Tips and Resources for Dealing with Infertility

You have been trying to conceive for what feels like forever – at least 6 to 12 months – you have been tracking your ovulation, you have lost a few pounds, quit drinking/smoking/toking/coffee and you still aren’t pregnant. Your OB has recommended that it is time to get in touch with a Reproductive Endocrinologist or Fertility Specialist, and you are crushed. You may also feel relieved knowing that you could get some answers soon.

Broadly, infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of trying.

By the Numbers (according to the experts: ASRM, CDC and RESOLVE)

  • 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting and staying pregnant.

  • 1/3 of infertility is attributed to the male partner, 1/3 to the female partner and 1/3 to a combination of both or remains unexplained. 

  • 85%-90% of infertility cases are treated with conventional medical therapies – i.e. medication or surgical intervention.

  • The inability to have a child is considered a disease of the reproductive system that affects 6.7 million women in America.  

 SEEING A SPECIALIST

Most fertility specialists will begin with a detailed intake that will gather you and your partner’s information including medical history, social history and the history of your reproductive health. Additionally, ultrasounds and labs may be ordered for the medical team to get an idea of your baseline and to begin identifying the source of what is going on. I always suggest bringing a list of questions to this first appointment that touch on the concerns you have. Suggestions for things you may want to ask:

  1. What is the process for identifying my diagnosis and how will this diagnosis inform my treatment?

  2. How long do you think the initial workup will take and when do you estimate we will be able to move forward with treatment?

  3. What courses of treatment do you recommend/are most commonly successful in your practice? Additionally, what are my treatment options?

  4. How long do we focus on each treatment and at what point do we move to a new treatment? For example: if we start with IUI how long before we discuss IVF.

  5. Is there anything I can do to improve my chances of becoming and staying pregnant during the course of treatment?

  6. Are there any lifestyle changes you recommend?

 PREPARATION AND SELF-CARE

Infertility brings a landslide of emotions including immense vulnerability, feelings that you have no control and moments of intense sadness. When we think about growing our families we think about future homes, communities, holidays, birthdays and milestones. Experiencing infertility can feel like the biggest threat to those things.  When you take your journey to have a baby from the bedroom to the doctor’s office it’s only natural that floods of emotion will come with you. Stress, sadness, excitement, grief and fear all bundled into one. Here are a few tips on how to provide yourself self-care during this time.

  1. Educate yourself on the medical components of infertility.
    Gathering information and education can help you feel empowered and whittle away at the feelings of powerless that come with the process.  

  2. Identify your support system, both individually and as a couple.
    Finding a therapist that specializes in infertility or a group for families going through infertility treatments will help you build your tribe and a support system that knows exactly what you are going through.  Also, social media outlets have support groups that many women find helpful.

  3. Try your best to focus on the moment.
    Be your own best advocate and don’t get caught up in future worries and anxieties: what if this happens, what if this doesn’t work, what if what if what if.   Do your best to live in the moment and don’t give too much power to the what if’s. 

  4. Feel your feelings.
    You may wake up feeling great one morning and incredibly sad the next. You may feel you don’t recognize yourself, like you have changed forever and wonder if you’ll ever return to the person you were before you started trying to get pregnant. This is ok. Allow yourself the moment to honor however you are feeling and remember that all feelings pass.

  5. Engage in regular check-ins with your partner.
    Infertility is a couples experience. Make sure you keep up your communication, try to make time for fun and be sure to connect in some way. Given the stringent requirements surrounding treatment, sex may be off the table at certain times- practice other ways of sharing intimate moments outside of intercourse.

 THERE ARE PLENTY OF NATIONAL AND LOCAL RESOURCES TO HELP YOU IN YOUR JOURNEY TOWARD PREGNANCY, HERE ARE JUST A FEW:

  • Hasidah
    An organization that builds awareness, develops a network of support resources and provides financial assistance for IVF.  They will be in Denver hosting an event on February 26.

    Pathways to Parenthood – We live in a time when people are marrying later, working more, having fewer children and considering freezing their eggs. How do these influence the choices people make about family building and how people deal with fertilty struggles? Come hear from experts in the field and those who have infertility experiences, ask questions and share. Whether you’re going through this yourself, been through it, curious about it or trying to support a loved one, come learn and share as we explore the issues of modern family building and how to create more support in the Jewish community. For people who are currently facing fertility issues, who have in the past, and for people who want to support them.

  • The American Society for Reproductive Medicine
    ASRM is a multidisciplinary organization dedicated to the advancement of the science and practice of reproductive medicine. The Society accomplishes its mission through the pursuit of excellence in education and research and through advocacy on behalf of patients, physicians, and affiliated health care providers.

  • RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association
    RESOLVE, the website of the National Infertility Association, provides free support groups in more than 200 communities; is the leading patient advocacy voice; and serves as the go-to organization for anyone challenged in their family building.

  • National Conference of State Legislatures
    NCSL will help you learn the infertility insurance laws in your state.



What Have I Done?

I have a clear memory of changing the sheets while I listened to a short story about a couple who had adopted a baby.  When the story ended, I collapsed sobbing on to the bed. I wanted a baby so badly that I physically ached for one. And yet, when I found myself pregnant, a year and a half after my husband and I had started trying, the first emotion I felt was fear.  What had I done?

My pregnancy was not easy.  I threw up constantly - once thirteen times in three hours.  I was put on a “milkshake diet” by my OBGYN because I had lost an alarming amount of weight.  I went to bed at 7 pm and woke up still exhausted 12 hours later. I did not glow.

And then, at 33 weeks and 5 days, my water broke unexpectedly and unexplainably.  My questioning mantra of the last few months remained, but, suddenly, the inflection changed.  What had I done?

I spent two days in the hospital on supervised bed rest - attempting to keep my baby in for as long as possible.  On the third day, 34 weeks exactly, I was induced. Ten hours later, I met my girl. And, then, they took her away.  We had previously decided that my husband would go with her and I watched him follow her incubator to the NICU. Suddenly I was alone with my thoughts for the first time in 72 hours.  And, again, I asked the question that had become my constant companion.

My daughter was a NICU superstar.  She was off her CPAP in 12 hours, off her feeding tube in 3 days, out of her incubator in 5 days, and home in 7 days.  She had moxie and gumption in spades. She came home on oxygen and even that didn’t stop her from thriving. She amazed everyone she met.  And yet I still couldn’t shake my guilt.

There is no medical answer for why my water broke when it did.  One minute, my daughter was safe and the next minute she wasn’t.  My body, for whatever reason, decided that it was time for her to make her arrival. I had failed her. After a particularly rough day, I called my mom and I finally asked out loud the question I couldn’t stop asking in my brain, “What had I done?”  

I cried a lot that day.  To my mom, to my friends, to my husband, and to my daughter while I rocked her to sleep.  The next week, I started therapy. I continued to cry a lot. I got diagnosed with PTSD. But I started talking out loud and I have kept talking out loud.  My internal mantra of doubt become conversations of trust.

I love my daughter.  I love her big, blue eyes.  I love her laugh. I love the way that her whole body shakes with excitement.  I love how her favorite thing to do is kiss herself in the mirror. I love that when she is crying the sure fix is throw her up in the air.  I love her ten fingers. I love her ten toes. I love that when I was pregnant with her I was terrified I had made a mistake. I love that when she was born I was afraid that I had already ruined her.  I love that she wasn’t a mistake. I love that she isn’t ruined.

I love that now when I ask myself what I have done, she is and will forever be my answer.   She is what I have done.