Tips for a Fertility Journey that Requires Medical Intervention - From a Couple of Women
I met Olivia through work and we formed a friendship. We connected our spouses and often spent time together as couples. We all knew we were on simultaneous and very different fertility journeys, which gave us an instant connection and common life situation to discuss. We cheered each other on and supported each other, and now we have the privilege of meeting up for play dates with our daughters who are 6 months apart in age.
Olivia and her wife Kate knew they wanted to have a child, so shortly after getting married they began their fertility journey. As a gay couple interested in pursuing biological children, their journey required medical intervention. They decided to begin their journey with Kate as she is older, but after nearly 2 years without success they shifted their focus to Olivia. With experience navigating two fertility journeys that required medical interventions, they look back and offer tips and recommendations to others heading down a fertility journey that requires medical intervention.
Olivia and Kate’s situation is somewhat unique. They each tried to have a biological child with the assistance of a sperm donor, although only Olivia was successful. Together they faced the frustration and disappointment of Kate’s journey, used those learnings to influence their choices for Olivia’s journey, and later celebrated in the joy of their positive outcome - becoming parents. Because Olivia and Kate navigated through two separate fertility journeys that both required medical intervention I asked them to reflect on their joint experience and share their tips and recommendations in hopes their learnings can help others on a medical fertility journey.
1. Seek out a center for reproductive medicine or a reproductive endocrinologist
- Find a clinic that specializes in reproductive medicine. They are focused on success rates, statistics, and the scientific approach to how they monitor and perform procedures. Many OB clinics perform IUIs; however, IUIs are often a capability, but not a specialty of the clinic. Olivia commented, “I see how it could be overwhelming in the beginning to go to a specialist… but with something as personal and nuanced as getting pregnant, it’s worth it.”
2. Do your research - Have a knowledge base
- Have infertility tests done, review the findings, and understand the medical interventions that are often performed to solve any known challenges.
- Understand your health insurance benefits. Find out if your plan has infertility coverage and if there is an annual or lifetime max amount. If you do have infertility benefits, research which procedures and clinics qualify for coverage. If you do not have coverage, connect with a financial advisor or accountant about the possibility of qualifying to write off medical expenses on your taxes.
- Research reproductive medicine clinics, reproductive endocrinologists and their success rates. Be informed, but try not to obsess over it.
- Talk to other people who have already been on a fertility journey that required medical intervention. Olivia explained, “It was incredibly helpful to hear how other couples navigated their journey. It also further opened our lines of communication as a couple.”
3. Set some parameters - Create a flexible roadmap
- Try to set some type of roadmap for your fertility journey. For example, agree as a couple that you are willing to try 4 IUI cycles and then you’ll check back in with each other to reevaluate and determine next steps. This stops you from having to decide what to do next all over again from month to month.
“A center for reproductive medicine is more inclined to do this [with you] because they are driven by their own statistics, which is nice because they want the same thing you want.” - Kate
- If the timeframe you create with your partner comes and goes without success, consider next steps. Try to think ahead and beyond what’s immediately in front of you about what you may be willing to do in the future.
“I feel like we put IVF off because it was so expensive but we paid for it three times over before we even got there.” - Olivia
- Leave your options open and reserve the right to change your mind.
4. Trust Yourself
- Try to trust yourself, don’t feel hesitant to question a recommended path.
- Get a second or third opinion until you feel comfortable with the recommendations from your reproductive doctors. If you aren’t confident with the care you have, seek alternate care.
- Remember, nobody knows what’s going to happen, just like you don’t know the future, neither do the doctors.
“The follicle growth with our last cycle was not advancing at the expected rate. The clinic recommended we terminate the cycle. We had already spent a lot of money that month to have the follicle monitored, so we chose to continue the cycle. Three days later the follicle matured and the cycle resulted in our baby.” - Kate
5. Be aware of your emotional threshold
- Take care of yourself.
- Seek out a therapist, a community of others on their journey to fertility, or compassionate friends to confide in. Allow yourself space to have and process your emotions. Remove yourself from situations that you don’t feel you can emotionally manage. Give yourself permission to miss that upcoming baby shower. Kate recalls, “You can reach a point where it is very difficult to watch other people be successful.”
- Pay attention to your partner’s needs and learn how you can support one another.
- Think about who you let into your fertility journey. Know yourself and understand if you’re a sharer or a more private person. If you’re not the kind of person that would share about a miscarriage, consider not sharing an early pregnancy.
“It’s common to get worn down - whether financially, emotionally, physically, or a combination of these three categories. Maybe that’s the problem from the beginning, you don’t know in advance where your mental threshold is, and it catches up with you in a weird way. I think you kind of wake up one day and you realize you’re past what is emotionally tolerable. It’s like a frog in boiling water, you don’t even realize you’re boiling.” - Kate
6. Don’t miss the forest for the trees
- When you’re feeling consumed and overwhelmed, try to step back and try to get a little perspective.
- Try to open yourself to other outcomes, know you may need to adjust your hopes and expectations, and keep an eye on the ultimate goal. “What you ultimately want is to be happy and live a happy life with your partner and be parents. But then, so many people through that journey will let their relationship completely erode because they are so singularly focused on becoming a parent. So then you’re actually harming your own chance of happiness because you’ve lost sight of your ultimate goal.” - Kate
7. Have other things
- Olivia said, “We got a puppy in the middle of it and it was a great decision.” Although adding a pet to your household may not be feasible or desired, Olivia’s message is a great one. Find other things that you enjoy and can focus on. Whether it’s traveling, working out, going to yoga, cooking, watching a TV series, or starting an adult coloring book, find something you can do that captures your attention, fills your soul and brings you joy.
“From the very beginning, I remember saying, I know that I will be a parent someday. I was a little attached to the biological thing, but that kind of went away when I remembered that what I really want is to be a parent. It might look different than you thought it would, and take longer, and cost more, but if your ultimate goal is to be a parent, there is likely a way.” - Kate