In our new Realtalk series, we're sharing personal stories about fertility and family planning. We hope they offer support and inspire honest conversation about an incredibly tough topic.
Sometimes I wonder if the decade I spent trying not to get pregnant was a complete waste of my time and energy. I focused intently to ensure that I didn’t until my husband and I were ready. It wasn't until after I graduated medical school, started my private practice, and turned 30 that the time finally felt right. We abandoned birth control methods and started savoring ”trying."
Then the years began to pass. Be patient, we told ourselves. We figured it wasn’t happening because of the intense stress we both were under, or maybe my history of endometriosis.
Through my medical training, I understood the many different systems that must be in balance to allow conception to occur. But every physical exam and lab test showed nothing was wrong with either of us. I researched the topic of infertility to oblivion. Was it him? Was it me? Was I broken?
It gnawed at me and pulled at my every thought. Maybe this month? OK, maybe this year. I kept the frustration to just my husband and myself. I could barely talk about it. I was embarrassed. As a physician, I’d helped many women have healthy, happy babies. And yet I couldn’t do the same for myself.
I did everything I could think of to build my health. I created the perfect diet and ideal stress management plan. I nourished my hormones by eating even better than before. I meditated daily. I supported my lymphatic and immune systems with castor oil packs and exercise.
With each step, I poured love into every cell of my being. It was a strange time: an odd combination of feeling healthier and happier than I’d ever felt in my life, and yet still grieving.
On the one hand, I found I was communicating better with my husband and myself. Our relationship blossomed. And yet at the same time, every period I got was a mini bereavement. I consoled myself with the knowledge that when it did happen, whenever that grace was given, I would be a better mother because of this extra time to heal.
How I Learned to Reframe My Infertility
Five years in, I reached the point of needing to let go. I needed to surrender to the present moment instead of planning my life around ”what if?” For example, I had limited my options for world travel, just in case I got pregnant. I was leaving life unlived, just for the possibility of what could be.
I attended a weeklong silent mediation retreat. In the silence, a layer of pressure released and allowed joy to rush in. Rather than feel trapped by what I was missing, I started to enjoy my pockets of freedom. I began to savor those quiet moments when it was just my husband and me.
I took a fresh look at my cycles. I decided to reframe my menses as a joyous time. Rather than cursing myself, I turned it into a celebration of being a woman. I found new ways to care for myself. I turned each thing I did (castor oil packs, dry skin brushing) into a prayer of gratitude for the opportunity to use these tools. I began to wake up joyful instead of overwhelmed.
I realized there was nothing for me to do but be the best possible me. If I couldn't be a mother in the way I had fantasized, I could at least nourish myself to the best of my abilities. I could step up my engagement with life.
This was all I could do, and that was OK — even wonderful. I could show up every day being joyously me, even if my life was not exactly how I had planned it would be.
I took that challenge to heart, and I still accept this challenge every day. Some days it's truly a challenge. When I see a father adoring his child, my heart sometimes aches to see that interaction between my husband and our child. I’ve learned to honor those moments, allow myself to feel them fully — and then move on.
Here are five ways I learned to thrive with infertility that I hope others can use too:
- Surrender: Surrender to the present moment instead of planning life around ”what if?"
- Savor: Savor those quiet moments between you and your partner.
- Celebrate: Celebrate being a woman. Take a fresh look at your cycles. Find new ways to care for yourself.
- Engage fully with life: Show up every day being joyously you — even if your life is not exactly how you had planned it would be.
- Accept: Embrace every day as a challenge to be you.
Life is short. Life is glorious and unique and beautiful. It's only those things if you allow it to be. I chose to let my life be glorious regardless of my plans, hopes, or fantasies.
Photo Credit: Getty Images