10 things i wish i knew when i started fertility treatments
Like many of you, my journey to motherhood was not at all what I expected it to be. Navigating the world of infertility was confusing, isolating, and I constantly wished there was somewhere I could turn to for stories, resources, and support along the way. That’s why I created The Fertility Tribe, to empower women and men with inspiring stories, a community of support, and expert resources to guide them on their unique paths to parenthood.
Looking back now, I realize that when I walked into the initial consultation with my fertility doctor I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know at the time that committing to fertility treatments would be like having a second job on top of my full-time career. I had no clue about the physical and emotional toll that countless failed IUIs—and then ultimately, IVF—would take on me. No one had warned me about any of it.
There are many things I wish I had known about my reproductive health prior to being diagnosed with PCOS and propelling head-first into the world of IUIs and IVF, but there is also a lot I wish I had known following my diagnosis about what to expect on my infertility journey:
At my initial consultation with my fertility doctor she said, “you’re 28 years young, healthy, and in shape. You’re going to be just fine.” She confirmed that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), but she assured me that my issue was just ovulation, and with the help of Clomid I would be pregnant before I knew it. In hindsight, I know that she had no way of being sure of that, but it was incredibly frustrating at the time because she led me to believe that my case was going to be a quick fix, and it wasn’t. I wish I had known from the beginning that infertility is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis, and treatments are a process of trial-and-error that take time and require patience.
When it comes to infertility, everyone’s journey is different, so my advice would be to try not to compare yourself to others. For some women with PCOS, Clomid is the magic drug that makes them ovulate, and they get pregnant from their first IUI. For others like me, IVF was what I needed to get my big fat positive. What I’m trying to say is, what worked for someone else might not work for you and vice versa. There are also additional factors at play, such as age, diagnosis, your partners’ reproductive health, and more, so no two experiences are exactly the same. Comparing your failures to others’ successes will only make the journey more difficult, and I wish I had realized that sooner.
Because I was immediately referred to a fertility clinic following my PCOS diagnosis, I will admit that my husband and I were thrust into the world of fertility treatments a bit sooner than we were ready. Although we still decided to go full steam ahead, I had no idea when I started the process just how much of a time commitment it would be. On top of my full-time job, I would have blood tests and ultrasounds 2-3 times a week before work, acupuncture in the evenings, and a weekly therapy session. When you throw in having to remember to take several different medications every day, sometimes I marvel at how I juggled it all. Looking back, I wish I would have been more mentally prepared for how all-consuming it would be, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
For me, infertility was probably the best life lesson in relinquishing control. I mean, your body isn’t doing what nature intended it to do. How’s that for something being completely out of your power? I laugh sometimes when I think about the time right after I stopped taking birth control when I was convinced for the two weeks after that I was pregnant. Looking back now, I realize how naive I was, but when you try for so many years NOT to get pregnant you tend to assume that getting pregnant will be a fairly quick and easy process. Obviously, that wasn’t the case for me, and it killed me that I couldn’t plan my family the way I wanted to, but I know now that some of us just don’t have that luxury, and that’s okay.
One of the hardest parts about going through infertility is having to treat your body like you’re pregnant when you’re not, but you want to be. Sounds fun, right? When I started fertility treatments, I didn’t realize it would involve a year of sacrificing some of the things I loved, such as high-intensity exercise and going out for drinks with friends. I found it to be a constant push-and-pull between taking part in the activities that I enjoy and cutting back for the sake of getting pregnant. It was a complete mindf*ck, to say the least.
I wish I had known that I didn’t have to stick with the first fertility doctor that my OBGYN recommended. It may not have ended with me getting pregnant any sooner, but I do think switching doctors sooner would have saved me a lot of frustration in the long run. To that point, if one doctor’s bedside manner or treatment plan doesn’t sit right with you, seek a second opinion. If you don’t advocate for yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. Interview your doctor for the job. They work for you, not the other way around.
Infertility affects 1 in 8 couples in the U.S., and yet, it can make you feel like you’re 1 in 8 million. What helped me through it was being open about my experience and leaning on friends, family, and my husband for support. Although it tested my relationships big-time, it also made the relationships that did survive the challenge stronger than ever. If you aren’t comfortable confiding in family or friends, I would recommend talking to a therapist or even strangers on Instagram (you can find many over at @thefertilitytribe!). It will help you more than you know to realize you are not alone in this. Also, ignore the people that tell you, “just relax and it will happen.” A vacation won’t fix your infertility.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Whenever I was feeling down during my fertility journey, I would try to practice some form of self-care, whether that meant getting my nails done, reading a book, or going for a run. You will quickly discover during this process that you need to do whatever you need to do to relax during this incredibly stressful time, even if that means canceling plans to stay in. Remember, “no” is a complete sentence, and the people who love you will understand; I promise. I definitely learned that the hard way.
When your body isn’t responding to a medication the way the doctors thought it would, when you get a negative pregnancy test, it’s okay to be sad. You are mourning a baby that you want so badly in your life, and that is as good a reason as any to cry, be angry, or upset. My general rule of thumb for myself after a bad day was to take as much time as I needed to grieve, but then to try and wake up the next day with the courage to try again. Do whatever you feel is best for you, even if that means taking a break from treatments. Remember, your mental health matters, too.
Fast forward through several failed IUIs, one egg retrieval, a bad case of ovarian hyperstimulation (OHSS), one failed frozen embryo transfer, and one successful frozen embryo transfer, I am now a mom to my miracle 2-year-old twins, Brooke and Charlie. And while I promise I am not one to say, “it will all be worth it in the end,” because I know IVF doesn’t always end with a baby, I do believe that I am a better person because of what I went through to conceive my children.
My infertility journey showed me how strong I am because being strong was the only choice I had. I learned how to lean on my family and friends like I never had before. I discovered the importance of self-care. I grew to love myself for what my body could do rather than what it couldn’t. Now, my relationships are stronger and more genuine, and I am a more resilient mother to my kids because of the journey it took for me to get here. And for that, I am grateful.
If you’re still in the trenches of infertility, know that I see you, and you are not alone. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. You’ve got this. And for when you don’t, there is an amazing group of women in this community who have got your back. Because honestly, who can do this alone?!
Kristyn Hodgdon is the Founder & CEO of The Fertility Tribe, a blog & lifestyle brand redefining fertility, empowering women with inspiring stories, a community of support, and expert resources to guide them on their unique journeys to motherhood. She lives in Island Park, NY with her husband Dan and their 2-year-old twins Brooke and Charlie, who were conceived via IVF. Join The Fertility Tribe’s free infertility support community & app, and join the conversation on Instagram at @thefertilitytribe!