I hung up the phone, feeling like a terrible friend.
It was May of 2013 and I was days away from my egg retrieval for an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle. I was bloated and uncomfortable from my enlarged ovaries and was feeling pretty overwhelmed with the constant doctor appointments to monitor my follicles. I had canceled, yet again, on a friend that I had dinner plans with. The truth was that I just wanted to lay on the couch and watch a movie.
I struggled with my feelings during that IVF cycle, just as I had for the last four years. I had so much going on that at the end of the day I didn’t feel like socializing. Plus, my husband and I had just taken out a $50,000 loan to pay for our treatments. Spending money on meals out with friends brought on a ton of guilt.
I spent the first few years of my infertility journey feeling selfish. I felt bad for feeling so selfish. It took me a long time to understand that the word "selfish" gets a bad rap. Being selfish is typically considered to be a negative trait. It is defined as concerning yourself with your own interest, regardless of others. From my view, if ever there were a good time to focus on your own interests, experiencing infertility might be just the occasion.
Infertility and infertility treatments might be the hardest experience that some people will go through. It genuinely makes sense to take the time you need to focus on building your family during this time. If you’re feeling guilty about prioritizing your needs during your infertility journey, I’m here to tell you it’s OK and this is why:
1. Because You Are Already Extra Busy With Treatments
From the many doctor visits to injection schedules, you are booked a lot of the time. You might have to say no to outings with friends because you have appointments. You might have to say no to dinners out because you have an early ultrasound the next day. If you already have too much going on, ease the guilt by giving yourself permission to realize just how time-consuming fertility treatments can be.
2. Because Your Financial Priorities May Have Changed
Remember that $50,000 loan I mentioned? This made our financial priorities different from those of many of our friends. You also might need to prioritize your financial obligations differently than those around you. It can be hard —but very necessary—to turn down pricy activities. Suggesting low-cost or free activities is a good workaround so that not every outing involves spending money.
3. Because Relationships With Partners Need Extra TLC
Infertility can push people to the edges in a relationship. With everything else that you have going on physically, mentally, and emotionally, you may want to use any spare time that you have to focus on your relationship with your partner. It’s important to know that the friends and family who care about you will understand when you need to prioritize your downtime. They may not understand infertility, but they likely get that you know what’s best for you.
4. Because Infertility Treatments Won’t Last Forever
Going through cycles are intense, but they will come to an end— either with a pregnancy or not. There is also a final treatment cycle or some sort of decision that brings about resolution. This experience won't last forever. If you think in the short term, it just might be easier to focus on what is truly important to you for a while.
5. Because Making People Understand Infertility Is Exhausting
It can be hard for someone who hasn't undergone fertility treatments to understand just how taxing they can be. It can also be exhausting trying to explain to other people just how taxing treatments can be. And sometimes you just aren’t going to make people understand. Don't feel like you need to spend time with people who don't support you in the ways you need. Crazy emotions are already part of the process so why add additional layers if you don't need to.
6. Because Self-Care Isn’t Actually Bullshit
This whole idea of “being selfish” during infertility is really just practicing good self-care. There is something to say about focusing on your own health and well-being during treatments. If it makes your life easier or more enjoyable, go ahead and miss outings with friends or say no to extra obligations during your treatments. Even if that means taking more naps and attending yoga rather than a party, give yourself permission to only say yes to the things that will make you happy.
7. Because It's Your Priority
There is a good chance that you are heavily invested in your journey and the outcome. This alone is reason enough.
Prioritizing yourself during infertility isn't actually being selfish. It might feel that way, but there are many good reasons why it makes sense. Also, this isn't about shutting down and shutting out the good people in your life. You don't need to seclude yourself away in order to have a successful treatment cycle, but do give yourself permission to decide what you can and can’t handle at this point in time. While I did cancel plans with friends, I made sure to see them when I was having good days and I certainly reached out to them when I was struggling. The important thing is to take care of yourself and decide when is the best time is to focus on just you— guilt free.