I grew up in western Pennsylvania, and was the youngest of four children. When I was a little girl, I used to beg my mom for a baby brother or sister. Mom would say, “When you grow up, Susie, you can have as many children as you want. But you are going to be the baby of our family.”
At just four years old, I decided to become an elementary teacher because then I could “have a whole classroom of kids.” I majored in English and Education in college and accepted my first teaching position in the Washington D.C. area upon graduation.
I met my husband, Robert Johnston, a U.S. Naval Officer, in 1984, and we were married on May 3, 1986. I soon found out that although my mom was right about most things, she was sadly wrong about having as many kids as I wanted. However, she also taught me to never give up on pursuing my dreams. My husband Bob and I struggled with unexplained infertility for nearly a decade of our lives.
Battling unexplained infertility comes with a myriad of unique challenges.
I could produce lots and lots of eggs and my husband had no male factor issues. Together we made beautiful embryos, and many developed to blastocysts. My uterine lining looked great, and my reproductive endocrinologist said I had “picture-perfect cycles.” I had over 40 embryos transferred through seven different IVFs over the years. However, we just couldn’t seem to get pregnant, no matter what we tried.
I was going through my IVF journey in the early ‘90’s, before genetic testing of embryos existed. The protocol back then was to transfer multiple embryos in the hopes of increasing the odds of achieving a pregnancy. Also, there was no insurance coverage at all back then. We had to pay for everything totally out of pocket. It was devastating to have repeated failed IVF transfers and not be able to determine a cause. If everything was so “picture-perfect,” then why couldn’t I get pregnant?
The Navy didn’t make infertility treatment any easier, either.
We moved 14 times in the first 12 years of our marriage. Bob was frequently deployed overseas, often for six months at a time. We even struggled through a two-and-a-half-year tour in the Philippines in the midst of our battle with unexplained infertility. It was hard enough going through infertility, but to have to live in a foreign country with limited resources and no reproductive endocrinologists to help us on our journey made it impossible.
We had to put our family-building journey on hold for such a long time due to my husband’s Naval career. Our military service members and their families sacrifice a lot for our country. The constant moving, separations, and deployments made it overwhelming.
I will never understand why we struggled so long to conceive a child, but miraculously in August of 1993, one of my embryo transfers implanted! Our one and only son was born on May 1, 1994! When the doctor placed my miracle baby boy in my arms for the first time, my voice choked and I sobbed through tear-filled eyes, “I’ve waited my whole life for you!”
Although I didn’t choose to have infertility, I eventually turned my pain into purpose after learning how to embrace my resolution of having an only child.
Time has helped me accept that some things in life are completely out of my control. Because unexplained infertility affected me profoundly, it is my heart’s desire to offer my support to the infertility community. I also am passionate about supporting RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, because the people I met through this organization were my lifeline when I was in the thick of my journey three decades ago.
Since then, I have worn almost every “volunteer hat” for RESOLVE. I have been the Federal Advocacy Day State Captain for Michigan for six years and the Midwestern Regional Advocacy Day Captain Coordinator for two years. Also, I am the co-founder of the Detroit, MI Walk of Hope, and I annually bring the Michigan infertility community together to walk for awareness and in solidarity on the last Saturday of the month of April during National Infertility Awareness Week. I lead local and national RESOLVE support groups both virtually and in-person.
In January of 2021, I started my Pregnancy and Parenting After Infertility Support Group (PAIGES). One of my favorite pastime activities is to create custom-designed nursery paintings for all members of my general infertility support group who have made it to the other side of infertility. In addition, I am a leadership board member of the Michigan Fertility Alliance and helped to create the first ever Michigan Infertility Advocacy Day (MIAD) in September of 2021. Since then, we have made MIAD an annual event to advocate for pro-family building legislation in my home state.
I am also an ambassador for the European Fertility Society, which provides global trainings and webinars in a variety of languages through MyIVFanswers. I published my book Detours: Unexpected Journeys of Hope Conceived from Infertility in March of 2017. In my book, I share the inspirational stories of my core group of warrior friends whom I met through RESOLVE over thirty years ago. A portion of the proceeds from my book is donated to RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.
In the fall of 2022, I received the greatest honor of my lifetime when RESOLVE presented me the prestigious award for service at their annual “Night of Hope” gala in New York City.
Dressed in a tuxedo for the occasion, our miracle son, Scott Robert, escorted me onto the stage at the Capitale Event Center to accept my award. Once again, tears pricked my eyes, as I introduced him to the audience that packed the gorgeous venue. My emotions got the better of me and I cried, “This is what my miracle baby looks like at 28 years old!” The crowd burst into applause and cheered for me as I accepted my award. I dedicated it to all my fellow infertility warriors.
Being an infertility warrior has taught me so much throughout the decades. I have learned how to lean into my pain and turn it into purpose. I realize that I’ll never understand why it is so difficult for some people to build a family. However, I discovered what I could do to make a difference. I’ve met the most amazing people through RESOLVE, my support group groups, and the Detroit, MI Walk of Hope. It is my heart’s desire to raise awareness about the disease of infertility, create connections for others on their journey, offer support, and give back to RESOLVE.
The 5th Annual Walk of Hope will be held on April 29, 2023 from 12:00-2:00 p.m. We will meet rain or shine at the Tolan Playfield, located at 601 Mack Avenue, in Detroit. I’d love to link arms with YOU and walk together in support of the one in six who are impacted by infertility. It’s not too late to register; we accept registrations up to the day of the event, and you can register online. I am sure you will discover that . . . you are NOT alone in Michigan!
For more information about me, my journey with unexplained infertility, and my passion to serve the infertility community, I invite you to visit my website: theinfertilityadvocate.com
–Guest Submission from Sue Johnston