This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. In order to help break the silence that often accompanies a diagnosis of infertility, I want to share a bit of my experience and hopefully add to the conversation. Because, although I am a mom of twins, I am also infertile. This means, that in nearly four years of trying to make babies (and 10 years of not actively preventing the making of babies), my husband and I have made exactly zero babies…on our own. However, with the help of some fabulous doctors, a supportive family, and a faith that somehow held together through the emotional roller coaster of infertility, we eventually conceived and then I carried and birthed twins. And today, they are healthy (and very rambunctious and highly emotional) three-year-olds. Both of them. At the same time. Deep breath. (My “10 Essentials for Surviving Twin Toddler Parenthood” is another post; a post which I need someone else to write at present.)
So, in no particular order, here is a list of essentials that helped (and still help) me face my infertility.
1. A Supportive Partner – Infertility can be very stressful on relationships, especially on the one with whom you are trying to conceive. For my husband and I, communication was key. While we of course had our arguments and ups and downs, being open about our feelings and there for each other (in different ways at different times) helped us to continue to like one another and to stay on the same team. (We’re now learning how this was really excellent practice for co-parenting as well.)
2. Yoga – I met a dear friend and fellow twin mom in a “Yoga for Fertility” class. While we never would have imagined we’d one day bond over parenting multiples when we first met, it was so easy (and wonderful) to connect with someone through our similar treatments and experiences. I practiced yoga pretty regularly while trying to conceive (including at times when actually trying to conceive – pardon the metal imagery there), and I truly believe it helped keep my stress level in check at the very least.
3. Eating Healthy – My infertility seems to be related to my endometriosis. In order to try to keep the symptoms in check, I met with a nutritionist and tried to eat a well-balanced and nutrient-dense diet while undergoing treatment. While I cannot say definitively that this helped contribute to what was our successful IVF, I do believe it helped prepare my body (and my eggs?) to be in the best possible condition for the procedure.
4. Support Groups – Whether online or in person, the support from a community of folks also dealing with infertility can be invaluable. Often by no fault of their own, our friends and family who have not experienced infertility don’t always know what to say or do (and sometimes inadvertently say hurtful or seeming insensitive things). I have found that it can be very healing to have a safe space to vent, share stories, and encourage one another.
5. Health Insurance – Thank goodness for heath insurance. I say this even though our plan does not cover any infertility treatments or procedures. So, yes, I am saying thank goodness for health insurance because once we spent a grand total of over $50,000 out-of-pocket, when we finally did get pregnant, our deductible was definitely met and the quality prenatal care we received for our twins was basically “free.” I also share this as a means to say that there is action that needs to be taken in order to provide better coverage for infertility. The stress of financing your family and the prospect of a $10,000 negative pregnancy test is more than anyone should have to face, in my opinion. (And yes, those are really big numbers. But for many they are much higher. Ugh.)
6. Writing/Journaling – I actually returned to writing and started blogging as a way to process my emotions with infertility. I also found a lot of hope in reading the words of others going through infertility. I followed many women through their IUI and IVF cycles via their blogs, and I celebrated with them (and grieved with them) as they moved one step closer to holding their babies.
7. Finding/Keeping the Faith – To be clear, this is not to suggest, “If you just pray enough it will happen.” What it is to suggest is that for me, my coming to believe that God did not will my infertility was freeing and healing. I am also grateful that I was able to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much I might have wanted a baby, I could not create a child by my own sheer will and determination. (Although, yes, my/our sheer will and determination was definitely a factor.) Through accepting the things I could not control and finding peace that God was with us in our trials, I feel that my faith was strengthened through our infertility. But I also believe that finding or keeping the faith through infertility will likely look different for each of us, and I think that is okay.
8. Crying – Acknowledging the pain and despair – particularly of a failed cycle – and allowing myself space to cry and sometimes even throw things (I usually tried to make sure the “things” were soft and not breakable…pillows I found to be particularly suited for this purpose) was crucial. And sometimes it just felt good, too.
9. Being Honest – This is a difficult one, but I found the more we let people know about our infertility, the more support we received. Yes, there were plenty of well-meaning but often off-putting, “Just relax and it will happen,” comments. But, there were also lots of prayers, listening ears, and shoulders to cry on. Also, more often than we expected, we’d get a “Me, too” in response.
10. A Sense of Humor – Finally, when all else fails, and it often feels that all else does fail when battling infertility, a sense of humor can help lighten the load. The fact is, there are just so many aspects of infertility that are, shall we say, less than fun. Between the time in the stirrups, the shots in the rear, the “specimen collections,” the vaginal probing, and more folks in white coats looking at you under the sheet than you can count, sometimes you just have to laugh. I’ll never forget the time my husband called me up during his “collection” appointment. I answered the phone to a nervous, “Um, hey hun. I think I could use a little help here. What are you wearing?” I didn’t know whether to find the nearest bathroom (I was at Panera at the time), laugh out loud, or die of embarrassment. Turns out he was already…ehem…finished, but thought it would make for a good laugh.
So there it is. My personal list of essentials. What makes your list? How do you remember to take care of yourself and your relationships when the joy of trying to make a baby turns in the stress of trying to make a baby?
(To learn more about infertility and how it affects 1 in 8 couples, please visit RESOLVE.)