I’ve thought about this post for a long time. I sit down, thinking that I’m going to write it, but then say something else instead. How do you write about the deep sadness that comes with not being able to make more babies, no matter how hard you believe and try? I’m already lucky enough to be the mother of one happy, healthy little boy, and some people can’t even get that far. How do I talk about this without sounding ungrateful? And even worse, how do I talk about all this when I feel so much shame – my knowledge of holistic nutrition and how the body works, and my belief in the fact that it can help with fertility issues seems to have failed ME.
Sometimes, despite being healthy and believing that you are doing all the right things something goes wrong. Getting pregnant with my son was pretty easy. I read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” and embraced charting my cycle. I was fascinated with the signals that my body gave me (temperature, cervix position, vaginal secretions) as I headed towards ovulation. I got pregnant within a few months of trying and had a healthy pregnancy. When the time came to try again, I assumed things would be just as easy. I was wrong. I went to the doctor for some blood work to check hormone levels and suddenly found myself being referred to a fertility clinic. Further testing revealed that I have endometriosis and that my ovarian reserve is incredibly low. I went from being concerned with whether I was timing my ovulation accurately to contemplating In Vitro Fertilization in the blink of an eye.
Infertility is very common – you likely know someone who has struggled with it, even if they haven’t shared it with you. It’s lonely, sad, and incredibly frustrating.
Fertility treatments are not easy. If you’re successful, then the end result is definitely worth it, but I can guarantee you that no woman going through them wants to be told to basically suck it up because “a baby will make it all worthwhile.” If you’re looking for something kind and supportive to say, stick with ‘I’m sorry. This must be so hard. I wish you didn’t have to go through this.” The modern medicine of fertility treatments is nothing short of incredible. So many couples have ended up with children because of it, but no matter what type of treatment you do they’re not easy, and they’re not fun. Just one round of any treatment involves:
• SO MANY doctor’s appointments
• Blood work, blood work, and more blood work (and bruised, sore arms)
• Multiple ultrasounds (mainly internal, and really not fun)
• Medications – amounts and form vary, but for an IVF cycle you can expect to inject yourself in the stomach 2-3 times each day for around 2 weeks (give or take) – by the time I was finished my last IVF cycle I had injected myself in the stomach 48 times with various hormones
• Different medical procedures, many of which can feel pretty invasive
• A lot of waiting, and a lot of patience
All the poking, prodding, hoping, and disappointment can put you on an emotional roller coaster ride. Throughout the process, and afterward, you can feel tired, stressed out (which you’re told over and over again negatively impacts your fertility – because turning off stress is that easy.), worried about money, and like you’re losing control of your body. You also might find yourself angry, jealous of others and their multiple children, and feeling like you’re failing. It’s a lonely experience. I’m so glad to have the kiddo that I have, but my heart aches when I see his friends and their siblings, or when he tells me how lonely he is. And when people tell me over and over again how “lucky I am to just have to deal with one” I want to scream.
I had one morning, well actually I had many mornings, where I was feeling a bit nuts and out of control during my last IVF cycle. I stood at the back door watching my kiddo play catch with his Dad. I wondered, why am I doing this? Isn’t he enough? What if the result of spending all of this money, time and emotional effort ends up breaking us all into a million little pieces? I don’t know how to explain to my 6-year-old what I’m doing, or why I’m doing it. I also don’t’ know how to say sorry when the hormones I’m injecting myself with make me anxious, or so irritable that I lash out blindly at my family. Maybe one day, when he’s older, I can explain it and say I’m sorry. Or maybe I’ll be lucky and he won’t remember these bits, just all the times that I try so hard to be present and happy to spend time doing things with him.
I’ve always believed that there is a place in this world for both modern Western medicine and healing methods that are considered “alternative”. I started saying this while I was in school studying nutrition, and almost 8 years later I still believe it. Being a “green” mom means different things to different people, but I think that no matter how your green approach manifests itself, you should never fear being judged, nor should you pass judgment on what others are doing. The choices that you make must be based on what you feel comfortable with, not just with what you think you should be doing. I chose IVF, and I took all the drugs without question, knowing that they would mess around with my body (which they did, oh boy did they ever).
If you’re trying to balance your belief of holistic and alternative therapies with the work of fertility treatments, there are lots of things you can do to support your treatments:
Acupuncture – there is a lot of research that supports the efficacy of acupuncture when it comes to fertility treatments, especially when having an acupuncture treatment immediately before and after an embryo transfer. Most fertility clinics now offer these services in-house. Choose a practitioner who has taken additional training in gynecology and obstetrics and they will be able to support your entire fertility journey with acupuncture treatments.
Yoga – there are many yoga practices that include poses designed to enhance fertility, which are great, but restorative yoga is the perfect antidote to all the additional stress that comes along with infertility. It can help calm you down and relax you.
Vitamins + herbs – Your doc will likely recommend a few vitamins and minerals to take, but consult with a practitioner to come up with a nutrition and supplement plan that will maximize your fertility chances.
Chiropractic adjustments – They’re not just for backaches or injury! Adjustments can help with the messaging of your nervous system and also with the alignment of your pelvis.
Meditation – Breathe, relax, and calm down. Use meditation to focus on thoughts and beliefs that support your fertility journey.
I’ve done three IVF treatments, and I think I’m done. After my last one, my doctor recommended that I not try anymore due to the results that we are getting, and hearing her say that was like being punched in the gut. The logical part of my brain knew this was where we were at, but I still hoped that she would have more tricks up her sleeve. So where does this leave us? I really don’t know. I’m honestly not there yet because I’m still grieving the end of this last round. I really believed that this could work for us, and I can’t wrap my head around anything else yet.
Sometimes I’m struck by just how awesome my kiddo is. He’s fun to go adventuring with, he’s happy and just generally easy to spend time with. I’m lucky. I have him, and I didn’t have to fight to get him. But the truth is, no amount of gratitude will ease the empty ache in my heart that I can’t seem to make him a sibling. There’s room in my heart to love more, and we’ve got an empty room in our house waiting for more.