As a teacher, I recently did an activity with a group of sophomores in which the students reflected upon their past year and came up with advice about what they wish they had known as freshman. They had to narrow the list down to the top 10 pieces of advice and later this month they will have an opportunity to share this advice with younger students. I was a little unsure about this activity but my student’s answers were fresh, inspiring, honest and sparked an idea for me to reflect on what I wish I knew when I started this journey of creating a family.
My first attempt to “talk” with my newly trying-to-conceive self was a sarcastic, self-pitying endeavor with answers like “it will be miserable” and “you’ll still be trying years later” or “you’ll lose hope so many times you shouldn’t get yourself excited about having kids at all.” When I looked at my pessimistic disaster, I realized I wasn’t honoring my true inspiration, my students and their honesty, so I decided to reflect in the spirit that my students did, not one of negativity but truly what would have been helpful to know (with the key word being helpful!) When I looked hard enough, there was a lot of positive to discover in the cracks between the rough patches.
After several metaphorical balling up and tossing of ridiculous ideas, I came up with this list of things that I my 3 year veteran trying-to-conceive self would tell my “freshman” just starting to try to make a baby self:
1. You are stronger than you realize and you will be able to endure everything that comes your way. The level of disappointment you will have to endure is much deeper than you realize but because you are so strong, this journey is not as scary as you think it can be.
2. Rely and lean on your supports both real and online from the start. The level of care they show will never cease to amaze you and fill your heart with joy, especially during the roughest moments. (Note: I tried to be independently strong for so long which was very challenging and completely unnecessary.)
3. It’s faster to get back to a happy place after disappointment if you just let yourself be sad for a little while. (Note: I spent too many days trying to make myself happy when I just need some time to mourn what I wish could have been each month.)
4. Pain changes. Don’t be anxious as you go through different stages. The sadness you feel at 3 years will not be anything like what you feel at 1.5 years but you can handle all of it.
5. Hope is an amazing source of joy when life is hits the darkest moments. Instead of assuming that things won’t work in order to temper your disappointment, let hope give you the strength to go on. If things fail, then let hope take over again. And again. And again.
6. Pinning inspiration about infertility on Pinterest is a fabulous way to stay positive and keep the faith. (Note: Check out my infertility Pinterest board here.)
7. Some people in real life and online will not understand. This doesn’t devalue the majority of people who provide an amazing source of support. Learn who to lean on when times are hard and who to just have fun with on the good days.
8. Focus on hobbies, travel, gardening, and anything in your future except for getting pregnant. (Note: I spent too many years putting my life on hold only to realize that life had me on hold.)
9. The things that are scary and seem like a big deal are really not as big of a deal as you think. HSG’s are quick and if painful, it only lasts for a few minutes. Giving yourself shots is much less difficult then it seems. The side effects from fertility medications are unpleasant but bearable. Egg retrieval is an easy process despite anesthesia. IVF is not as overwhelming as it looks on paper. You can do this.
10. Have a “lift me up” mix on your iPod to get through those moments when you have to pull it together after getting yet more disappointing news. For example, when the doctor calls to tell you that your IVF cycle is canceled because your blood work showed that body didn’t respond well but you have a class to teach in 10 minutes, a lift me up mix or ritual that helps you get yourself together can work like a charm (Note: It’s also perfectly okay to cry in the bathroom and have someone cover for too.)
What do you wish you knew before you embarked on your journey of loss or infertility? What would you tell “freshman” who are just starting out on this journey or just discovering that they will have trouble conceiving?