By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Program Staff
My husband and I have been on an infertility journey for 8 years. Part of that time in the middle we gave up for awhile and told everyone we didn’t want kids and loved our life as it was. Then, when speaking to an OB/GYN about options for a hysterectomy to treat a condition I have, the OB/GYN said, “If you go through with this hysterectomy, which is warranted in your case, you give up permanently on trying to have children yourself.” That’s when I burst into tears and realized that I had been telling everyone that I didn’t want to have kids because of past failure and fear and trying to put away what is and was a deep desire.
There have been many steps on our fertility journey. There are many causes for infertility—physical, physiological, and for me also emotional/trauma related. I have friends who are also on this journey and their path has been different. I’d like to share a couple items of AT and support to consider if you, too are on this journey.
One of my disabilities is polycystic ovarian syndrome. For me, this means that I sometimes don’t ovulate and when I do ovulate, its at a time different than what most charts or doctors would predict for someone without PCOS. A piece of AT for me is lutenizing hormone testing strips I buy in bulk from Amazon.com. I also used the books Taking Charge of Your Fertility and the conception section of Expecting Better to understand how to look for signs and symptoms of ovulation including using the test strips. I wish someone had told me about these resources 8 years ago—you have to have intercourse at the right time to even have a possibility of conception and we were doing it wrong. Do yourself a favor and figure these things out for yourself. Also, once you are using the signs of ovulation and the testing strips, get an app like Kindara and track your cycle so you can start to map best bets for timing intercourse for conception.
Another of my disabilities has resulted in a blocked fallopian tube and an “arcuate” uterus. There’s really no AT to help with fertility for these conditions, but the fertility center I go to does monthly ultrasounds to see which side I’m ovulating on so I know not to get my hopes up if it is the blocked side.
I have had two quite traumatic miscarriages in the last two years. One of them I’m pretty sure could have been prevented with access to a good OB/GYN—no one wants to see you until you are 12 weeks along but I had bad infection that made me very sick starting with week 5 and started hemorrhaging in week 6. I really believe earlier intervention with the infection and better support would have prevented the miscarriage. The baby continued to grow and the heartbeat was very strong for weeks. Until it wasn’t. There isn’t any AT to help with this but there is a hint I’d like to share—establish a relationship with an OB now, before you’re pregnant, so immediately upon becoming pregnant, they’ll see you.
I have PTSD in part because of the trauma of the miscarriages, but they really were the end of a series of traumas involving the medical community that started with sexual abuse by my pediatrician. The PTSD app and calming, meditative, mindfulness apps and other practices I’ve developed are absolutely necessary in my fertility journey. Even without the history of trauma; infertility, they say, is as stressful on a couple as a cancer diagnosis and dramatically increases divorce rates (as does miscarriage). So, find practices, apps, and people that help you cope with stress.
Also not AT, but if you have a history of trauma, check with your local domestic violence and sexual assault center to see if they have OB/GYNs they recommend. The OB/GYN I have now was recommended by a local YWCA sexual abuse counselor. This OB/GYN has been way more supportive than the OBs I managed to see with my first miscarriage. I also have it written on my chart at my OB/GYNs that I do not see male practitioners. While previous offices said, in emergencies, I had to see whoever was on call (and it was always a male practitioner when I had emergencies and I was unable to let him touch me), my new office has assured me that they will find a way for a female practitioner to treat me whenever I need it. I was not joking when I told them I would rather see a female podiatrist for an obstetric or gynecological emergency than a male OB/GYN—and they listened.
Because of trauma, fatigue, or physical disability, the physical act of intercourse can sometimes just not work. The added stress of knowing you are ovulating can also impact the you or your partner’s ability to have conventional intercourse. There are other options and I would consider them AT. Google at-home insemination and inform yourself about these options. Sterile syringes, the Instead cup, even sterile, disposable speculums are available on Amazon.com. Be sure to do your homework though. Before I knew better, I assumed we could figure out a way to do an intrauterine insemination at home and save ourselves the money for that procedure at the fertility clinic (that ran us about $700 including meds). You can do yourself great harm if you are trying to put anything into or through your cervix. Consult a doctor, read up, and be careful. I’ll repeat this again, at home insemination yourself should only ever include getting sperm near your cervix, not in or through it.
Because of my history of abuse by my male pediatrician, I did not seek help at our local fertility center until they hired a woman fertility specialist. That left us trying our own with minimal support from general OB/GYNs for a long time that we could have had more advanced support. So, FYI, until you get to IVF, female nurses in the practice are the only people touching you. There was no initial physical exam because I had already seen my regular OB/GYN for that part and she did my HSG test which showed my blocked tube. For our tries at insemination in the office, nurses that I chose performed the procedure. Also, now that we are heading into IVF, I have the option of being completely sedated for the egg retrieval procedure so even if a male doctor performs the surgery, I will not be awake/aware of it. I am scheduling with the female fertility doctor for the embryo transfer. So—this part is not really AT, but know that there are options if you prefer a female provider. Also, I’m pretty stressed out about this whole process so yoga, meditation apps, and my PTSD app are coming in handy. I am developing a written plan for my care during the IVF procedure that includes who can be in the room and what they need to wait to do until I am fully sedated.
It looks like a lot of people participate in online support communities for fertility. I haven’t gotten into them as there often seems to be a lot of misinformation, but a friend found them to be very helpful during her IVF process so that is something to consider as well.
So, do some reading (I also recommend the book Making Babies), get informed, and access AT if you, too are on a fertility journey.
Have you struggled with infertility too? What things helped you? What things didn’t?Tweet