Navigating Pregnancy after Infertility
Do you remember the guy that walked across a tightrope between the twin towers in New York City? They made a movie about it in 2015. When I imagine doing that, the terror I experience reminds me of what my clients express when they're finally pregnant after years of infertility. In the early days, either the days leading up to the transfer, or right after ovulation, it's like you're still standing on the edge, glued to the terrace of safety before you take the first step out onto the wire. But the second you get that first beta or take a pregnancy test, you're fully out there blowing in the breeze at 1,368 feet up in the sky. You count down the days between each appointment, hopefully confirming your pregnancy is growing.
So you have a confirmed pregnancy test, but what if you don't stay pregnant? Every day is living in this strange in-between. The usual places you may have gone for support, such as your infertility support-laden Instagram feed, don't feel quite right. Because right now in this very moment you are pregnant. And if you are pregnant, that means you are not currently experiencing infertility. You are also not quite feeling like a mom yet, so working on your registry or nursery does not feel like the right thing to do. Depending on many factors, you might not have even told anyone yet, as 6 weeks and 3 days doesn't necessarily feel like a sure thing to you. You might feel like isolating from your usual social experiences just not to have to field questions about how the getting pregnant thing has been going.
Because you are actually pregnant, I would encourage you to download a pregnancy app. Something simple that just tracks your pregnancy day by day or week by week. Do not be tempted to look ahead, I hear women in my fertility counseling practice tell me they "don't want to jinx it" by figuring out how pregnant they'll be at the Fourth of July or Christmastime. If you've been trying forever and / or have had a loss at any stage of pregnancy, it can feel presumptive to look too far ahead. Find an app that includes partners, and have your partner download it too. It can help your support person know more about what's going on with you physically. It can be difficult for the non pregnant partner to really process what's going on because the only thing in their lives that has changed is that maybe you sleep more or don't drink. Sharing in the information is a way for you to feel less alone.
Don't buy any pregnancy books just yet, but if you're a reader please check out some fiction! It's a great way to get lost in the world of other people, letting your brain have a workout by creating images that you read, enhancing social skills and developing empathy for characters enduring other life struggles.
I know you're on the look out for pregnancy symptoms. I hope they come for you, but all pregnancies are different. If you're lucky, you'll just be so tired that all you can do is go to work and come home and go to sleep. I always say the easiest first trimester is one you can sleep through. But that is not the case for all pregnancies, or for women who are waiting to become parents through gestational surrogacy. If you still have energy throughout your pregnancy find a creative outlet like playing an instrument, drawing, painting, knitting, sewing, or organizing a closet.
You might feel afraid to connect with the pregnancy just yet. Some women describe feeling like they are not really pregnant, or that they're just playing along. After what some of you have been through - it's just that hard to fathom pregnancy could finally be possible. No matter what though, you are connected to this pregnancy. And every single woman I've talked to after a miscarriage has told me they do not regret any time they spent talking to their pregnancy, holding their bellies, or letting themselves think "I'm so happy to be pregnant." So go for it. For however long you get to be pregnant, you'll be glad you did. A small connective activity you can do is to practice a gratitude journal. Pick a time of day every day to write down three small things you're grateful for. It'll help you get in the habit of writing everyday, and focusing on the positive. Your gratitude practice will help you open up to what's good in your life today, and help you look beyond your fears of miscarriage for the time being.
If you are experiencing pregnancy symptoms like nausea and fatigue, it can be hard to pretend you're your normal self. Some women feel guilty that they find they don't love being pregnant. This thought exemplifies your transition from "infertile lady" to "mother." This guilty thought is coming from imagining your infertile self hearing it from someone else. You may have thought at one time "if I ever get pregnant I will never complain." Well, pregnancy is a health condition, and it has some pretty major symptoms as you now know. The other side of this complaint, is your joining in with the myriad women who have endured horrendous pregnancy symptoms over time to become mothers. Some day you'll be pushing your toddler in a swing at a playground next to a pregnant woman and she complains of her fatigue or nausea. And because you've now experienced it, you'll be sympathetic for her condition. Imagine how she'd feel if you said "I had to go through a lot to get my baby so I never complained." Maybe you had an infertility tribe as you struggled to conceive. This pregnancy is the beginning of you transitioning to a new tribe, one of mothers that have had so many different experiences to get to this place, including infertility, miscarriage, IVF, anxiety, fear, and guilt. Now is a good time to practice not judging yourself throughout this process, because the tribe of motherhood needs more nonjudgmental members.
The last thing you can do for yourself is get outside. The world is more open there, more opportunities for new thoughts and distractions. Let yourself be held by the natural world, embodying the cycle of birth, life, and death over and over and over. Breathe in, knowing you are providing your baby with necessary oxygen for life, and peace of mind that you will be okay.
Allison Ramsey is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and fertility counseling specialist seeing clients online throughout North Carolina, Washington State, and internationally. She’s a member of Resolve, The Infertility Association and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Contact her to start feeling better.