When you think of fertility you may think rosy, glowing cheeks, luscious locks, and, well, perfect health. That is, unless you’ve had to contemplate the world of ART – or Assisted Reproductive Technology.
For those of you who have had the simultaneous fortune and misfortune of experiencing the wonders of reproductive technologies like IUI, IVF, and others, you know that the moment you walk into the doors of a fertility clinic, those rosy, glowing cheeks are nowhere to be seen.
Globally, there are 48 million couples, and almost 200 million individuals who struggle with infertility.
While the endless prescriptions, needles, blood draws, and intimate, ice-cold dates with the sonogram wand, or “Wanda” as I like to call her, are no fun, it’s mostly the emotional and mental parts that get to you.
It’s a daily, delicate balance of trying to maintain hope, while also being realistic about the process, odds, and cost. It can feel like God and Science are ripping your heart in two. As if all of that weren’t enough, the drugs used to stimulate egg production leave you exhausted and cloudy, making even the simplest things feel like herculean tasks.
Lessons I’ve Learned So Far
Now in the midst of my third round 3 of IVF, I already feel like a seasoned pro. And given that my day job (because IVF is definitely like having a second gig!) is all about helping the MAPS community understand modern wellness and strive to find balance in life, I’ve decided to put these two parts of my life together. My hope is that the lessons I’ve learned so far in what I’m affectionately calling the boxing ring of fertility will be helpful to those just entering the ring.
So here they are — my 7 seven lessons learned from going three rounds with IVF:
Lesson #1:Steer Clear of Advice
Everyone and their mom seems to have plenty of advice on the best ways to conceive and navigate IVF — even if they haven’t been in the ring. While support is undeniably helpful (and even essential — more on that in a second) when facing moments of disappointment,the helpful intentions of family and friends can often be more hurtful than harmful. Forums and groups like Resolve, Fertility Out Loud, or even facebook groups, are incredibly therapeutic, and make it so you don’t feel so alone after the loss of a cycle, an embryo, or a baby. Additionally, having a relationship with a therapist is paramount for cases when you are experiencing loss or grieving in a different way than your spouse.
Lesson #2: Supplements Help, But Start Early
There are SO many great and potentially helpful supplements you can take, but they’re not miracle workers. The eggs that are currently in your body have been growing for the past 3 months. So cramming a bunch of CoQ10, DHA and Vitamin E into your body days before you start stims, will not be as transformative as you’d hope. Sustainable, consistent healthy choices are most impactful for us in every way — and more profoundly effective than short spurts of “being serious”.
Lesson #3: Eat Veggies, Veggies, and More Veggies
I know I just told you that sustainable habits are most important, and this holds true here as well, but upping your veggie intake during IVF is a bit of an all-upside-no-downside sort of thing. While we all should consume 3-5 servings of greens every day, I’ve found going above and beyond in this category has been a great help. For me, upping my veggies a bit more and enjoying meals a bit higher in soluble fiber have been incredible in helping keep my bowels healthy – including avoiding having to take a post-retrieval laxative.
Lesson #4: Play Your Positivity Playlist
This is an idea I got from a friend of mine who is also going through fertility interventions. She created a playlist of songs that made her feel GOOD when it was injection time. I went ahead and put together my own playlist, which you can check out here. I mean, who can feel anxious when grooving to Stevie Wonder, right?
Lesson #5: PGTA Test
I know that in some circles and for some doctors, the practice of genetically testing good embryos is frowned upon or thought of as unnecessary. While we are all different, I am team pro-PGTA testing. Having had 2 retrievals that yielded 3 mosaic, aneuploid, or abnormal embryos (that graded excellent), I am so grateful I knew the embryos were NOT euploid, so I wasn’t setting myself up for a high level of disappointment.
Lesson #6: Ask For Support and Share Your Story
While taking advice from just anyone isn’t effective and can be counterproductive, sharing your story and grief, and asking for help when needed is quite transformative. Don’t feel guilty about allocating tasks or not doing as much as you ordinarily would, this process is so hard on our bodies, hearts, and brains. And most importantly, know that people around you DO want to help however they can.
Lesson #7: Give Yourself Grace
Arguably, giving yourself grace may be the hardest thing on this list to do. But it is also one of the things that will have the greatest impact in making your journey easier. Doing so means not beating yourself up on the days when you have a hard time getting out of bed, allowing yourself to fully feel and experience the grief or resentment when you experience embryo loss or a canceled cycle, and allowing yourself (on occasion!) to indulge in a Netflix binge of your favorite funny TV show.
This journey is full of twists and turns and, even for the most promising cases, there is no guarantee that any cycle of IVF will be a success. I know, scary. But please know that you are strong and you are allowed to be big and loud and make a big deal of your story — even in a world where infertility is a to-be-mumbled-under-your-breath word.
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If you’re in the fertility boxing ring with me, I hope my lessons learned are some help. And please drop down to the comments section below and add your own. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through this process it is that it’s important to support each other as we go through this crazy process.
And if you’re not going through fertility treatments, but have still read this far, thank you! Perhaps you know someone going through it or are just curious, but either way, educating yourself can be super helpful if and when someone shares their ART experience with you. When that happens, the best thing you can do is really listen. When they tell you what it’s like, believe them. You don’t need to relate (you can’t, really), compare your experiences, or offer any advice. Trust me, they’re almost pre-med with all the reading and research they’ve been doing!
When someone you know is going through this process, what they need most is to feel that they are not alone and that they don’t have to pretend that it’s not emotionally wrenching. So skip the platitudes and just allow them to feel supported right where they are — it is one of the most powerful gifts you can give them.