6 Ways to Simplify Your Fertility Journey

I always found this time of year - the last two to three weeks of December - to be an odd, conflicting, time when I was in the midst of my fertility struggles. On one side: joy and festiveness in decorations, parties, preparations, gift-giving, and goal-setting. On the other: disappointment, grief, sadness, questioning, and big life decisions. Then there were the years where we were simply in limbo...waiting for the next phase to begin. 

As I reflect on this and think of what I could put out to all of you in the midst of your own odd, conflicting, limbo time, it is this: throw out the checklist.

What I mean by "checklist" is the list of things to do: the diet(s) to follow, the activities to start (or stop), the questions to ask, the resources to review...all the things we do to improve our chances, to get us closer to the goal, to train or study our way to baby. 

This is not to say that you should "just relax" or "stop thinking so much" about building your family.

It is, though, to share a thought about the power of a peaceful mindset. The beauty of being in the moment. The peace that comes from doing all you can, having confidence in this, appreciating it, and letting go of what you can't control.

I'm not telling you anything new, nor am I making an easy suggestion.

The "checklist", or general busyness can be helpful when we are grieving or stuck. It helps us move forward, to make decisions about what's next, to find a routine that helps us keep going.

Sometimes, I believe, though, the checklist is a crutch. It takes over where space, stillness, and peace should reside. It robs us of the opportunity to be present, to think, to contemplate and wonder. Busyness can become a talisman of sorts...a currency where if you can do the "right amount" of things, you will surely receive what you want.

This is what busyness became for me on my fertility journey. If I simply "powered through" and completed all the items on my checklist, it would be over soon and I would have a healthy baby at the end. I kept up with my life at the same pace, only adding to the to do list, never slowing, never removing clutter. Instead of a healthy baby, I had a bit of a breakdown. It was hard, sad, lonely, and a dark point in my life. And - there was still no baby. 

A friend counseled me at the time to "create space" for what I wanted. I really thought I'd done that. We had a nice home, reliable jobs, an understanding of the school system, ideas on baby names, and we knew which room in our condo would be the nursery. We were prepared and fully capable of becoming parents. 

As it turns out, for me, "creating space" looked a lot different than what I originally thought. It meant I had to be willing to change out some of my favorite habits for more gentle ones - and to challenge myself to find joy and opportunity in them. I had to stop doing everything I could to get pregnant and, instead, choose the path that made me feel empowered, calm, and able to "un-pause" my life. "Creating space" actually started to feel welcome and peaceful. My tunnel vision faded and the fertility journey consumed less of my "real" life.

Recently, a friend who lost two close family members in the past year shared that "Life is not meant to be something we need to "get through". Life is not a big checklist to get done...I have to honor their lives by LIVING mine."

So often the women I talk to, when they tell me all the things they are doing in pursuit of their baby, they share they are exhausted, spent, and feeling depressed and alone. They are looking at life as a checklist, not actually living it.

If this feels like you, consider these suggestions for simplifying - or eliminating - your own checklist.

  1. Commit to 5 minutes a day. Give yourself 5 minutes every day to check in. Use it to breathe, to journal, to meditate, or to simply sit and feel your body and mind still. Five minutes of quiet, calm, and nothing added to the to do list may help you see the positive in the present moment (and want to have more of it!).
  2. Write down 3 things you're grateful for - every day. Gratitude has been proven to increase happiness, reduce depression, and strengthen resiliency. Being intentionally grateful may help you shift your perspective and help identify the parts of your family building journey that truly serve you, rather than those you feel you "should" do.
  3. Be intentional about self-care. Really think about what you need and then make it happen. Be upfront with friends, family, and your partner about what you need from them (or need them to stop doing). Set boundaries. Say "yes" to events you want to attend and "no" to those you don't. Find empowerment and comfort in how your nourish yourself and move your body...and be aware when these are just "shoulds." Be willing to listen to your heart and change the plan as often as you need to. 
  4. Cut out one thing. Sit down and write out ALL the things you are doing toward your family building plan. Then ask yourself which ones make you feel empowered? Which make you feel encouraged? Which do you dread? Which ones do you think you "should" be doing vs. actually want to do? How can you adjust so that you can - without guilt - cut out at least one of the pieces you dread or feel you should do?
  5. Create a plan and stick to it. One of the biggest stressors during fertility treatment is the worry there's a single problem that is being overlooked. You may find yourself doing a lot of research, talking to a lot of people, setting up appointments with doctors and clinics to ensure you are doing everything possible, leaving no stone unturned in the quest for your family. Being your own advocate is great. I believe the constant second-guessing, research, and questioning, though, only holds people in a state of stress. Instead, set a time limit to create a plan. Do all the research and advocating you need to do in order to make an informed decision. Then, with confidence and courage, stick to it. Use your newfound brain space and energy for other activities that bring a more peaceful state of mind.
  6. Get support. No one can do this alone, and it can strain your relationship to rely solely on your partner for support. Finding others who have been down a similar road can simplify your experience. People who have traveled this path need no preamble; you don't have to explain what you're going through, the process, or define acronyms. You're able to jump in and out of the conversation seamlessly. You may learn something new, something that worked for her that may work for you. You will know you aren't alone. Consider support through a mentor program like Fruitful Fertility or organization that offers support groups like Shine in Chicago or RESOLVE. If you'd prefer to simply hear other stories or suggestions, subscribe to the Beat Infertility or Fertility Warriors podcast. And, of course, if one-on-one support from someone who has been in your shoes and come out the other side would help, I'd love to talk.

I don't believe there is a checklist of things you can do to make your baby come to you any faster. I don't believe your life should be on hold until your baby arrives. Instead, I encourage you to throw out the checklist and truly make space for that new little life to join you - in a way that is appealing, energizing, and peaceful for you.

Best wishes and Happy Holidays to you and your family.

Erin McDanielComment