By Dr. Nichole Barker, one of the physicians at SRM’s Tacoma location
My whole life, I knew I wanted to be a mom. Honestly, I can’t even tell you why, it was an innate instinct in me, stronger than even my instinct to want to be a doctor. However, I wanted it on my terms, who doesn’t? I had my dreams and aspirations of becoming a physician, so I knew it would likely happen much later for me. I luckily found the man of my dreams who wanted kids just like me in my thirties. I was already in the field of reproductive medicine, so we did not waste time doing some general testing. PAUSE BUTTON…We found out that it would not likely happen for us naturally. We needed IVF or another strategy to complete our family.
I have shared our journey that came after that: my feelings, emotions, the physical process, the proverbial roller coaster ride, our success story. As we embark on National Infertility Awareness Week, I tend to reflect more and more about my own journey. I was thinking the other day about how going through infertility testing and treatments has affected my life now, 4 years later.
So what happens after the fertility dust settles, after the bloat dies down, the bruises heal, baby in your arms or not? As infertility patients, we tend to focus on the goal (baby) and not on the “what happens after”. Somethings may be expected, others a surprise. Each person’s journey is unique, so I can only speak for myself. Here are some of the things post-treatment that were/are real for me and maybe for others too.
Anxiety/Depression: “You know you failed your depression screening test, right?” That is what my OBGYN told me at my 6 week post-partum visit. How could I be depressed? I just had my prayers answered, a healthy baby in my arms. I compare this time to my life as returning to real life after a vacation or that the honeymoon is over. I had put so much blood, sweat, anxiety, prayers, tears into a process to achieve our goal, and we got there. Now, it was like my mind and body did not know how to be happy. I was looking for more things to worry about. Is she breathing, is she getting enough milk, will I be a good mom, will I ever feel normal again, can I handle being a working mom?
So I admitted it, looked depression right it in the face and said, how can I beat you? I changed my diet, started exercising more, surrounded myself by positive people, tried to minimize the things in my life that were triggers, and worked on getting more sleep. These things helped me immensely, but I definitely need to check myself every so often. I should have asked for help much sooner, like at the beginning of treatment. I realize that now. Most patients can benefit from support and counseling and working on lifestyle chances, some even need medicine. My advice, just don’t ignore it.
Guilt: This still stings for me. I feel guilty even writing this. I feel guilty about being successful and that others may not be. I constantly push it down, but it’s true. There is a huge guilt I carry around for being a success story. For someone like me who works with infertility patients day in and out, it’s a daily battle.
I can’t change the way I feel about this, but it helps me to know that people and patients have connected with me and my journey. Sharing has given them hope. Reminding myself of this has been a great counter to those guilty feelings that well up now and again.
Intimacy: Did you know that my husband and I literally tried only one month to have a baby the “natural way”? Most people give it a try for, let’s just say…way longer than that! Nope, not us. On one hand, this seems ideal…figure out there is a problem and address it, which is what we did. Interestingly, I found myself post-treatment with an emptiness surrounding intimacy. Everything about getting pregnant was scientific, timed, with multiple people in the room, physically uncomfortable, and anxiety- producing. That is not a great recipe for true intimacy, right? How can we get that back? I’m not alone, many couples complain about this during and after treatments.
Small steps that couples can try include: making date nights a priority, bring back the romance with love notes, flowers, chocolate…you know, the basics. It’s hard to carve out this time, but it’s vital. Talk to one another about things other than your kids or trying to have kids (so hard to do). Know what each other’s love language is (there is a book out there by Gary Chapman). Counseling can also be helpful during and after treatments for infertility, those suffering recurrent loss and needing marital or sex therapy.
Trying again: Am I being greedy? Will my luck run out trying again? Can lightning strike twice? I seriously contemplated all of these and wondered if I would be able to hold it together if it didn’t work or the pregnancy was not successful. I also was concerned that I would not be able to be a good mom to my daughter during these times, especially if it did not go well. I struggled with compartmentalizing these. Knowing this, should I have even put myself out there?
I was an only child growing up, and I always hoped to have more than one kid. After we knew how lucky we got the first time and tens of thousands of dollars to get there, my perspective changed. We wanted to try, but not too long for a second. We would be absolutely fine with one, but knew we’d regret it if we did not try for more.
There is never a perfect time to have a baby, and you never know the possibilities unless you’re willing to be vulnerable. I see people coming in for baby number 3, 4, and 5. You know when your family is complete, no one else. Until you are fulfilled, you’re not being greedy.
The reality is that even after treatments and failures and successes, the diagnosis and experience of infertility will never leave you. It shapes and strengthens you, but is never forgotten. Regardless of the outcome, you will arise after the dust settles. What you do with yourself after that is up to you. Dust off, take a deep breath, and take your first steps to seeking help and support. We are here for you.
There are so many brave and extraordinary people sharing their journeys, more so now than ever before, especially thanks to social media. I commend you all for shattering the stigma around infertility. We are 1 in 8!