I’ve been thinking lately about either the things I wish I knew about infertility, or ART, or parenting or things that I did know that came in handy for knowing them. Most times I learned them the hard way, but some were passed on to me by others before me. I want to jot them down to remember them and perhaps they will be helpful to someone else.
- Infertility is not a death sentence although it will feel like the death of a dream when newly diagnosed. It is important to understand one’s particular medical situation (even if that is ‘unexplained’) and work with an RE that is in partnership with you. There were plenty of times that I wanted to switch clinics (mine does not have stellar published success rates) but I continued with my RE because I believed he was invested in a positive outcome, was willing to work with me in terms of tweaking my protocols when I wanted to try something that he thought might also have validity, and was also willing to work with us financially by discounting cycles, giving me free meds, and discounting procedures. All of the concessions allowed us to continue cycling and made me want to return when domestic adoption didn’t pan out for us. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
- Other than picking an RE and perhaps incorporating ideas for a cycle, you have no control of the outcome. NONE. It is, possibly, one of the most difficult aspects of ART. You have no control over infertility and then no control over how a cycle progresses. Any semblance or exertion of control is an illusion. The sooner you accept that, the better for your psyche all the way around.
- You will be OK regardless of the outcome. Of course, that seems easy for me to say having had the successes I have*. That said, in reflecting on my journey, what I couldn’t have known then but do know now, is that I would have been OK even if this cycle hadn’t worked. There is a process of letting go and coming to terms that happens throughout one’s journey. When one is in the throes of cycling or planning to cycle or planning next steps, it is impossible to believe that you could be OK even if you don’t have the success you are seeking. It is what propels us to continue. I think of the cumulative toll that continuing down the path took on me, my family, my husband, our finances and, while of course I feel it was worth it, so much of my pursuit was fear of who I would be or what would become of me if I wasn’t successful. And, now I know I would have been OK. There would have been dark times and it would not have been easy, but I would have survived my infertility and inability to have a second child. *I say this having had one child. I am not sure what my process would have been had we not had any success.
- Pregnancy is a finite period in one’s life. When it is hard fought, it is easier to be wracked by constant worry and ‘what ifs’. Other than diet, exercise, and other common sense practices, how one’s pregnancy progresses is also out of one’s control. There are many things you cannot predict or prevent. Be prudent, of course, but be happy and joyful and grateful. You can’t capture those states about your pregnancy when you are no longer pregnant. And, take pictures of yourself pregnant, even if you never show them to another living soul, especially if this is your only pregnancy. You will easily forget what you were like and having those images will be invaluable.
- Have a flexible birth plan. This was never an issue for me as I always knew my deliveries would be c-sections. But, I have had many friends, with very specific plans for birthing their child who never consider ed the alternatives enough so that, when one of them comes to fruition and blows their plan up, they carry around a feeling of failure and bitterness that things didn’t unfold as they wanted them to. The safe and healthy arrival of one’s child is THE most important thing. Having a degree of flexibility will go a long way to making the experience a happy one even when it doesn’t go as planned. The same holds true for breastfeeding which is FAR harder than you imagine it will be.
- If you plan to breast feed make sure you have nipple cream, breast pads, nursing bras and nursing tops. You don’t need many, but you do need a few.
- Discuss child care responsibilities and household division of labor with your husband BEFORE the baby is born. It seems that even if couples discuss how many children they’d like to have, which religion they’ll be raised in, and even discipline styles, they seldom discuss what their lives will look like once baby arrives. Sure, there are unknowns, but there are a LOT of knowns that you are better off negotiating prior to being in the throes of sleep deprivation. How will you handle feeding the baby? If you exclusively breast feed, how will daddy get bonding time with baby? Can you both be counted on to change diapers? Put baby down for naps? And what about managing the rest of the household chores? Who will do laundry? Go grocery shopping? Feed the pet(s)? Prepare meals? Without having a discussion surrounding expectations in these and other areas, more than 9 times out of 10, the expectation is that mommy will do it or it will go undone. I find that unfair and unacceptable. When a couple decides to have a child they both become parents and the nature of their relationship with each other and their previous lifestyle changes.
- Buy used baby gear. Bouncy chairs, bassinets, swings, infant car carriers, activity mats, etc, are barely used for a few months. With my first, we bought everything new. I didn’t have any mom friends with hand-me-downs, nor did I ‘trust’ craigslist. When I did finally join a couple of local on-line parenting groups, I quickly found out how much I would have saved buying gently used items. With baby boy #2, his bouncy chair, swing, and exersaucer were all donated to me by another mom who maybe used each for 5 months. I bought his unexpired car set from another mom for $50 instead of the $150 it would have been new. You can even buy an almost new Petunia Picklebottom diaper bag at a huge savings by getting it from another mother.
- If you are a Type A personality, decide in advance what things you can live without doing and if you can’t live without doing them, see if they can be outsourced during the first 3 months post-partum. Given that we have no family to rely on, I wish I had hired any one of a number of people: night nurse, post-partum doula, mother’s helper. It would have made these early weeks easier all the way around and would have been money very well spent. On that note, and especially if this is a first child and you intend to breast feed, line up a lactation consultant to come one week post-partum. Their expertise will be invaluable, trust me.
- Have someone line up meal support for you for the first month post-partum. There are many free on-line sites, but I used http://www.mealtrain.com/ and gave all the info, including the participant list, to a friend to send out PRIOR to giving birth. I opted to have 3 meals delivered each week, assuming at least a day in between for left overs, but twice a week would have sufficed. Baby boy will be 5 weeks tomorrow and we have 3 more meals coming. Best thing EVER! And, local friends and family want to DO something to help and this is one concrete and specific way that they can.
- No matter what state you or your house are in, pre-plan to have visitors every week. I recommend these be your closest friends, those who you know won’t judge you, but having the company and an extra set of hands is immensely helpful. Decide in advance how you’d like them to spend their time with you (take out the trash? pop in some laundry? walk the dog? hold baby so you can shower/brush teeth/nap/pump/etc?) People want to help, let them. And, their offers will wane as your baby leaves the newborn stage so take advantage early on.
- Get some resource books on breastfeeding, parenting a newborn, etc. You will wish you had them once you are home with baby.
- Brush your teeth, wash your face (even if you don’t shower), and put on clean clothes every day. This will lift your spirits and make you feel like a part of the human race.
- Spend time with your newborn. Hold, cuddle, breast feed, marvel, and otherwise love them up. It is so cliche to say, but they change so quickly, fast becoming the person they are meant to be. I was looking at pictures of baby boy #2 in the hospital and now, a mere five weeks later, he barely resembles that newborn. I have taken a step back and even though I have things to do, instead of pumping, I now do one or two extra breastfeeding sessions just to be close to him and have him close to me. I have taken more pictures of him on a boob, just to have, than I ever did with son #1. Those pictures will be so sweet to have in a few years when baby boy #2 is telling me to leave him alone and not to go into his room.
- Be kind. Be kind to yourself, to your spouse, to other children (if you have them), and to those who are trying to help (even if they aren’t actually helping). Leading with kindness will set the tone for a happy home, something newborns are acutely aware of.
“Mentor: Someone whose hindsight can become your foresight.”