The following is the heart-to-heart sit down I so desperately needed at the time but never got. I hope that the lessons that I learned will bring you some perspective to assist you with moving through your fertility journey with less struggle and more ease. So, here are my top 8 things I wish I knew before starting IVF.
1. IVF is not easy or a guarantee: This may seem obvious, but I remember these words coming out of my mouth: ‘If we can’t do it the old-fashioned way – then we’ll JUST do IVF’. As if IVF was a given that it would work AND that it would be easy. Ha! Well, let me look you in your beautiful eyes and say ‘it is not easy and it is not a guarantee’.
Does that mean it is not worth doing? Absolutely not. It most definitely is worth doing. It is a miracle of science that we are blessed to have! However, we do need to understand what it involves and what to expect.
Preparing yourself mentally, by reading about the physical process, as well as the mental and emotional effects – before you begin – outlines the reality of what is to come. This will hopefully give you the power to make informed decisions and make self-care a priority.
What about hope and the power of positive thinking? YES to both! Attitude is an important variable in the success of your treatment. You can be positive and hopeful during your treatment, while also being informed and prepared for what is to come.
What to do: read, talk to people who have done IVF, join a support group, a fertility-based yoga class, or ask your Reproductive Endocrinologist for information and resources.
2. Manage your Expectations: I swung between expecting only the worst and expecting only the best. The roller coaster between emotions was drastic and exhausting. Very rarely did I exist in the middle – a state of contentment with whatever life was offering me in that moment. This is extremely hard to do when we have so much invested.
Sometimes our expectations are held so tightly (a metaphorical death grip) they take over our lives and become the only thing that matters – your fertility takes over your whole life. And when these expectations are not met, they cause suffering because they are so ingrained in every part of your life.
There is power and relief in loosening the suffocating expectations on how and when you will have a child. By loosening your grip, you are not giving up on what you desire, but you are giving that desire for a child the space and freedom to duck and weave with the changes and challenges of life. When the grip is looser, the expectations decrease, and you allow your story to unfold in front of you – not force it down a path that it is not meant to be on. Your path may have obstacles, but it leads to your destination.
What to do: Live more mindfully (easier said than done!). Download a mindfulness bell onto your phone – set it to random and when it rings, you stop what you’re doing (if you can), take a breath in and out to close your eyes.
3. Don’t give up your power to doctors: It is so easy to relinquish all our power and control to the white coats of doctors. Because, well, we’re tired, we want answers, and we want a baby! Maybe you’ve struggled for a while to get pregnant or Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) is the only option for you to conceive – either way you see a light at the end of the tunnel.
I am beyond grateful for the doctors that work endlessly and tirelessly to build families. However, sometimes we see doctors as saviors, and hand over all the responsibility to them (and science) to get us pregnant. When in fact, we do have the power to assist our doctors by nurturing the body and making it as fertile as possible. Even if doctors help us to get pregnant, we still need to deal with our emotional, physical, and mental health. Doctors cannot do this for us. And these aspects have a profound effect on your quality of life and your fertility.
What to do: Ask yourself – what is in my power to control? Your nutrition, sleep, stress management, supportive mind/body practices? And in those moments when you get shocking or bad news, take a step back and don’t make any major decisions in the moment. It’s ok if you’re not being polite or nice or appeasing. Take your time to process and digest the news before making any major decisions.
I speak from experience. When I had my 10 week ultrasound, there was no heartbeat. I was in such shock that somehow I ended up going in for a D&C at 6am the next morning – I was just following blindly the lead of doctors. In retrospect, I needed more time with my baby that was within and needed space to grieve before going in for the procedure. That D&C and aftermath goes down as one of the worst experiences of my life – I felt like I had given over my body and all my power.
4. Surrender where you can: You’ve heard the stories, like mine, that as soon as people decide to take a break, adopt, or no longer continue with treatment, they become pregnant. What is this magical surrender?
Where does it come from and how can you feel it? As the anecdote goes, if you have a bird in your hand, and if you squeeze so tightly because you love it so much, it will struggle and suffocate.
Surrender is letting go of the heavy burden of trying to conceive as only your responsibility – your success or failure. When you find acceptance to your situation, you give some of that burden to the universe – or God, or nature, fate, or wherever your beliefs lie. Coming to a place of acceptance lessens the fighting instinct (and stress) and your body lets out a big EXHALE, and finds contentment in what is. This will lower your fertility stress which in turn supports your fertility.
What to do: Take a moment to sit in stillness. Breathe in and breathe out for a few rounds. Feeling the subtle yet powerful release on the exhale. Lengthen your exhale, make it a couple counts longer than your inhale. Feel your body begin to surrender to what is. Say to yourself, ‘I am where I am and that’s ok’.
5. Give Mind/Body practices a chance: Society has conditioned us to expect instant gratification. And when we decide we’re ready to have a baby, we want it right away. This was me – after choosing to not get pregnant until I was 35, I decided that I was ready and when it didn’t happen in the first 6 months I was devastated.
For many, IVF may be a quicker path to getting pregnant. For others, it is the only way. Fertility treatment is not an easy path physically, mentally, or emotionally. This is why integrating mind/body practices, like acupuncture, Fertility Yoga, counselling, Arvigo Massage, Reiki, etc into your fertility journey are amazingly supportive – not only to your physical and reproductive health, but to the mental and emotional health that fertility treatments can impact.
What to do: Meet with your acupuncturist or sign up for that fertility or restorative yoga class in advance of your treatment, not in the middle of it.
6. Find a stress management plan – seriously – don’t go it alone. There is, somehow, a silent underlying negativity to a declaration of being stressed out or overwhelmed. It is seen as a weakness that you are unable to manage your life. Let’s make one thing very clear, admitting to the stresses you are facing is the first step to finding ways to mitigate that stress. Because…
Stress matters – it is a biological function that has allowed the human race to evolve and survive. But times have changed, and we now know that heightened chronic stress can affect your fertility. It’s not the only factor that matters, but it does matter. Additionally, stress can be detrimental to your quality of life (sleep or digestive issues, headaches and hormonal imbalance, imparied cognition)! By managing stress, you are increasing your quality of life which makes the fertility journey more manageable – and without all those stress hormones, your body is more receptive to pregnancy. Check out some of the research on stress and fertility.
What to do: Remind yourself that the stressful moments will not necessarily go away, but our reaction to those stressful moments is key. Decrease stress by increasing relaxation. What brings you ease? Walks in nature, bubble baths, trips away from the city, yoga class, seeing a therapist, integrating meditation?
7. Find your people: For me, I did not find my people during my fertility struggles – I relied on my partner and friends. In retrospect, that was unfair of me. My partner was going through the same struggles to get pregnant as I was (albeit minus the hormonal cocktail), and my friends lacked the perspective and expertise to deal with my extreme fluctuations of emotions and devastation.
What to do: There are many support groups out there, and if you’re not totally into publicly sharing (which I understand because at the time I felt like if I talked about it I would just cry forever), then finding a counselor that specializes in fertility may be a good option. Online support groups are also wonderful.
8. Pregnant people and babies are not out to get you: When I was in the thick of my IVF years, I realized I was taking it personally when someone I was acquainted with or walked by on the street was pregnant. How dare they go and get pregnant while I was going through hell!
Then one day my best friend told me she was pregnant, and that she was 15 weeks! She didn’t want to tell me because she knew how much it would upset me. I realized that I was stealing some of her joy by not allowing her to tell her best friend about something so pivotal in life. I was also so wrapped up in my own drama, I didn’t even notice her morning sickness, lack of energy, or changing body. became clear that I was missing out on so much joy. Yes, I went home and cried it out. I was feeling slighted by fate. But after, I realized that my sensitivity to every situation was detrimental to my happiness and that I was pulling people into my darkness.
What to do: A cognitive shift is essential for this one. Realize that babies are not a finite object – just because someone else is pregnant does not mean that your chances of pregnancy went down. There are infinite baby spirits floating around out there. Yours has not been called in yet.