Maintain Your Humanity During ART
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Because you are not a petri dish
Whether you’re inseminating at home with donor sperm or you’ve signed on with a doctor to help knock you up, trying to conceive (TTC) via assisted reproductive technology (ART) can leave you feeling less like a mom-to-be and more like a science specimen.
On my road to parenthood, I conceived via ART five times, I miscarried three times, I celebrated the birth of two healthy babies, and I learned a few tricks for maintaining my sanity* along the way.
1. Keep your life going. ART is like a demanding part-time job. Depending on your level of intervention, ART can regulate your sleep patterns, determine if and when you’re allowed to pee, and throw your mood out of whack. (Actually, that sounds a lot like parenting.) ART controls your schedule, breaking up your life into a continual cycle of preparing, trying, waiting, preparing, trying, waiting that hopefully, at some point, will end in rejoicing.
Yes, TTC will take time with all the fertility charting, ovulation predicting, blood testing, and doctor's appointments. But TTC does not need to take over your whole life.
Whatever activities brought you joy before you started analyzing your fertile mucus and chatting up phlebotomists as they siphoned off your blood, keep doing it. Go to your yoga class. Keep your weekly movie date with your sister. Have a dinner with friends during which you do not talk about ART, not even for one minute. (Of course, you can have other dinners during which you do talk about ART, but give yourself a break every once in a while.)
Remind yourself: I had a life before this, and try to keep it going.
2. Treat your body like the gorgeous, miraculous, mysterious temple it is. Blood tests, medications, hormone shots, speculums, ultrasounds, more blood tests—the medical regimen of ART turns your body into a science experiment.
But your body is so much more. It’s the trusty vehicle that has carried you through life. It’s a one-of-a-kind wonder that allows you to experience and interpret the world. It’s a sensory palace just waiting for you to indulge in all kinds of delights.
So remember to delight it. A warm shower, a cup of tea, a long walk in a fragrant forest, healthy and delicious foods eaten slowly so you can savor every flavor note—how will you bring a little peace and lusciousness to the body you’re asking so much of right now?
3. Be honest with your medical practitioners. I’ve lost count of the number of medical practitioners I encountered while TTC. Their personalities ran the gamut from robotic to compassionate, but no matter who they were, I shared with them not only my symptoms, questions, and fertility charts but also my vulnerability.
Whether I was gleeful over the appearance of two pink lines on a home pregnancy test or grieving over the end of yet another pregnancy, I told them how I was feeling and why I was feeling that way.
I wasn’t asking my medical practitioners to make me feel better. I was simply reporting to them who (and how) I was. I was showing up not as Patient No. 446, but as a full human being, and, as a result, they all became human with me.
Except the one I’ll call Dr. Ken Doll.* I don’t know what was up with that guy, but he failed to become human, so I fired him. If you meet your own Dr. Ken Doll, I recommend you do the same.
4. Remember what you’ve got right now. ART is future-focused: every step you take, you’re taking for a future reward. (Hello, baby!) If you’re anything like I was, your mind is perpetually engaged in imagining, planning, hoping for, and wondering about the future. That fantasizing can be fun, until it gets in the way of enjoying what you have right now.
My longing for a baby turned into a myopic obsession with the TTC process, which eclipsed all the rest of the good happening in my life.
Don’t do that.
Using whatever means work for you—meditation, journaling, talking with a close friend or counselor—stay awake to all the “wonderful” you’re experiencing right now, today.
5. Create self-care goals. TTC with ART can create undue amounts of stress. Think of it this way: In most circumstances, when you have a life goal, such as earning a degree or landing a dream job, you can map out an action plan, take the right steps, and bam—goal attained!
But TTC with ART is different. On one hand, the scientific process can make it seem that parenthood is like any other life goal: you follow the protocol; you get the baby. But science doesn’t entirely understand the mysteries of procreation, and with mystery comes uncertainty. The human brain doesn’t like uncertainty; it likes control. When the desire to control meets uncertainty, the brain freaks out, and stress ensues.
Try to meet this stress with compassion and self-care. Take an honest inventory of what brings you balance during stressful times. What returns you to a sense that—even when you can’t control what’s happening—you really are OK? A long hike? A talk with a friend? A warm bath? A good book? A good laugh?
From this list, create self-care goals, such as “I will read a chapter a day from When Things Fall Apart” (written by Solo Mom and uncertainty guru Pema Chödrön), or “I will take a hike every Sunday morning.”
Share these goals with an accountability partner—someone who will either celebrate with you when you fulfill your goals or give you a gentle nudge when you don’t.
A self-care routine not only helps you feel better now but also is great training for the future. If you can stick with your self-care goals when ART is threatening to take over your life, you’ll be much more likely to keep up the self-care when that baby finally arrives.
*To read the whole story, check out Love Song for Baby X: How I Stayed (Almost) Sane on the Rocky Road to Parenthood (Ig Publishing, 2013).
About to embark on the ART journey? Join our confidential community of Sisters to find Solo Moms who’ve traveled the same road.
Cheryl Dumesnil, ESME’s LGBTQ Resource Guide, is an author, educator, writing coach, all-around do-gooder, and one of two moms separately coparenting two amazing boys. You can follow her on Twitter at @cheryladumesnil.
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