The Sink or Swim of Infertility
There are a heap of clichés about the ins and outs, ups and downs of trying to conceive, about infertility and fertility treatment. Heap being a good word to use as they pile up.
There’s the roller coaster, which fits quite well and has been talked about often. The traumatic ups and downs, even when starting to try to conceive at home. You don’t have to be in fertility treatment for this one. Each month, your hopes rise and you keep your fingers crossed NOT to get your period. Each month, your heart sinks with disappointment when you do start menstruating.
One that is not used as often is sink or swim. Maybe because the extremes level out to something different. With a roller coaster, there is always that hope for things to rise again. Sinking, when trying to swim, well, that’s just sinking. Drowning.
I like the metaphor for other reasons as well though. On a roller coaster, you hold on for dear life. And that’s pretty much it. You don’t steer, you don’t command it to stop and have that work. You don’t get to decide that some of the curves are too much or that some of the drops are too long. You are simply on it.
With sinking or swimming, you have some control. There are actions that can make all the difference.
Here are just a few actions that come to mind:
1. Paddle slowly
2. Float on your back
3. Do the dead man’s float, coming up for air frequently
4. Leisurely side stroke, one of my mom's favorite
Those are only examples if you are actually IN the water. If you're in a boat, that's a whole other matter. It's really a matter of extremes, isn't it?
Fertility Treatment Choices
You can make choices in fertility treatment. The choices may be rather awful. The choices may be really awful. The choices may be simply slowing down or taking a pause. Still, there are choices.
I know it doesn’t always feel that way. We all know that feelings aren’t facts though. You can take a minute and regroup. You can pause. You can even float on your back and close your eyes.
There’s more than one way to make a decision that is very challenging. Demanding of yourself that you make the decision while on a wild ride may not be the best way to do it.
Me? I like to float on my back. Let go of the struggle. For a moment or two.
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RMACT Ladies Night In Stories - When Is Enough, Enough?
We all feel release in different ways. Some of us cry. Some of us talk. Some of us write. A slightly different version of what is below appeared on our Ladies Night In Facebook page recently. I contacted the patient/writer (who I know personally), and asked her if I could share it here. She agreed, with the idea that perhaps it would shed some light or offer some comfort to someone else who is challenged by similar questions. Of course I'm keeping it anonymous. I will just say that it resonated with many women who are on that board. So while this is one woman's thoughts, it may very well echo thoughts that you have had. Enjoy this beautifiul, heartfelt piece. I know I did. ~Lisa Rosenthal
A desperate cry that is often heard on the RMACT Ladies Night In Online bulletin boards is this question, “How do you know when it is time to give up?” Usually the person asking is in a really painful and desperate place. It’s such an individual decision; still, there is no one else except you that can answer it. Here are my thoughts, examining this question for myself; I’m willing to share my journey, hoping that it will provide insight for you.
There is no magic number of years trying, or IVF cycles, or losses. Each person has their own pain threshold, what might be bearable for some will be way too much for others.
I recently heard of an interesting study where infertile women were offered as many free IVF cycles as they could bear (no pun intended, really) to conceive. Do you know what the average number of cycles underwent was before most people gave up?
Three. Can you believe that? Three. After three cycles the average person said ‘enough. I can’t do this anymore’. It was too painful for them to carry on. Now for some of us, well me, this is just unbelievable. Free cycles and you say ‘enough’? I am moving on to cycle #4 (not including a cancelled cycle). Am I crazy? No. Are they crazy? No.
I don’t think it is about how much you want it. That’s not what this is about. It's not about how badly you want a child, I think it’s about what you are prepared or able to go through, what you are prepared to give up or suffer through in order to have a child. For some people the cost is too high. They are not prepared to risk their mental health, their emotional stability, their marriage etc. in order to get a child.
I deeply envy those people who have come to the point in their lives where they say ‘enough’; where they can make the decision to live childfree. They get off the clichéd roller coaster and get on with their lives; away from the invasiveness and all consuming cycles, meds, needles, betas, hopes and disappointments. They go back to being normal. How wonderfully liberating. It must be like being let out of prison. It's a place of ‘acceptance.’ I envy them. I really do.
Because I can’t give up. Even living through all the pain I have, and continuing to live this hell daily, I still can’t give up. Because giving up is scarier to me than carrying on. A childfree future is just not an option for me. Which means that I am never giving up.
Am I brave or am I stupid? Is it perseverance or is it obsession? I don’t know. All I know is that I am not prepared to live my future childfree. And yes, I will do what it takes to get there. There are so many people in my life (luckily not my family, who know how important this is to me), who think I am obsessed; that I am crazy for doing this to myself. To put myself out there time and time again, only to have my soul destroyed and my heart broken so often. They don’t understand my need or drive for a child. They say: ‘don’t you think you should give up now?’, ‘don’t think that god/fate/nature is sending you a message?’
And therein lies the rub. I am not prepared to buy into the belief that this is my lot in life, that this is my life plan. That I am not ‘meant’ to have a child. Bullshit. I am not going to accept that. I am not an observer in my life, I am a participant. I have control over my fate, because I have choices. I will have a child one day. I understand and accept that it might not be in the way I expected. So my child might come to me through donor eggs, adoption, whatever. The how is no longer important to me, the end result is.
I am not obsessed. I felt close to obsession, about three years ago, when it consumed my life, but now I am just determined. I will succeed, because the alternative is not an option to me. Making the decision to eliminate childfree as an alternative for me has brought incredible peace. Because I know, come what may, I will have a child. It makes the daily grind of infertility so much easier to deal with, because I know I will have a happy ending in my life story.
To get back to the question of when is enough, enough, I know the answer for me is when the pain of trying is worse than the pain of giving up. For me, the pain of stopping is way greater than the pain of trying. Don’t let anyone make you doubt yourself. Do what is right for you. If it takes 5, 10 or 20 IVF’s for you to come to the place in your life where you either achieve success, or where you say ‘enough’, then that is what it takes. I know of a few people who almost feel embarrassed at the number of IVF’s they have done. They shouldn’t feel embarrassed. Going through this over and over is incredibly brave; it shows incredible determination and drive. Only you will know when enough is enough. And if you decide you can’t or won’t do this anymore, then celebrate your decision as a very brave decision, and live your life to the fullest. We each can have our own version of a ‘happily ever after’, but it has to be right for each one of us.
Infertility Retreat - What Does It Really Mean?
I heard the phrase timely retreat recently. Yesterday in fact.
Me, I don’t love the word retreat. Especially as it is used in moving into introspective space, head clearing, heart open space.
Here are the synonyms and they tell the story about why retreat doesn’t appeal to me: move away, draw back, pull away, recoil, withdraw, leave.
Those synonyms are the reason that I don’t like retreat because they indicate a giving up, as opposed to regrouping or reconsidering.
Fertility Treatment Pause
With infertility, rest becomes imperative. Taking time off from fertility treatment is necessary, even when that may seem impossible. When rest is not taken, exhaustion takes over. Hysteria and obsession take over. Given that it’s impossible to make sane, reasoned decisions from a hysterical place, a pause to take a deep breath can make the difference between good choices and not so good choices.
I’m trying the word pause out instead. Synonyms are: hiatus, gap, silence, break in proceedings, awkward moment, recess (I really like that one) and suspension. Here are some words that I looked at to express the meaning I’m trying to convey: give pause, compose, reflect, reconsider, selah and even delay.
What I’m recommending is not a retreat, which is often thought of as backing away. I’m recommending to give pause. To stop and reconsider. To stop and breathe, which is not the same as hyperventilating.
When I stop and give pause, I find that I don’t feel less stuck, I am less stuck. Possibilities that I refused to consider on the basis of them being impossible, become possible, sometimes even attractive. My knee jerk reaction of no, with that delay, becomes a more thoughtful, “well, maybe”.
Focus On Fertility - Remembering We Have Choices
My focus on fertility, pregnancy, and babies was so specific and pointed that I rarely allowed the idea of other options in; I rarely gave pause on what an alternate outcome could look like. Giving pause, taking a break allowed me to make other changes in my life that made my life feel hospitable to other choices about fertility treatment. Breathing in off-cycle months allowed me to be more sane in fertility cycle months.
So maybe that’s what I’ve settled on instead of retreat; to give pause.
To breathe in and out. To reconsider while in a quiet, saner state of mind. To sidestep the hysteria that builds and breathe instead.
What I learned and relearn every day is that when I go into panic mode I forget that most decisions can wait a moment. Or two. Or ten. Or a month. That making a decision when I feel like I have no choice is no decision at all; it comes from feeling bullied, even if I’m the one doing the bullying.
We always have choices. Even if the choices are miserable and hard and not at all what we wanted. Still, we have choices. And taking a moment to pause allows us to consider our choices in a saner, more open way.
To give pause. Yep, I like it.
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Our Right to Choose
Does infertility divide men and women into two categories? Those who can and those who cannot? Or those who have and those who have not?
For women, this seems to continue a conversation that is so basic you can separate out the elements with your bare eyes.
Women who can have and do have babies and families. And women who do not.
Same conversation as women who stay at home with those babies and those who go outside the home to work? Same conversation as those women who choose to breast feed and those who do not? Same conversation as those women who choose to participate in attachment parenting and those who do not? Same conversation as women who choose to cook for their children and those who choose to feed them in a different way?
The conversation, taken down to its elements is the same.
Do we support each other? Do we support one another’s choices?
Or do we rip each other apart because the other woman hasn’t chosen what we have chosen?
Fertility Treatment Judgement
We see it even in fertility treatment; even within the subtext of infertility. We judge each other constantly. We judge ourselves constantly. Should we do that fertility treatment? Try that doctor/practice? We search the media eagerly to hear of the next best thing; whether it is a doctor or a food or an exercise, when we see that it’s linked to a successful pregnancy. We judge the efficacy of the other’s choices. If fertility treatment cycles work, we are tempted to rush and duplicate what that woman chose. When it is unsuccessful, we often condemn that other woman for her seemingly ridiculous choices.
We all have choices. They are not usually unlimited choices. Nor uncomplicated choices. Some of the conversation swirling around about fertility treatment implies that everyone has access to treatment. That is simply and absolutely untrue. Many men and women out there will never be able to afford or have substantial enough health insurance to be able to see fertility treatment.
And yet we continue to judge one another. Instead of getting on the same side, supporting one another’s struggles, we judge. Instead of supporting the other woman’s right to make a choice, we separate and are divisive.
I’m not diving into this here. Not going to make even more judgment on those judging. That would be just joining the party that I would prefer not to be at. I’m here to say a few things about this though.
Making Decisions for Oneself
I can barely make good decisions for myself. Living in my own skin, understanding my own life after having lived for decades; I still often have to search deeply for what is the best decision for me. I often find it much easier to live in my glass palace and instruct all those folks around me about what the best thing is for them. So much easier to understand and simplify a life or decision looked at from the outside. With so much less information, I feel so prepared that I know what’s best for someone else. By making declarations about a broad right and wrong, in effect, I am saying that I know what’s best for someone else. Despite not having lived their lives. Despite not facing their decisions from having lived those lives. Still, I know best?
I think I’ll stick to figuring out my own decisions, based on my own life. I welcome the compassionate and loving individuals in my life who gently comment, guide, and advise me on a very regular basis to continue doing so. I chose to invite that into my life and resist staying closed off and defensive. I know that I need help.
I just also know that help isn’t in the form of someone telling me what’s best for me. That’s for me to figure out. Whether it’s about fertility treatment or breast feeding or childcare.
And I support your right to figure it out as well. Any help I can give, I’m glad to do it.
But I know that you are the authority on your own life. And I will respect that.
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Standing Up for Reproductive Rights
Twice in the last two blogs I’ve mentioned abortion.
In the three and a half years that I’ve been writing PathtoFertility, I may have mentioned abortion a dozen times. There was at least one blog completely devoted to abortion that I can recall.
Today, June 26, 2013, abortion is all over the news.
Senator Wendy Davis in Texas stood up for what she believed was best for the men and women in Texas.
She stood and she stood and she stood. I’m not sure if she stood for eleven hours or thirteen.
Senator Davis, Photo (Flickr): Tracy Nanthavongsa
Of course it matters, which one it was, but after the third hour, how much does it really matter?
No bathroom. No sitting. No eating. NO LEANING.
She stood up for what she believed.
Whether you agree with her or not, whether you support abortion rights for women or not, I’d like to believe that most of us would respect standing up for what we believe.
Abortion and reproductive rights and reproductive health and infertility and fertility treatment are woven together. That may be a very unpopular statement to make here. You all are trying your hardest to conceive; how dare I compare that to abortion.
Reproductive Choices Under Fire, Including Fertility Treatment Options
Reproductive choices are being threatened all over the country in a myriad of ways. Threatened in ways that span from banning abortion--effectively telling women that they do not have the right to make decisions concerning their own bodies--to bestowing legal rights to an embryo as a fully fledged person. Our concerns about conceiving, using fertility treatment and ART (assisted reproductive technology) include many issues that are coming under fire.
To name a few:
- Freezing embryos that are not transferred
- Disposal of frozen embryos that are unused
- Legal rights to embryos
- Selective reduction in a case of multiple pregnancy
Those are just a few that come to mind easily.
Do you have to agree that an abortion is necessary after twenty weeks of pregnancy?
Do we have to consider that it’s the individual woman’s choice to make?
I think, yes.
Do we have to think ahead and see where this is leading us in terms of reproductive choices?
That’s a slam dunk for me.
Today, I do applaud Senator Wendy Davis for standing up for what she feels (and has been told) is what her constituents want. What in fact, they have elected her to do.
Agree with her or not. Standing up for what you believe, for supporting others that believe, for 11 to 13 hours is something that I find inspirational.
Gives me a little extra courage today for standing up for my beliefs.
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A few weeks ago I shared the integration of a kitten into our family.
As it turns out, old dogs can learn new tricks.
I promised in that blog that I would connect the dots. About why this is relevant to infertility and fertility treatment.
Here it is.
We are capable of change.
We are capable of doing that which we swore we could or would not.
We are made to expand our thoughts and our heart to embrace situations and circumstances that we had previously thought we could not.
It could mean treatment that you decided you would never do. It could mean one more cycle when you weren’t planning on it. It could mean a change in protocol or medications. It could mean being open to donor egg, donor ovum or a gestational carrier.
It could mean looking at your life differently. Replanning. Rethinking.
Maybe adoption becomes more realistic. Even if you know it’s not the right thing for you. Even if you deep down know it. Go to an adoption meeting. Speak to someone who’s adopted, listen with your heart.
Change is possible. It’s possible when we are willing to explore the unfamiliar. It’s possible when we are willing to explore the familiar and be open to seeing something new.
Perhaps it means childfree living. Not what you wanted, I know. Not what you dreamed of. Not what you envisioned for yourself.
Still, can you take a look at it with new eyes? A new perspective?
Being a yogi, I am a big believer in looking at things from upside down and sideways.
Try it. Look at the familiar with new eyes.
Change is possible.
When a couple is childfree, there is often a set of assumptions made about them. One such assumption is that they have free time to do all the things that people with families and “real lives” don’t have time to do. I know this, because I speak with my younger sister often. She and her husband chose not to have children together, and so she has not raised or parented a child.
She is not the only one. There are several other people who I speak with regularly who have not had children. Some because they could not, some because they chose not to. Childfree is a phrase that was made popular by a wonderful couple, Jean and Michael Carter. The Carter’s wrote a book called “Sweet Grapes”, one of my all time favorite books.
I have written about the book before. I come back to it again as it is a book that empowers choice. Infertility takes away our choice. Or does it? It certainly seems that way. It certainly feels that way. I know it probably even looks that way to others. Childfree even looks like a person or couple has had no choice.
Yet we still have choice. We may not have a child in our homes the way that we once dreamed of. They may come as a foster child, an adopted child, a donor egg or donor sperm child; yet they are all children. They may not even live in our homes; they may be a beloved niece or nephew we dote on. The child in our life may be someone we mentor or teach to read or take on trips to a museum.
Childfree does not mean we don’t have a “real life” or that we have nothing to do with our time but lament our loss. Childfree is the life that we embrace when we are ready to make a choice to end treatment. Childfree is the life that we choose when we decide to move on and explore new possibilities in life.
So before you make assumptions about that person or couple who doesn’t have to find a babysitter for a Saturday night or who can take a vacation on the spur of the moment, just take a moment to consider what it may have taken for them to have gotten there. They may have been on a road similar to the one that you are on. They may have made a different choice than the one you are making.
We all get to make choices. Even when struggling with infertility.
I often wonder what would have happened if I had fallen in love with and married a different man. Whether if in a different relationship, I would have struggled for so long with infertility. Maybe we always wonder what if. What if I had, what if I hadn't. What if I hadn't struggled so long with infertility
; what would be different in my exterior life, the things we can all see? What would be different inside of me, deep where no one can see? Would my compassion be different, my empathy, my understanding of life and how I move through things?
When I was speaking to a friend yesterday, he remarked that he was so overwhelmed that he couldn't even begin to speak about what's going on his life, it's just too much. I understood that feeling completely and utterly, as well as the feeling that having to say it all out loud yet again was also just too much. We went on to discuss how so many of us are feeling this way, overwhelmed, stretched too tight, overscheduled, with major, life worries. While I was listening to him, while I was talking and responding, my brain was also peering back to a much earlier conversation with my oldest friend. I have no idea how to credit this conversation, so please don't expect a link, it was one of thousands of conversations that I've had with her over the past 40+ years. When my friend in the present moment finished his thought about trying to stay sane in the midst of what truly felt insane, I brought up this other conversation from many years ago.
The story, often repeated, (frequently misquoted, including by me, I'm sure), is about a group of Native Americans sitting around a fire. Each was invited to throw into the fire their deepest, most troubling problem or secret. Be it physical, emotional, spiritual, here was the opportunity to throw into the fire, the worst of the worst. The only caveat being that at the end, each person would also have to remove from the fire something that had been thrown in. Hmmm. As I brought up this story yesterday to my friend, he excitedly interrupted. He and yet another friend had recently been discussing just that concept, just that story. And we all decided, in those conversations, in the one that I had years before, in the one that had been had just a few days prior and the conversation in the present moment, that ultimately the problems that we struggled with were most likely the problems that we would draw back out of the fire.
When I was in the midst of my struggles with infertility, I knew certain things. One, I would not give up my husband to have a baby. Two, I did not regret marrying him. Three, one way or another, he and I were a family, even if it stayed that way, with just the two of us.
Notice that I did say I knew these things in the midst of infertility. I didn't necessarily know these things in the beginning. I didn't necessarily even know these things every minute. There were times where I would have sworn that I would have given up anything to have a baby. My sight, my arm, the entire rest of my family. That probably sounds bizarre. At least to those of you who are reading who have not struggled to conceive a child, create a family, or lost a much wanted pregnancy. To those of us who have experienced that, it doesn't sound quite so bizarre. There are probably plenty of you, us, who understand the idea of wanting to make a deal with the devil to save a loved one, or to have a baby.
I would not have picked out of the fire an abusive husband. Or cancer. Or many other things. I felt, personally, that my struggle uniquely suited my ability to manage. You may not feel that way. You may feel that you would pick anything else in there except infertility. I wonder though, if you really would.
Interestingly enough yesterday, my friend, whom I love dearly, never ended up sharing his troubles with me, nor did I share mine with him. The conversation was still strangely comforting. The details didn't matter, just the sharing of troubles and knowing that neither of us was alone in feeling them.
Seems to be my theme of the week.
You are not alone.
Let me know how you're doing out there.
I am hungry for food that is not good for me- quoted from a facebook friend this morning. It made me think about that in a broader way, past the obvious of chocolate or fried foods. What foods do we hunger for that are not good for us, in terms of behavior? What do we say yes to doing that almost certainly should have been a no?
When we don't take that walk, but watch 3 hours of the "Biggest Loser" (yes, me, this weekend, how embarrassing to confess!), what are the consequences? Sometimes when I teach Fertile Yoga, and we stand with head below your heart, releasing the vertebrae in your neck by nodding your head yes and then shaking your head no, I talk about the word no. It has such negative connotations. LOL. Right, obviously. No means no, right? No means denial; it means "I won't, I can't"; it means the possibility of something left undone; it means unhelpful; selfish; it can even mean rejection, all the way down to the sense of who we are.
Ah, but I LOVE the word no. If you've been reading my blog, you know that I'm not much for using capitals as a way of making a point. This is important to me. I do love the word no. It opens up a whole new realm to most of us.
Here's my thought process around this: when I say no to something, what am I saying yes to? The first time I read about this concept was in a book called the Yoga Sutras, the classical text of Indian philosophy, written in the second century, BC. Then I started to hear my teachers talk about it, in class. It affected me most powerfully one day in class, upside down, in headstand. It took literally being upside down, (a fairly different perspective), to hear what my teachers were saying.
This is what I got. We pride ourselves on saying yes, we even use it as a benchmark to prove how willing, generous, compassionate we are. We feel helpful when we say yes. On the flip side? We feel guilty, selfish, limiting when we say no.
Except, let's look at it upside down. (Since that's what it took me to understand the part that I now feel like I have absorbed.) Every single time I say yes to something, I say no to something else. When I decide yes, to spend time, money, energy, I am deciding no to other things. Yes, I will do another chore in my home, no; I will not spend time with my partner. Yes, I will take on more work at my job; no, I will not have time to work out. Yes, I will volunteer at the youth center; no I will not have time to spend with my nieces and nephews.
I have noticed that very often the yes's are for other people, and the no's are to ourselves and our families. But mainly? The no's are to ourselves.
Our time and energy are resources. Use yours wisely. When you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. When you say no, what wonderful world of yes's are you opening up?
And last, if you are in fertility treatment, this is exactly the time to take a peek at this. When you are "upside down". When caring for yourself can help you achieve your goal.
This is the day, January 18, 2010, that we are going to reclaim the word no as a positive force. As a way of seeing the choices that become available when we say no to something. What can you say no to today that allows you to say yes to yourself?