. I always carried hope in my heart, no matter what. But, this grief was unlike anything I had experienced. I plunged into an even darker place desperately looking for the light inside of me. Where was God? I prayed and prayed and prayed, “Please take this excruciating pain away from me.”The drugs removed any sense of self. I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing anymore.
As I was spiraling emotionally at a rapid rate, my husband returned home. It was Monday night, Labor Day, September 7, 1998.
I was sleeping on our leather sofa in our media room, and with the TV on as a constant companion; I still managed to hear the back door of our garage open. As he walked in and sat down on the sofa, he asked how I was feeling. Surprisingly, I was happy to see him. Maybe he would be kinder? I could scarcely lift my head off the sofa and when I tried to reach for him to get a hug or a kiss, he backed away abruptly. We were habitually affectionate towards each other, but now those affirming touches and nods ceased to exist. In one easy move, he stood up and walked as far away from me as possible…. in the same room.
I tried to catch my breath before he began asking me if I had given some thought to what we talked about before he left—about giving up trying to have a child together. I said yes, I did. I said I would be willing to if we could consider adoption. He glared back at me with such disdain and laughed. He said he would never consider that as an option. And how could I want someone else’s child? He continued by saying while he was in Sun Valley he had time to think about what he wanted and confessed he didn’t want a child anymore. He claimed the sole reason he married me was because we were going to have a child together and he wanted to make sure the child had his name. But since that wasn’t going to happen for us, he wanted a divorce.
I felt my body tremble with the rush of adrenaline and then I didn’t hear anything else he said. All I could think was that he was throwing our marriage and me away. Nothing seemed real. My head whirled with confusion and my heart pinched with anticipation. A light-headedness nipped at my vision as the pressure of all the drugs in my body began heating up and coursing furiously in my veins. This couldn’t be happening! I can’t take any more grief and sadness. I felt as though I didn’t exist any longer and that unsteady sensation was the light leaving me.
I was standing in front of a man I didn’t know. Who was this man? Where was my husband? This man was dismissive, deliberate, and deadly—his tapestry of venomous words and actions prompted my eruption. I started telling him I didn’t want a child anymore! I only wanted him and our marriage. I’d promise to give up my dream and start being the woman he wanted again. “Please take me back,” I pleaded. He stood like a tower in front of me, his voice calculating, his body rigid continually repeating the word “no.” He had already made up his mind. He wanted a divorce and that was it. I begged him to give us another chance. How could his feelings for me vanish over two days? We shared a passionate marriage for four years. How could he discard me so quickly? I said, “Give me a chance to heal and let’s go to therapy. We could work this out!” He stood motionless; his head and neck stiff, his eyes locked on the wall behind me. I walked over to him and said, “I thought you loved me?” And then he completely crushed me when he said, “I don’t love you anymore… not this Pirie, the woman who’s sick and weak. I miss the fun, sexy woman who was full of life.” I didn’t think about it then, but I missed her too. “You should go to Houston and be with your parents. I’ll talk with my attorney tomorrow morning and start the divorce proceedings. Good night.”
Whatever was left holding me up at that moment, came crashing down. I started shaking, fell back on the sofa, and became sick. Tears were flowing down my face. Everything was just taken away from me. My life had disintegrated. I felt like garbage being tossed out of my own home. So this is what it really feels like to be nothing to someone who you thought would love you forever. I was nothing and this “nothing” was being told to leave tomorrow for her parents’ home in Texas.I could hardly walk or even stand up.
Then a thought occurred. I looked at the seven bottles of medications sitting on the table in front of me. I know… I’ll go to sleep… it will be painless. And then I won’t have to feel this agonizing pain any longer. I immediately opened all the bottles and swallowed over 250 pills… then I lay down, said a prayer to God telling him I’m coming home and closed my eyes… forever. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
A violent bout of vomiting woke me. Somehow, I was in our bed, and my husband was holding me trying to stop the convulsions. There were people in the room yelling out to each other. I was being picked up and moved to another bed. Then it went dark.
Days later, I learned I had returned to Cedars Sinai hospital. This place became my home away from home. It was a repeat performance; my husband was standing next to my bed, staring at me with that same worry. His voice rose as he called for a nurse. He told me I was lucky to be alive. My thoughts came rushing in, why was I in the hospital again? I didn’t remember that I tried to take my life until a mental health provider arrived. She was gentle and asked many questions. Then I remembered… and shame and guilt scorched my heart and soul. Hot tears started streaming down my face and quickly turned into sobs only a wounded animal could make. The shame became unbearable. How could I have done that? My husband was right… I needed to give up my dream of being a mother! I couldn’t even take care of myself. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Steve came to the hospital every day for the first few days to see me. Relentless, he continued asking me if I was going to stop trying to have a baby. I said yes, but on the third day I brought up adoption again. He recoiled and with his eyes blazing, said, “Absolutely not!” Then the subject changed to divorce, but then he said we would talk about that later when I got better. With that, he turned around and walked out of my hospital room. He never returned to my room again.
Two days later I called my sister and she helped me check out and brought me home. When I arrived, I went back to bed and lay down. I called my parents and made arrangements to fly to Houston the next day. Steve was home but was sleeping in another bedroom.
The next morning as I was packing, Steve entered our bedroom. He said his attorney had prepared divorce papers. He hoped it wouldn’t get messy and offered up a mediator if I wanted one to assist in the negotiations. He uttered that he would be fair. Again, I was stunned by his ruthlessness.
Yet something inside of me had switched on… the light. Even through the pain, I felt peace. I survived. God was with me and had a plan and purpose for my life.
I flew to Houston the following day and stayed with my parents for two weeks. I spent time with my brother and his family and my sister. They prayed with me every day. They didn’t give up on me as my husband did and even how I did. The saddest part of all was that I gave my worthiness away to another.That was the first part of my healing—I had to find self-love. I reconnected to my faith, my spiritual side. I found great strength from God every day. I grew stronger and started to heal both physically and mentally. God spared my life and I felt an overflow of gratitude. Yes, I had been given a second chance, now I wanted to find out why. I had embarked on a new life journey.
Where would I go next?
A vision came to me. Move to Sun Valley, Idaho.
And so I did.
The energy of the mountains became my refuge. That energy reaffirmed who I was, where I had been, and who I could become. It restored my worth.
Within a year, I met a beautiful man who loved me and wanted to fulfill my dream of being a mother. We created two healthy children. My dream came true! Now, my 16-year old son and 14-year-old daughter are the heartbeats of my life. I even beat the odds by having them when I was 44 and 46 years old!
Let’s connect and conclude the story as far as my ex-husband is concerned. Steve passed away from liver cancer only nine years after we divorced. If we had had children together, I would be a widow and our children wouldn’t have a father. We made our peace and forgave one another before he passed. Our karma is done. My children met him and he was truly happy for me.
What is the moral of the story for me?
Never. Give. Up.
Not on dreams, or goals, or plans, or marriage, or happiness, or children. Trust yourself, even when it becomes challenging, complicated, and grim. And never give away your precious life! Situations change. People change. Give yourself time. Reach out for help and let others know when you are in a dark place. I didn’t. I kept the pain inside me. I was ashamed that I wasn’t strong enough. You see the light we need when we can’t find it within, is outside in our relationships… our family, our friends. Their light will turn yours back on because of the love and connection with other souls. We need each other to survive.
You are not alone. Do not hide and isolate yourself.
Trust your inner compass. It’s your soul giving you directions. That still and small voice that’s loving and compassionate is your guide. Don’t allow others to discount or negate your dreams. They may have their own, which is fine, but your dreams are yours. They deserve an opportunity, to grow, to be realized, and to be shared.
God believed in me, as I know he does you. This part of my life was the most demanding lesson thus far. I learned I could count on myself to reach a place where my gratitude for life changed my life. I was spared and I’m here to share my story with you.
Now you know the real reason I’ve been an advocate for people to not take their lives; and why I started a task force in my community to lower the high suicide rates in our state. I’m that survivor.I’m that woman who doubted her worth. I’m that woman who forgave herself and renewed her self-love.
I was keeping this part of my life a secret because I was embarrassed, but I’m not anymore! What I considered to be my weakness is actually my greatest strength. I love my life and I’m so grateful to still be here to help others. If my story resonates with you or someone you know; if my journey can give the hope and strength for even just one person to reach for the light; then I have fulfilled my ultimate mission… to save a life. God bless!
Watch my TedX talk entitled, “How A Community Is Healing From Suicide.”