GUEST SPOTLIGHT: SHERI STURNIOLO, CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR + REGISTERED NURSE
Hi! I’m Sheri and am a pediatric registered nurse (RN) with 20 years of experience working in Emergency and Surgery departments. I moved to San Diego from Oklahoma 10 years ago, after meeting my wonderful hubby, while we were both working as travel nurses for the local children's hospital.
I am also the mother to two children born through the awesome gift of donors, Sam (3 years old) and Charlotte (3 months). Embryo adoption is a form of third party reproduction and is defined as the giving of embryos to either another person or couple for implantation through IVF. With infertility on the rise, an increasing number of children and families face unique and confusing issues, and it can be difficult to know how and when to start the these conversations with your children.
While searching for books to start this journey with my own son, I found that there was a need for a broader storyline; one that embraces a multitude of creation stories beyond traditional IVF—a storyline that resonates with all those involved in the process. This was where I started with creating You Were Made For Me. Whether it’s a new mother, father, or someone who might be struggling with options to grow their family, I wanted to create a book speaks to the heart of a parent as much as it does the child.
Q. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and 1 in 8 couples are walking through infertility. With so many women being affected by these issues we believe there is power in the story. What was the turning point for you to feel safe enough to share your own journey?
A. Truthfully, I always felt comfortable sharing my story. I went through 4 miscarriages myself and 3 years of fertility treatments before being able to conceive by the wonder of embryo adoption. As a nurse, I work around mostly women, many of whom were going through similar struggles of getting and staying pregnant. I was very lucky to have people around me who were so empathetic and supportive.
Q. Everyone grieves differently. What was one thing that helped you to heal and process your grief?:
A. You know everyone definitely does grieve differently. What works for one woman does not always resonate with another. For me, it was to persevere and continue through the journey that would get me to motherhood. Keeping my "eye on the prize" so to speak, I went through whatever treatments I felt I could handle emotionally and financially until I came to my destination of motherhood. Not being able to "create" my own genetic children, or even children with my husband’s genes, was a big pill to swallow—no doubt. The only way for me to feel at peace with what was to come, was to go through all the "motions" and feel like I explored each option available to me until I ended up where I was meant to be. Once that path felt right to me, acceptance followed and I felt more solid with our situation and choices.
Q. Was there ever a time someone said something insensitive to you about your pregnancy, pregnancy-loss, or infertility? Knowing what you know now, how would you respond?
A. Working around a lot of women inevitably created a definite struggle for me… every time someone became pregnant within my circle or around me. To no fault of their own, it was so easy for so many of these women. Sometimes they would say things like "we weren't even trying", or "I wish I didn't get pregnant so easily". It wasn't really their fault that those comments had a bite to them.
I'd say one thing that really bothered me, was if someone would downplay one of my miscarriages when it was "early", saying things like, "at least it was early, it might not have been anything that would have made a baby,” or “Maybe it had genetic issues…better that Mother Nature took its course." I mean really? I would urge people that want to help anyone going through infertility issues not to downplay any part of a woman's struggle. It is all real. It is all important. Let your friend feel that her feelings are justified, instead of trying to "solve her problems" with quotes or "pearls of wisdom". Just be there, mirror her feelings, and tell her it sucks. Maybe add in what a fabulous mother she is going to be once she has her baby earth-side.
Q. We are firm believers that every woman who opens her heart to have children is a mother. What is your favorite thing about motherhood? And what is the most difficult in motherhood?
A. I love the quote, "The decision to have a child is to decide forever to go walking with your heart outside of your body". If infertility taught me anything, it's that taking chances and going through loss can change you for the better, just as being a mother creates a new type of resiliency and strength. They both come with great challenges, hopes and sometimes pain, but you always come out a better version of yourself.
Q. How are you using your gifts to lift others up who are walking through pregnancy-loss, infertility, or other pregnancy-related issues?
A. As we went through our infertility journey, we were lucky enough to be given the option of adopting a frosty, little family of embryos. Another couple had extra embryos from their IVF journey and wanted them to go on to have a happy life with a family. As we contemplated carrying, birthing, and raising children that were not genetically our own, I kept thinking, "how will I ever be able to explain this to my children?"
Even at that early in the game I knew I wanted to write a book for them about their beautiful creation story. It took me awhile after having my son, but when I finally had a moment to have a moment, and the verses flowed out of me like lava! I remember the elation and excitement as I read the story in its terrific totality for the first time. It brought tears to my eyes. It was my son's story and my love letter to him.
I titled the book You Were Made For Me. I wanted him to know that he was always meant to be my baby, and that despite having different genetic origins, he was "Made For Me". The next year was spent figuring out how to self-publish a children’s book (which is a lot more effort than I ever knew)! From writing, to finding and working with an illustrator to bring my book to life, and finally laying out the book and self-publishing, I learned so much about officially creating a children's book!
Q. Grief and loss, especially with miscarriage, infertility, and pregnancy-loss, can feel very isolating. What is something you would say to yourself in the first days after your loss?
A. For me, personally, I just told myself to keep moving forward. I cried, felt sorry for myself, got mad… but then I got busy. The only thing worse for me than the infertility itself, was the idea of giving up. So, I kept going until I was looking into the eyes of my newborn son. And I was so amazed at the love I felt for him.
Do you know a mama-in-waiting who would love a copy of You Were Made for Me?
Are you about to walk through an embryo adoption yourself or know someone who is?
Head on over to the You Were Made For Me website for more information!
There is power in the story.
Thank you for allowing us to share a little bit about Sheri, her background, experiences, and story. We want to continue to support our community while lifting others up. Did you enjoy this? Do you know a mama who would be a good fit for a Guest Spotlight with us? Feel free to comment here, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear what you think!