A Beginner’s Guide to Navigating Pregnancy After Infertility and Loss
By Arielle Spiegel, Founder, CoFertility
NOTE: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare professional. The advice of a qualified physician should be sought should you have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment.
At the time of writing this, I am 28 weeks pregnant. It still feels super crazy to say it out loud. But that’s what two-and-a-half years of infertility, multiple fertility procedures, two rounds of IVF, and four losses will do to you, I guess.
My journey to this pregnancy definitely wasn’t linear, and the experience itself of this pregnancy certainly hasn’t been either. Years of infertility meant constant stress and questions, which led me to found CoFertility, where we aim to answer every fertility question out there. So from the second I found out I was pregnant, I immediately adopted an emotionally detached, one-day-at-a-time attitude.
Although infertility is a club we all aim to eventually “graduate” from, when you’re in it, you’re in it. It’s impossible to imagine what pregnancy or parenthood will actually be like or if that day will ever come. My hope for all of you is that it does. But when that happened for me, I had no idea how to handle it.
That’s why I’m sharing my survival tips here. Think of this as my quick reference guide to navigating pregnancy after infertility. If it’s too much to read right now, I completely get it; maybe file it away and save it to read the second you see those two pink lines.
Acknowledge your anxiety
I’m just going to tell it like it is. You will have anxiety. Lots of it. Anxiety throughout fertility treatment is real. But once you’re pregnant, the anxiety is...different. You now have this precious prize that you’ve worked so hard to achieve. What if something happens? What if you lose it? What if you end up back at square one?
If you’ve experienced losses before, maybe a minute or two after the excitement of seeing that positive pregnancy test, reality—I mean, fear—starts to sink in. I’m pretty sure in the video we took of us checking our pregnancy test this time around, my first words literally were, through tears, “I just hope it sticks.”
So, what’s worse than anxiety? Being anxious about that anxiety. Acknowledge that you’re scared. It’s okay (and expected!). At 28 weeks, I still check my toilet paper after using the bathroom each time to see if there’s blood like I experienced with my last miscarriage or with my more recent hematoma scare. Fear has become second nature at this point. But I’ve learned to accept that this is my new normal. And, hey, maybe this anxiety is just preparing me for parenthood where I’ll have new fears about my baby.
Therapists can really help manage this anxiety. If you don’t have a relationship with a good therapist already, now might be a good time to create one. A professional can help you navigate all the complex emotions that you undoubtedly will experience during this time.
Come up with a game plan
If you’ve been open about your fertility journey, you may have friends or family bugging you about your pregnancy status. Personally, I chose to tell close friends and family early on, mostly due to logistics; our family knew when our transfer was, and I wound up canceling on a planned girls’ trip when I found out I was pregnant. I’ve never been good at keeping secrets and bottling things up stresses me out.
But I’m going to let you in on a little tip: you don’t owe any information to anyone. Except for your boss, I guess, at a certain point. If you don’t want to share anything, don’t. Make up stories. Lie. Do whatever you have to in order to feel at peace. No judgment from me. But either way, making a game plan for how (or if) you’ll share the news and with who takes a bit of weight off your shoulders.
For me, sharing the news more broadly on social media was a huge milestone that made my pregnancy feel more real. My husband, who is more private, and I decided that we were okay with doing this at 20 weeks. You might decide not to share publicly at all. But having that be a conscious decision you’ve made will eliminate any ambiguity you might be stressing over.
Plus, you’re allowed to change your mind. Your lips might have been zipped throughout most of your pregnancy and then, BAM, at 30 weeks, you decide you want to share. That’s okay. Good news: you’re the boss.
Do all the things
I’ll admit I’m pretty type-A. List-making is my jam, and there’s no greater satisfaction than crossing something off. So while, yes, I’ve put off many things up to this point (like buying clothes, for example), there were also many baby-prep things that I allowed myself to do on the earlier side.
I was probably around five months pregnant when I dragged my husband to look at strollers, car seats, and nursery furniture. Maybe a bit earlier. And I remember feeling so self-conscious looking at the other bigger bumps around the stores. Was it too early to shop? Should we wait to make actual, concrete plans for this baby, like committing to a crib, paying, and setting a delivery date? What if I miscarry again and the baby never comes? These errands were fun but still activated my imposter syndrome.
Do me a favor: throw the term “should” out the window. If it would be fun for you to go and browse cribs (or, given today’s social distancing situation, make a plan to look at stuff online), start Pinterest-ing, or read stroller reviews, I give you permission to DO IT. You don’t have to actually buy anything, and it’s an opportunity for you to think about the future, even if it’s uncomfortable at first.
It’s okay to be your own enabler. You’ve been through hell and you’ve earned the right to do whatever makes you feel good at the moment. So when you’re looking for an OB to work with through this pregnancy, make sure you choose someone who supports you and understands your road to getting here.
When we started seeing our OB for this pregnancy, she made it clear to us that it was totally okay to come in for a quick heartbeat check any time we felt anxious. And we took her up on this. A few times, actually.
If you’re experiencing pregnancy after loss, sometimes, your mind just goes to a dark place. This is especially the case earlier on in pregnancy before you can feel those reassuring kicks. You’re not crazy. You’ve just been hurt too many times to feel confident. It’s important to have someone in your corner who gets what you’ve been through and will support your quest for peace of mind, even if that means overcompensating on care.
Buy some cute clothes (for yourself)
Whether you’ve mentally accepted it or not, your body is changing. And I don’t know about you, but when I look put together, I feel put together. Unfortunately, looking put together during pregnancy can sometimes feel like a challenge. So once you find those few items that make you feel like a real person, it can be life-changing.
For me, my jeans were the first thing to go. Nothing was buttoning over that early-pregnancy bloat. So, knowing that finding the perfect pair of jeans can be tricky even if you’re not pregnant, on Black Friday I went ahead and ordered about 20 pairs of jeans from different sites. I figured I’d end up with about three that I loved that I could rotate, and I was right. I felt so much better after ditching the belly band I was using to make do with my old jeans. Fashion has always been part of my identity outside of my fertility issues, and I didn’t want to totally give that up.
It’s obviously annoying that what fits you in early pregnancy may not fit you in those later months, so don’t go crazy. But when you’re feeling anxious or like you’re falling apart on the inside, it does help to feel put together on the outside. At least it did for me. I recommend Rent the Runway Unlimited—they’ve got tons of maternity styles and you can always feel like you’re mixing it up without a huge investment.
One thing that really grinds my gears is when people tell me how thankful I should be, or lucky I am, any time I complain about pregnancy symptoms (helloooo heartburn, sleepless nights, carpal tunnel...shall I go on?). Of course I know how lucky I am. Of course I know that a year ago, I would give anything to be in this position. Of course I don’t take any of this for granted and would deal with symptoms ten times worse if it meant I’d have my baby.
Our road to get here was different, that’s for sure...and, per the above, has definitely come with its own brand of baggage. But even if you’ve experienced infertility, there’s no reason why you should be forced to treat or think about your pregnancy any differently than anyone else. Carrying a baby is HARD WORK, especially if you’re juggling a million other responsibilities (and who isn’t?). You’re allowed to complain, as long as you’re being sensitive to your audience.
And, guess what? Once you have your baby, you’re allowed to complain about parenthood, too. Again, know your audience, but life is tough, we’re all only human, and sometimes, humans need to vent.
Sign up for classes
I never allowed myself to think about “normal” pregnancy activities until I was maybe 20 weeks. We all have our own self-imposed milestones. But once we got to that point, I allowed myself to sign up for a bunch of classes, even though it still made me super uncomfortable.
There are some things you’ll just straight-up need to learn about before the baby comes, like labor and delivery or feeding. You could definitely get all this intel from books or the internet, but I highly recommend signing up for some in-person stuff if you can. Hopefully, our current reality of social distancing won’t last forever, and IRL classes will become an option again.
Making those face-to-face connections will make a huge difference, and having people ask you “normal” things, like when you’re due, where you’re delivering, etc. might mark the first time you realize that this is really happening. Yay!
Plus, hopefully, infertility has taught you this by now: it’s so important to find your tribe. Having friends going through the same stuff you are is key, and that extends beyond infertility into parenthood. I was able to squeeze in one in-person prenatal class before the pandemic changed everything—and it turned out four out of five of us had undergone IVF. We had a ton in common, and it’s great to now have a group with which I can trade resources, vent, and lean on.
The bottom line: your fertility journey probably hasn’t been easy. And, I’m not going to sugarcoat it, pregnancy may not be easy either. But hopefully, this guide helps you feel a little bit more at ease. You got this.
Arielle Spiegel is the Founder of CoFertility, a site that aims to un-complicate the fertility journey and make infertility suck less by answering every fertility question out there. With educational content, resources, and tools, Co provides helpful, digestible information about fertility and reproductive health all in one place—while keeping it real. When she’s not busy changing the conversation about fertility, Arielle enjoys traveling with her husband, Max, and playing with their dog, Oliver. She also loves listening to podcasts, with favorites including NPR’s How I Built This and Big Fat Negative. After multiple rounds of IVF and several losses, Arielle finally had her rainbow baby this June.