Infertility is a horrible experience for everyone. But there is an opportunity for personal growth hidden in it. How you choose to cope with infertility can make you mentally stronger, more empathetic and can even strengthen your marriage.
Being infertile can be stressful - and so can being an infertility specialist ! The infertile patients who get pregnant move on to their obstetrician and then their pediatrician - but the ones who don't get pregnant come back again with loads of questions! Patients need a shoulder to cry on, and I am happy to provide this, but often there are so many questions , and very few answers.
- Why did the cycle fail ?
- What do I do next ?
- How many embryos should I transfer ?
- Should I do another cycle or should I adopt ?
Have Realistic Expectations
Unfortunately, we can only explain about one-third of things which happen ; one-third is educated guessing; and about one third we have no idea and can't explain why it happened. It's not much fun not having the answers, but this can be a humbling experience ! This is why I prefer treating well-informed patients, who have realistic expectations of what we can do - and what we can't !
As a doctor, I am the "expert" , and it's very tempting to tell patients what to do - to provide all the answers. In fact, many patients expect this, and are quite upset when I refuse to tell them what to do next. I ask them to decide for themselves, since I believe in non-directive counseling . I feel I need to empower my patients , so they can make their own decisions for themselves ! I promise them I will never let them make a wrong decision, but when there are choices, they need to decide for themselves.
This is why I read extensively, and I especially enjoy reading books written by infertile patients, in which authors use their personal experience to teach other infertile couples how to cope. A very useful book I read recently was the " Infertility Survival Handbook - Everything you never thought you'd need to know " , by Elizabeth Falker , a lawyer who has "been there, done that".
She has three extremely clever rules which I think are well worth repeating
Rule One: The Clean Slate Rule which states, Start with a clean slate , whenever possible . Infertility treatment is a process - and it can be a very long process . It's a war, not just a battle, which means every new attempt is a fresh attempt, and a new chance at success.
The good news is that failed attempts do not harm you - except for the damage they cause to your psyche and your wallet ! They can actually make you even stronger and better prepared. This means that every time you start a new cycle, it's best to wipe the slate clean and pretend you're starting from scratch. As Scarlett O'Hara said in Gone With the Wind, "Tomorrow is another day " !
Rule Two: The Infertility Roller Coaster is horrible for everyone .
- Everyone has bad days .
- This stuff is really hard for everyone to deal with .
- For every bad day , there is a day that will be better .
It's helpful to create a " care package " for yourself , so that on the days when you're really feeling down and everything seems to be going wrong , you can pamper yourself . Dealing with infertility will teach you how resilient you really are , and how much adversity the human spirit can learn to deal with.
Rule Three: Treating infertility is like peeling an onion . There are a lot of layers - and nothing ever seems to be straightforward . You fix one problem , and then you discover another ; you do 2 IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) cycles and then you need to have surgery to remove a polyp; you get pregnant , and then you miscarry . It seems like you take two steps forward and then three steps back. You just have to keep peeling the layers away until you eventually reach your goal - and just like peeling an onion will make you cry , so will being infertile.
The final chapter " Making your infertility work for you - yes , infertility can be a good thing .. " is one which is full of hope. Infertility causes anger, hurt and confusion, but also offers the greatest potential for growth . This experience will change your life - and whether it changes it for the better is upto you. As Elizabeth Falker ends, " I'm infertile ! This is who I am. This is my blessing. "
A Life-Changing Experience
Living through infertility can be hard, but the experience can be life-changing. While some couples become bitter and unhappy because of all the struggle and stress they have to go through, and complain that life is unfair, others become much kinder , nicer better people , who are much more empathetic, because they have been through pain and suffering themselves. Similarly, while some marriages buckle down under the stress of infertility, others become much stronger and sturdier.
Read more- Bouncing back after a failed IVF cycle
Life chooses unusual ways to teach us its lessons - and for many infertile couples, the lessons infertility can teach are priceless. If you can cope with living through infertility, you'll find it much easier to deal with any of the other "slings and arrows" life can throw at you - and you'll find that dealing with them is now a peace of cake !
I agree this is hard-earned wisdom, and I wish there was an easier way to learn this, but that's the way life is - most of us learn only from adversity. Life only teaches us its most important lessons from the difficult times we go through - which is when we discover our inner strengths, tap into our hidden resources, and find out who our real friends are.