An infertility diagnosis and the process of treatment can hijack your life. One of my beautiful clients told me, “It feels like a being on a fast moving train without brakes, going toward an unknown destination and you can’t get off.” Another told me, “It’s like a bad dream you can’t wake up from.” Here’s what I wish people understood about infertility. It hijacks your life, similar to the possibility of a cancer diagnosis. Both spin your head around and can shake you to your core. Are they exactly the same? Of course not. But there are similarities. Here are 7 ways infertility hijacks your life:
- Your plans for your life are now different. Most of us grow up with the idea that we will meet the right partner, plan our pregnancies, and enjoy our lives. *screeeeech* Um, no. The plans have changed against your will. Your life is now controlled by your menstrual cycle and a clinic. For the gentlemen among us, you never planned to “produce a sample” with others’ knowledge, did you? I think not.
- You lose control. Of your body. Of your work schedule. Of your money. Of your time. Of the way that things are just supposed to be. Most of us don’t like something or someone else controlling us. The many requirements of a treatment cycle control many parts of one’s days for weeks at a time. Be here. Do that. Be here again. Do this other thing. Do it some more. For people who describe themselves as planners and self-described control freaks, infertility throws a wrench into the very way that you think. *cue anxiety*
- Your dreams of the future are altered. Your biggest worries used to be what month you would get pregnant in and where you would do yoga. You wanted to space your three children 2½ years apart. You were already thinking about the Disney vacation. You have had a vision of two children at your table. Now you are grateful to be able to have one child. Or get pregnant at all. (No, I’m not telling you to be grateful for what you have but somebody will, unfortunately).
- Your life is on hold. It’s hard to make plans. Your extended family is planning the dream vacation next summer. Wait a minute, you might be doing an embryo transfer or waiting for your first ultrasound at that time. And, of course, others will pressure you in a variety of ways. Why can’t you come to the party? Can’t you put off you insemination? Why are you always so preoccupied? It is very difficult not to think about something, isn’t it?
- Your finances have been hijacked. You might have been planning to buy a home, or a car, or plan for your retirement. Now you may be forced into debt in a way that you have never considered. You must now think intentionally about money and its uses. Why do you have to pay for a child when the weird neighbors
pop out kids like popcorn?
- Sex is no longer about fun or closeness. It’s a J-O-B. Something to do on command, at the right time, on the right day. Many of my clients have said something like this: “Have sex? Why would we do that just for fun? Our job is to show up at the clinic and punch the time clock.
- The way you usually take care of your body has to change. It is an unfortunate truth that fertility drugs often cause weight gain. That might be okay if you could exercise but now you can’t exercise when and how you want to. For many people exercise is how they manage anxiety and keep in shape. Are you a runner or a triathlete? Nope, you can walk though. Like that feels the same.
Soooo, what to do?
Know that this time in your life will be worth it, somehow. You will do whatever you decide to do and know that you have no regrets. Maybe you will end up with the children you have dreamed of. Maybe you will find you inner resilience and find out that you are a pretty tough–and great–person. Maybe your relationship will become even stronger than you could have ever imagined. Maybe you will become even deeper and more empathetic than you are now. We figure out later, at some point in the future, how we have changed. Fight back. Be mad at infertility, not at yourself. You will get through this. Somehow. Some way. Remember you are not alone. I am in it with you all the way along the journey. (And please share this blog post with people who don’t get it!)
Today is November 17th, World Prematurity Day. According to the March of Dimes, 15 million babies are born prematurely around the world each year. More babies die from prematurity than from AIDS, malaria or diarrhea. Each year in the United States, 1 in 9 babies—about 450,000—are born prematurely. Prematurity is defined as birth that occurs prior to 37 weeks gestation.
I take World Prematurity Day personally. I have two preemies. My daughter was born at 26 weeks and almost died again 26 years ago today from sepsis. There were many surgeries, terrible fears, PTSD, and many, many sleepless night. Finally, unbelievably, my preemie came home to be our real live baby after 100 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Preemies aren’t just small babies and they don’t look like little dolls. As you can see, my daughter looked like a science project. I learned a lifetime’s worth of medical terminology. I became what I call a Clinical Mommy. I learned to read medical charts and consult with physicians and nurses as an equal. Bringing my girly into my life changed it in ways I am still learning about. It changed my career and the calling of my life. For my infertility clients who want twins, I promise you that you don’t want two desperately sick preemies. Or even one.
To those who are preemie parents, or those of you who know someone who is, thank goodness for the Internet! For parents of preemies up to age 4, check out Preemie-L, a wonderful listserve of helpful preemie parents. For parents of preemies over the age of 4, check out Preemie Child.
Now I’ll share with you the gift that I was given when my daughter was impossibly small and fragile. Someone showed me a picture of their healthy preemie. The message was “Watch your baby. Babies grow. Have hope.” So I share this today with preemies, their parents, their friends, and their loved one. Watch your Baby. Babies Grow. Have Hope.
I am writing this blog post on the day after the 2016 election. Many are attempting to understand the mystery of the unexplained. The unexplainable unexpected. Living in the no word zone. Mystery defies reason. The difficulty with the unexplained is that there are no ready answers, right now, when you need them.
Many of you live with the unexplained every day. There are no answers for the infertility diagnosis that you live with. Your baby has died unexpectedly and nothing makes sense about anything. You or someone you love is diagnosed with cancer. In the spirit of offering balance and healing, I offer 5 tips for living with the mystery of the unexplained:
- Bathe yourself in compassion and love. Have it for yourself. You hurt. You are confused and frightened. Love this person. And offer it to others, even if you are not sure you have it for yourself. We have been doing a lot of hugging today at Partners in Healing of Minneapolis, colleagues and clients. Connect with others from your best place. I don’t have words for that right now but you will know what it is for you.
- Allow yourself to grieve before you look for answers and options. There will be some clarity about something at some point. For now, mourn your loss but hold on to your dreams. Let the world stop spinning for a few minutes and just mourn.
- Acknowledge your fears. Actually, acknowledge all of your feelings, whatever they are. It may help to express your fears to those you trust. However, be selective about who you express your fears and other feelings to. Look for comfort from people that you trust. Avoid people, for now, who either bring more questions or no empathy. This is not the time to hope that “that person” will come around and give you what you need. You don’t need to be pooh-poohed, or fixed, or pitied, or “adviced” by others. Just ask them to listen. If that’s not possible, thank them and move on to someone who can just connect with you.
- Gently release the idea of control. Really. The mystery of the unexplained is just beyond your and my control. Just ride the wave of unexplainable stuff while keeping your head above water. Ride the roller coaster with your seatbelt attached tight and hold on. You’re not sure where you are going yet. Just hold on to yourself. It’s okay to turn off social media and the news. You do have control about that. And your reactions to what you come across. I understand that your reactions may not always be pretty.
- Understand, truly, that the sun comes out every day and that every day is an opportunity to find something new. Sometimes that new thing will be painful. Sometimes that thing will be to learn to be still, just to explore the feelings and thoughts you have. Sometimes the answer will arrive in the most unexpected way or the most unexpected person. Always, always, look to love and compassion for your answers.
Love to you all, always, Debbie
Dealing with infertility and its treatment is challenging. With it comes choices. That’s the good thing.
And the hard thing. It means that you are responsible for making choices.
I know that these choices are forced choices. You feel forced into doing things you never thought you would have to do. Or things that you don’t want to do.
If things were working reproductively, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
It’s not that you don’t have choices. You do.
It’s that you don’t like the choices you have.
You don’t have a choice about your fertility and its challenges. You DO have a choice about what to do about it.
When you don’t have a choice, make a choice.
There will not be a perfect, right choice. But there will be one or more choices you can live with. Here are 5 choices you DO have about infertility.
Choosing not to freak out. It helps to keep your wits about you.
When faced with an infertility diagnosis, people go through a variety of emotions: shock; disbelief; denial; embarrassment; fear; sadness; anger; panic; failure; and shame, among many more. The same thing can happen when something you try doesn’t work. You absolutely have the right to feel whatever you feel whenever you feel it. That makes you NORMAL. Don’t let anyone tell you to buck up or be grateful for what you have. That “advice” isn’t empathy. What is important is to keep your thinking cap on, however you can, whenever you can. You might be scared or pissed off at yourself, your partner, God, or the world. Use your head to figure out what to do about it. Don’t just get mad at infertility—get even with it. Figure out a plan you can live with.
Treating the fertility problem. Or not.
To treat or not to treat. This is the question. Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer… You get my point. There are good fertility clinics and acupuncturists out there. Lots of them. You can try some dietary changes and see if they can “reset” your fertility. You can choose to treat the problem now. Or you can wait. Or not treat it at all. Figure out how much time you have to consider your options. Consult with the right doctor to get the data you need. Talk and maybe negotiate with your partner. Most important, check in with yourself about what plan makes sense and feels right to you. Make a choice. Move forward.
Choosing the level of treatment. Not everyone jumps straight to IVF.
Sometimes the problem you are struggling with can be treated with low-tech options, like ovulation predictor kits or oral medication. Because you may have insurance coverage for inseminations and medication, it might make sense to give that intermediate step a try for a short while. But for some problems, like a fallopian tube blockage or poor sperm quality or no sperm at all, I’m sorry to say it but you will need a higher level of treatment. Some people like to go step-wise with their treatment, adding on treatments as needed. Pacing yourself is fine. Others want to get this journey over with. Which one are you? Be realistic. Make a short-term and a longer-term plan. Be strategic.
Picking the time to do treatment. Just don’t wait too long.
Some of you have been trying to conceive for longer than you ever thought possible. Hope, finances, and some level of denial can make people wait even longer to get started on treatment. I have been with so many people who wish they could have started treatment sooner. You get to pick the timing of when you start treatment with one caveat: If you are nearing 40, don’t wait. Go. Run to the fertility clinic, NOT your OB/GYN. OB/GYN’s are awesome at pregnancies and delivering babies, not fertility challenges. You also get to pick the timing of when you take a break or trying something different. I really don’t want you to have heartbreaking regret about wasting precious time.
Choosing to be open to different options. Your partner needs to do that.
One of the challenges of life is that choices can be limited. Again, you may not like your choices. Not at all. Not one bit. If you are absolutely closed to adoption or donor sperm, that is your right BUT you may be limiting your partner’s opportunities, too. Think about fairness. She or he may grow some mighty resentments toward you if you won’t even explore possible choices. It has been a certainty in my practice that when people take the time to learn more about adoption, IVF, donor eggs, or donor sperm, and challenge their negative assumptions, they become more open to the possibilities of building a family in a different way. Data and facts are always better than assumptions!
These are 5 choices you DO have about infertility. What’s most important is to make a choice. Get unstuck. Something can work. Something different can work. Life moves forward. You can move forward, too.
People sometimes wonder why others turn to gestational surrogacy as a way of building a family. I am happy to add my two cents and expertise to this important topic because I work daily with Intended Parents and Gestational Surrogates. These are lovely, loving people. Here’s why gestational surrogacy is a blessing and here to stay.
For heterosexual Intended Parents, meaning people who wish to be first-time parents or add to their family, there is a long list of medical problems that can lead people to surrogacy including:
- Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH), a congenital condition that results in a woman’s uterus and vagina being absent or underdeveloped
- Cancer survivor, which can restrict use of hormones or have resulted in the removal of ovaries or the uterus
- Multiple miscarriages
- Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or other mental health condition that, if untreated, could be dangerous during pregnancy
- Blood clotting disorders
- Unexplained infertility
- Previous birth trauma (hemorrhage, uterine rupture)
- Too many C-sections
- Heart complications
- History of premature delivery, sometimes resulting in the death of a baby
Gay Intended Parents want to be parents, too. They want to be represented genetically. Just like straight Intended Parents.
Surrogates, also called gestational carriers, want to meet the need. And the need is growing day by day. They are not “surrogate mothers.” Surrogates are mothers to their own children, not to the child or children they carry. They are quite articulate about that. They will tell you every time that the child they are carrying “It’s not my baby. I’m just carrying the baby. They are the parents.”
They believe it. I believe them.
Do you? I hope so.
Helping people to build their families is a blessing.
Here’s the thing that people who are anti-surrogacy need to understand. Surrogacy makes sense to Intended Parents and their families and friends. Surrogacy makes sense to gestational carriers, their partners, their children, their families and friends. They all see this as a blessing. If you are a religious person, you might even say that all babies come from God and this is one way that God can help to bring a baby into the world. To ease hurt and suffering. To bring joy. Gestational surrogacy works and is a blessing.
Ending or restricting gestational surrogacy would be like stopping a moving train with your hand. People would get hurt. Badly. But it will keep going.
What we need to do is to ensure that Intended Parents and Gestational Surrogates are safe in the process.
Legislation is needed to protect Surrogates and Intended Parents.
Here in Minnesota and across the United States.
Because gestational surrogacy is a blessing that’s here to stay.