Dear Pre-Treatment Infertile Self,
I am about to embark on one of the longest, hardest journeys I’ve ever experienced. I want to share a few things that I’ve learned along this path of infertility treatment. Most of these things, I wish I had known sooner. I wish I weren’t bearing out the truth of that adage, “hindsight is 20/20,” but I am. And it is. So here I am, sharing this letter to my Pre-Treatment Infertile Self.
To help this information stick with me (you know, like I want that sticky baby dust to stick?), I’ve broken down my infertility lessons into three main categories: physical, mental/emotional, and practical. Let’s get the practical advice out of the way first, since it’s pretty straightforward.
Practical Advice for My Pre-Treatment Infertile Self
Don’t wait to seek treatment.
As sad as it is to admit, I am not getting any younger. By now, I’ve figured out that my fertility is not guaranteed — that kind of sucks. And my timeline for starting a family “the old fashioned way” isn’t what I’d hoped it would be. All I want is to be a mom – but if I delay the help I need to create my family, I’m only hurting myself. Seek infertility treatment sooner, please.
Choose a clinic carefully.
Make use of the fantastic resources out there for choosing a reproductive specialist that suits my goals and my body’s needs well. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion and never settle for a path of treatment until I am sure I understand what it is, how it works, and what my odds might be.
Know my insurance plan and coverage benefits inside and out.
When working with my fertility clinic or reproductive endocrinologist, ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid to contact the insurance company directly for a lay person’s explanation of my benefits package. Many insurance companies have client advocates or client support teams that exist just for this purpose – use them! Bring that information back to my clinic and ask them to help craft a plan for treatment that maximizes both my chances of success AND my benefit coverage.
[sws_blue_box box_size="515"] Have you downloaded our e-guide, How to Choose an Infertility Clinic? [/sws_blue_box]
Advice for My Physical Pre-Treatment Health
Oh, goodness. This topic is a touchy one. I want to give myself grace and encouragement. But I want to be brutally honest as well. Hopefully, I can do both.
Find a physical outlet or kind of exercise that I enjoy.
If I can’t enjoy it, I won’t stick with it. But over and over, I’ve seen that I need the stamina and the strength to manage this exhausting journey. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the head-clearing mental health benefits that a good work-out can give me. Not only is physical exercise great for conditions like endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, and severe PMS or PMDD, it’s also super for weight management. With all the hormone fluctuations I’ve experienced on this journey, I need a maintainable activity plan.
Eat healthily and stay hydrated.
Again, the rollercoaster of hormonal health takes quite a toll on me. Choosing a high protein, low carb lifestyle of eating will help me tremendously to maximize my fertility and to maintain that healthy weight about which those doctors are always nagging. Although I love them, try to keep me away from my vices of diet soda, artificial sweeteners, and bottomless coffee. Turns out, all that caffeine may be boosting my productivity at work, but it’s not so great for my fertility.
Get me to bed at a decent hour.
It would be even better if it could be the same time every night. Sigh. That seems impossible, I know. But sleep impacts my overall health – physically, mentally, and emotionally. While I am working on getting to bed at a decent hour, please take care to reduce my night-time exposure to artificial lights from my phone, tablet, or other devices. It’s a small effort but one that science has shown to be impactful.
Mental and Emotional Health Are the Anchors
Well, mental and emotional health is “the big one” as far as advice to my Pre-Treatment Infertile Self. It’s almost too big to boil down to just this one letter. I’m still a work in process over emotional well-being, but I’m going to try my best to capture the lessons here – I know I will need it down the road. My mental and emotional health is like an anchor that holds the rocking boat in place during a storm. When that anchor is firmly placed, it sure helps me handle the physical and practical concerns of infertility treatment.
First, be gentle with me.
Give me lots of grace for the new emotions and thoughts I’m having with the official diagnosis. Or, in the absence of a diagnosis, with the ambiguity of it all. If I need to process new information or unexpected news, let me do so, guilt-free. I don’t owe anyone explanations or space for their emotions unless I am ready to do so. Let me mourn my loss of fertility, my choices, and my dreams. But don’t let me linger there – help me find answers and grab on to hope where ever I can.
Discover what brings me joy.
Self-care is crucial during treatment for infertility. But this journey requires more than self-care. I am going to need an outlet that has nothing to do with my work, my health, or my efforts to build my family. I do not want to lose myself in the role of “infertility patient,” and I do not wish to identify solely as an infertile person. Push me outside of the box a little bit and expose me to some new things that have the potential to bring me joy:
- Sign me up for a rock-climbing class.
- Take me to the community center to learn crochet.
- Join a local choir.
- Write poetry or short stories.
In short, help me figure out what is inside of me that will bring me peace and happiness – even better if it is something that serves my community in a meaningful way!
Find my village.
I need a safe person or two to help me process my journey. I need reliable, trustworthy people who will support me through the good, the bad, and the ugly. That support will likely be an ever-evolving combination of practical and emotional support, bolstering my mental and emotional health. Knowing they are there for me, that I can count on them, will make me feel less alone.
Get me to a support group.
These days, support groups are pretty widely available for us who are seeking infertility treatment. They can be online support groups or in-person groups. Or a combination of both. But plug in and connect with folks who “get it” – it will normalize this path of creating my family, but it will also educate me. Listening to others who have “been there done that” and had their own “happy endings” (whatever that means!) will help me think more open-mindedly about the many options before me.
If my mental or emotional health is struggling on the way, please get me to a therapist. There might be times in this marathon of infertility treatment that I need a professional who is trained to guide infertile folks toward healthy coping mechanisms and self-awareness. Give me that gift. Check with my infertility clinic for recommendations and know that I will not be alone in seeking that support.
Tuck This Letter Away for Later
Whew. That was a LOT of ground to cover. I get it if you can’t take all this advice in one sitting. Tuck this letter away and read it to me again and again, throughout my journey toward making my dreams of a family come true. However, this path plays out, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more and have some great advice to share with that village and those support groups I mentioned earlier. After all, what good does it do me to learn all this amazing stuff and then keep it all to myself?
Wishing you all my dreams come true!
My Now-Owning the Journey Self
**Special thanks to the many members of the Creating a Family Facebook support group for sharing candidly about the things they wish they knew before infertility treatment.**
Image Credit: Gary Paakkonen; Saved by Grace (100% God, 0% Me)