By Elaine R. Gordon, Ph.D.
Summer is kickback time for many…it is a time to slow down, reflect, and relax. However, if you are a fertility patient struggling to build a family, taking time off from treatment may be unthinkable. Believing the next cycle could be the one is always at the forefront of your mind. Patience is not a virtue many fertility patients seem to possess. With each disappointment, the concerns and fears can intensify and fuel the need to pursue treatment without delay. There is also the type of patient that experiences one failed cycle and becomes paralyzed by the thought of yet another disappointment.
Patients often fall into one of two categories, the doers and the delayers. There are those who cannot take even one cycle off from treatment and others who procrastinate and put off moving forward month after month. However, there may be another way to approach your family building plan, despite having to contend with a ticking biological clock, a compromised sperm count, or other reproductive challenges.
Due to clinic closures and vacation schedules, your fertility treatment may be placed on a forced hiatus during the summer months. This provides an ideal opportunity to learn how to become your own best fertility advocate, by taking this time to become an informed and knowledgeable patient. It also provides you with the opportunity to figure out how to partner with you medical team and work out a plausible and reasonable treatment plan.
This includes building resilience for when you walk down your circuitous treatment path with the hopes and disappointments you may encounter. It also gives you an opportunity to review and revise your self-care program. How do you best manage your life during treatment cycles? Integrating simple pleasures into your life could be one way, though these reprieves may fall short when compared to your life before you were trying to conceive. These short breaks are still beneficial to your wellbeing. Everyone has their go-to refuges, whether it is a walk in the park, a hike, a movie, or having a bowl of ice cream.
It is not suggested that you stop thinking about having a child, which is probably impossible anyway, but it is a time to reconfigure your reproductive plans so they fit your needs and unique circumstances. Consider it possible that this time off might be a good thing as long as the delay does not go on indefinitely. Summer can be a time to put your fertility-option ducks in order. It gives you an opportunity to prioritize treatment possibilities, gather information, and examine your personal feelings and fears about your fertility future while refueling for when you take your next reproductive step.
It is also affords you the opportunity to build some ‘fertility muscle’ in order to tackle some difficult reproductive realities such as diminished ovarian reserve, age related challenges, questionable uterine lining among others. It offers you a chance to understand, plan, and consider your infertility options without being rushed into treatment before you are ready.
Sometimes, fertility patients may feel rushed into medical protocols they are not yet prepared to pursue, with not enough time given to grasp and come to grips with what is initially thought to be a less desirable family building option, such as gamete donation, IVF, or surrogacy. Educating oneself about what it means to work with a sperm donor, egg donor, or gestational carrier takes time. One needs the chance to embrace the idea of including another ‘person’ into your family building plan, a person that will play an integral role in your becoming a parent. This needs to be approached with an open mind, integrity, and respect for all involved. If there is a sense of shame associated with these options, it should be examined and resolved before moving forward.
We are not born into this world thinking we would ever be in the position of having to utilize a donor or gestational carrier. These were probably foreign concepts to you before you entered the world of reproductive medicine. Each option needs to be grappled with in deciding the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ for each individual. Third-party reproduction is not suited for everyone but to reject it outright without understanding the reason behind your reaction is unwise and, perhaps, premature.
Read, join a fertility group, research, and ask questions. Recognize your reactions and responses to the various family building scenarios and see if they hold up over time. What looks intolerable at one point often turns into something more palatable the more one learns and understands.
Detailed information about procedures, protocols, donors or surrogates oftentimes helps clarify feelings and lessen anxieties. Knowing what motivates donors to donate or carriers to carry can help to minimize one’s fears and concerns, as they may not be based on actual truths. Demystifying the process is a way to stay informed and reduce the shame so often associated with alternative family building opportunities.
What I am ultimately talking about is taking charge of your own fertility treatment by gaining enough knowledge to effectively partner with your treatment team. This involves becoming proactive in your care. This period of data gathering can be more productive if you work with others in learning how to advocate.
Patients who reach out to others, whether it is to experts, contemporaries, or professionals, are more likely to move through the treatment hierarchy at a faster pace that those who do not. They are more apt to achieve their goals and resolutions more quickly than those on their own sifting through the world of fertility advice.
Counselors and therapists often have a way of gently pushing you forward at a pace that is both comfortable and appropriate. Letting time pass without action is not productive and rushing too quickly into certain treatment protocols is also not appropriate. However, being proactive and continuing your data collection during these down times while finding times of reprieve will bring you to your personal reproductive answer more quickly. Becoming your own advocate is the best advice you can get but you can only do this if you are an informed consumer. It is then that you will find your way in making decisions about the reproductive care that is right for you.
Elaine R. Gordon, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with a specialty in infertility and third party family building. She is based in Santa Monica, CA.