How ironic the way a young woman’s thoughts and attitudes change.
We spend so many years — decades, perhaps — preoccupied by controlling our cycles. For some, it is about cycle control.
For others, it is to avoid pregnancy because we are not yet ready or do not want to have a family. In those cases, most start some form of birth control, and for years we wait anxiously to bleed each month. And when we do, we have this deep, profound, and grateful sigh of relief. A thank you to our uterus, our ovaries, and our contraception’s efficacy.
And suddenly — it seems sudden — there is this tiny voice deep within some of us, which starts to whisper that it is time. We can silence it or ignore the whisper; tune it out.
And we do so, successfully, for years.
But once you have heard it, it cannot be unheard.
Finally, we decide that the voice is worth listening to, that it has something to say, that its presence in your life may enrich your life in ways you cannot imagine.
When you stop jumping through achievement hoops long enough to listen attentively, deeply … the voice changes you.
Then you completely restructure the way you think about yourself, your roles, your body — and your monthly sigh of relief.
Now you dread the day you bleed. Not because of the obvious inconvenience and associated symptoms. You grieve each time, each month, because now menses represents the absence of the voice realized.
And as if that is not enough, you must be reminded for several days. Cramps. Bleeding. Mood changes. Sadness and loss are added to the usual constellation. And while your partner also is disappointed with each cycle, they may not have the constant, ongoing, physical reminder of your shared grief.
As much as we believe we have control over these things — truly, we do not. We are only responsible for our own thoughts and feelings around the events that occur.
When the voice is fully ready to be heard, it will shout loudly enough, grow well enough, and solidify its roots deep enough in the readied lining which will shed no more.
Or it will not.
The pain of that experience — infertility — is enough.
The suffering we feel which keeps us stuck in that anguish is largely due to the thoughts about the experience of infertility that we loop in our minds.
But suffering is optional.
This in no way diminishes the real pain we feel in this time of sorrow.
Not at all.
It just means we do not have to add extra suffering on top of it by way of our thoughts.
The extra is what is optional.
And we get to choose — we have agency — over how we look at it, how we think about it, and ultimately how we feel about it.
If I had this framework when I was trying to start a family, I know the experience could have been so different.
The shame and secrecy I felt going through the workup, then Clomid, then IUI, and finally, IVF — even as a practicing, board-certified OB/GYN — was profound.
No one knew what was going on except for a very few close friends — without whom the timed labs and shots and ultrasound appointments would not have been possible as an academic faculty member at a tertiary care center.
The love and kindness my small understanding tribe showed me was love and kindness in motion. I remain in perpetual gratitude to those women.
My reality was this: Timing scheduled OR cases in between my injections in the call room.
Having sign-out covered in the a.m. by my “tribe” so I could make 6:30 a.m. appointments and then racing to relieve them for my 12-hour labor and delivery coverage day.
Feeling my own overstimulated ovaries sloshing around as I franticly raced around L&D for all the other moms.
I was always running around and delivering miracles for someone else.
And when I was inevitably asked about my own fertility plans, I cried a little inside and smiled to say, “We’ll see!” to a well-meaning nurse or resident or patient.
They didn’t know how those words pierced my soul.
I knew they meant no harm. My heart didn’t know that, though.
When the fertility meds caused some fluid retention and weight gain was a bit more obvious, I was asked if I was pregnant. Again — so well-meaning and not intended to be ill-spirited.
But I had no exciting news to share, and I did not want to share anything else about the experience I was going through at that point.
Because infertility is complicated.
It brings up a lot of different emotions. And now I know that feeling all those emotions is normal and OK. And I might have felt a little better had I shared or had a community to discuss it all back then.
The incredible Brene Brown said, “Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy.”
And that is why coaching — or any other form of support — is so powerful.
Holding ourselves tenderly, giving ourselves space and grace to feel what we need to feel, and then examine if it is serving us. It gives us agency in how we tell our stories. Sometimes we aren’t the kindest narrators of our own stories because we have been telling the story one way for so long that we believe it is 100 percent true.
But what if it is not completely true?
How might we feel differently?
My IVF baby turns 12 this week — and having attempted frozen and fresh IVF cycles six years ago, which did not result in pregnancies — I can also hold tenderly the space for those who have heard those words, “Only one child?”
Yes. Only one. Only one, magical, amazing, child destined to be ours.
How blessed am I?
Our thoughts are so very powerful, and I would like to leave you with these thoughts:
You are not broken.
You never were.
Be gentle with yourself.
Dympna Weil is an obstetrician-gynecologist.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com