In awareness of National Infertility Week, I share this very personal post with you. You may have friends or coworkers struggling with infertility or rare genetic disorders and not even know it. Here is a window into my own personal journey.
For those of you who may not know, IVF stands for in vitro fertilization
(see http://americanpregnancy.org/infertility/ivf.html for more information).
My husband and I started the process of IVF treatments back in September 2013. I say we started the process then, but it is somewhat difficult to even pinpoint the beginning of this journey.
We decided to commence the IVF process because of a rare genetic disorder that I carry that can sometimes cause rare organ cancers in those affected and thus be fatal. Because of this we also needed to have our DNA sequenced for a genetic probe so that any embryos could be tested for the genetic disorder. This process is called PGD or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (for more info http://americanpregnancy.org/infertility/preimplantationgeneticdiagnosis.html). So really our process began back in January 2013 with a meeting with a wonderful doctor, Dr. Lisa Hansard, at Texas Fertility Center here in Austin, TX.
I give you this background to demonstrate how long the process of IVF can really take. We were able to skip the process of IUI, intrauterine insemination, (for more information see http://americanpregnancy.org/infertility/iui.html) because we were specifically trying to bypass a genetic disorder. But for most couples IUI is the first step and IVF is the second in assisted reproductive technology.
I am sure you can begin to imagine the different anxieties and worries that your mind might throw up if you are going through this process yourself. I am hoping this post will reach anyone who is trying to conceive, has had fertility concerns, is pregnant, or just beginning the IUI/IVF process.
In this post I won't be able to go into the details of the IVF process but I can give you an overview of the types of anxiety and stress one might encounter during the IVF process. There is a lot of what I think of as “hurry up and wait” and there are a lot of tests. My fertility or ovarian reserve was tested and I was on the low end of normal so I was at risk for infertility. That was my first bout with sadness and fear. My mind started telling me that I may not be able to have kids. I was petrified and sad. I did my best to try not to get hooked on these thoughts.
Next we started the shots-yes you read that right! I had to give my self about 4 shots a day for 2 weeks in the stomach. They actually weren't that painful but my mind created some anxiety around them before I even began. Isn't it funny how our mind sometimes tries to predict the future?
Then there was the monitoring of follicles to see how many eggs I was growing. I remember being worried about if I would have enough eggs, if this process would work, what I could do to help it along.
My husband and I wanted children so badly, it seemed a lot was on the line. And most of it I had no control over just like most things in our lives.
I can tell you about many more worries and fears I experienced along the way, but really I want to tell you how I coped.
I started acupuncture because research shows that it helps with fertility. But my lovely acupuncturist helped to keep me accountable of my mindfulness practice. I meditated with her weekly. I made room for my pain and suffering. I invited in all my painful feelings and got to know them. It will sound funny, but I was mindful of my worries.
I would notice when I was having thoughts related to my fears, anxieties, and worries and I would acknowledge them but not let myself go on the downward spiral of fear and worries. I would attempt to unhook myself. And guess what? It worked most of the time! I had my bad days (because I am human) but mindfulness of thoughts and emotions really helped me cope with the stressors of IVF. Not only did I cope, I lived my life fully and I think that is the most beautiful thing. I didn't let this process control my life.
I currently have a very near and dear friend who I have known for 20 years going through this same process. I speak to her with gentle compassion about how difficult this really is. She has unexplained fertility issues, and it is easy for her to blame herself, put pressure on herself, and worry. I have helped her find and use some excellent mindfulness exercises and meditations to cope with all the feelings that can inevitably come up through this process.
There were many other let downs, trials and tribulations, and stressors that I experienced along the way and I used many of the same techniques to deal with my grief, sadness, and anxiety as well as my joys.
I am now 6 months pregnant and getting ready for the arrival of my son in August. There are many other worries that come with pregnancy and there will be even more as I become a parent. I know that mindfulness will continue to serve me and help me live my life as the person I want to be. You see, I was compassionate towards my pain and gentle with myself and that is all we can really do.
As a therapist, I hope to do the same with anyone of you who might come to see me for such reasons. I am here to help with the IVF process. Send me an email or give me a call. Stress doesn't have to take over our lives even with something that seems so precious and so scary. We can live life to the fullest and create beautiful meaning even in the face of adversity.
Written by Monti Pal, LPC-Intern
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