As if the inability to conceive isn't bad enough, two of the most frustrating aspects of infertility are not knowing what will work or how many times you'll go through treatments and procedures. You can inquire, study, research and talk endlessly, but in the end you take an informed guess and do a lot of wishing or praying that it's worth the gamble. You take that leap forward according to how desperately you want a child of your own. To a large extent your decision is influenced by the optimism, experience, reputation or success of your doctor. Sometimes you take that scary step because it worked for someone else and you want what they have. Sometimes you have no idea what else to do.
When I was being treated, I wanted desperately for the doctor to tell me that something would almost certainly work. Had I not found a gentle, patient, well-respected doctor by chance, I would probably have been gullible to any passing medicine man with a potion in his pocket. When anyone asked me what I would do if treatment didn't work, I told them "I can't go there." As the door to my fertility began to close, we never considered the possibility of egg donation or adoption.
I willed myself to believe that I would get a result with medical intervention. I thought of the "what ifs" a lot, but wouldn't admit it to others. When I suppressed my worries, they came out in rather anti-social ways. I must have been a nightmare to live with, making rules that everyone had to follow; who could be told, what they could be told, when and how. I didn't see then that in having a high expectation of success, I didn't consider making a Plan B.
My window of opportunity to have children seemed nearly closed even before I walked through the doctor’s office door. I started trying to "make a baby" at 36, so with 3 miscarriages in little more than a year, the pressure was on. By refusing to consider alternatives to having a genetic child, it had to be this time, each time. This kind of attitude sets you up for disappointment: the higher the expectation, the harder the mental adjustment and the more painful the hurt. I wish that I had handled it differently, and saved myself and my husband some of the emotional ups and downs.
It’s sensible to plan alternative routes to get the result you want. It felt disloyal somehow; to the babies I wanted, to myself, my body, my husband and our dreams to consider otherwise. People can experience infertility differently now, with more information, more resources, more support. I specialize in coaching people whose infertility is threatening their dream of a family. I know that I can help those people restore their self-belief, their hopefulness, and motivation, sense of control, relationship issues, and life balance. They will be able to lead full lives, even while investigating and treating their infertility. If you want something badly enough, you have to consider all the options, on a case by case basis. Ultimately, most of us want to have a child, be a parent and create a family. There are several different ways of doing that.
I can't say how many couples have a defined Plan B or C or D when they start assisted conception. Everyone should consider them, not leaving it until one type of procedure has failed repeatedly. They cause delays in their time-frame by leaving the research, the discussions and decision-making until the door to one solution has closed behind them. I encourage anyone starting fertility treatment to ask the doctor, right from the beginning, what he would suggest next if this one doesn't work, allowing them some lead-time to consider the next option. Then I would take the woman or the couple through everything that is involved with that suggested alternative, teaching them core decision-making skills. It has to be realistic and achievable. The old cliché here, pun intended, is "don't put all your eggs in one basket."
Giving yourself that extra lead time allows you to get used to the idea of less traditional methods. These might be very new medical procedures or medication, not yet in the mainstream, or other healing therapies, including acupuncture, reflexology, yoga, reiki, EFT, chiropractic care, Chinese medicine, nutrition, fertility coaching and others. You will be able to consider:
- the health issues involved;
- the costs of various treatments, procedures and medications;
- who you want to see;
- whether the other methods can work alongside medical treatment;
- how to deal with the insurance company;
- your personal values;
- the impact that another choice will have, such as your location, time, absences from work, energy;
- how to resolve any differences of opinion between you and your partner; and
- the strain it might create in your marriage.
Make sure that the more radical ideas are understood, priorities are balanced and opinion, instinct and reason are considered. Then, if that first door closes, you can walk through the next one. The danger of making big decisions while recovering from the shock of a recent failure is that emotion is leading the way. Try to achieve acceptance and agreement on the next step ahead of time, reducing the stress that changing direction might cause.
If your Plan A has not worked for you and there is a well-researched Plan B already waiting in the wings, it can be set in motion at the first opportunity. It isn't as traumatic. If you do decide to stop pursuing treatment for infertility, or trying something else, there is a better chance that neither of you will feel pressured by the other or angry at the outcome. When the door closes, there is also the chance of the proverbial window opening somewhere else. All you have to do is look for it.