I remember the day so clearly. I was sitting in my fertility doctor's office as we were about to embark down the path of in vitro fertilization (IVF). We had already gone through four heartbreakingly unsuccessful intrauterine inseminations (IUI's) and we were utterly desperate to start our family.
I remember asking, as I am sure so many others have, "what else can we do to optimize our chances?" I would truly have done anything to hold our baby in my arms. If he had said eating pineapple everyday for the rest of my life would have gotten us pregnant right away, I would have done it. But, he really didn't have any further lifestyle changes or suggestions other than the scientifically proven medical interventions we were already taking. But I felt so out of control... of my fertility.... of my body... of our chances of holding our baby. And in such a high stress situation, I needed to feel more in control of my life and my body.
But truth be told, there are A LOT of things you can do to survive your journey to fertility wellness, including prioritizing your mental health and wellness, and thereby potentially increase your chances of getting pregnant. So here are some of my top tips from my own personal experience that will help you and get you back in that driver's seat:
Fertility Wellness Survival Guide
Find Your Support Network
When we first sought out fertility assistance seven years ago, I felt terrified, defeated, and very, very alone.
I felt as if I was the only one this was happening to. It was a time when no one was really openly talking about their fertility or IVF. It was a taboo subject and something that most people kept private until perhaps after the fact. I held everything in and it ate me up every time someone would ask us when we were going to have kids.
I remember we had just moved to Arizona from San Diego and we bought a house in this cute little neighborhood filled with so many young families. I was so excited to make friends in our new state, create our family and build our new life in Arizona. Our home had a fun park right in front of it full of kids running around, and I was already envisioning fun playdates for mamas and babes. It was the perfect home in which to start our family. But over a year had passed and I still wasn't pregnant, nor had I really made any close friends. I guess working from home doesn't really help in that department.
One day, I met this cute girl out at the park and we were hitting it off until she asked, "do you have any kids?" My heart sunk as I replied, "not yet." But you could see the curve of her smile ever so slightly drop as she tilted her head, like she knew this budding friendship couldn't really work out, and the conversation just kind of ended. It was deflating. I really needed a friend and someone to talk to. Infertility is hard enough to go through, especially without a support system.
Finally, I started casually dropping "we're working on it and seeing a specialist" when the children inquiries came. I didn't care if it made them feel uncomfortable, I needed to get it out there. Eventually, I worked up the courage to share our infertility with you all, my readers. And I am not going to lie, I was utterly terrified and so incredibly nervous to press "publish." But I am forever grateful that I did because I was flooded with overwhelming positive support from you all that I so desperately needed. And day by day, I felt better about things.
I guess my point is, everyone needs a support system. And it doesn't really matter where you get it so long as it helps you. Just talk to someone... anyone. Whether it be a family member, a close friend or two, connecting to those who you know have gone through it, following fertility hashtags or discussion boards and making a few online friends, or even publishing a blog post and feeling support from strangers. Cultivate your support network.
Tackle Your Stress
One of the most good-intentioned, yet hurtful and annoying things I constantly heard from people was, "relax, it'll all be just fine." And while I appreciated their support, it can be really hard to hear (or do) when you're going through fertility treatments and want something so badly that your body just won't give you. Infertility is a true medical diagnosis with well-established causes and treatments. That said, there is something to be said for tackling stress.
Stress hormones, such as cortisol, disrupt signaling between the brain and the ovaries, which can mess with your ovulation. Obviously, everyone gets stressed here and there, whether you're overwhelmed with a project you're working on, getting jittery about a big test or a public speaking moment, or anxious about a big move etc... feeling temporarily frazzled likely won't affect your fertility. But if your stress goes on for a long time, your ovulation can get thrown out of whack.
Believe me though, it can be really, really hard not to constantly be stressed or feel depressed when you're struggling with infertility. But after going through four failed IUI's, three IVF egg retrieval cycles, five transfer cycles, three hysteroscopies, removal of over 20 polyps, miscarrying four babies and undergoing the most excruciatingly painful miscarriages... I got to a point where I was like, "screw it." What will be will be with this next round. And guess what? IT WORKED! The cycle where I stopped worrying about every little thing from being strict about what I ate to doing my injections at the exact same second every night, I did the best. So I think there is something to be said for curbing your stress.
Reframe Your Feelings
One thing that really helped me was to reframe my feelings. And by that I mean, look at things through a different angle and challenge your automatic negative thoughts. Instead of thinking, "why me?," I changed the narrative to "lucky me." How lucky am I that I get to go through fertility treatments?! A lot of people don't have that luxury.
Instead of thinking "I'll never get pregnant," I flipped the switch and thought "one way or another, I WILL be a mom," whether it be through adoption or surrogacy or donor eggs.
Instead of referring to it as "infertility treatments," I always said my "fertility treatments." This made me feel like I had more options than roadblocks.
Instead of dreading my daily injections, I decided to think of it like brushing my teeth or flossing. It's not something I do because I particularly love it, but because it's something I have to do and have accepted as a daily part of life. Just as I take my pills in the morning, my shots became just a regular part of my day. It helped that I put Ben in charge of them so I didn't have to think about preparing them or constantly be watching the clock, dreading the countdown. He would just come out with them and say, "ok, it's time." We would get it done, and move on with our day.
Get Outside and Do What Makes You Happy
I love the outdoors. I grew up in the mountains and I love getting fresh air and going for a hike or playing with my dog or hitting the trails with our horses. Nothing cleanses my mind more than taking in the quiet calm of the forest. I think it's important to recharge your batteries and feel the grass on your feet or crisp air in your lungs.
The outdoors gives my mind clarity. In 2008 when Ben and I were starting to get serious, I was in the midst of applying to out of state law schools. So, I threw in my earbuds and went for a solo hike in order to assess my feelings and figure out what I wanted my future to look like. Similarly, when I decided I wanted to graduate high school early and move to Europe to study abroad, leaving my high school boyfriend and friends behind, I went for a horse ride by myself in the mountains behind my parents home. And when I decided to move to Boston post-college graduation to take a job at the State House instead of going to FIDM where I had been accepted for fashion design, I went for a long walk with my Dad. My point is, getting outside and doing what makes me happy allows me to connect with myself and brings me peace. I can come to terms with who I am, where I am, or where I want to be and how to get there. It's a great place to reflect and regroup.
So get outside and do what makes you happy. Whether it's enjoying a quiet early morning cup of coffee or tea in the garden before the world wakes up, taking an outdoor yoga class, a daily meditation practice as you listen to the birds chirping, or going for an evening walk around the neighborhood. Hopefully you can connect with yourself, accept your feelings and circumstances and bring a little smile to your face in the process.
Get an Animal
Ok, before you say this is impractical, hear me out. I have mentioned this before, but getting Wookie, our little playful 10-pounds of fun-filled maltipoo was a godsend during our infertility treatments. As I have said, I just needed someone - something - to care for. I needed to feel like a mom. And during my depression bouts, Wookie was an excuse each day to get me up and out of the house to take him on walks. He also was the perfect cuddle buddy during bed rest, comfort to hold during my shots, and put a smile on my face each morning as he ran upstairs searching for me. His excitement and happiness was (and continues to be) infectious.
And did you know that playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of dopamine and serotonin (feel-good neurotransmitters) which can make you feel more calm and relaxed? Just saying...
If It Is Going To Make You Stress, Don't Do It
Look, I know they say to eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise, limit your alcohol and caffeine intake etc etc. And these are all good things. But if you're placing so much pressure on yourself to be perfect, it might be counterproductive. So if you are a coffee drinking and you don't feel like 'you' without that extra shot in your morning cup of jo, then drink up girl. But if you're going to stress that you just messed something up by drinking over the recommended amount of caffeine, then you're better off avoiding it. You catch my drift? Everyone is different. Do whatever it is that makes you feel better and more in control. And that may look different to you for different cycles.
For my first few cycles, I was super strict with my diet and regimen. I avoided alcohol and caffeine completely because it I wanted the absolute best chance possible of conceiving so I figured perfect was better. But, in later cycles, I decided that my morning cup of joe was good for my soul, and a glass of wine every so often with a friend made me happy. I wasn't stressing about being perfect anymore, so I went with it. You just have to do you.
I hope this makes sense. I feel like I am rambling a little bit. My point is, if you were to do something and it would make you stress, then just don't do it. But if it makes you feel better, then do it.
Feel Confident In Your Providers
This kind of goes along with what I was saying above... but if you don't feel confident in your medical providers, or they don't make you feel comfortable, then maybe look for another facility. I have had so many readers reach out to me asking for advice because they aren't getting what they need from their doctor, whether it's reassurance or signs of success.
So, when you're in the process of looking for a fertility specialist, do your research. Not all fertility clinics are created equal and where you go really does matter. Look at the clinic's success rates. Are they consistent? Are they using innovative technology? Would patients recommend them to friends? Is the clinic performing all services under one roof?
I highly recommend you check out CCRM Fertility. CCRM has eleven fertility centers, ten in the U.S and one in Canada. I have partnered with them before and I have a dear friend who has found success with them. I especially love that, amid COVID-19, they are offering patients the CCRM One Day Work-Up which allows patients to complete fertility testing in a single appointment in order to reduce the number of appointments per patient to help keep the office environment safer. I am all for companies who are taking the proper precautions. On top of that, their success rates are pretty impressive... CCRM patients get pregnant 33% faster than patients being treated elsewhere in the U.S. (based on SART national average data). Nine out of ten patients would recommend CCRM to friends and family which goes a long way in my book, and should in yours too.
Feeling comfortable with and confident in your healthcare providers is incredibly important in your overall success. So make sure you take the time to research doctors and their embryologists.
That's it (for now). Be sure to take a look at some of my other IVF posts if you have questions... or, as always, you are welcome to reach out to me via the comments below, DM's or email. Thanks for being here. I love and appreciate you guys so much and am here for you always.