Whether you grow your family through fertility treatment, surrogacy, adoption, or fostering, each path to parenthood requires an extraordinary amount of patience, adaptability, and a relinquishment of control. Here are ten helpful tips for those undergoing fertility treatment.
Skip to a specific section:
- Why We Crave Control During Infertility
- Get Support
- Ask for Help
- Practice Self Care
- Set Boundaries
- Do a Personal Check In
- Take a Break
- Look at the Big Picture
- Understand Your Treatment Plan
- Build Relationships with Your Care Team
- Make Honest Communication a Priority
- A Reminder from Dr. Cynthia Murdock
- Focus On What You CAN Control
Why We Crave Control During Infertility
The loss of control we feel during this complicated (and time-consuming) process cannot be understated. It can feel like your individual autonomy has flown straight out the window and even make you question your own sanity. Let’s explore why that is and what things you can control on your family-building journey.
Whether you have a Type A personality or not, it can be disconcerting to have plans constantly change, sometimes on a daily (or even hourly) basis. Knowing that these disruptions will give you the best chance of a successful outcome may be comforting, but it doesn’t alleviate the stress that arises when things shift around so frequently.
Why do we desire control in the process? For most patients, the subconscious belief is: If I can just be in control of this situation, I will have a successful outcome.
Accepting the Reality of the Situation
It seems simple enough - you want a family. It's a basic human instinct for many.
It's only natural to hope that if you just take the right steps, at the perfect time, with the best doctors, you will have a guaranteed successful outcome. We all hope - pray even - that if we’re in control of the process, we will reach our goals and avoid heartbreak.
But there are two important facts we need to accept in order to stay sane during the family-building process. Let's talk about what they are, and why they can be so challenging:
- The most difficult truth: There is no guarantee of success. Pause for a moment - breathe in, breathe out. We know this isn’t what any hopeful parent wants to hear. Even as fertility treatment success rates continue to increase each year, there will never be a 100% guarantee that it will work for every person. Let’s balance that out with an encouraging reminder: the majority of fertility patients will be successful!
- No matter how educated we become on the fertility treatment process, we (as patients) are not experts. We depend on our medical team's extensive training and experience to understand the complexities of fertility treatment and guide us towards success. But that of course takes things out of our hands again, diminishing that sense of control.
Keeping all of that in mind, let’s explore what you can control on your fertility journey!
How to Regain Control On a Fertility Journey
While there are plenty of things that feel outside your control right now, there are still a lot of things that you can take charge of during this process. So, even though you may still wish you had more control over all the pieces of this puzzle, these ten things are just as important, and contribute to increasing your chances of bringing home the sweet baby you dream of.
Did you know? Organizational psychologist Loran Nordgren’s research shows that focusing on invisible obstacles (removing emotional friction) can be more effective than pushing harder towards your end goal. Nordgren was interviewed on the Hidden Brain podcast, discussing how placing the emphasis on removing obstacles helps you face and conquer the seemingly immovable challenges in life.
Let’s apply this concept to your fertility journey and focus on some obstacles you can move:
#1 Get Support
A great way to do this is to speak to a fertility-focused counselor. Never seen a counselor or therapist before? Feel unsure if they can help you? Challenge yourself to make an appointment and go just once. See what it’s like, then decide if it’s right for you.
Illume Fertility can connect you with counselors like Melissa Kelleher, who specialize in helping guide fertility patients through the complex emotions surrounding fertility treatment.
You can also find solidarity by joining support groups here at Illume Fertility, or check out the groups offered by RESOLVE, Resolve New England, Yesh Tikva, Fertility Within Reach, or other fertility-focused organizations to connect with others who understand what you’re going through.
#2 Ask for Help
You don’t even have to share that you’re going through fertility challenges or treatment in order to reach out for help. Simply saying "I’m struggling with something that I’m not ready to talk about, but I could use some distraction or support" is enough.
Ask people you trust, and think about how you might respond if someone asked you for help. You’d likely be more than happy to support them - so allow others to do the same for you!
Some examples of what you might ask for:
- A coffee or tea date and a chat
- To go for a walk together
- Help with meals if you’re not up to cooking
- To go see a funny movie with them
Simply letting people know that you’re going through a hard time can be such a relief, as it allows you to take off your "I’m fine!" mask, which can be so exhausting to wear.
#3 Practice Self Care
Make sure you’re sleeping enough, eating enough, and pampering yourself when you can.
Self care looks different for everyone, but what’s important is prioritizing your physical and mental wellness to the best of your ability. This may even mean that you delegate some tasks or chores to other people in order to do more of the things that make you feel like you.
#4 Set Boundaries
It’s okay to create limits around what you’re willing to share about your fertility journey! If you’re letting people know that you’re struggling with something big, decide what you want to say and what you don’t. You can even write a script and practice it!
Here’s an example: "I’m not fine right now, but not ready to talk about it. I would love to talk about (insert favorite TV show, book, event, etc.) instead."
When you're asked about your family-building plans, have some responses ready, and use whichever ones feel right to you (it’s fine to use polite responses or even get a little snarky if that’s more your style):
- "As soon as there is anything to announce about a baby, I’ll let you know."
- "I’d really like to hear about how things are with you and your family!"
- "You’ve asked about this before and we can either talk about something else or the conversation is over."
- "I’m not open to talking about me/us having a child."
#5 Do a Personal Check In
Ask yourself: "How am I right now?" Take a deep breath when you feel the anxiety starting to rise. Keep a gratitude journal. Add 5-10 minutes of meditation to your day.
There are many ways to check in with yourself, but the most important part of this is that you’re allowing time for self-reflection and acknowledging your feelings.
#6 Take a Break
Do you feel like you have no choice but to keep trying, cycle after cycle? Are you sure that this is the best course of action for you? Don't be afraid to talk with your doctor and see if a short (or long) break might be in your best interest.
Although the desire to have a baby feels all-encompassing, many patients find (even though it feels counterintuitive) that taking a break can relieve a lot of pressure. Then, once you go back into treatment, you can re-enter feeling refreshed, with renewed hope and energy.
#7 Look at the Big Picture
My favorite three letter word is "yet."
Expanding your family has already taken longer than you’d like - that goes without saying. But it just hasn’t happened yet. Our founder and medical director Dr. Mark Leondires is famous for this quote: "Fertility treatment is a marathon, not a sprint."
That’s what it looks like to zoom out and look at the big picture. Knowing what the next steps are in your fertility treatment plan can also be comforting as you shift perspective.
#8 Understand Your Treatment Plan
Review all of the materials and information you’ve been given.
Have questions? Ask your Care Team now, before you’re in the thick of treatment. This will help to put aside some concerns or uncertainties. It can also be very helpful to keep a running list of questions for your doctor.
Join a support group and hear how this process has been for others so you have an idea of what to expect. Explore relevant, reliable research from organizations like the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) - but stay away from Dr. Google and anxiety-inducing internet "experts."
#9 Build Relationships with Your Care Team
Communicate regularly with your patient navigator and your fertility treatment team. Let them know how you’re doing and what concerns you have. They can care for you more effectively when they know what’s going on.
Regular communication can also prevent misunderstandings and create a foundation you can rely on throughout your journey.
#10 Make Honest Communication a Priority
If at all possible, don’t go this alone. It’s a lot to navigate!
If you have a partner, make sure you’re sharing your feelings and asking about theirs too. You may also want to set up time where you don’t talk about anything related to fertility treatment. If you don’t have a partner, consider opening up to other trusted friends or family.e
A Reminder from Dr. Cynthia Murdock
Loss of control is a constant struggle for those navigating infertility. We all want to feel in control of our lives, that’s a given. Loss of control can lead to increased anxiety as we feel unsure of what to expect on a day-to-day basis.
Just like when you’re sick and need the care of a professional, any sort of medical issue can lead to feeling like we're not in control. Even when we recognize that we can’t do it alone, it can be difficult to relinquish control and accept the help of another person.
Infertility is especially difficult. People who are trying to conceive are bombarded with messages centered around "taking charge of your fertility." Just take this vitamin, just eat this food, just use this ovulation predictor kit and you should get pregnant.
Then, when we don’t get pregnant easily, it often feels like we have failed...like our bodies have failed.
But infertility is one thing that can’t be solved by simply doing more or doing better. So sometimes we have to give ourselves a break and let go, accept that we won’t always have control during this process, and get the assistance we need to reach our goals.
Focus On What You CAN Control
After exploring the list of suggestions above, write down the ones that feel most helpful and try them out. You can also note any ideas you felt resistance to and try to understand why. Keep them all in your back pocket as possible tools.
Other ways to stay engaged throughout your fertility journey:
- Keep in mind that you have chosen your specific fertility clinic for a reason, and they are there to help you achieve your goals.
- Remember that timelines are not set in stone and set expectations accordingly.
- Ask for an overview of what to expect and refer to it as often as needed.
- Establish a good working relationship with your patient navigator.
- Trust your doctors and Care Team; that they are rooting for your success.
- Be sure to read emails and texts thoroughly, listen to any phone messages, and review all protocols and procedures provided by your fertility clinic.
- Plan ahead and ask questions, so things don’t feel urgent last minute.
Fertility treatment is a major life challenge. Acknowledge this, and give yourself a break!
You deserve support throughout this entire process. We are here to help, and have lots of resources you can explore at any point in your journey. Don’t hesitate to reach out for guidance or additional tools whenever you need. You've got this.
With 30+ years experience in the fertility field, as well as navigating her own infertility, Lisa has dedicated her life to advocating for and supporting those struggling to grow their families. Her work includes serving as Illume Fertility's Patient Advocate, Strategic Content Lead, and founder of Fertile Yoga, as well as advocating for those with infertility at RESOLVE and other organizations.