A friend I haven’t heard from in about a year reached out last week. The last time we talked, she and her husband had been considering trying for a baby, but she had a diagnosis that would make it difficult (if not impossible) without IVF.
When she texted me out of the blue, she asked if there was a good time for us to talk. “What should I expect with in vitro?” she asked.
My friend wanted to know what she should be doing now to prepare for what was coming next.
She also wanted to know my advice for how to cope throughout the process.
This got me thinking about what advice I would give a woman who’s just getting started down the road of infertility treatments. Between me and a couple of infertility-survivor friends, we came up with some great tips.
Disclaimer: What works for one does not work for all. You do you, but just remember that a lot of these tips are pretty universal regardless of your personality type.
1. Tell people around you what you need.
Family/friends aren’t mind readers. You’ll save yourself a lot of resentment if you can be transparent with your needs.
Those needs will probably vary wildly depending on what stage of the process you’re in. But one common thread runs through them all: listening.
In the early stages, you’ll be apprehensive and nervous. You’ll want someone to listen to your fears and worries, and perhaps to help keep you distracted with fun activities to keep your mind off the uncertainty.
You might be grieving a failed treatment at some point along the way, and in those cases, you need a sounding board for your frustration and anger—someone who can empathize and not judge you if you get pissed at a friend’s pregnancy announcement or decline a baby shower invite. These are all perfectly normal reactions, and they’re OKAY. Your sounding board needs to “get” that.
On the other hand, sometimes what you really need is for a friend to keep their distance. Kim shared this about her IVF experience:
“A very good friend of mine was pregnant while I was going through treatments. It was too painful to hang out in person, so I was honest with her about that and thankfully, she was gracious and empathetic and we often emailed instead to stay in touch. 10 years later, we are still close friends and I will be forever thankful for her for taking the time to understand where I was coming from instead of writing me off as not being happy for her.”
2. Be selfish with your time.
Say no to anything you don’t want to do. Maybe even say no to some things that you want to do, but that will stretch your time too thin.
Decline extra work projects, hanging out with friends or people that don’t make your life better, and unnecessary to-do list items. Skip a family get-together (or two). Hire a cleaning service (bonus: supporting a local small business!).
This is not the time to take on a big DIY project, unless of course DIY projects are a mental escape for you and make you feel good.
When you’re deciding how to spend your time, remember: you’re paying a lot of money and going through a lot of strife to make this baby stuff happen. Your first priority is yourself and your own mental health.
3. See a therapist before you need one.
I can vouch for this fact: infertility consumes you. It’s nearly all you can think about, and at the most random moments, your mind will wander back to the topic, almost against your will. (My most embarrassing moment during infertility was when I misunderstood my aunt, and thought she was asking me a question about my IVF when she was really asking if I liked the deviled eggs at lunch. My face still gets hot just thinking about it.)
At times, I felt like I would explode if I didn’t talk to someone about what I was going through. My friends were uber-willing to listen, but I didn’t feel right taking them up on the offer, beyond a few cursory conversations.
I wanted someone who understood—someone who’d been in the trenches, with numb glute muscles from progesterone injections and mood swings from hormones. My fertile friends couldn’t fill that gap, no matter how much they wanted to.
This is where the therapist comes in. Knowing that you can talk to someone only about your own shit for an entire hour is a massive relief. The therapist doesn’t even need to specialize in infertility (though I would recommend a woman), but if you want one who doesn’t need much explanation, start here.
Lauren shared this:
“Go monthly at first for maintenance care, and bump it up to weekly while you’re deep in the throes of treatments. It was so beneficial to me. I also encourage counseling with your partner too. Research shows that one person is always a few steps ahead of the other. Having a third party help us work through that stuff was so helpful.”
If insurance makes a therapist impossible, look into Fruitful. They match women with “infertility mentors.” When you sign up, you provide information about your situation so they can match you with a woman who experienced the same issues! How cool is that?
4. Find a mentor.
Speaking of mentors, go find one.
In this case, “mentor” just means someone who’s been where you are.
I was lucky as hell to have more than one. My boss at the time was an IVF survivor herself, so when I had appointments and shots and medications, she was not only understanding of my need to be away from work, but also was a great sounding board for my questions and worries.
A second friend, Christina, was a huge cheerleader, and made it clear I could call, text, or email her anytime. She reminded me at key moments that if my instincts were telling me to do something, it was probably right. Her inspiration was the impetus for getting a third blood test when I was in the early days of Peanut’s pregnancy. The clinic had told me to come back in a week, but Christina urged me to advocate for myself. I did, and that was the blood test that revealed a strengthening pregnancy. It was the kick I needed to get through the holidays.
I had a friend as an “IVF mentor”, that had been through it successfully before that could provide support, answer questions and act as a sounding board.
Now, here’s the tricky part. 61% of women going through infertility don’t tell friends or family. So how can you find someone if you don’t know where to look?
If you’re unafraid to “out” yourself, post it on your Facebook wall. Something to the effect of, “I’m looking for someone who’s gone through infertility treatments.” Ask them to private message you, so their privacy is protected. You’re likely to discover infertility stories you didn’t even know existed.
5. Get regular massages.
My older sister doesn’t like massages. Can you believe that? She’s probably the only person I’ve ever heard of who doesn’t love the relaxation and tension relief that comes with a good massage. That, plus the many other benefits of massage, is why it’s great option for women going through the stress of infertility treatments.
Get monthly, or better yet, twice-a-month massages when you’re in the throes of treatment. When your calendar is full of appointments, medications, and procedures, having a bright spot on there gives you something positive to look forward to.
6. Think hard before you venture into the Facebook groups for infertiles.
There are myriad Facebook infertility support groups. I’m sure some women find them helpful, but I personally believe they have the potential to do more harm than good.
I see great value in these groups when you need empathy. When yet another 15-year-old cousin with a D-plus average and shitty life prospects gets pregnant without even trying, the Facebook group might be the right place to vent your anger and frustration (you better hope nobody you know is lurking in there, screen-shotting your rage and getting you in deep shit). The group will be able to understand the emotions you’re experiencing.
But what can end up happening in those groups is this: planting the seed of doubt, both in yourself and in your medical team.
Do you trust your doctors? Do you think they know what they’re doing, and that they’re current on the latest thinking in Assisted Reproductive Technology? If you answered yes, good job. If you answered no, GO GET A NEW DOCTOR.
Trust in your medical team is paramount, and if you are at all doubting them, going into these Facebook groups can easily make that doubt a million times worse. Just like most Facebook groups, there are strangers in there who care not a whit about you, and just want to be right. So if you share your protocol (the medications and doses your doctors have you taking), they’ll point out why it’s wrong, and tell you that you should be doing something else. Insistently.
The group members aren’t the same kind of “close” as your friends and loved ones. Not everyone is looking out for your best interests in there. Anyway, if you followed the steps above this one correctly and found yourself a mentor and a therapist, perhaps you won’t even feel the urge.
It also feeds the obsession (remember when I said it consumes you?). Having one more thing to occupy your thoughts with infertile-related topics isn’t always healthy.
During my own IVF cycles, it didn’t even occur to me to go online to find people (which is amazing since I am a huge lover of the old F-book). I needed only a few things to get through it: medical experts (✔️); someone who would listen and guide me as I yo-yo’d between extreme emotions (therapist,✔️); people I could ask when I had questions or needed advice (two mentors,✔️✔️). There was no gap left for randoms on Facebook to fill. And I count myself lucky for that.
All that said, I feel strongly that Facebook is a decent place to find local support. The key word here is local. You need to meet them in person, see them face to face. That’s the difference-maker. That’s what turns “online friends” into “real friends”—the kind who look out for you.
But if you’re truly struggling to find people to talk to, and a mentor, friend, and therapist are all not in the cards… Facebook isn’t the worst thing that could happen. I just happen to believe it’s not the best. But different strokes for different folks. 🙂
7. Tread carefully with the Googling.
Scouring the internet for information about your treatments isn’t super helpful. You’ll probably end up more freaked out and scared than you already are. It also breeds doubt in yourself and your doctors.
If you’re looking for tips, by all means, search them out. But be careful.
I tried googling to make myself feel better, and it didn’t go well. I remember looking at infertility blogs just after our fresh IVF transfer failed. I was trying to find a blogger in the same place as me: that angry, pissed-at-the-world stage where I fucking hated everything and everyone. I’d find a blog, scroll down to the latest entry, and see a happy, chubby infant.
“F*** you!” I’d mutter, closing the tab.
I gave up eventually.
There’s little to gain here. So just close the laptop and back slowly away.
(It’s ironic that I am advising to people that they avoid Google, when many of the people reading this blog probably found it… by Googling. Ha! I guess I think blogs are usually okay… it’s just the random forums and groups that can be really destructive.)
8. Get your feels out.
Start a blog. Start a journal. Do a bullet journal, whatever the hell that is. Write long-ass, bare-your-soul Facebook posts. Buy a small leather-bound book and fill up every single page. I don’t care how you do it, just GET IT ALL OUT.
It doesn’t have to be public, and you don’t even have to share it with anyone. But there’s a lot of empirical evidence supporting the fact that writing down or typing what you’re feeling will help you to process it in a healthier way.
This blog only exists because I needed an outlet while going through treatment. Frankly, it was either a blog or I was going to stab my dental hygienist. (Here’s my blog’s Genesis Story, if you’re curious). The same thing worked for Lauren:
“Journal or blog. Write all your feels. It doesn’t have to be on a public forum. Writing helped me so much. And what a gift I am able to give my daughter. She’ll inevitably resent me someday, but I will have blogs upon blogs that will remind her how much I wanted her. She’ll never have to question whether I love/wanted her.”
9. Treat your body like a temple.
Pretend your body is already pregnant. Do what you’d do if you were carrying a baby. Notice I did not say to sit on the couch and do nothing. Treating your body well also means moving it.
If that means prenatal yoga, then do some yoga. If that means continuing to exercise like you have been, then do that, too. Do not stop moving your body just because you’re scared. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I wish I had done this more, and not let the fear make my decisions for me.
Now that I’m working out six days a week, hard, I can clearly see the positive effect it has on my mood and my ability to handle stress.
Kim wishes she’d done this more:
“One thing that I would have done differently looking back was to get into yoga. I avoided pretty much all exercise because I was scared of hurting my chance of success (even though the doctors said it was fine). Yoga would have been awesome as a way to exercise and also gain some mindfulness.”
On the other hand, if your doctor recommends you lay off exercise (common during stimulation cycles, because your ovaries are blown up like balloons), then listen. Doctor knows best.
Many women find acupuncture to be both good for their mind and good for their body. (It wasn’t my thing, though.) Lauren had this to say about acupuncture:
“You can go for relaxation or to help with the IVF process. Seeing someone that is ABORM certified is important if you want someone that will help aid the IVF process. If an acupuncturist tries to offer you herbal supplements while you’re on stim meds or after your transfer, that is a huge red flag. Your RE trumps an acupuncturist. A smart one will never do anything to interfere with the stim process.”
10. Spend more time in your happy place.
Maybe it’s curled up with a good book. Maybe it’s hiking the trails in the woods. Maybe it’s Netflix bingeing from your La-Z-Boy. Whatever it is, do more of it.
“I also love to read, so that was my break from reality… always have a good book going.”
11. Do not turn your back on your friends.
I mentioned way up top that you should tell your friends what you need, even if that meant asking them to keep their distance. It may hurt, both for you and for the friend, but it won’t cause your friendship to go up in flames.
An unhinged abandonment of your friend, or freaking out on her? That most definitely will kill your friendship. So don’t do it. You will need these friends someday, hopefully someday very soon.
You will not be in this place forever. It feels that way right now, but you will come out the other side, probably with a baby of your own, in one way or another. Try to remember that.
Even if your friend circle includes a bunch of other women going through infertility, remember: you will all experience success on different timelines. You cannot drop them as soon as one of them gets pregnant before you.
“For me it was my fertility yoga girls. In fact, before them it was a Facebook group. And before them, it was a group of women I met through a Mind and Body workshop. I thrive on community and all those women played such amazing roles in my life during my years of infertility. While it was hard to see my FB group friends and M&B friends move on and have success, it’s been just as joyful to experience pregnancy and motherhood now with my fertility yoga pals.”
Before we go, one more piece of wisdom, which is good to remember when you’re at Step Zero:
“When it’s all over, and you hopefully are holding that sweet baby, find ways to give back to the Universe. I’m continually humbled by those who loved us so fiercely through our stuff. I will spend the rest of my life finding ways to give back.”