At some point, or perhaps it’s daily, in every women’s journey with infertility, a tummy turning, heart pulling beast will rear it’s ugly head. That beast is guilt. Guilt is one of the intense, distressing emotions common to infertility. From a cognitive psychology perspective, guilt is an emotion people experience because they think they have caused harm. Maybe it’s something you think you did, should have done, or didn’t do that you should have that supposedly caused the harm. These thought’s, these “could have,” “should have,” “would have” thoughts, are rampant during infertility treatment. And they set us up for extra doses of anxiety, worry, and all the second guessing that goes along with that.
Let me explain. Just the other day I ate a cupcake. This came after I got back from a work trip where I indulged in desserts after dinner, extra cookies at lunch, more gluten than I normally have, and no exercise other than some light walking. And if I’m being honest, let me add that I haven’t really worked out in I don’t know how long. But somehow it was the cupcake that was the final straw. The icing on the cupcake, I suppose. And the guilt flooded me. I began to freak out that I’ve seriously damaged my chance of producing any normal, healthy eggs due to my poor eating and sedentary lifestyle. I should be eating healthier. I see all these other women in infertility forums posting about their fertility smoothies and special fertility diets, and I feel like I’ve failed myself already. I know I should be eating healthier. I should be getting more exercise daily to counteract my computer-heavy job. I would be exercising more if I could just get caught up on the laundry. And there goes my mind, down the rabbit hole.
Infertility treatment is marked with so many different procedures, tests, options, decisions, medications, supplements, recommendations, advice, opinions. Over the course of infertility, a woman will be faced with so many different recommendations from doctors, nurses, friends, family, books, articles, and the internet that it is maddening. Google will give you countless ways to increase your chances of success. And the thing is, there is no one right way. No one path that will get you to the baby of your dreams. Everyone is a little bit different. But we are all bombarded with information, often partial or inaccurate information, but information none the less. So what do we do with all this information?
On the one hand, I’m incredibly thankful to live in a day and age where information is at my fingertips. I have learned more than I ever thought I would know about my reproductive system, how babies are really made (both naturally and through the help of science), what tests and procedures are available to help me conceive. I’ve also been able to find support, albeit online, from other women going through the same fight as me. If it weren’t for certain infertility forums and groups, I may never have been able to share my struggle with other women going through infertility treatments, as I don’t have any real life friends that have been there, done that. Through the internet I’m able to learn and share in ways that I never would have in a time long ago and galaxy far far away. This helps me be a better advocate for myself, make more informed medical decisions, and feel less alone.
On the other hand, sometimes information can become overwhelming. If I did all the things that I’ve come across that could supposedly help me become more fertile or improve my chance for success with IVF, it could literally become a full time job. And it can be really hard to tell the difference between what “latest thing” will actually make a difference or not. So this is where I circle back to my cupcake guilt. With so much information about what I should or shouldn’t be doing to support my fertility right at my fingertips, it’s really easy to put excessive pressure on myself. “I ate a cupcake” quickly turns into “I shouldn’t eat sugar because it’s going to damage my eggs.” But is it? Honestly, I doubt it. Yes eating healthy is good for me for so many reasons that go well beyond fertility. But the occasional cupcake, or even a longer splurge, isn’t really going to make or break my IVF.
So here’s what I learned the first time around, that I need to remind myself of during this round of IVF. This process is hard. The “kick you in the gut, stomp on your head, and rip your heart out” kinda hard. There will be good days and bad days. The first time around I had a lot of bad days. I mean a lot. And I still got pregnant. Despite all of the guilt and second guessing my every action or inaction, I still got pregnant. I was a miserable mess of anxiety, but I still got pregnant. So this time around, I’m reminding myself that I don’t have to be perfect to have success. I can give myself a break and let the guilt wash away. I can allow myself to have a better, calmer experience this time around. Or at least a little less insane. Because the truth is, it won’t really change the outcome, but it will change the process and how I emerge at the other end of it all.