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.
No matter how you choose to grow your family, whether that's through fertility treatment, surrogacy, adoption, fostering or other means…each of these paths to parenthood have one thing in common: they all require us to be incredibly adaptable and patient throughout the entire journey - a difficult task when we’re yearning for a child.
The loss of control we feel during this often 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 some things you can control during your fertility 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 is comforting, but doesn’t alleviate the stress that arises when plans are changed so frequently.
Why do we want to be able to control the process?
We believe that if we are in control, we will have a successful outcome.
It seems simple enough - you want a family. It's a basic human instinct for many. It's only natural to wish that if you just take the correct 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 truths we need to accept in order to stay sane during the family-building process:
The most difficult truth to face? 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 soar each year, there will never be a 100% guarantee that it will work for every person. This is a painful truth. So 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.
Dr. Ilana Ressler explores the statistics:
Keeping all of that in mind, let’s explore what you can control during your fertility journey!
10 Things You Can Control On Your 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. Even though you may still wish you had more control over other pieces of this puzzle, these 10 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? Don’t know if they can help you? Challenge yourself to make an appointment and go just once. See what it’s like, and then decide if it’s right for you.
RMA of Connecticut offers dedicated fertility counselors Lisa Shuman and Melissa Kelleher who specialize in helping guide fertility patients through the complex emotions surrounding fertility treatment.
#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 help/distraction/support” is enough. Ask someone you trust, and think about how you might respond if someone asked you for help (you’d likely be happy to support them).
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.
Make sure you’re sleeping enough, eating enough, and pampering yourself when you can. Self care looks different for each person, but what’s important is that you prioritize 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.”
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 some time for self-reflection and acknowledging your feelings.
Start your own gratitude practice today!
#6 Take a Break
Do you feel like you have no choice but to do cycle after cycle? Are you sure that this is the best course of action for you? 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 have found (even though it feels counter intuitive) that taking a break can relieve a lot of pressure. Then, once you go back to treatment, you can re-enter feeling refreshed, with renewed hope.
#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 the materials and information you’ve been given. Have questions? Ask your Care Team now before you’re in the thick of treatment to put aside some worries, and 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.
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, open up to other trusted friends or family.
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 for you to try. Also note any suggestions 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 or contact person.
Trust your doctors and Care Team, and remember 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.
It’s true: 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.