I’ve come to realize that infertility treatments - particularly IVF - are nothing more than giant, expensive, often painful games of watch and wait (although “game” would imply there’s fun to be had, and I can assure you that there is none of that). Waiting for hormones to kick in, waiting for follicles to grow, waiting for retrieval day, waiting for day 3 numbers, day 5 numbers, waiting for genetic testing results, waiting for your next menstrual cycle, waiting for your lining to thicken, waiting for transfer day, waiting for pregnancy test results, waiting for your first ultrasound, waiting to hear the heartbeat, waiting, waiting, waiting. It’s enough to drive a girl mad.
Without even noticing, a life in waiting quickly becomes a life in limbo - a time when you feel stuck, constantly counting down the days until the current wait ends and the next begins. Minutes blend into hours blend into days blend into weeks, and before you know it, you’ve waited away months of your life with such singular focus that everything else seems to have melted away into oblivion without you even noticing. Nothing matters much anymore except making it to the next appointment, the next phone call, the next milestone. Your previously multifaceted, interesting, lovely life becomes an excruciating slog through a never-ending checklist where nothing else matters anymore except ticking off the next item. Time slows down to an aching crawl, with nothing meaningful with which to fill the molasses-thick drip of each passing minute.
If the waiting doesn’t kill you, the watching certainly will. Bobby and I are doers by nature. If there’s something we want to see or experience or accomplish, we figure out the necessary steps and then we do. We love an actionable plan. We thrive on getting things done. When we say we’re going to do, we do. But infertility and IVF don’t work like that. Yes, you have a protocol to follow and steps to take, but the results of those actions are completely out of your hands. And that helplessness, that loss of power, the cruel laugh at all of our best laid plans - well, it’s disorienting and crazy-making at best.
But the hardest part about the watching is that because there’s nothing you can do to affect the outcome, it feels like everything and anything can affect the outcome. You worry about how every little thing you do, say, or even think can change the course of your treatment. You Google everything and, unsurprisingly, fall down rabbit holes of misinformation that only cause more anxiety (I’m not entirely unconvinced that the internet isn’t just a government tool that exists to feed citizens so much contradictory information that we all become numb and paralyzed into inaction). You lose focus easily, and find yourself distracted by everything and nothing all at once. You fall prey to silly superstitions in a desperate, grasping attempt to feel some semblance of control over a situation that is 100 percent uncontrollable.
This is no way to live.
I’ve learned that despite the all-encompassing nature of this process, you cannot forget to keep living. Life is still happening and each day wasted worrying about an uncontrollable outcome is another 24 hours you’ll never get back. Yes, you can easily fill your days worrying about all the ways things can go wrong, or Googling every symptom you feel and every statistic under the sun, but in the end, where does all of that worry and information overload get you?
In the past, I’ve found it shockingly easy to descend into a black hole of dwelling on every possible terrible outcome in any given situation. I’ve imagined it all. But in the last few years, I’ve made a concerted effort to change that tendency. What I’ve found that works for me (both with worry and with handling negative or upsetting emotions in general) is to:
- Recognize and acknowledge how I’m feeling and why (the why is the key, so don’t skip that part!).
- Allow myself a set amount of time (say, 15 minutes) to divulge and fully immerse myself in that feeling. Denying or ignoring emotions doesn’t work (at least, not for me). I know I’m feeling that emotion for a valid reason, and it shouldn’t be neglected - but it also shouldn’t consume.
- When time is up, so is the worry (or the anxiety/anger/sadness/self-pity/fear/what have you). That’s it. I’ve felt the feelings, and now the feelings have no more control over me. Time to move on. Which brings me to the last step...
- Divert. Shift gears to a neutral or, better yet, positive thought, feeling, or action and be on your way.
I’ve had to employ this method more times than I can count the last several months, but it has been a lifesaver. Even with the best intentions, I still find it so easy to lose myself in the watching and waiting (and worrying). But by recognizing what is happening to me (step #1!), I’m able to address it and then get back to living. Bobby and I have enjoyed a social life again, made time to get out of the house for museum trips or movies or amazing meals, gone for long hikes with our dog, Molly, and I’ve torn through a huge chunk of my ever-growing reading list. Life may be a giant question mark right now, but it hasn’t stopped. There is no pause button on living. Worry does not alter outcomes (and neither does obsessively watching and waiting). Life keeps on keeping on whether we’re ready for it or not, and if this process has taught me anything, it’s to never miss a minute of it, because you never know what life has in store for you.