Just before my daughter unexpectedly died from a heart virus, my husband and I held a family meeting in which we discussed the possibility of adding one more child to our family. I remember so clearly my daughter saying to me, “Mom go for it, I’ll support you.” A year after her death, my husband came to me and said, let’s go ahead and try again for that late in life baby. And so, “we went for it” and started down the road of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Our doctor suggested IVF because of our ages. I remember our first visit to the fertility clinic when the nurse discretely asked my husband what color his hair was before it turned grey…everyone chuckled. But I digress. Unfortunately, we did not do our homework and didn’t realize that a low percentage of couples in mid-life who embark upon fertility treatments get pregnant.
After two and a half years of anxiety, emotional highs and lows, successes and failures, and pushing my body to its physical and emotional limits, I learned much invaluable information. I offer the below as an introduction to anyone going through this process.
Before you embark on an IVF cycle, or other infertility treatment, be sure to address the following:
1. Have a family meeting. Use this time to communicate the impact a new family member will have on your inner unit.
2. Discuss with your partner and other family members the efficacy of the process. Be sure to tap on the topic of possible symptoms and side effects.
3. Speak to a relationship counselor or social worker to assess if your marriage is strong enough to handle the stress of infertility. It’s important to know that the hormones used in fertility treatments, which increase egg production and regulate egg delivery, can put you on an emotional and physical roller coaster.
4. Research the success rates for couples facing similar fertility problems and are of the same age and health. This can help set realistic expectations.
5. Reach out to couples going through the fertility process. Listen to their stories and realistically determine if you and your mate are willing to travel that road.
6. Create a support network from the couples you reach out to, forming an outer family that can help you know what to expect. This group can also give you feedback and ideas on how to deal with your feelings and mentally prepare for IVF. Meditation and exercise are two wonderful mechanisms that offer coping skills. To acquire additional coping mechanisms, seek out a counselor who can help you create strategies to recognize, acknowledge, and manage your anxiety. Fertility can place a tremendous emotional strain on you and your partner. And if your marriage is fragile to begin with, the strain can break it.
7. Get a complete medical and psychological work up. This will help you to decide if your body and mind can sustain the potential hormonal effects of the treatment.
8. Keep the romance alive. (Yes, you’ll have to work at it.) Embarrassment, ego deflation, and emotional discomfort are a big part of fertility, as it includes the complete exposure of the most personal details of your sexuality and relationship. This can, but doesn’t have to, take the spontaneity and romance out of the most intimate moments of your relationship. It is here that date nights, renewing your vows, love letters, and empathic communication can help you bond as a couple.
9. Anticipate potential problems and plan ahead. Knowledge is power! By knowing what bumps you will encounter along the way, you can create strategies in advance, navigating any obstacles in the best possible way. Additionally, confront conflicts ahead of time and discuss each other’s needs.
10. Answer the questions that fall in the domain of physical, emotional, moral, and religious implications. For example, you and your partner may need to make decisions regarding your embryo(s), the number of embryos to transfer, what to do with those that are not, and what happens with multiple babies or extra embryos.
11. Talk about other family-building options, such as surrogacy and adoption. If after researching all of your options you feel incapable of going through the physical process, you and your mate should explore surrogacy and adoption- both incredible family-building options.
It is important to know the facts of fertility, understand the processes of assisted reproduction, and deliberately practice the empathic process with your partner. Once you’re set on these fronts, your fertility experience can be a healthy foundation and preparation for parenthood.
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