Letting Go Of Expectations During Infertility
By Jenna Bennett Williams
“The biggest problem in life is the image in our heads of how it should be.” -Unknown
If you’re reading this, chances are good you didn’t predict you’d have a baby by way of fertility treatments. I know I certainly didn’t! While, at 37, I knew time was not on our side, I had no idea the lengths we would have to go to become parents; and, since we are still on our journey, I still don’t.
The image in my head was that my husband and I would try for no more than six months, and one day a plus sign would appear on a home pregnancy test. I would search Pinterest for ideas to surprise him in a cute way, and nine months later we would have a baby. Fast forward one year, two IUI’s, one miscarriage, and one IVF cycle later, and we still aren’t there yet.
This is not the path to a child I wanted, but this is the path we got.
Some days, making peace with this is indescribably difficult, and it’s okay to say that out loud.
Before I did anything else, I had to let myself mourn the loss of getting pregnant “normally” and the excitement and joy that comes along with it. When you go through fertility treatments, you take a different path that doesn’t leave a lot of room for surprises. I had to let myself grieve the fact that my story wasn’t going to go the way I had envisioned it. I had to give myself permission to be sad before I could move forward.
Next, I had to adjust my expectations—the image in my head of how getting pregnant “should” be. We all have expectations—for our partners, our bodies, our families. It’s impossible to switch them off altogether, but how do we keep going when things aren’t going as you expected? Here are three things I’m trying right now to process my first IVF experience and adjust my expectations:
I am gaining something from this experience, even if it’s not what I wanted.
I was hoping our first IVF cycle would go better than it did. I thought I would respond well to the medications. When I didn’t, it was a tough pill to swallow. I was hoping for at least six eggs. When we got three, I was disappointed. When only one fertilized, I was crushed. When that one embryo came back abnormal from PGS testing and we ended with nothing to transfer, I was devastated. But, as my husband reminded me, we did get something out of the cycle—information and data we can use to inform our next round of IVF. And, we also gained familiarity and comfort with the process, so it—and all of the shots—won’t be as intimidating next time.
Finally, I gained bravery. For someone who hates needles, I was so proud of myself! I did more than 35 shots and proved to myself that I could handle IVF. While I didn’t come out of our first cycle with the results I wanted, I did come away from it a stronger person.
I have to remember that every person, and every cycle, is different.
One of the wonderful things about the online TTC (trying to conceive) community is that I found other women going through IVF at the exact same time as me. We were able to text daily and compare notes along the way. But, I still really struggled with jealousy and comparison throughout my cycle. Because I have Diminished Ovarian Reserve, I knew rationally that I couldn’t compare the number of follicles I had or the number of eggs we retrieved to another woman who doesn’t have this condition. But, in reality, of course I was measuring myself against other women! It’s normal to compare your day five or ten results against someone else’s, but I learned it’s not always helpful.
A friend told me that on her second cycle, she simply stopped asking the ultrasound tech about her numbers until the retrieval so she didn’t worry or compare. That idea didn’t even cross my mind at the time, but now I think it’s a good one! At the end of the day, the race is only with myself—not with other women.
Also, I am trying to remember that no two cycles are exactly the same. Our doctor explained that some months, women are more successful with IVF than others. Our first cycle may have just been a poor month, and the next one could go better.
I have to accept that just because my story is different and difficult, that doesn’t make it “bad.”
A huge part of infertility for me is feeling like something is wrong with me, that my body is defective because it can’t do a major biological thing that it’s supposed to do. I often feel “less than” women who get pregnant naturally or with less intervention than we have had to date. I feel like I am disappointing my husband and my family. I frequently have to remind myself there is no “right” way to get pregnant, and no “right” way to be a mom.
My story is different than I predicted and way more difficult. We have already begun to entertain alternative options, like the idea of using donor eggs if my own continue to respond poorly to IVF. But no matter how we become parents—whether it’s with our own biological child, through the use of donor eggs, embryo adoption, or adoption—our experience will be uniquely ours and uniquely right for us. Sometimes, I just need to repeat to myself that “different is not bad.”
Adjusting your expectations of what you thought starting a family would be like and finding acceptance is extremely difficult. As author Glennon Doyle says, “You will never change the fact that being human is hard, so you must change your idea that it was ever supposed to be easy.”
Going through fertility treatments is hella hard, and coming to terms with a negative pregnancy test, disappointing cycle, or failed transfer will test your character like nothing else I have experienced in my life so far.
As we move ahead to our second IVF cycle, I am trying to let go of my expectations, draw on my strength, and walk my unique path. Our story might not match the one I pictured in my head of how things “should” be, but I am going to trust it will be the right one for us.
Jenna Bennett Williams is a 37-year-old marketing professional living in Minneapolis who has been trying to conceive with her husband for over a year. She has a diagnosis of Diminished Ovarian Reserve and has been undergoing fertility treatments. Jenna loves hanging out with her husband, dog, and cat and is obsessed with coffee, yoga, and ice cream. She hates needles, but is gradually getting over her phobia. You can visit her blog at www.jennabennettwilliams.com and follow her on Instagram at @jennabennettwilliams.