This year the National Infertility Awareness Week theme in the U.S.A. is “Start Asking”. There are so many ways this could be interpreted, some of the suggestions that Resolve put forth were to “start asking for more support from your friends”, to “start asking for more media coverage about infertility”, and to “start asking congress to pass bills that will enable affordable treatment options”. I think these are all wonderful suggestions, particularly the last one, as it’s an election year… But I’m up here in Canada, so it wasn’t pertinent to me. I participate in NIAW because so many of my readers are from the US and I staunchly support Resolve and the work they do. So, while I participate, I am also a little bit removed. I’ve been mulling over how I can contribute and make that contribution meaningful and then it hit me… Someone should really talk about the things you should “start asking YOURSELF” during infertility!
Here we go:
When dealing with infertility it becomes incredibly important to look within yourself. It can almost be like a crash course in self help and self love. You need to “look within” in order to hang onto any shred of sanity you started with, and not let this thing crush you body, mind and soul. It can be incredibly hard to do that! To fight every month and keep it together. After every god damned negative. After each pregnancy announcement that isn’t yours. So, let’s look at some of the things you should be asking yourself while you walk this journey. Hopefully, these will help keep you whole and coping during your time in the land of IF:
- Start asking yourself how you deal with stress: Stress reactions are incredibly personal. No one responds to stress in the exact same way… back up, physiologically, we all have a similar reaction to stress, but how that manifests and how we perceive it can be very different. Take my hubby and I for example: I tend to have panic attacks when really stressed which usually happens when I’m not practicing good self care and need to have a look at my life load. Hubby has never had a panic attack but has racing intrusive thoughts when stressed that make it hard to focus on anything else. Since hubby and I deal differently with stress it means that our coping strategies will be different too. When things get harried in my life I need to have almost zero screen time where hubby on the other hand needs to meditate. Knowing yourself, and how you cope, will help you plan some good self care when the road gets rocky. Do you enjoy long walks in nature? Does colouring lower your blood pressure? Could yoga be the key to your zen? By asking yourself how you deal with stress you will be one step closer to handling all that’s coming at you. Because there will be stress during infertility!
2. Start asking how you can take care of yourself during the bad times: Even knowing how you deal with stress, and implementing stress management techniques, will not stop you from having bad days. Infertility is a roller coaster ride. Some days will be up, and many will be down. Instead of pretending like the bad times will never happen start asking yourself how you can make sure you survive the bad times. Some ideas include scheduling a massage or a date with a friend the day you are due for your period. That way, even if you aren’t pregnant that cycle, you will have things to look forward to. Also allowing a certain time limit on mourning a failed cycle so that your natural grief doesn’t spiral into a life consuming funk. I used to allow myself the first 2 or 3 days of a period to grieve and wallow before starting to pull my shit together again for the next try. I would watch sad movies, listen to lullabies, eat ice cream and cry… a lot. But having a time set aside for me to allow those feelings really helped me to process them, instead of keeping them bottled up. Knowing that you have a plan in place to help you cope can take a lot of the stress off during a cycle. By asking how you can take care of yourself in dark times you’ll be better equipped no matter what happens.
3. Start asking how you can better advocate for yourself- in the RE office and out: Being in the trenches of trying means that you’re probably learning way more than you ever wanted to know reproduction. You signed up to have sex like rabbits and make a baby, not learn about cervical mucous and intracytoplamsic sperm injection, I know. But the longer you’re at it the more likely it is that you’ll be learning about advanced treatments and the varied and intense ways your reproductive organs can fail you. For that reason it becomes important that you learn how to advocate for yourself. To your family, your spouse and your doctor. Think you need more testing even though your GP or RE aren’t ordering any? Make an appointment and demand they help you. Think that you are more open to an option that was once off the table? Have a nice dinner and broach the topic again with your significant other. Think that your family is kind of sticking their head in the sand instead of supporting you in the way that you need? Tackle that shit, you deserve better. By having an honest conversation with yourself first about what you need you are then in a better place to discuss your needs with someone else. By acknowledging that you are the only person who can stand up for what you need you’re going to feel more empowered to have hard conversations. Unfortunately, in infertility there are often lots of them. It’s good to get ahead of them!
4. Start asking who your allies are: Even though you have to be the best advocate for yourself you’re bound to find that, when it comes to infertility, some people are better equipped to help you through it than others. Have a friend that sends you flowers, or better yet chocolate, after a failed cycle? That, lovelies, is your ally! Rely on that person when you’re having a hard day, or when you aren’t sure how you’re feeling and need a sounding board. Have a friend who constantly tells you to “just adopt” or “get over it”? Yeah… that person is NOT your ally. Don’t bother trying to force them to be what they aren’t. Educate them out of their stupidity if you can, but don’t try to lean on them the next time you see one line on a pregnancy test. By analyzing your circle of influence and identifying all your potential support peeps you will feel less adrift and alone when things get hard. Feeling alone is so common on this journey, but it doesn’t have to be. Find your people, online, offline, all around the town! Make a list if that helps. By asking yourself who you can count on you’ll find that there is inevitably someone. And that makes a shit ton of difference.
5. Start asking what your limits are: This road can be long. How long you want to continue trying is deeply personal and can be hard to determine. If you have been at this 3 months, 2 years, 5 years or 10 it’s always good to periodically check in with yourself and your partner about what your limits are. They can, and probably will, change and shift as you go along. I know mine did. So expect to keep this as an open dialogue for a while, but it’s good to go into each new month or treatment cycle with your eyes wide open. How much money would you be willing to spend on treatment? How much medical intervention are you comfortable with? Are there any options that you disapprove of on a moral or religious level? Are there risks inherent in any of the procedures you are considering? Are you ok with those risks? Knowing your feelings on your infertility issues and treatment plans will go a long way in helping you navigate any unforeseen circumstances that might crop up month after month. Having asked yourself your limits you will be able to face them from a firm foundation of understanding.
“Know thyself”, as the Greeks, would say really does ring true here. The best way to understand who you are on this journey, and keep that self intact, is to question yourself and actively work to hold shit together. So many questions to be asked. There are other questions that you have likely asked yourself on this journey, too. Questions like: When will it be my turn, why didn’t it work this month, how am I supposed to get into/out of this position and not lose all the sperm! And while it’s hard not to ask yourselves these kinds of questions, it can make the journey harder if you only focus on the negative. Try to put your health first and see if asking the questions listed above do anything to get you in a better mind set. A good mind set won’t get you knocked up, but it can help you keep breathing while you try. And that’s a good place to start!
So, this NIAW, while we focus on asking so many people to turn their minds and hearts toward infertility, I would urge you not to forget yourself in the process. Give yourself permission to start focusing on YOURSELF for a change! You may find you like the results when you do.