By Nadine Kenney Johnstone
It’s a surprising statistic: One in every eight couples has trouble getting pregnant. With National Infertility Awareness Week approaching (April 23-29), it’s important to educate yourself so you can be prepared when facing fertility struggles or best support those who are going through infertility treatment.
Many couples who’ve struggled to get pregnant turn to infertility treatments. Because reproductive assistance provides options that can lead to pregnancy, it feels like a hopeful next step. But the process can involve many physical and emotional challenges that doctors don’t always disclose.
My husband and I learned about these challenges firsthand when we started in vitro fertilization (IVF). The doctors had told us that we wouldn’t be able to conceive children naturally because of our health history, so we were optimistic when we went into our first IVF cycle. Unfortunately, our optimism soon took a nose dive, as we were faced with many serious, unanticipated consequences.
After my egg retrieval procedure, my left ovary never clotted, and I suffered severe internal bleeding that almost cost me my life. The experience strained my marriage and my mental state in many unexpected ways. Eventually, I healed myself and my relationship, and I wrote about our experiences in my new memoir, Of This Much I’m Sure.
The process put my life, marriage and sanity in jeopardy, and I don’t want others to suffer as I did. That is why I encourage all couples to educate themselves before and during infertility treatments. Remember, you are your own best advocate. No one knows your body better than you do.
These days, when people confide in me about their infertility struggles, there are six tips I always share:
The quality of care and clinics varies widely, so ask the right questions
Get referrals and second and third opinions before choosing a fertility clinic and doctor. Some clinics have state-of-the-art equipment and approaches. Some doctors are more conservative than others. Interview specialists at different clinics to see how they would approach your situation. What routes might they recommend before turning to more invasive methods? What medications would you be required to take and what are their side effects? What testing would you and your partner need to undergo? What is covered by insurance and what costs are out-of-pocket? Resolve.org is a great resource for those struggling with infertility. It has a full list of questions to ask before signing on for treatments.
Treatment is as time consuming as a part-time job
Between blood draws, ultrasounds, injections, appointments, phone calls and follow-ups, the process will take over a big chunk of your schedule. Be prepared to manage conflicts at work and at home. Tell employers that, due to health reasons, you may be late to work or need time off. Inform your partner when he or she needs to take off work to accompany you to appointments. Set aside time for afternoon phone calls with nurses and nightly injections. Sometimes you will be away from home during your injection schedule. You’ll need to pack a cooler with your vials and find a private space to do your injections.
Talking about treatments is hard, but not talking can be harder
It can be difficult to tell family, friends and colleagues about infertility treatments for fear that they’ll pry or give unsolicited advice. But the alternative — not telling anyone — can be incredibly isolating. Choose a select few to share with, and let them know in advance how best to support you when you do share. Tell them to listen, hug and repeat.
There’s no way to control the process
Though there are many supplements and diet choices that can improve your health in preparation for a baby, no matter what you do — from drinking pomegranate juice to splurging on acupuncture — in the end, you are not in control of the process or the outcome. This will be frustrating. Breathe.
Treatments may take a toll on your marriage
Few things put more stress on a relationship than infertility and treatments. Some partners feel guilty for their infertility issues. Other partners feel upset that the brunt of the injections and appointments fall on them. Equal involvement is key. Ask your partner to be with you during injections or to do a conference call with the nurses. Seek counseling together throughout the process.
There are no guarantees
Most doctors tell patients to be prepared for at least three IVF cycles to better their odds, but this will not guarantee pregnancy. One of the hardest things about treatment is the lack of a guaranteed outcome despite great physical and emotional investment. There is no way to prepare oneself for the heartbreak of negative news or the joy of positive results. Knowing when to stop or continue treatment requires communication with your intuition and your partner. Be honest with yourself and your partner about what your body, your heart, your wallet and your relationship can handle.