by Ellen Glazer, L.C.S.W.
Spring may feel like a time of renewal and hope for many, but poses special challenges for individuals who are trying to conceive, and can't. A leading therapist in the field gives concrete advise to those in this situation, plus a message of hope.
First, the bad news: Spring is not an easy time to be going through infertility. Nice weather prompts people to shed their heavy winter coats and expose their pregnant bellies. Trees and flowers in bloom can be painful reminders that life is not yet growing inside you (or your partner). And the Spring holidays—Easter and Passover—are filled with symbols of fertility and celebrated with children. Spring can be a time when infertile people want to duck and cover and avoid the reminders of fertility that seem to be everywhere.
But now the good news: Spring is a time to enjoy. Having worked in the field of infertility for over thirty years, I can say with confidence that infertile individuals and couples find their way to happy endings. These are not always the destinations they initially sought but once there, they are happy with the families they have. These include families built after many IVF attempts, through adoption, through egg or sperm donation or surrogacy as well as those who are families without children. So as dark as the approaching Spring may feel, trust me that another will come in which you will be the one standing on the playground pushing a swing or coloring the Easter eggs or helping your son or daughter learn the Four Questions for the Passover seder. The question is what do you do in the meantime? How do you spend this Spring?
I will always remember the first couple I knew to become parents through IVF. This goes back decades but I can remember how excited I was for them and how startled I was by what they told me. In response to my congratulating them on their successful pregnancy, they said, “But we lost our 30’s. Our 30’s are all a blur. We wish that we hadn’t let time pass without appreciating it.”
This article is my effort to try to spare you the regret that this couple felt. Yes, I believe that you will find your way to a happy ending but I hope that you can also have some fun along the way. My suggestion is that you focus on two things as you begin to welcome this Spring: creating memories and general well-being.
I can easily recall a time when infertility diagnosis and treatment was an experience that lasted a year or so--maybe two at most. Couples who did not conceive easily sought medical advice, underwent some tests, perhaps surgery and maybe they took fertility medications. Those who did not have a successful pregnancy moved on to adoption or possibly to surrogacy or a life without children. Many were left with questions and a great deal of sadness but their lives were not “on hold” for a prolonged period of time. Then along came IVF.
It is no longer unusual for individuals and couples to spend years going through treatment. This is the kind of thing I hear all the time, “We had three IUI’s, then four IVF’s and a frozen transfer. Then we changed clinics and went through a fresh cycle and I got pregnant but had an ectopic. Now we’re at a new clinic and about to go through our sixth fresh cycle…” The words seem to role off the speaker’s tongue but so often there is a lot of history packed into those sentences. Years have gone by in a blur. Friends have moved on and built their families. Parents have aged. Losses have accumulated and there are few good memories to look back upon and to cherish.
You can’t control the outcome of your IVF cycle but you can create some good memories that will mean something to you regardless of the outcome of your treatment. Everyone is different. Some people love to travel and others prefer being home. Some love to eat out and for others, making a fabulous dinner party at home is what thrills them. Some like theatre and for others, it’s a treat so see their favorite team play baseball.
Whatever it is you like, put it on your calendar. Most of the things I mentioned take some planning and that, I believe, is a blessing. Not only will you get to look back on good memories, but you get to have the fun and satisfaction of planning them. If you are a traveler, think of the pleasure you can have researching your destination, looking for the best airfares, finding the most unique or plush hotels. If you are a cook, then what an adventure it can be searching for new recipes, finding new ingredients, planning the dinner party with passion and care.
Does this all sound like too much when you are going through infertility? Are you saying to yourself, “How can we plan a trip when we’re in cycle?” or “How can we afford to travel when this is costing so much?” Needless to say, being in treatment often limits your ability to plan to spend your time as you want to. You are afraid to book a weekend away because it could fall on the day of your transfer. What if you schedule the dinner party and it turns out to be the day of your retrieval?
Yes, treatment puts some constraints on planning, but I don’t believe it eclipses your ability to plan some good times. If you are between cycles, seize the opportunity for the vacation or the dinner party or the special evening out at the restaurant that got such great reviews. If you are in the middle of a cycle, you probably have to modify your goals but there will still be several days during the cycle that you can make use of. I’d put a special vote in for choosing things to do that you will not be able to do easily with a young child.
Doing things you enjoy and that create nice memories adds to a sense of general well being, so why am I suggesting a separate “category” of effort? Here, in talking about general well-being, I’m referring more to wellness. Spring can be a great time to take care of your body by being outside, getting more exercise and eating fresh local fruits and vegetables. Are you thinking, “why bother?” Here is why…
Infertility treatment does a job on our bodies, at least on women’s bodies. The hormones, the injections, the time spent sitting in waiting rooms or in traffic, all assault a healthy body that yearns to be active, free of medications, spared from needles. People going through infertility are turning in increased numbers to acupuncture, meditation, yoga and other approaches to wellness. These are all good things but all too often, they are pursued as an effort to get pregnant. While that is your goal, I’m suggesting that an accompanying goal should be feeling well and tending to the body that has been under the siege of infertility treatment.
This should not be about deprivation. I’m not recommending a diet and certainly not grueling exercise. I’m suggesting that you take the time this Spring to do things for your body that feel good and that enhance your general sense of well being. These can include taking long walks in nice places, eating fresh, perhaps organically grown food that you enjoy, visiting a spa or some other place that offers services, treatments or classes that you enjoy. Remember that everything about infertility has given you the sense that your body is not working well, that it is letting you down or flawed. Take the opportunity to begin to reclaim your body and to celebrate it’s abilities and strengths rather than focusing solely on it’s inabilities.
Easier said than done? Yes. Infertility is incredibly stressful. It is demoralizing and it robs you of time and energy, hope and enjoyment. Relationships are strained, religious faith is tested and any sense of being “in control” is, at best, greatly diminished. These injuries will not vanish, but if you choose to create memories and to pursue general wellness you get the chance—for once—to thumb your nose at infertility.
Like the couple I mentioned earlier, I hope that your struggle with infertility will soon come to a successful resolution. In the meantime, there are things you can do to avoid looking back as they did with regret. May potential regrets be replaced by tender memories and a sense of pride in your efforts to achieve and maintain physical and emotional well being.
Ellen S. Glazer, LICSW is a family building counselor in private practice in Newton, Massachusetts. Her special interests are in adoption, donor conception and surrogacy.