Sunday, April 19, 2015

Back at it for Infertility Awareness Week - Stick it to the Pregnancy Test Stick

Yes, it's been a while.  A long while.  But, in honor of Infertility Awareness Week, I wanted to share five tips for keeping some sense of sanity while going through the rollercoaster ride of being a pregnancy virgin.

My infertility rap sheet is about as long as they come.  Over the course of seven years, I tried the good old fashioned method too many times to count, three ovulation inductions, also known as the lovely term of timed intercourse,  one IVF, two frozen embryo transfers , and even a gestational carrier.  I’ve had enough female horse urine injected in my body that there are times that I neigh instead of talk.

I had 23 embryos.  But have had zero pregnancies. 

I’m one of the unfortunate few of the infertile with unexplained infertility, but I can produce ridiculous sums of eggs and my husband’s sperm count is off the charts. 

And, yet I’m here to tell you that I have survived all of this infertility drama, even with no biological children.   I am OK, and you can be too.  Through all of the nonsense and tears, the one thing that kept me somewhat sane was trying to find the lighter side of infertility, the humor in unusual places (thanks in large part to my amazing husband).

Whenever I’d get a negative pregnancy test, my knee jerk reaction was always that I was mad.  I’d want to stick it to the pregnancy test pee stick.  Those things are virtually indestructible. I’d try and try to snap them in half, but I think you need a black belt in karate to break it, and I’d just end up getting pee on my hand.

I also know that you’re sad.  I’ve been there, too.  Having to postpone and struggle to fulfill a dream is heartbreaking.  That’s where therapists, doctors, good family and friends can come in to help.

You might also feel like you’re losing your mind a little bit and that the hormones you’re on are making you crazy.  I had epic meltdowns in the dressing room of Bloomingdale’s and a rest stop in Northern Indiana that I would like to blame on all of the follicle stimulants I was on, but maybe it was just my frustration of not being able to conceive.  I am in no way making fun of those of us who are truly depressed and need help.  I was there, too. 

But, throughout the years of ups and downs in the baby-making trials, I have discovered five critical steps to help save my sanity and courage.  I hope that these might be helpful to you, too.

1. Launch a plan of attack 
Like any good military operation, you need a strategy and plan to attack the enemy.  If it’s taken you longer than you’d expected to get pregnant, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.  Remember that you can help determine your own fertility destiny. 

Sit down with your partner and schedule doctor’s appointments, schedule tests,
Talk about how much money you’re willing to spend; discuss how many IUIs, FETs, IVFs, you’re willing to do, and when it might be time to consider foster care or adoption.

Feeling empowered during this time that is seems so out of your control, is a really big deal.  Actually, just recently a friend of mine who is trying to get pregnant asked me about this.  I told her, don’t wait, just make the doctor’s appointment, and she said that being in control of even that one small task made her feel better.

      2. Gimme a break
       Know that it’s OK to take a break – from trying, from friends with kids, from holiday parties and baby showers, from Facebook. 

When I first started going through all of the fertility treatments, I wanted to do them back to back and not waste any time.  I did three back to back ovulation inductions and then I moved straight into IVF.  When those didn’t work, I needed to take a break from trying so hard.  My belly was huge from all of the drugs, my mind was clouded with dreams of a baby and I just needed some perspective.  Plus, rushing from appointment to appointment and blood draw to blood draw and worrying about if you’re going to be in a work meeting when you need to give yourself an injection is physically and emotionally exhausting.

Taking a few months off was one of the best things I did.  And, I took even more time in between FETs 1 and 2 and almost a year after all that before working with our gestational carrier.  While you might feel like your age and time aren’t on your side, truly a few months to take a needed break can give you back your life. 

You may also, at some point, need to take a break from friends with kids, your parents and in laws who want to know when their grandchild is coming.  And, again, it’s OK to bow out of get togethers where the topic might come up or where you might run into your cousin who has four children under the age of 5.   Baby showers are really tough.  I bet I skipped out on one a month for two years.  Feel free to make up excuses for not attending – or be honest (it’s loads easier for you and them just to say that you’re going to be out of town that day).  If your friend doesn’t understand why you can’t come, she isn’t much of a friend.
You might also want to take a break from social media.  FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter pregnancy announcements, photos of cute babies covered in oatmeal and ultrasound images can be especially hard because there are so many and it’s hard to avoid them.  It’s OK to blackout from social media for a while. 

      3. Laugh as much as you can
     This might be a tough one to accomplish, but as someone who has done it, I can tell you that laughter really can be the best medicine.  Check out my book:  it tells tales from rubbing a Chinese fertility statue, taking squirrel poo tablets, and visiting Amish healers, and other real-life stories of trying to find two blue lines on a pregnancy test.  I like to call it a raw, but funny girlfriend's guide to pre-pregnancy.
How many of you have bought your husbands porn or stood on your head after sex? 
Laughing about the absurdity can definitely help provide some levity to the situation.  And, while it’s not always appropriate and it might be hard to find something funny about your husband’s sperm sample,  laughter really can be the best medicine. 
In fact, science agrees with me.  In early 2011, an Israeli study found that laughter may help women who are trying to become pregnant through in-vitro fertilization (IVF)
In a study of 219 women undergoing IVF found that the odds of success were greater among women who were entertained by a professional "medical clown" just after the embryos were transferred to their wombs.
Overall, 36% became pregnant, as compared to 20% of women who'd had a comedy-free recovery after the transfer procedure.
The lead researcher said he got the idea for the study after reading about the potential physiological impact of laughter as a "natural anti-stress mechanism".  Although I didn’t benefit from laughter during my infertility treatments, there’s no question that my mental health was better because I tried to find humor in weird places.  It also helps to have a husband with a somewhat warped, but, funny, mind.
4. Find some temporary bliss. 
This is another recommendation that is easy not to do while going through infertility, but it is critical to your mental well-being.  What do you love to do?  Run, walk, knit, do zumba.  Keep doing it.  Is there something you loved to do as a child, but haven’t for years?  Do it.  I rode horses as a child and loved it and picked it back up about 8 years ago – about the same time all of the infertility stuff happened.  It truly lifted me up on my darkest day. 

Get a massage, manicure, pedicure or facial or all of the above.  I often felt gross and bloated as a result of the gallons of hormone injections, and even pretty feet sometimes made me feel better.

Anything that makes you happy and can take your mind off of the challenges of conceiving.  Oreos and a good Chardonnay are good, too, but can wreak havoc on your waistline. 

5. Consider that enough is enough.
       I’ve never been a quitter.  I’ve always believed that if you work hard enough and put your mind to something, almost anything is achievable. But that’s not how it works in the infertility world.  It’s a dimension where just because you flushed your birth control pills, have sex when you’re ovulating, or you get a major head start by having five day old embryos implanted, it doesn’t mean you’ll get pregnant. 
      But, if you’ve been going through this stuff long enough, at some point, you may decide that it’s time to reconsider what you should do.
      Some possible reasons:  
  •      Your frustration level is causing you to resemble the Wicked Witch of the West  (“I’ll get you my little preggies, and your little diaper bag, too.”)
  • ·        You’re near financial ruin
  • ·        You’ve filled a landfill with ovulation test sticks and negative pregnancy tests
  • ·        Your age is now closer to that of a grandmother than a first-time mom
  • ·        You’ve achieved what some might consider “stalker status” with your fertility doctor
  • ·        It’s too hard to keep hoping and praying, only for a negative home pregnancy test or single-digit beta level to blow that dream to shreds

 And it doesn’t matter if you’ve tried naturally for ten years, drank the same castor oil and peppermint tonic that your granny swears got her pregnant, gone through countless IUIs, IVFs, or OIs, enlisted the help of a gestational carrier or donor sperm and eggs, or all of the above. When you’re done, you’re done. 

It’s not an easy decision, and it’s not something that’s easy to accept, and some of us may never give up, and that’s OK, too.  If you don’t have a child (and you want one), it’s almost impossible not to feel a twinge of jealousy or pang in your uterus, when you see  a new mom pushing a stroller or a toddler on his father’s shoulders.  But, sometimes the most important thing is knowing when it’s time to move on.

Dealing with infertility can be one of the toughest things that a couple can have to face.  It rocks your world – financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually.  But, I’m hoping that these five tips can make it a little easier to bear.I got a happy ending even though I have never been able to conceive. My husband and I built our family through the adoption of two little boys – they are best blessings I could ever dream of and I can’t imagine life without them.  And, actually, I have my infertility to thank for that. 

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