What do people who have dealt with infertility wish they had known when they started?
At a recent National Infertility Awareness Week event, I spoke with several women who shared their wisdom. One message struck me as particularly helpful:
“I’m stronger than I ever knew and there is hope with every exciting or difficult step.”
When people are faced with adversity of all types, they are often surprised by what they’ve been able to do, overcome, or survive. In many cases, they may say they had no choice but to be strong and to keep moving—though they didn’t feel at all strong at the time.
But upon reflection—the strength is evident, the growth obvious, and the hope powerful.
Reflecting on my own experience, there are three examples of this that come to mind: facing a miscarriage alone, giving myself injections in a restaurant bathroom, and choosing to believe there was an embryo that could make me a mom.
After a year of trying, my husband and I were able to conceive in a monitored cycle with my OB. We were thrilled and decided to tell our families over Thanksgiving, just shy of eight weeks of pregnancy. The following Sunday my husband left for a business trip and I went about life as normal. Mid-week, the spotting started. I was told it was normal, to come in for an ultrasound. There was a perfectly fine heartbeat. Late that night, I woke up with terrible cramps and was bleeding a lot. I was alone in the middle of the night, miscarrying the child I’d prayed and hoped for. And I had only tampons and liners in the house.
I hope I never have to do something like that again, but here’s the truth: I probably would. Possibly something even harder. I know now, though, that I have steel in my bones when I need it. I can take care of what needs to be done. I was and will be resilient enough to move forward.
I learned that my life was bigger than IVF and I was strong enough to work with the process rather than cater to it.Another time that comes to mind is during an early round of IVF. I was nervous and particular about the injections, so I had little rituals that helped me focus on covering all the steps and prayers that helped me hold on to a higher hope than I sometimes felt. All of these required my bathroom at my home.
And then, I got a last-minute invitation to dinner with longtime friends who were unexpectedly in town. The reservation was during my “shot window” and the only choices were to stay home and do my injections in my standard environment— and miss seeing my friends—or to say “yes” to the invitation and figure out a way to do the injections at the restaurant.
It took some doing—some personal pep talks, determination, and problem solving with my husband. I convinced myself I could do it. I decided that my injection strategy was more about fear and superstition than fact. I was allowing the IVF to control me rather than figuring out ways to live with the process. At the same time, all my hope for a baby was in this process and it merited attention and respect.
I went to the dinner. I wrapped a baggie of ice inside a towel, placed my refrigeration-required medication on the other side of the towel and put these layers inside an insulated coffee mug. The mug was carefully positioned in my purse and I set a timer on my phone. At the appointed time, I excused myself, took care of the injections, and then came back to my dinner and my friends.
I learned that my life was bigger than IVF and I was strong enough to work with the process rather than cater to it.
My third example of strength is perhaps the one most obviously filled with hope.
Before our first round of IVF, the doctor walked us through our odds and they seemed so low. It was confusing, frustrating, and disheartening. Yet, we moved forward riding all the ups and downs. At our transfer, we joked about the possibility of twins yet both secretly thought twins would be just fine. We were on a high, believing we’d beat the odds, right up and through the end—a chemical pregnancy.
We learned that IVF isn’t a “silver bullet” despite what we’d allowed ourselves to hope for and that chemical pregnancies are a very difficult loss. But, we went back for another round. This time, with more trepidation and caution. We inched toward a transfer and we were told our odds were worse than the first round, yet I still chose to believe that one of them might be our baby.
Hope can be learned and a conscious choice.After the second negative, we took a break. There were a lot of tears, soul searching, reflection, second-opinion-seeking, and reminders of what life was like “before.”
Then we came back and did it again. This time, with a new doctor, protocol, lifestyle habits, and perspective. Our odds “on paper” weren’t that different but I still poured belief and hope into those embryos each day during the wait for the pregnancy test. After all, I thought, if I didn’t believe in them as their mom, who would?
One of those is now our five-year-old boy.
When our son was around 18 months old, we went back to the reproductive endocrinologist hoping to give him a sibling, and fill in another piece of our family picture.
With each subsequent round—another three in total before we were successful—we held fast to the belief that if we didn’t believe in these embryos, who would?
Yes, it was more disappointing to learn of failed cycles when my hopes were so high. I committed my heart and mind to each of those tiny cell masses. But this part, I would do again. It took a lot of strength I didn’t know I had to face repeated disappointment, but it was the hope of a positive end to the story that kept me going.
I have since done some research on hope: it can be considered a way of thinking. It calls for setting goals, having the tenacity to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities. Hope can be learned and a conscious choice.
Whether we think we’re “cautiously optimistic” or “optimistically cautious”—to have that hope, face our fears, pick ourselves up, and do things we didn’t think we could—all in the face of knowing we may still be terribly disappointed each time takes tremendous strength.
Your story will look different. The things I share that gave me strength and built hope for me may not be the same for you.
What I hope you take from this is the message that our sister in the TTC trenches shared:
You’re stronger than you ever knew and there is hope with every exciting or difficult step.
Erin McDaniel is a six-time IVF “survivor” and mom to two boys. As a fertility coach, she helps women improve their fertility process by identifying and reducing stress points, creating balanced fertility plans, and implementing positive mindset strategies. To learn more, visit MyFertiltyCoach.com.
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