When/How did you first realize you were struggling with infertility?
My husband and I knew we would start trying soon after our wedding. Both in our 30s, we’d been together for a long time and we were eager to get the baby show on the road. We tried casually for about six months before starting to worry. About a year in, my gynecologist suggested we see a reproductive endocrinologist and get some tests done.
What was most challenging about this realization/diagnosis?
After a full battery of tests we got the unhelpful and frustrating diagnosis of “unexplained infertility." All normal and in excellent working order; pregnancy just wasn’t happening for some reason. While I’m grateful in many ways that there wasn’t a medical problem per se (e.g. low ovarian reserve or sperm count or motility), it also meant that fixing the issue was elusive and unclear. How do you figure out what to do when you don’t know what the problem is?! We are both very logical, action-oriented problem-solvers. See problem, identify root cause, find aligned solution, solve problem. The solution of, “well, we’ll just have to try some things and see what might work” was really hard; especially when you’re feeling a clock tick.
What types of therapy/ies did you pursue?
For three years, we tried a combination of measures that combined the work of our reproductive endocrinologist with more natural solutions. I continued practicing yoga (including a few rounds of the Yoga for Infertility workshops at Tranquil Space – highly recommended!), saw a therapist regularly to manage the anxiety associated with the whole process, tried multiple diet changes, and saw an acupuncturist who specializes in fertility. Simultaneously, with the endocrinologist, we did multiple rounds of IUIs, natural cycle IVF, and then finally, when none of those things worked, turned to stimulated IVF with PGS.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you began this journey?
Looking back, there is plenty we wished we’d known before starting down this path. Infertility is a common challenge for many couples but one that is so rarely talked about which is part of what has inspired us to share so openly. Here is a list of things that were important to us throughout this experience.
1. Identify and build a strong support network. We had no idea when this all began how challenging it would be. It’s emotional, lonely, exhausting, painful (physically and otherwise), and just plain hard. You’ve got to figure out who your people are going to be and then lean on them. Help them understand what you need and also what you don’t. Nothing is worse that the well intentioned “Just relax! It’ll happen.” For some couples it actually will not ever happen and there is no time that you are more acutely aware of that than when you’re jabbing yourself with your third injection of the day after four other failed IVF procedures. You’re riding on hope and hormones and you’ll find that having people who really understand what you’re experiencing—and know what to say and what not to say—will matter an awful lot. From family, to friends, to my bosses, we had really exceptional support from so many people. There were some really difficult moments when it made all the difference in the world.
2. Don’t forget about your partner. My husband was a superhero throughout this process in so many ways. The bulk of fertility treatments fall typically to the woman (or to the partner who intends to be the biological mother). My husband couldn’t take the shots or give the blood or do the ultrasounds. But hell if he wasn’t there nearly every single time I did. He came with me to appointments even when they were at 7:00am, lasted just 15 minutes, and all they did was take my blood. He sat right next to me, held my hand, and made sure I knew that we were in it together. Talk about what you need with your partner and speak up if that changes. You might say initially that you don’t need him or her there with you each time but if, once you’re in the middle of it, you change your mind then say so. Also remember that while this is hard on you, it is also probably really hard for your partner. At least you are able to actively do something. While the treatments were difficult, it always felt like I was accomplishing something and working toward our goal of becoming parents. It can feel helpless to not be able to actively contribute so recognize what is difficult for him or her and make sure they know that you’re grateful for everything they are doing.
3. Practicalities matter. When you’re picking things like a practitioner, think practically. Of course things like success rate matter, but if the endocrinologist you select is a 45 minute drive away with difficult parking you are sure to question that decision later. There were periods where we were going to the doctor five days a week at 6:30am. It’s already difficult having blood drawn that many times a week; don’t add insult to injury by making it a marathon to get there if you can avoid it.
4. Know that very few people actually know and understand infertility treatments. Ignore the haters. Man. The hurtful things people say about fertility treatments. The judgment! The misunderstanding! Just know that very few people seem to actually understand the medical process and the decisions you will have to make. Take time to learn them yourself and, if you choose to, share with others that want to know. Things like pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) really send people into a judgment spiral. Real article comment about PGS: “If you have to custom choose your embryo then you aren’t ready to have a baby. You just want to have a pretty accessory.” OR maybe some people are just trying to make sure their embryos are normal and will actually result in a viable pregnancy rather than a miscarriage…but yes, please tell me more about my new handbag baby (eye roll). Understand your options, decide on your plan, and stand by your decisions. They are no one’s but your own.
5. Try to focus on yourself and prioritize being grateful. This is SO HARD. But try. As I used to regularly say to my loving, tattletale pre-K students, worry about yourself. Things like Facebook pregnancy announcements become surprising painful. You’ll want to be happy for people but may find yourself feeling really bitter and resentful. “They’re having another one?!” And then you’ll feel awful and so guilty because you feel that way. Take it easy on yourself. Try to focus on your own journey and all that you have to be grateful for. Among many other blessings, we were incredibly privileged to have access to excellent medical care, be able to afford the endocrinologist alongside things like acupuncture, and had such wonderfully supportive employers who made the process easier, not harder. There is plenty that we all have to be thankful for. Write those things down if you need to and revisit them often.
It’s been a long road but we’ve learned and loved a lot along the way. Our miracle baby, a little girl, will arrive in May and even now, just feeling her move around and kick, we know it has all been worth it. In many ways, before she’s even made her debut, she’s already the very best thing we have ever done.