Oh, high school self, if you only knew what was coming around the corner.
Yep, that’s me with the lion-like hair and the queenly sash. I cringe when I look at this picture now. I’m well aware of today’s beauty pageant rep and would not likely encourage one of my daughter’s to become a contestant. It is worth taking a moment, however, to consider my naivete at this point in my teenage life. I had faced very few challenges and didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the ones that might lie ahead. Less than a decade later, I would be in the throes of full-fledged infertility treatment, each month turning a new page of grief and uncertainty and feeling very much alone.
Now that I am on the other side of that journey, I realize how very caught up I was in the whole thing. I wish I had had someone (someone besides my therapist!) to come alongside me at the time and insert the truth into the pack of lies that were running rampant inside my head. All I can do now is to share what I learned with you…and pray that you will hold onto hope, dear reader, in your struggle. Let me assure you that there is every reason to hold to it tightly and experience peace in the waiting.
8 Strategies for Surviving Infertility
1. Focus on the other things that made you “you” long before infertility came along
When Mark and I were going through waiting and treatments and more waiting, the “infertile” part of me became the whole me. I was just one large, walking label that read “broken” and “defective” and I spent a whole lot of my time believing that lie. My life became more manageable when I stopped seeing myself from that skewed perspective and took time to honor the other parts of me, which — in truth — made up much more of me than the infertile part. I started celebrating the “worship leader” me and the “teacher” me and the “photographer” me and the “loving wife, sister, daughter, friend” me.
Your God-given gifts do not disappear just because one thing is not working right. You’ll feel a whole lot more positive if you wear this truth like the comfortable and protective garment that it is.
2. Allow yourself to celebrate holidays in new and different ways
During the holidays, family and friends will expect you to celebrate with them in the same ways you have in the past. They will truly believe that being with them is the best thing for you, regardless of the nature of the celebration. This is no time to worry about hurting other people’s feelings at the expense of your own. Family celebrations can be devastating to the couple experiencing infertility. As much as the people you love want to support you, they have no idea what it is like to be walking in your shoes right now. As much as they think they are being sensitive to your needs, they simply are blind to the many things that might be hurtful about a given celebration.
This is a time for creating new traditions with each other. It is ok to kindly turn down the invitation to the Easter party complete with egg hunt to, instead, take a hike together. It is fine to go to a great comedy or action film on Mother’s Day instead of going to church and to the family get together afterwards. Take some time to tell those closest to you about your alternative plans. The people who love you will support you, regardless of whether they completely understand the nature and intensity of your grief. They will recognize that this stage of your life is temporary and that happier times will likely allow you to rejoin traditional celebrations in years to come.
3. Throw yourself a limited-time-only pity party
Feelings demand to be felt. They will not simply go away if you ignore them. On the other hand, they won’t go away at all if you allow yourself 24-7 to wallow in them. Take 10 minutes a day to think about the unfairness of it all. To curse your current state, to cry, and to ask why. Then, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and go on with your day, focusing on the positive things in your life. A great job, a supportive husband, a friend that understands you? Whatever your blessings, there are sure to be many. Don’t let your infertility steal these from you.
4. Grieve over real losses
An early miscarriage or loss of a baby later in pregnancy are real causes for grief and must be marked and remembered as such. Plant a tree or place a garden stone in a prominent place in your yard. Write a poem or memory journal. Light a candle, say a prayer and remember. Give yourself time to cry and take time to honor the small life that was lost and to say goodbye.
5. Stay away from energy drainers
During our infertility struggle, pretty much every one of my friends and family members who were close in age experienced pregnancy, child birth, and becoming a mother for the very first time. Many of these friends knew of my distress and steered away from topics that might be painful when they were with me. Others not so much. I had a few friends who insisted on bringing their purse-size baby brag books everywhere (this was before smart phones) and leafing through the pages, stopping to give me a play-by-play analysis of each and every dimpled and drool-laden photo. As much as I loved (and still love) these friends, I learned that they could not be trusted with my fragile spirit during that painful time. Learn early on who in your circle of friends is going to drain your energy and who is going to lift you up. Avoid the first group as much as possible and hold tightly to the second. And, while you’re at it, try to include a fellow struggler in your circle. You’ll be grateful for the relief you find in not having to explain yourself, but just being understood.
6. Steer the conversation
When word gets out that you are trying to have a baby, it is time to brace yourself for well-meaning friends and family members who would like to hear the gory details of your struggle. What type of test did you have yesterday? What’s wrong with you? Is it him or you? How many times do you have to do it in a week? How are the little fellas swimming? Are you pregnant yet? What are you going to try next? Very much akin to this line of questioners is the advice givers ready with a long list of ideas and procedures you should try. Many of these may have experienced a period of waiting (a few months up to a year) before blissfully achieving pregnancy and they are nearly certain that their chosen methods will work for you!
The best strategy for dealing with this line of questioning and advice is to very simply change the subject. Ask the person about what is going on with her or bring up one of the many other aspects of your life for a topic of discussion. Perhaps you are up for a promotion at work or you’ve recently discovered a new hobby/exercise plan/TV series/recipe. Most people are genuinely trying to help and will get your not-so-subtle hint. If not, refer to #6.
7. Hand over the balloons
As cliche’ as it may sound, God is in control and he knows what he’s doing. We like to think that we are the captain of this thing called life until we hit a brick wall like infertility that makes us painfully aware of our own helplessness. You cannot handle this alone and worrying over it for every moment of your journey will steal your joy and your peace of mind. Picture your infertility worries as a bouquet of colorful balloons with names: unforeseen test results, miscarriage, negative pregnancy test, upcoming procedure, financing treatment, uncertain future. Then, picture yourself handing over every single one to God. He does not expect you to carry this burden alone and is just waiting for you to willingly give him the pain, bitterness, and loss. From time to time, you’ll find that you’ve taken back one or more of the balloons, thinking they are your responsibility. When this happens, simply hand them back over to God, who will lovingly care for them and keep your heart and mind filled with peace as you continue to walk through the day to day, eventually arriving at a new – and more hopeful place.
8. Envision the future
One of the most comforting and helpful ideas I contemplated in therapy is that, although I had stopped being able to imagine my babies after years of failed treatment, God already held my little ones in his arms. He knew exactly what they looked like. The texture of his hair and the color of her eyes. The dimples of her cheeks and the sound of his cry. The thought that my babies were already in existence in God’s mind comforted me and helped to bridge the gap until they would be placed in my aching arms, finally an affirmative answer to so many years of earnest and desperate prayers. Have no doubt. Whether your baby is birthed from your womb or yours through the gift of surrogacy or adoption, God already knows her this very second that you are reading these words. He knows the exact moment when your prayers will be answered no longer “wait”, but “yes”. And he holds both you and your baby in the palm of his hand. Rest in the knowledge that the timing will be exactly as it should be and that – believe it or not – your infertility struggle will seem like a blip once you face the day to day blessings and challenges that come with being a parent.