It’s only been 3 weeks since finding out that my FET actually worked, but it feels like a lot longer. Since my initial HCG beta, I’ve had 2 more betas and each had doubled appropriately. Each beta brought temporary relief and renewed confidence. All in all, I’ve been maintaining a decent level of calm, right up until about 3 days ago. Since then I’ve been beating back that feeling that, I think, goes had in hand with pregnancy after infertility. It’s the feeling you get when you know just how fragile something is. When you know how easily it can be lost. And how frequently “bad things” happen. How I wish I could be blissfully naive.
When I see women posting pictures of positive pregnancy tests, as they announce to the world that they are having a baby, I cringe in silence and hope that they really do end up with that baby. Or I roll my eyes and spat out, “idiot!” You know, it depends on how my hormone cocktail is affecting my mood that day. The reality is that those of us who struggle with infertility have a deeper level of understanding about what all can go wrong. And that makes the early weeks, even months, of pregnancy after infertility a peculiar time.
I feel like I have to pause to state specifically how grateful I am to be pregnant at all after my FET. So let me be clear – I am grateful. I would rather be riding in this anxiety boat than preparing the ships for another turbulent round of IVF, no contest. We all work so hard to hopefully get here. But I do want to acknowledge the strange liminal space that comes after a big fat positive (BFP).
The psychological impact of infertility does not go away with a positive pregnancy test. Sometimes, it doesn’t even go away when you get the baby in your arms. Trauma, depression, sadness, anxiety, fear, anger, guilt – these emotions can be carried forward. Sometimes their faces changes, but in some ways they may go with you. At least for a while. This concept caught me completely off guard when I became pregnant after IVF 4 years ago. In fact, it wasn’t even until the second trimester that I even realized how numb and detached I felt. That’s never how I imagined I’d feel after trying so hard for so long to get pregnant. And I was too ashamed about that to tell anyone.
The problem was that no one talked about it. So that’s why I’m bringing it up, because I know my experience isn’t unique. The infertility community is a wonderful support resource. But it can be hard to share anxieties and fears with those who are still struggling to get their BFP. And rightly so – I get that. Assumptions of happiness also come from family and friends, sometimes from our partners too. But I think it’s important for women to know that it is normal to not feel ecstatic after a positive beta. You don’t have to feel guilty for that – we’ve felt guilty about enough crap, haven’t we?
So what can we do when we are standing at the threshold of pregnancy land but we still feel like an infertile imposter?
First and foremost, I think just knowing that these feeling can happen and are normal is a huge step. I was literally blindsided, and when I realized what was going on I wondered why no one talked about this. As a psychologist I’ve worked a lot with trauma survivors, and I realized that there’s an analogy there. When you take a person out of a traumatic situation, we all know that there is going to be carryover effects. For example, when a soldier comes home from war, we know that simply being home and no longer being shot at doesn’t make all of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) go away. Not by a long shot. I’m not saying that all women who go through infertility have PTSD, although some may. But, we can’t simply remove a woman from infertility and expect that she is going to be all smiles and have no remnants of the pain that she went through. Yet, a lot of people kind of expect her to.
When women talk about the unique experience of pregnancy after infertility – and not just the side with rainbows and kittens – we create awareness, normalize the whole continuum of the experience of infertility, and foster honest support. I’ve found some Facebook groups specifically geared toward pregnancy after IVF, but honestly they were harder to find than the infertility groups. I think these groups can be valuable since it provides a space for opening up about these feelings to women who can likely relate, without being insensitive to those who are still in the IVF trenches.
Lastly, I just want to say that we need to be kind to ourselves. That is true no matter where we are in this process, and it doesn’t end with a BFP. And this is particularly relevant to me today as I sit here anxiously awaiting my first ultrasound tomorrow. I’ve reluctantly analyzed every symptom in a futile effort to determine whether this pregnancy is still progressing – whether we’ll find a baby with a heart beat in there tomorrow. It doesn’t feel real. I don’t feel connected to this baby. I’m scared to, because what if… But I know that right now this is out of my hands. My body will do what it intuitively knows to do, and if this embryo is healthy then it will still be growing. If not, I will find a way to cope. I hope I don’t have to, but I will. If infertility has taught me anything, it’s how strong I am.