When working with people experiencing infertility, one of ways I feel that I feel that I can be the most helpful is to try to prepare them for what’s coming. I always think back to my own journey and how unprepared I was. There were a lot of what I now know to be common experiences that caught me totally off guard.
In reality, there is no way to be completely in-the-know when it comes to infertility, but I do wish that I would have known certain things to feel like I had even a little bit more control over the process. Here are 12 things I wish I would have known when I was first diagnosed with infertility.
1. You’re Going To Have Doubts.
You've finally got to the point where your treatment plan has been set and you have a plan of attack...except for that uneasy feeling. And this is OK. It is normal to have doubts and it it’s completely normal to question your doctor. In fact, question everything. Will intrauterine insemination (IUI) really work? Is taking Clomid for six months really worth your time? It is likely that there will be some level of uncertainty when the plan has no guarantees and the desired outcome is everything to you. Action your doubts. Make a list of your questions and stay in contact with your doctor.
2. There Will Be Physical Pain—Unfortunately.
Let’s be honest, so many of those diagnostic tests can hurt. It’s not fun having dye injected through your fallopian tubes (hello, HSG); or undergoing an ultrasound through your well, vagina; and after all that, you may be subjected to giving yourself injections of medication. Focus on the end goal and chug through the pain. It can be done!
3. You May Gain Weight—And Not Because You're Pregnant.
Many fertility medications can make you bloat and gain weight. Not to mention the exercise restrictions you might have imposed by your doctor while actively in a treatment cycle like IUI and in vitro fertilization (IVF) to protect your stimulated ovaries. Plus, if you tend to be an emotional eater (like I am) the weight can pile on while you worry and obsess month after month. Take it easy on yourself, but don’t underestimate the value of gentle exercise and eating right. Not only for weight management but also for stress relief and overall health.
4. IVF Can Be An All-Consuming Time Commitment.
For two years I juggled my full-time job while undergoing three cycles of IVF and a frozen donor egg cycle, the latter of which involved extensive traveling. Some treatments aren’t as involved, and some, such as IVF, can easily take over your schedule with monitoring appointments, procedures and phone calls, all likely requiring you to taking time off work. Sometimes you live, work, and breathe infertility—and that’s a full-time job. I can’t stress this enough: Keep a calendar.
5. You'll Do Crazy Things Because It “Just Might Work.”
I once stood on my head after sex because I read that gravity can help bring the sperm to the egg. I've drowned myself in raspberry tea and pineapple core, hoping it would help my embryos to implant after IVF transfers. Some women change up their entire diet in hopes that they’ll get pregnant because of a certain food they’re no longer consuming. We are willing to do just about anything, no matter how ridiculous, because someone out there claimed it worked for them. Decide what you think will actually be helpful and don't fall into the "what if" game. It's just another way to wear yourself thin.
6. Be Open To Taking Breaks.
It might seem easiest to plunge right into treatment after treatment so this whole experience can be over with sooner, but taking time to regroup between cycles and letting your body and mind heal can be a huge stress-reliever. Making sure to take care of yourself helps keep you in the game and also helps you to avoid infertility-related burnout. It is possible to dig in too deep when it comes to treatments and rebounding just might take more time than pacing yourself appropriately to start off with.
7. Plan Ahead To Minimize Issues With Intimacy.
Sex=fun and sex=baby, right? But when you need to be intimate on a timed schedule that is dictated by a medical team, most of us start finding sex to be a chore—something to check off a list and something to start even dreading depending on where you are in your infertility journey. And this isn't just about the female partner, either. Communication is key and purposely deciding how to keep an intimate connection is a conversation worth having up front. Try to even have non-baby-making sex every once in awhile. (At-Home insemination can even be an option if baby-making sex becomes too much.)
8. Infertility Changes What You Thought You Knew About Yourself.
You’ll never be able to give yourself an injection? IVF isn't for you? Sometimes you’ll be surprised at what you thought you’d never be able to do, but then you find yourself doing it anyway. Pursuing infertility treatments may show you just how far you’ll go to bring your child into the world. It may even bring out shocking emotions you weren’t prepared for, like anger, jealousy or extreme sadness. Don't think it's possible to be jealous of a pregnant friend? Infertility might have something to say about that. You will likely be introduced to a side of you that you didn't think was possible both in terms of your resiliency and also perhaps an emotional side that is triggered by ongoing hurt.
9. You And Your Partner Aren’t The Only One's Hurting.
Infertility affects more than just you and your significant other. Yes, it is your journey, but there are likely other people who feel deeply entwined with your struggle and who want the best for you. There are siblings you may want to make aunts and uncles, and parents who you wish could be grandparents; how strongly you can hurt on behalf of other people can be surprising. It can be hard to see other people in pain but remember that you need to be taking care of yourself and your own emotional wellbeing first.
10. You May Have To Spell Out What Support Means To You.
How do you want to receive support? Who are you comfortable getting into the nitty-gritty details with and who do you just want to know the bare minimum? Hopefully, most people in your life will be understanding, but the thing is, they may not know how to show it. It can feel awkward letting people know specifically how they can help, but this step can ultimately have great benefits for everyone.
11. Not Everyone Will Be Supportive.
Despite enduring what might be one of your most difficult life experiences, there are some who will at best not understand your struggles, and at worst, not accept them. This is where deciding how much to share and with whom becomes necessary. Set clear boundaries as needed.
12. There is No Right Way To 'Do' Infertility.
Perhaps the most important lesson to understand is that an infertility journey looks different for everyone. What treatment option works for someone might not work for you. How other people choose to resolve their infertility might not be what you want. How other people share their experience might not be for you. There is no right or wrong way to 'do' infertility. You decide how it is done.
There is always a degree of uncertainty when it comes to infertility. It's not possible to know what is coming and infertility looks different for everyone. What one may struggle with, another can sail through unscathed. You can even be surprised by things that you think you’re prepared for. The more people are aware of the tough stuff that comes with an infertility diagnosis, the better equipped they can be to rise up and meet those challenges. Connecting with others who are going through similar situations can be so helpful, not only to get your questions answered but to realize you aren’t alone.