As a doctor, I have the great joy of helping women get and stay healthy, and specifically as a fertility physician, I have the additional pleasure of helping them realize their dreams of becoming parents.
My job can also be very difficult as I am often the bearer of bad news. A cancer diagnosis, for example, is devastating to deliver. It provokes denial, anger, fear and grief. In my experience, however, I have found that as traumatic as such news can be, it can also be an incredibly powerful catalyst that brings about a shift in thinking. Some cancer survivors say the diagnosis taught them more about living than any other event in their lives. While I would never wish that diagnosis on anyone, I have often been heartened to see my patients not only beat their illnesses, but also in the aftermath make incredible changes in their lives for the better.
Similarly, an infertility diagnosis can also be crushing. We all have a notion about how things are “supposed” to go, but as we all know, the best laid plans of mice and men (women, too!) often go awry. We get stuck on the idea that passing genes along via “normal” reproduction is the only or best way to continue our family lines. This is not true, but to fully embrace how an infertility diagnosis can be life affirming, not denying, requires a shift in thinking.
Those with infertility need to find meaning in this new stage of life. They need to learn to live with this new “norm.” As with any difficult diagnosis, it’s easy to attack and hate your body for doing this to you. Resist these negative impulses, and instead embrace and learn to love your body. Do all you can to prepare it for the work it’s about to undertake to beat an infertility diagnosis.
Perhaps you have been told to lose weight to be more fertile. Don’t head to fad diets and starvation; nourish yourself —eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats (if you eat meat) and healthy grains. Accept that this won’t happen overnight – it may take months or years – but if you do it in a loving fashion without berating yourself, it will be easier to maintain a healthy focus.
On the other hand, you might be encouraged to gain weight. This is also an adjustment, as so many women spend half their lives counting calories and working out like crazy to ensure that the scale never tips up more than a pound. Now it is the time to realize that food is to be enjoyed and savored. While exercise is essential to keep the muscles and bones healthy, it doesn’t have to rule over you. If you are tired or worn out, you may need rest. Shift to more relaxing hobbies like painting, photography, knitting or quilting. You may have fewer race medals or bib jerseys, but soon there may be artwork or other crafts to display.
Stress reduction is another important avenue to explore with an infertility diagnosis. So many fertility patients are told to “relax,” take a break and go on vacation. It is hard to rest when you are reminded daily that you are not yet pregnant, plus the work of treating infertility, with doctor appointments and rigid medication and shot regimes, is demanding. Going on vacation can’t actually help open your tubes, force ovulation and/or improve sperm for your partner (who is probably as stressed as you are!), but it can help the two of you live in the moment and be grateful for all that you do have. If you can’t go on vacation, consider a stay-cation. Meditation, massage and yoga are healing, as is aromatherapy, warm baths and picking up a good book. So, too, is comedy and laughter.
A New Perspective
Further, coming to terms with the difficulty of conceiving may give you a new perspective on what’s important in your life. Perhaps you will reconnect with your significant other and remember why you wanted a family in the first place. You may decide raising children is more important than passing on your genes—accepting the reality of egg or sperm donation, adoption, surrogacy or foster parenting may then open new doors for you. Sometimes the stress of infertility leads people to take stock in their true desires and dreams—and they find that the desire to be parents isn’t as strong as the desire to pursue other life paths.
Any good story has plot twists and turns – just look at successful novels and films. The poet Khalil Gibran said, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.” You can recoil in fear when you receive an infertility diagnosis OR you can choose to embrace it as a stepping-stone in life and decide no challenge is too large for you to conquer.
Your story doesn’t end with an infertility diagnosis. It’s just the start of a new chapter.
Together We’ll Find A Way
When you need help scaling that mountain, just know that you are not alone. You are loved. You are supported. To learn more about how an infertility diagnosis can be life affirming, please contact the West Coast Women’s Reproductive Center.