During the first week in December, my son will celebrate his sixth birthday.
I truly can’t believe this. As he has passed through every milestone of early childhood – rolling over, first steps, first words, first day of preschool — and now we are in the era of kindergarten, parent-teacher conferences and drop-off birthday parties — I am truly amazed at the passage of time.
On the one hand, it seems like yesterday that he was born but on the other hand it seems a lifetime ago. My life is miles away from what it was before he came into it. It goes quickly and slowly at the same time.
Even so, I still regard my fertility journey as one of the most transformational times in my life.
So what exactly did I learn on this journey to make it so transformational? What are the lessons from my experience trying to conceive that are still serving me today even though I have my family?
Our bodies are amazing. When I first started trying to conceive, I was almost 42 years old and didn’t know anything about how my body worked. I knew I was getting regular periods and knew generally how long my cycles were, but I had no understanding of what was happening in my body in between my periods. I had never been taught that.
It was my journey through fertility that gave me the impetus to start learning about my cycles, and this knowledge was incredibly empowering. Learning about the delicate dance of hormones that takes place each and every single month in a woman’s body while she’s in her reproductive years, and knowing that in most cases it happens like clockwork, is truly breathtaking.
Men’s bodies are amazing too. Men have their own cycle during their reproductive years, culminating with the production of new sperm, approximately every 90 days.
The male and female reproductive systems are their own incredibly engineered machines – a product of nature that function better than anything that the most skilled of scientists could have invented. This is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Faith will guide us through any adversity. The fertility journey is definitely fraught with adversity. It doesn’t matter if your journey is relatively short like mine was or if you have grappled with fertility challenges for years. Any struggle involved in building your family is valid and real, and ranks right up there as one of the most significant, painful struggles of your life.
This is because fertility struggles get at us right at our core, our very essence, the seat our womanhood (or manhood, in the case of male-factor infertility). It’s deeply personal, highly charged and very emotional.
When we’re embroiled in a struggle like that, we often learn how to tap into the power of unwavering faith to help us get through it. While this could be faith in the religious sense, but I mean it in a broader sense – an innate knowing and trust that everything will work out just as it’s meant to in terms of a higher good.
For you on a fertility journey, this means knowing that somehow, some way, you will be a mother and have the family you dream of. It might come about in a different way than you originally imagined, and we are fortunate to live in a time where we have more options to build our family than just a generation ago when IVF wasn’t as widespread as it is today.
It’s true that cultivating that faith and trust is not easy. It takes strength and often a lot of pain to get there, but once you do you can find the faith and trust to get you through anything in your life, from getting a new job, to leaving a relationship that is no longer good for you, to dealing with grief.
It’s important to ask for support when you need it, and you’ll usually get it. This one was really big for me, and to be honest, I’m still learning it. However, my journey through fertility helped me make great strides in seeking out support from others.
Going through infertility is already a very isolating experience. We know the statistics, and we intellectually know that we are not alone, that infertility affects women and couples all over the world. We know this.
But it doesn’t change how we feel. We feel alone. We feel like the only people going through it. Whether or not you’re comfortable sharing in support groups or even if you can connect with just one other person who “gets” you, the support will help you on your path.
It’s important to get the practice in seeking out support now, because you’ll need it when you have your baby. Being a mom can also be very lonely and isolating. It really does take a village, as they say, and you’ll need to build your village, especially if you don’t have any family support where you life. You’ll need that village to help you when you need it, like when you’re not able to break away from an important meeting at work to pick your kid up at school, or when your babysitter cancels at the last minute.
There aren’t many absolutes in life, but one of them is that there will be times you’ll need to call upon your village for help with something related to your child. There’s no time like when you’re still building your family to get used to asking for help and support. And your village will be there for you, just as you are there for them.
Believing you can do anything is more than half the battle. One lesson that surprised me from my fertility journey is that our minds have incredible power. I’d been through having goals and having confidence to achieve them – I’d earned coveted jobs and promotions, I’d run two marathons, I’d learned how to speak foreign languages.
But confidence isn’t the same as inner trust and belief, and professional and personal accomplishments aren’t the same as having a baby. A lot of the inner trust comes from self-love; that’s not the same as confidence either, and I didn’t have any of that at all.
About eight months after I started trying to conceive, I was on an imposed break from fertility treatment and during that time I reflected on my journey thus far. I was eating the “right” foods, doing yoga and taking care of myself, so why wasn’t I pregnant yet?
It came as a huge shock to me that even though I was waxing positive on my journey due to all the “right” things I was doing, I didn’t believe in my heart that I would have a baby. Deep down I was telling myself that I was too old, and these negative messages were sabotaging me. I knew that I needed to work on changing this mindset if I was going to have any chance at all of achieving my motherhood dream.
I had a lot of obstacles stacked against me, and my mindset was the biggest one. I could change that and still have a slim chance at having a baby due to physical and age limitations, but without a healthy mindset, I had no chance at all. Zero.
This is related to the faith and trust, and it’s hard to cultivate, but believing in your heart that you can do whatever it is you want – having a baby or something else – is the most valuable form of self love that there is.
Being your own best advocate will get you what you want. This is a big one for a lot of women. We women are socialized to do as we’re told, to not rock the boat or make waves. We’re trained from a very young age to be “good girls,” to accept authority, to not challenge the status quo.
On a fertility journey, or I would argue anything medical, we need to stand up for what we believe is right for us. Based on my age and my medical test results, my doctor recommended that IVF would be my best chance at having a baby. My intuition told me that that wasn’t the right path for me, and I asked to try intrauterine insemination first. I got pregnant from an IUI procedure that I never would have had if I hadn’t advocated for myself.
We need to recognize that we need to be partners in our care, and not simply recipients of care. We know ourselves better than anyone else, and this intimate knowledge of our selves and our bodies, coupled with our doctor’s medical expertise, is the one-two punch that will get us the care we need and deserve. You and your doctor can be an amazing team.
It’s not easy to be your own advocate. It takes time, effort, research, self-study, and commitment. It’s also easier to accept what you’re being told without really having an idea what’s right for you.
But it’s worth it, and in the process of learning how to advocate yourself, you develop the inner trust and confidence you need. And this will serve you in all areas of your life.
I’m not the same person I was when I was trying to have a baby back in 2012, and not just because I have a baby today. My life is light years from what it was then because of the lessons I learned from that journey. Today I’m more inclined now to look within when solving problems. I’m more inclined to do research and educate myself on issues. I ask questions and speak up when something doesn’t seem right to me. I trust my own knowledge, and my own power.
This is what my fertility journey taught me.
What is yours teaching you?
This post is also available in: Arabic