"Your sperm is healthy but it's no gold medal winner. And it won't make up for her deficiencies" said our Fertility Specialist to my husband as I sat next to him. "I'd give you a 2 per cent chance of falling pregnant. 10 per cent with IVF."
When I replay those words now, four years later, I confidently think -- asshole. But, at the time, twelve months into three years of a fertility nightmare, I felt hopeless. Helpless. Ashamed. Guilty.
It wasn't fair my husband had to go through this, I'd think. If he'd married someone else maybe he'd already have a baby by now? "Her deficiencies" haunted me for years.
One in six couples have fertility issues. Meaning it takes them over a year to fall pregnant. And the numbers are rising.
Research shows infertility causes the same levels of anxiety and depression in women as cancer, heart disease and HIV+ status. It may sound surprising to those who haven't experienced infertility. After all, it's not life threatening. But to those of us who have, it rings true.
Procreation is our strongest instinct. And when friends and family conceive easily it intensifies the feelings of failure. I was focused on trying to "fix" everything physically, but if I had an emotional breakdown in the process we'd never make it. So how did I get through it?
THE INFERTILITY ROLLERCOASTER
A rollercoaster of emotion is how I describe our journey. I lived my life in two-week blocks for three years. The second two weeks of the month were an emotional high. I'd imagine myself pregnant. I'd think this month would be it. I'd count ahead to possible birth dates. And imagine how I'd tell my husband the best news ever.
Then came disappointment. What felt like inevitable disappointment. I'd feel silly for having thought it was possible. The hormonal lows of my period exacerbated the pain of another unsuccessful month.
Negative thoughts consumed me. We should have started years ago! Why did we wait so long?
Why did I take the pill all those years? Why are my periods so painful? It must mean I'm not healthy enough for a baby. My friends started to announce second and third pregnancies. Why do they get to have two or more? I'd be ecstatic with one. I felt like I was grieving for a baby I'd never meet.
Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. I'd reach acceptance and pull myself together. And somehow start to feel positive again.
And everywhere I looked there were babies. Pregnant women. New mothers. Happy grandmothers. I'd try to guess the ages of pregnant women. "She looks older than me", I'd rationalize to myself, "I'll be OK".
I'd read another book. Find a new natural practitioner. Take another supplement. Change my diet. Do more yoga. Get a massage. More acupuncture. Experiment with femoral massage. Decide to start IVF. Delay IVF. Talk to friends more. Talk to friends less... And for want of a better term, get back on the saddle and try again.
Couples battling infertility often suffer in silence. Friends of mine endured five years of IVF and a late-term miscarriage. And I didn't learn about it until their healthy son was born. Sometimes it's easier to avoid questions. Or silence. And to avoid disappointing others.
We decided to share our struggle with family and friends. It was a source of encouragement, support and strength. But we had our moments.
A close friend said she fell pregnant within one month "because her husband must have super-fast sperm". Friendships can become strained. Another friend avoided parties and family gatherings if there were children there. It was too painful for her. My husband was my ultimate ally. And champion.
In the final year before falling pregnant I felt depressed. And emotionally exhausted. Babies were all I could think about. It consumed me. And then I read The Mind-Body Fertility Connection by James Schwartz. It's about how hypnotherapy can unlock the power of the mind.
I understood it was important to be positive. And to relax. Easier said than done.
But Schwartz explained subconscious beliefs may block conception. And suggested old emotional injuries can create obstacles, which may disrupt a healthy reproductive system. Studies suggest hypnosis may increase chances of conception for women undergoing IVF by up to 50 per cent per cent.
HOW DOES THE MIND AFFECT THE BODY?
The body reacts to a stimulus, whether it is actually happening or not, if the mind believes it's happening. An example is watching a scary movie. You know what you're seeing on the screen isn't real. But your body reacts as if it is. Your heart rate increases. Your breathing becomes labored. And you may jump in your seats.
Top athletes are famous for tapping into the power of the subconscious. By imagining scoring the winning goal they improve their chances of success.
Schwartz explains when people in positions of authority (like doctors, teachers, parents) tell us something our subconscious generally stores the information as a truth, even if we think what they said isn't accurate. This is especially true for young people who are more impressionable.
I was sixteen when I had my first laparoscopy for endometriosis. The gynecologist told me after the surgery I'd probably have trouble conceiving. I didn't think I believed him.
But I'd seen countless fertility specialists. I had plenty of eggs. I was ovulating regularly. My tubes were clear. My cycle was like clockwork. My husband's sperm was healthy. So our final option was to try IVF but I didn't believe it would help us.
There's no clear correlation between endometriosis and infertility. Sure, it can hinder implantation, but IVF wouldn't make a difference. Nobody could explain a physical reason for why we weren't falling pregnant. Maybe it was my subconscious? I had nothing to lose by digging a little deeper.
THE FAIRY LIGHTS GO ON
I saw a clinical hypnotherapist, specializing in fertility, for six sessions. It was a game changer. Hypnotherapy helped me tackle subconscious blocks I wasn't aware I had and put me back in the driver's seat.
In my mind, I travelled back in time. I spoke to the gynecologist who'd told a vulnerable sixteen-year-old she'd have trouble falling pregnant. And I spoke to the fertility specialist who suggested I had a 2 per cent chance of falling pregnant. I spoke to them as a strong, healthy, empowered woman, confident in my ability to fall pregnant.
I spoke to them as my own best friend. And I spoke to myself. My family. Friends. My husband. But most of all I spoke to my baby.
I began to feel positive and relaxed every step of the way. Of course I was disappointed when my period would arrive, but I didn't feel the despair I had before. My mind had a job to do -- to tell my body what to do. I had no energy to waste on negativity.
At the start of the month I imagined myself having a spring clean. Out with the old and in with the new. Throughout the month I visualized healthy eggs maturing and releasing. Fairy lights lit up an enchanted fertile space. A tiny pink fairy would tap her wand and work her magic. I'd smile and believe I was pregnant. I used this visualization over and over. Three months later I was pregnant.
CHANGING YOUR GAME
What makes the difference for each couple is unique. We all have to follow our own journeys, seek our own truth and find our own answers. But I do believe many small changes add up.
Hypnotherapy empowered me. It kept me going when all I wanted was to crawl under the bed covers and never come out. I discovered blind and unwavering confidence in my body's ability to conceive if my mind showed it the way.
"If you're going through hell, keep going". - Winston Churchill
Through infertility I became a stronger person. It taught me patience, determination and perseverance. The mantras I lived by were "I'm waiting for my baby" and "This will make me a better parent". Both statements came true.
Your baby is worth fighting for, so although this may feel like hell, keep going. I wouldn't wish infertility on anybody, but I can't say I'd change it now. My little man wouldn't be the same person if I hadn't waited.
And nor would I.
A version of this post originally appeared on Raised Good.
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