NIAW Feature: Faces of (In)fertility

Photo by    Alexis Mera   . Shirt design by    Erin Halper   .

Photo by Alexis Mera. Shirt design by Erin Halper.

At first glance it would be hard to detect that Stephanie Rapp is a fertility warrior. Stephanie is young, beautiful, vivacious and currently pregnant. And while Stephanie is entirely transparent about her story and the challenges on her path to building her family, you would probably assume that she sneezed and got pregnant. During our interview, Stephanie shares how (in)fertility has many faces and also affects young women. Read on to find out why we should never judge a book by its cover.

Stephanie’s story

My story began when I went on the pill at age 15, and was on it for the next 10 years. Fast forward to high school and college, where I struggled to maintain 100 lbs and hard a hard time putting on weight. After UPenn, I went into finance, working at Goldman Sachs in Fixed Income sales & trading, (through the financial crisis) for eight years. Soon after starting at Goldman Sachs, I was working 14 to 20 hour days and feeling the immense stress and pressure of the job and culture, (which were exacerbated by the climate of the time), and I stopped getting my period. My OBGYN, who I saw at the GS health center, reassured me that it was normal to not get a period while on the pill. After witnessing fertility struggles of people close to me, I decided to take my health into my own hands.

I went searching for a good OBGYN, I started making changes to try and get a cycle back and I went off of the pill. A year after going off of the pill, my situation was still the same. I was still very slender, still working intensely in a highly stressful environment, still working out regularly, still going out often. And still without a period.

I was sent for ultrasounds, CAT scans, MRIs, rounds, and rounds of blood work and more, to no avail. My hobby and passion is nutrition so I enrolled in nutrition school in hopes that I could also find out how to get my body functioning. I changed the way that I ate (bone marrow and collagen, ghee and egg yolks, kombu and kefir, grass fed steaks and cheese), and the way I worked out (yoga and walks, pilates and rest days). I added in acupuncture and supplements. And I started to notice positive changes in the right direction. But when my husband and I got married and started to try for a baby, I never, not once, in many months had a positive ovulation test.

I felt called to share my journey with other women who, surprisingly (had experiences which) were not dissimilar. So many of my colleagues also were experiencing amenorrhea or had suffered infertility. One day, after opening up about my struggles, a friend suggested that I see her fertility specialist. My then OBGYN told me to try for a year because I was so young before proceeding down any alternate paths. I had little to lose so I went to the specialist (that my friend recommended), and within an hour she had honed in on my issue and created a path towards pregnancy.

Patches, pills, shots and six weeks later, I was pregnant with Olivia (now four years old)! Seven months after having Olivia, I went back to my fertility specialist. Four weeks later I was pregnant with Cullen (now almost three years old)! Fast forward again, I went back for number three. A few cycles in I was pregnant again, but at eight weeks had a miscarriage. I elected for a DNC days after the diagnosis which ended up being a lifesaving decision because my pathology determined that I had a molar pregnancy, placental tumor.

Had I waited to miscarry naturally, I likely would have had to have a much more invasive procedure followed by a year or more of chemo(therapy). Instead, I suffered through a long and scary six months of constant blood work to ensure the tumor was not growing back coupled with the most intense fatigue, fog, exhaustion, lack of fervor and joy. Total depletion. I was desperate to feel like me again, but was grasping at straws. Again, I went for blood work and tests and labs; to find nothing. I treated myself with alternate therapies, supplements and nutrients, rest and support, eventually coming out of the hole I was living in after six months. I'm now pregnant with number three, due early July! 

I started a wellness company, EMBODY Wellness Company just over four years ago. We are a holistic wellness and lifestyle concierge, who create customized wellness programs for our individual and corporate clients. Our goal is to clear through the clutter and help our clients accomplish (more than) their goals in a sustainable and lasting way. We specialize in fertility, pre and post-natal and getting your body back after baby, as well as weight-loss, gut repair, clean home and beauty makeovers, corporate workshops, events, talks and more! We also do wellness business consulting for budding companies and practitioners. I am inspired by my work and our clients and love being able to help others on their journey to embody wellness!

Your high?

Each positive pregnancy test and then the highest high, holding my healthy babies! 

Your low?

The molar pregnancy rocked me to my core. It was emotionally sad and taxing, and it physically crushed me too. Feeling joy was too exhausting. I struggled to stay in the moment and enjoy the happiness around me. Even laughter was a strain. And my two kids are so funny! I felt despair and helplessness and uncertainty that the future would clear up. The road ahead seemed rocky and unreliable. My medical bills were crazy. (My insurance covered zero percent. Not even my DNC and all of the prescription hormones that I was on for well over a year.) I felt horrible physically and mentally, and felt even worse about that emotionally. I felt guilty about not being "me" for my kids and husband who needed my support and help, and I was just so so tired all of the time. 

Do you have a silver lining? 

This is a tough question. I think I'll be able to answer that more genuinely when I hold baby number three and see that he is healthy and here! A friend recently told me the timing is great because my older two are at ages where they are so excited for baby and cannot wait to be big siblings. They are thrilled to have responsibilities and teach their little brother their favorite songs, how to eat food, pick out his diapers and clothes. They will both be in preschool so I'll have good 1:1 time with the little guy. 

I truly believe I’m an optimist but I think that some parts of infertility are not lined in silver. I didn't need to have a placental tumor (to learn a lesson or appreciate something else). I don't want anyone else to go through that. I'd much prefer every woman have a linear path to motherhood. In the end, my third healthy child will be the silver lining. That's the most important outcome. 

Do you have any words of wisdom?

There are many ways of becoming a mother. Sometimes, ways we don't plan for or expect. But trust that you will hold your baby one day, maybe after an easy and natural conception, maybe through IVF, or even surrogacy or adoption. But, If you want to be a mom, you will be. 

I also want to add that most importantly that this is your journey and your life. Allow yourself to feel however you fee; mad, frustrated, sad, defeated, joyous, excited, hopeful. Whatever your emotions, they are real and don't need to be explained or justified. Give yourself the time and space to feel and heal how you need. And you don't have to do it alone! seek help from friends, professionals, (this growing) community, family, a journal, whatever you need. Reach out and let others in! You are not expected to be the expert on everything, and you are not failing.

Stephanie, her husband and two (soon to be three!) children live in NYC. If Stephanie isn’t creating meals from her farmers market finds for her family, friends or EMBODY Wellness clients, you can find her dancing and singing along with her kids as they rehearse the complete soundtrack to Frozen. To learn more about Stephanie, please visit EMBODY Wellness or follow @embodywellnesscompany on Instagram.