Lately, I find myself reflecting on my fertility journey. Looking back and looking forward, starting out, we were so excited and hopeful. Sure, believing that getting pregnant would happen quickly – and if it didn’t just happen, we would get pregnant within a few months. After all, wasn’t that what we were brought up to believe and what I learned in school?
How I wish I had known that this was far from reality and that, statistically, becoming pregnant takes longer for most people and that this — as opposed to the fairy tale pregnancy we think is inevitable — is normal. Fast forward to starting fertility treatment, and, again, I was hopeful – I thought I would have the treatment and, boom, walk away with a baby.
After trying “naturally” for so long, I never expected it to take multiple cycles to finally become pregnant. On reflection, there are many things I wish I had known before starting fertility treatment.
For any of you embarking on fertility treatment, here is what I wish I had known, because if I had known even half the things I know today, we would have been so much more prepared for what was coming.
Trust your gut
Choosing a fertility doctor or clinic is not an easy task. In fact, it can be a minefield! From nurses to the reception staff and billing, everyone in this environment should make you feel respected, excited and hopeful.
When choosing your doctor, make sure you ask if she or he will be the person carrying out the procedures. While the doctor is a very important aspect of fertility medicine, even the greatest doctor in the world is only as good as her or his staff. Patients must rely on the office staff to schedule appointments, coordinate treatments, facilitate testing, and monitor progress. They are a team, and you, the client, should feel like you have a team behind you.
It’s important to have the what’s what on many things. For example, who is the embryologist? What equipment do they have? What’s communication like in the clinic? Will the doctor be available to answer your questions? Do you get the run-around when you call the office? Do staff answer your emails promptly? Do they remember who you are? If you call someone, do they call you back?
There is so much to think about – and that’s in addition to the not insignificant matter of becoming pregnant. But for me, trusting my gut instinct (eventually) was the best decision we ever made: knowing our doctor and team had our back from the get-go and that we had finally been treated like a person first and a patient second helped us make the final decision.
Out charity partner Fertility Network UK’s useful resource is a handy starting point when choosing a clinic: https://fertilitynetworkuk.org/learn-about-fertility/treatment/choosing-a-clinic/
Fertility treatment is a waiting game
Fertility, trying to conceive, and treatment are all waiting games. Initially, you were waiting for the right “person,” then the right “time,” waiting until you were ready, waiting to see each month if it happened. There is a LOT of waiting when you’re going through fertility treatment. Waiting for an appointment, waiting to get started, waiting to move on lists, waiting on the two-week wait.
So much waiting always left me in limbo, and I felt powerless. But I believe that you don’t have to feel powerless; you can take control and arm yourself with information.
While you are waiting, read up about fertility treatment, educate yourself, ask questions, plan, and take control.
Your fertility treatment cycle can be cancelled at any stage
I remember sitting in stirrups and looking at the nurse with the wand in hand and seeing a distressed look come across her face. Suddenly, I hear, “Oh, we might have to cancel this cycle; it looks like you’re not responding the way we want.”
What does that even mean? Not once during the whole journey did, I think my treatment could be cancelled. But the reality is that not every patient who starts a cycle completes it. Your cycle can be cancelled part-way through, cancelled before egg retrieval or after for reasons such as (deep breath) poor response to fertility drugs that stimulate your ovaries, being at risk of a condition called Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), having no eggs collected, failure of eggs to fertilise, abnormal fertilisation or abnormal embryo development. But knowing in advance that things may not go as planned can help ease the disappointment if something is cancelled.
Taking a cycle off from fertility treatment is not a bad thing
After our successful cycle, it took us five years to go back to the clinic. I wasn’t mentally, emotionally or physically ready. Unfortunately, we had another failed cycle (actually, we had a miscarriage at 7 weeks, and it was a horrendous journey, but that’s another story for another day).
After this failed cycle, I was adamant about keeping going. Like a bull running through a china shop, all I wanted to do was rush into the next cycle – which was the opposite of our previous experience. I rushed into that cycle and, needless to say, failure struck again.
Taking a break between cycles gives you the opportunity to reconnect with yourself, both physically and emotionally. Fertility treatment can be an emotional journey, and giving your mind and body a break and getting back to some of your normal routines can be a positive experience – one that might provide you with a different (and better) frame of mind when starting treatment again.
Every sense of modesty will go out the window
I remember the night before my ultrasound appointment, making sure I had waxed to perfection. Attending my first ultrasound appointment, I carefully folded my underwear, placing it out of sight, and crossed my legs so tight until the nurse coughed and said politely and respectfully, “I need to examine you.”
It was my sister, a midwife, who reminded me that nobody cares about your private parts or if your legs are waxed, and that once you have seen one, you have seen them all! This made me laugh, and to be honest, at that time, I needed laughter in my life. It also helped me understand that the nurses and doctors are people who care about you, and they respect your privacy. They will do everything possible to make you feel as comfortable as possible during examinations and procedures.
The medication isn’t as scary as you think
When I first picked up a double bag of medication from our pharmacy, I was so overwhelmed. What was I doing? There were so many drugs and needles! How would I remember what and when to take the different medications? Would I forget? Could I inject myself? What if I forgot to take one?
This is all perfectly normal and you will have a million and one questions and concerns swirling through your brain. What helped me was that I made a drug timetable and listed each drug with the time of day to take it and a box that I had to tick, so I knew I didn’t forget it or second-guess myself.
Your clinic can help by showing you how to inject your needles or by getting your partner involved. I know my husband felt a part of the process as he helped me with injections.
Advocate for yourself at your fertility appointments
Appointments at fertility clinics can be overwhelming. These appointments are fraught with emotions—infertility and pregnancy loss can be incredibly painful both physically and emotionally—and sometimes these emotions and the uncertainty of what we’re going through can make it difficult to advocate for ourselves in these stressful conversations.
The doctors may be experts, but we can advocate for ourselves when we speak with them. We can stand up for our needs, ask questions, and (politely) demand options and second opinions.
At my first appointments with our fertility clinic, I didn’t do this. I didn’t advocate for myself. I sat in the chair like one of those nodding dogs you see in the back of cars.
So, how can you advocate for yourself? It’s all about preparing properly. Write down your questions ahead of time and bring your notebook and pen to your appointment.
During the appointment, write down what the doctor said and repeat it if you don’t understand. If you need more details, ask them to email you.
Ask for what you need, you are the client, and you are the most important person in that room. Remember, you are the reason the appointment is happening.
The knowledge that you have the right to ask for what you need and having notes and pre-written questions in your infertility notebook can help you feel confident in advocating for yourself.
Have hope after failed treatment
You have worked hard, paid a lot of money, missed days of work and endured great emotional and physical trauma. We’re all hoping for the same thing: a baby.
On our first failure, I felt cheated, scammed and slighted, I was confused and overwhelmed. Even embarrassed.
Remember that those feelings are temporary. I picked myself back up (after spending time sobbing), I started a new plan and I looked at my diet, nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle.
I implemented the changes that I needed and were right for me, and I went again. I never gave up hope, and today I have the most beautiful, intelligent and kind daughter who inspires me in everything I do at Nua Fertility.