9 Things You Only Learn Once You're Dealing With Infertility
As with most bad things in life, we think we’re immune to them until the day they come knocking on our door.
Prior to being diagnosed with infertility at age 30, I certainly never thought it would happen to me. I’m young and otherwise healthy, plus my mom easily got pregnant when she was 39.
When you’re thinking about trying to conceive, it’s easy to jump ahead to the being-pregnant-and-having-a-baby part of the equation. But there’s a lot that can happen before you ever get there.
I wish I’d known more about the challenges that could accompany trying to conceive, long before they happened to me. And since I’ve had to learn many of these lessons firsthand, I’ve realized that I’ve probably known many other women who’ve faced similar struggles.
While my journey with hypothalamic amenorrhea and infertility have been incredibly challenging, they’ve also taught me so much. Here are nine things I’ve learned that I wish I had known before I was diagnosed with infertility:
1. Infertility can happen to anyone, at any age.
Appearances can be deceiving. Since my diagnosis, I’ve learned that infertility can strike anyone, no matter what you look like. Despite eating a very healthy diet and exercising regularly, which left me looking fit and trim, I was diagnosed with infertility.
And while many people think infertility primarily strikes women who are older, it can happen at any age. I’m only 31 — not terribly young, but definitely not at the older end of the conception spectrum.
2. There are many factors that can affect your fertility.
As I've learned, it's not just issues involving your reproductive system that can cause problems. In my case, it was chronic stress on my body caused by over-exercising and under-fueling. But for others, it could be a thyroid condition or autoimmune problem.
Every system in our bodies is deeply connected and when one is off, it creates a cascade effect that influences everything else.
3. You aren't alone.
Infertility can be a really isolating experience, leaving you feeling like no one understands what you’re going through.
This could not be farther from the truth. The CDC estimates that 1.5 million or 6% of women ages 15 to 44 are infertile. Close to 11% struggle to get pregnant or carry a baby to term.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve connected with dozens of women, both in person and online, who are also experiencing infertility. Those relationships have become invaluable. Only someone who has also experienced the endless doctor’s appointments, the waiting and the heartache can truly understand what you’re going through.
4. Don’t waste time with a doctor who doesn’t listen to you.
It took a few tries for me to find the right doctor and I’m so glad I didn’t settle. My first doctor brushed me off again and again, despite evidence that something was wrong. And the next person I saw wanted to dive headfirst into very invasive fertility treatments before trying anything else.
None of that sat well with me, so I kept looking. I actually found my current practitioner through someone I met who also dealt with infertility, bringing home the importance of connecting with others who are experiencing the same thing.
It’s quite common in the infertility world for people to visit several doctors before deciding on one, so don’t hesitate to look around. It’s imperative that you trust them and are fully on board with your treatment plan.
5. There are many different ways to become a parent.
In most of our cultural narratives, people have sex, get pregnant and have a baby. For those dealing with infertility, the reality can look pretty different.
Modern medicine has given us many options for conceiving a child, whether that's fertility medications, intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization, using your own eggs or sperm, or using a donor’s eggs or sperm. Some people decide that surrogacy or adoption is the right option for them.
I’ve learned that just because it doesn’t work out the way you planned doesn’t mean it won’t work out.
6. Trying to have a baby will change your life.
I knew that actually having a baby would change my life in many ways. What I didn’t know was that trying to have a baby would, too. I’ve had to make some huge lifestyle changes to have a chance at conceiving and while I’m more than willing to make them, it hasn’t been easy.
Between taking time off of work for doctor’s appointments and the emotional toll of infertility, every area of my life has been affected. I knew my life would look different once my baby arrived, I just didn’t know it would look so different way before he or she was even conceived.
7. You can’t predict the future, so stop worrying about it.
I love planning and that trait often serves me well. But sometimes, it can get me into trouble. When you’re trying to conceive, you live in month-long cycles, calculating when you’ll ovulate, when you can take a pregnancy test and when you’d be due if you get pregnant.
Before I even knew about my fertility issues, I had pretty much mapped out in my head how long it would take to get pregnant, when my baby would be born and how my life would look then.
I wasted a lot of energy planning that over and over again. Now, I try to let go and just be in the process each day.
8. You can be jealous of complete strangers.
When you can’t get pregnant, it seems like everyone else has a new baby. It still catches me off-guard how much it can hurt to see women with big bellies or little babies. Like a punch to the gut, sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe when I hear another pregnancy announcement.
It’s not that I’m not happy for them; it’s just that I’m sad for my own situation.
9. You can feel joy even in the most difficult times.
In many ways, the last year has been the hardest of my life. Being diagnosed with infertility, being thrown into a world of doctor’s appointments and invasive tests and experiencing a lot of change has been difficult.
But despite all that, I’ve still been able to experience great joy by embracing the present moment. From small things like eating an ice cream cone on a hot summer day to a big one like a vacation to visit family, I’m choosing to focus on the good happening right now. It doesn’t always mean I’m happy about what’s going on in my life, but I can still choose to live joyfully, gratefully and wholly.
I wouldn’t wish infertility on anyone. But I’m grateful that despite the hard times, I’ve been able to learn from my journey. I know it will make me a better mom when I get to be one someday.