Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dealing with Infertility - 14 Things I've Learned

Of all the hobbies to have, treating infertility is one of the worst. Sure, there's often travel involved, and sometimes you do get to meet interesting people, but the rest of the time there's a lot of awkwardness and expense without a lot to show for it.

In fact, it's one of the few hobbies that people are willing to sacrifice their money and privacy for years without seeing any results - just so their lives can become even more expensive.

It's the worst, but you learn to cope. I've learned a lot over the years. And while there are some really wonderful pieces on the subject (highly recommend this one), I've decided to leave the deep stuff to those who are on the other side and stick with the practical bits.

1. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page with your fertility plan. This is big. And it can be a transient thing, so have this conversation often. What treatments, when, and how are they being paid for.

2. Be kind to yourself. This means:

  • Edit your social network. You don't have to look at every baby picture on facebook (there are a lot). Most of the time, the minute a friend or acquaintance of mine announces a pregnancy, I un-follow their news feed. 
  • The same goes for Pinterest - if looking at knitted baby booties makes you sad, for heaven's sake don't subscribe to those boards. 
  • If volunteering with children's ministries at your church is too difficult/depressing, change ministries. (If it helps you feel better, by all means continue!)
  • You don't have to go to every baby shower you're invited to. It's okay to decline kindly and send a gift if you can (and it's okay for that gift to be a gift card - if shopping for baby gear makes you miserable, don't).
None of this means that you hate your friends or their progeny, or that you won't love and pray for them. Set yourself - and everyone else - up for success. There is no medal for Noble Suffering.

3. Get yourself one of these.

If you're not a dog person, fine (though I'll say this about Cavaliers - they're the dogs non-dog people bond with). Get another kind of pet - cat, bunny, sugar glider, whatever makes you happy - you need those endorphins.

But Cavaliers, in particular, and really suited for the job. They're portable, which is great if you live a distance from your fertility clinic. They're very affectionate, and very bonded to their owners (also: everybody else. Cavaliers have no enemies).

When you do have children, Cavaliers are great with them. One of the things I love about Shiloh is that the smaller the child, the lower he flattens himself to the ground to meet them. He makes sure he's as un-intimidating as possible - and that's not something I taught him. He just does it.

4. Write down, if necessary, your questions for your Reproductive Endocrinologist. Those are some expensive appointments, so make sure you get everything out of them that you want.

5. Take a good book. This is not the time for the borderline book - you need some exceptional reading material for the waiting room, material that doesn't strictly involve IVF financial planning.

6. If you're going HSG test or an IUI treatment, wear comfortable clothing and try to build time in your day for a nap afterwards. Ideally, stop at Starbucks for something sugary on the way back.

7. If you're undergoing an HSG, IUI, or ovarian ultrasound (really, anything involving stirrups), shave thine legs. This is not for the health care practitioner, who has likely seen everything. This is for you, and the shreds of your dignity.

8. Consider acupuncture. There is a lot of literature about the benefits of acupuncture for fertility. Be sure to tell your RE. Acupuncture is not only effective for fertility, but also stress - AND there are Chinese herbs you can take that are pre-natal safe (unlike the rest of the antidepressant shelf) to help with the stress. A good acupuncturist will be familiar with your fertility treatments and will be able to coordinate your acupuncture and herbs accordingly. Also, your insurance might actually cover it.

9. When it comes to your friends and family, discuss with your spouse what you're going to share and not. There's no right or wrong answer - you have to choose what you're both comfortable with. It's okay to guard your privacy. If someone wants to know exactly what your fertility issues are (and they will), you don't have to tell them.

10. On that note, have responses prepared for common questions.

  • If someone wants to know what your fertility issues are, or what you're doing about them, it's okay to say "there are a few different issues but we're working with our doctor to resolve them," or even, "I'd rather not discuss the subject." 
  • To the classic "when are you having kids" question, try "not yet, but hopefully soon"  for casual acquaintances, and/or people who respond well to a brush-off. 
  • For those that don't (or if you're just feeling sassy), try "It's the funniest thing, they're on back-order! We ordered them a long time ago, but they just haven't shown up yet." 

11. Be gracious. Most of the time when people ask awkward questions, it's coming from a place of caring mixed with a lack of knowledge. For instance, people who ask if we've considered adoption usually have no idea how expensive it is (usually around $5K for a state adoption, $20K-$40K for a private domestic adoption, $27K-$50+K for an overseas adoption. Conversely, fertility treatments run $450-$16K, depending on what treatment you're doing, if there are oral or injectable hormones, imaging, labs, etc. More if you're using donated materials.)

12. Don't put your life on hold. Take trips. Buy clothes. Cultivate other hobbies, such as crafting, yoga, dance, or hiking. Enroll your dog in obedience and agility glasses. Learn to play a musical instrument. See a movie. In other words - have fun, stay busy.

13. Find humor where you can. There have been multiple times when parts of our fertility process have been really and truly hilarious. I will draw a veil over the specifics, but the fact is that when you take lady parts + gentleman material and add either the medical establishment or voices of experience (who are themselves beyond TMI), therein lies comedy. Enjoy it when you find it.

14. Pray continuously. This is hard. It's hard to ask God over and over for the same thing - for years - that He gives to others with ease. But he told us to come to him with our wants and our needs. Pray against bitterness and cynicism. Pray for direction. Pray for him to heal your heart, over and over again.

Those are my thoughts. If you've experienced infertility, what would you add to this list?


  1. Beautiful, Hillary. Thank you--am sending this to someone I love dearly.


  2. This was wonderful, Hillary (if talking about something so heartrending can ever be called "wonderful.") So much wisdom here.

    "Most of the time, the minute a friend or acquaintance of mine announces a pregnancy, I un-follow their news feed." -- Yes. I totally did that, too. Nothing wrong with that.

    And the part about getting a dog? YES. Yes, yes, yes. A Cavalier does sound absolutely perfect.

    People who ask "Why don't you just adopt?" really just have no idea. It's hard not to get upset with them. You sound so much more gracious than me.

    Hugs and prayers. What you're enduring sounds HARD HARD HARD, but you're doing an amazing job making the best of it. You will be an incredible mom someday.

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  4. very helpful recommendations you have shared about how to deal with infertility.

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