Having spent the last 15 years working in assisted reproduction, I must have spoken to thousands of patients battling infertility. From experience, I know this is the hardest holiday to endure on the infertility calendar. I wanted to write this blog in the hope that in some way it helps at this difficult time of the year.
Firstly, the infertility calendar is no myth! If you are suffering with infertility then you know time becomes the most important factor in your life! It starts with tracking periods and ovulation, then comes the Drs appointments, then the medication and then treatment dates.
It doesn’t stop there, if you are going through IVF, the red pen comes out and dates get circled. Egg collection day is HUGE, you pray your ovaries have responded to stimulation. If that goes well, the next few days are fraught as you hope your eggs fertilize. The next looming date is embryo transfer day. Then the next 14 days drag as you wait to take the all- important pregnancy test. The longing to see a positive result is unbearable, but it does happen!
As you are aware, this process is exhausting mentally, emotionally and physically. And the icing on the cake is that you will probably go through this process more than once. To fail an IVF cycle is devastating. You try to think positive, so much so that you convince yourself that it MUST have worked. So, when that embryo fails to implant, it is soul destroying.
Positive from a negative
There is a really important factor to a failed IVF cycle and it’s a positive one. You don’t want to hear this at the time, but a failed cycle is a great diagnostic tool for your fertility Doctor. They can tailor treatment based on the protocol that didn’t work, and really do want to get it right on your next round.
So, your year is already focussed on treatment and all-important dates in your fertility year. But life goes on for the rest of the world and there are the dreaded special days. In the UK, it starts in March with Mother’s Day. Wherever you go, you will have advertising thrown in your face. And it is painful.
Next up is Easter. Again, the media portray family get togethers and cute kids on the egg hunt. You can’t escape it and will go along to the family dinner and see the nieces and nephews and put on your brave face.
In the US, Mother’s Day is in May. It’s incredibly unfair and you feel like everyone except you is celebrating this gift of motherhood that you are being cruelly denied. A matter of weeks later, it is Father’s Day in June. It is just as painful for the men, and they are more likely to hide those feelings.
The big one
You get a few months reprieve from public holidays, but in the US, Thanksgiving is at the end of November. Another month of TV advertising and getting together with your loved ones. More brave faces are required and dodging the question of when you will have a family.
There is no let up after Thanksgiving, it is straight into Christmas. And this one is the toughest. It’s the celebration of a baby, the only thing you want to celebrate, but it should be yours! Everyone talks of Christmas miracles, even if you aren’t religious, you will pray.
Most people are now leaving the office and heading home to relax and recharge. It’s important that you also take this time to recharge. Your mind and body need rest, comfort and some long overdue TLC. You may be dreading the festive period, but use this time to focus and make a plan for 2020.
So, here is my survival guide to get through the holidays
Have you told your friends and family about your struggle to conceive?
You might feel uncomfortable with this, but if people know they will support you. You don’t have to make a speech over Christmas dinner, but maybe have a quiet word beforehand. If it is easier over the phone, ring your relatives ahead of the gathering and just give them the heads up. It saves the heartache when someone has too much wine and starts talking about your fertility!
Infertility is a complex condition. There is so much information to absorb. If you are under 35 and have tried for more than 12 months, GET HELP! If you are over 35 and have tried for more than 6 months, GET HELP! Once you have a diagnosis, act quickly. The younger you are the better your chance of success. The longer you delay treatment the harder it will be to achieve success.
Spend a day planning your budget
Take time with your partner to look at your finances and be realistic about how much you can afford to spend on treatment. Don’t over commit. If you are borrowing against your home, using a credit card or getting a loan, make sure the repayments are achievable. When you are successful, babies are expensive!
Think outside the box
Once you have a budget in mind, shop around for the right clinic that suits your budget. It’s a fine art to research the right clinic for you. Don’t be afraid to travel for treatment. It is possible to plan a holiday that combines IVF. You will be surprised that you can get flights, accommodation and treatment for LESS than having treatment at home!
Don’t let price be your only motivation to choose a clinic, if treatment costs are low, chances are so are the success rates! Try to find some middle ground, ideally you want good success rates and a reasonable price.
It is easier said than done, but stress has such a negative impact on your body and your reproductive health. Use the holidays to unwind, read, walk, sleep and eat healthy. It’s a time for over-indulgence, but alcohol will affect your mood and can leave you feeling flat and despondent. Remember when you are trying to conceive, moderation is key!
Reconnect with your partner
When you are trying for a baby, the romance of love making gets lost. Christmas is a special time to celebrate your loved one, make sure you enjoy some romantic dates and some real quality time together.
Remember you are not alone
Infertility currently affects 1 in 8 couples worldwide. By 2025, the prediction is that 7.7 million people will suffer with infertility. There is a lot of support forums to talk to other couples. Reach out, you will feel better talking to other people in your position. You can also talk to us here at The Fertility Hub in complete confidence.
Infertility does not define YOU
The condition can be all consuming, but don’t let it take over. I have spoken to many women who can’t face the supermarket because they see too many babies and children. If you are struggling with social situations, then look into counselling. A lot of clinics have trained counsellors on staff to help you cope with the negative emotions of infertility.
Make your 2020 plan
Making a plan empowers you! You will feel so much better when you have a clear plan of action. Be positive, you’ve got this and remember, when you are going through hell – keep going!
Whether you love or hate the word journey, I think it really does apply to fertility. It’s a rocky road with many bumps and pitfalls, but the reward is worth it! The cover of my workbook says, “The first step is to take one.”
That is my daily motivation and I hope it’s yours to get through the festive period.
I wish you a peaceful and pleasant Christmas, come on 2020, let’s be having you!
Veronica Montgomery, Clinic and Patient Liaison Consultant
The Fertility Hub