Let’s Beat Infertility Shame Together

I have noticed that fertility clinics are not chatty places.  I also hear many of my patients talking about why they don’t talk about infertility with others.  Why is that?

I think it’s infertility shame.

Maybe you already know what I’m talking about. Suffering in silence. Keeping your head down. Not telling other people in your life about the fertility struggles you are having because you are embarrassed. Feeling that there is something wrong with you. Learning through others’ stupid comments that it’s not worth trying to talk about it.  Infertility shame tells you that you are a failure because getting and staying pregnant are not happening in the way that you were promised.  That you are different. You are living in a bait and switch world.  We have all been told that you get pregnant any and every time you have intercourse.  Well, that story happens for some people, I suppose.  But if that was true of everybody all the time, the Earth would be groaning with the weight of trillions of people.

I’ve been there.

I never understood my reproductive “stuff” because doctors told me that everything was normal. Before I really even understood what intuition was, I knew that my reproductive stuff was NOT working correctly. Getting a period and bleeding for weeks and then nothing; repeat. Terrible cramps. Menstrual migraines.  You get the picture. It didn’t make any sense at all. And then…I tried to get pregnant.

My husband and I were told to use a basal body temperature thermometer and chart my cycle. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we: there was no obvious ovulation. Ovulation kits were expensive and the 14th day of my cycle was as crazy as any other day. I detested BBT thermometers. I remember my ritual with my husband of cursing them and throwing them in the garbage. By some miracle we were able to get pregnant, even with wonky ovaries.  And then… I tried to stay pregnant.

What I found out ultimately was that the bottom segment of my uterus doesn’t work when it has too much baby in it. My uterus was not meant to be pregnant, not really. Aha, maybe that was what my intuition was about!  I felt like a failure for not having a body that would make things easy and for putting a baby at risk unintentionally. It took me some therapy and some compassion for myself to learn that my wacko uterus and wonky ovaries were beyond my control. I have learned that my uterus may have been “defective”, but I sure as hell am not.

And you are not defective or a failure either. You have some intuition about your body, too. Something isn’t working, or maybe something isn’t working for your partner. That is nothing to be ashamed of. It is beyond your control. It is something to work on, or work through, or work with. That may be with a fertility clinic or an adoption agency.

Shame is personal. It’s the shitty things we tell ourselves about ourselves. You sure wouldn’t say shitty things about your neighbor’s body, right? For other people you have a sense of conscience and compassion. You are kind and empathetic (hopefully) and you offer to listen.

Here’s the thing: for you to listen, somebody has to speak. Now let’s turn that around so that you can start to beat down your infertility shame.

For other people to listen, you’ve gotta talk.  You’ve gotta let it out into the sunshine. Shame is the shadow in our lives. You have to talk back to your infertility shame and beat it by letting it out. Sometimes that is talking with family or friends or colleagues at work. Unfortunately, that may or may not end up being a good idea, depending on the often dumb responses from other people from other people. Going to a Resolve meeting near you or online can be a lifesaver. Facebook groups, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are great places to talk with other people, too.

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You are not alone! One in eight couples in the United States struggle with infertility. In Canada, it is one in six couples.

It’s time to work with your Self. Please stop saying shitty things about yourself and your body. Stop apologizing, or explaining, or justifying the fact that you are struggling with infertility. This is a physical, medical problem, just like cancer or thyroid disease. You did not bring this on. With help and compassion, you may be able to beat it.

So listen up. The best way to beat infertility shame is to do it together. You and your Self.  You and me. You and Resolve. During this National Infertility Awareness Week, April 23-29, 2017, let’s work together.

Let’s. Beat. Infertility. Shame. Together.  #NIAW #ListenUp


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Listen Up! It’s National Infertility Awareness Week.

Listen up!  It’s National Infertility Awareness Week, a week that is so important in my life and the lives of my beautiful patients.  This year’s theme, “Listen Up!” is a call to action for a multitude of interested parties:

  • For people struggling with infertility, it is a call to do what must be done, to treat infertility sooner rather than later. Avoid regrets by taking action.  It is also imperative to talk openly about the physical, emotional, and financial difficulties that come with crappiness of infertility. Together, we can beat infertility shame! #ListenUp
  • For couples struggling with infertility, get on the same page about what to do. This may mean getting to a specially-trained therapist who understands the emotional rollercoaster and medical issues of infertility.  You can find me and other therapists through the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.   Or you can talk with me in the office or online on videoconference.  Your relationship will be strengthened by working together.  #ListenUp
  • For people who love someone with infertility, it is a call to action to learn and listen with a full heart, not to offer quick fixes or religious advice. Ask your friend or family member how they are.  Hug them when they cry. Drive your loved one to an appointment.  #ListenUp
  • For OB/GYNs, it is a call to action to refer patients to fertility clinics quickly, especially if they are close to or older than 40. When your patients get pregnant with the appropriate fertility treatment, they will come back to you, with a grateful heart. #ListenUp
  • For fertility doctors and OB/GYN’s, it is a call to action to refer your patients to Resolve and to specially-trained therapists before they are crying in your office. Thinking about your patients in a holistic way will buy you a lot of brownie points with your patients. #ListenUp
  • For insurance companies, it is a call to action to change the ways in which you disenfranchise your subscribers from receiving the MEDICAL treatment they need and deserve. It’s 2017.  Infertility is not a desirable treatment, it is an illness process requiring medical treatment.  Here’s the truth: Fertility treatment doesn’t cost you that much. It is worth gold to your subscribers.  #ListenUp
  • For legislators, it is a call to action to recognize that reproduction and parenting happen in many ways. Enact laws to recognize and support gestational surrogacy and to update parentage laws that recognize parenting through gestational surrogacy.  #ListenUp

We humans do best when we have a purpose and take action.  Listen Up!  It’s National Infertility Awareness Week.  #NIAW


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7 Ways Infertility Hijacks Your Life

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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*
  3. 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).
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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!) 


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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.


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Infertility takes over your life.  How can you get to the clinic before your big presentation today? Is today ovulation day?  Did you do your injection at the right time in the right dosage?  Will your spouse be home from the work trip in time to give a semen sample? How many BBB’s (Big Bellies and Babies) are you going to see at the grocery today?  How many blogs can you read today about infertility?  How sick of infertility are you?

Infertility takes over your mind, too.  It is very hard not to think about.  I bet you know what day of the cycle you are on.  I remember how confused and angry I was every month when I wasn’t ovulating but my doctor kept pooh-poohing my concerns and my intuition.  I could not stop thinking about it, only to be told that I was obsessing, not to worry, and to relax.

I know what you are going through.  I am sorry that you hurt and you are scared that the hurt won’t ever end.

Until that moment when the pregnancy test is positive.

No way!

Could this be happening?

Do another few tests at home.  They are still positive!  What does this mean?! Everybody says that you should feel happy about a positive result, right?

Not when you have been trying for months or years.

When you have been in the infertility trenches and you are now pregnant, you are in what I call a

Prove It Pregnancy

Yes, that’s right.  A Prove It Pregnancy.  Yeah, yeah, other people stay pregnant and have babies. Could that be possible?

Infertility tells you, “Hold on there, honey. This can’t possibly work out well.”  It’s the Too Good To Be True Factor.  But this could be real.  Truly.  Really.

When you get pregnant after months—or years—of undergoing fertility treatment, there is shock, disbelief, and excitement.  Shhhhhh!  Don’t jinx it!  That first ultrasound can scare the jeepers out of you.  But it might be real.  You may not really believe it until the next ultrasound.  Maybe not.  Maybe later.  Am I pregnant?  Prove it.

Transferring your care from the fertility clinic to an OB/GYN or midwife care can be disorienting and even frightening.  This means that your pregnancy is continuing, despite your fear.  Can this really be happening?  Yes.  I know that you may have had a close relationship with the fertility clinic doctors and nurses.  You can learn to trust a clinic that can help you deliver a baby.

Really?!  Yes.  It is possible.

And there may come a time when you consider investing in the pregnancy and a baby, but fear still may remain.  Superstition is normal in a Prove It Pregnancy.  Others want to invest in baby stuff.  No. Thanks.  Maybe. Later.  It is okay to put things off.

As one gentleman recently said to me, “I may think about investing in the pregnancy when we get to 26 or 27 weeks.  When it seems real.”  And a woman I know thought it might be okay to peek at Pinterest.  Sure.  For just a moment.  And honestly, it may not seem real until a baby is warm and squawking in your arms.  That’s okay.

 

It’s a Prove It Pregnancy.   

 

 


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Four Things to Avoid During Infertility Treatment

Some things suck when you have infertility.  It is really hard to go along and get along with others’ requests and demands for attendance at events.  You might have enjoyed spending time with others in the past but now certain things can feel like a hot poker in your eye.  Isolating from the world is too much but being selective about what you want to do—or not—can bring you a sense of control.  Over something, anyway. I am happy today to offer you permission to say, “No.” Or “Nope.” Or “I don’t want to.”  Without any explanations.  Here are four things to avoid during infertility treatment:

  • Baby showers—I know that you know this one already. Baby showers are not happy and silly when you are aching for a child yourself.  #justsayno
  • Family gatherings with children—You know that someone is going to ask you to hold the new baby. Or talk about how cute children are and ask you when you are going to have children yourself.  I know that families can be tricky and demanding.  It is okay to beg off with vague excuses about not feeling well.  #throwingup
  • Anyone who tells you to relax, it will happen, or why don’t you just adopt—Sometimes this one comes out of left field or even from a trusted person. You are there for some chips and dip and a know-it-all has lots of advice for you.  You have permissionNobutton to let that person know that you are not having that conversation.  Then it’s okay to walk away.  #stopit
  • The baby section at stores—Well, duh. I hope that you will spend plenty of time in the baby section later but it’s just too much right now.  Thank goodness for the Internet.  If you need a gift for someone, go to the Web.  Or let your partner do the ordering. #noway

This is a short list.  There are many others.  Please share what has helped you.  Be as snarky as you feel the need to be.  What other types of things and people should others avoid?

 

 


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