COVID-19 and the Fertility Patient: Can We Feel Hurt and Grateful at the Same Time?
At the risk of sounding tone-deaf, I'm writing a blog about gratitude.
I say, “tone-deaf,” because with fertility treatment paused, halted, or otherwise compromised, a lot of people who are trying to conceive and need fertility treatment aren’t necessarily feeling grateful. In fact, they feel quite the opposite. They are hating Covid-19 with a special kind of venom. The time the world is taking to shut down during this pandemic is quite literally also shutting down their dreams, hopes, and plans of having a child. In a fertility journey, every second, every day, every month counts, so to some, this brief moment in history might seem easily manageable. To the infertile others, it changes the course of their family. Or if they’ll even get to try for one in the future.
And that’s really the point of my writing to you today. Nothing is quite what it seems on the surface. While some fertility patients are feeling time slipping away from them and their dreams of a family along with it, there are some basics that I hope, all of us are feeling.
Can we have it all? Can we be grateful and have other feelings? Can we resume fertility treatment and be safe? Can we get pregnant and feel confident that it’s ok?
The Definition of a Paradox in the Time of a Pandemic
Paradox - a situation, person, or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities.
This is a time of paradox. Of fear and hope. Of resentment and gratitude. Of safety concerns and risk taking. This time of our lives is pushing us to investigate, in a deeply introspective way, where we live, literally and figuratively.
What are people faced with infertility and stalled fertility treatment thinking and talking about regarding gratitude?
I gathered thoughts, emotions, and takeaways straight from the source: You.
In addition to other organic situations where I found myself discussing this paradox, I posed this question in a private Facebook group I host called Ladies Night In Online. It is dedicated to open discussion and support for those going through infertility.
Gratitude is Present But a Struggle Right Now
Fertility patients are grateful for many things right now. Being healthy, no Covid-19 affecting them or their loved ones, being able to stay safe, having their jobs, being able to defer payments, and being able to stay home. And they are sad, resentful, and even angry at putting their family building plans on hold while they hear their friends talk about the Covid-19 babies being conceived at home... an option they don’t have.
Here’s all of it. The gratitude. The struggle. The sweetness. And the sadness. These are real statements from real people, expressing their gratitude, doing their best in an unprecedented situation.
“I am grateful for music. I am grateful for reading for pleasure. I am grateful for sunny days and springtime air. I am grateful for food and the cooking skills my mother taught me throughout my life. Right now, I feel most grateful for myself. Just me.” J.K.
“Gratitude has been a struggle for me through this infertility process. That balance of asking, ‘How can I be grateful for something that is pushing me to all my limits, costing me so much money, messing me up emotionally, mentally, and physically, and making my marriage go through nothing short of a rollercoaster?’ while also trying to remind myself, ‘I'm grateful for this challenge because it's going to bring me to my healthy baby and strengthen me and my marriage in the process.’ The emotional rollercoaster is giving me every kind of whiplash imaginable, especially now. And Covid-19 has only exacerbated things.” K.H.
“I am incredibly grateful for how much I’ve grown as a person and as a couple with my husband. Infertility sucks and it’s sad and the hardest thing either of us has been through... but it has taught me a lot about myself and how strong I am. It’s taught me more about my husband and how we best communicate with each other. And it’s also taught me it’s okay to feel however I feel and sucking it up and putting a smile on never helps.” M.J.
“[I’m grateful for] acupuncture - felt like the only time I was alone in a room and could quiet my mind. Was like therapy for me, and I miss it!” R.S. “Ladies and Couples Night In meant having others that understood and could relate to and talk to when my ‘normal’ friends didn’t get it.” S.G.
“So grateful for my RMA of Connecticut therapist (Melissa Kelleher) who got it more than anyone else. Friends and family who asked how I was and cared enough to remember to ask for updates. A rarity!” N.B.
“I am grateful for my amazing husband. While we have our differences, he goes above and beyond to show me how much he loves me. I am grateful for the everyday opportunity to learn and grow, which is possible to a large part due to challenges we face every day. Lisa, I am grateful to you, and the entire RMA of Connecticut team. We don’t know where our journey will lead, but one thing is for sure, we are so blessed to have you, Dr. Williams, Nurses (shout out to Linda Connolly), the phlebotomy Ladies, the front desk crew, and especially everyone working in the background- the whole team in our lives. Thank you.” A.K.
“I’m grateful for everything I have and the wonderful things that have grown from so much sorrow. I am resentful that I can’t watch a Yankee game or have dinner with the girls.” R.W.
“I am grateful I am able to be safe at home working and receiving my full pay. I’m grateful my family is well. I wouldn’t say I’m resentful of anything, but I’m scared and anxious and overwhelmed, and I guess I am resentful that we are missing out on so much life right now.” N.V.
“If I had to choose just one thing I feel grateful for, I would say Fertile Yoga. It was the one time each week I made time for myself and reminded myself to breathe.️” P.D.
“Gratitude is easy right now. Grateful I’m not sick or dying! Problem is, so is sadness, resentment, and rage. My friends who want a baby aren’t waiting. Why do I have to?” C.A.
“Feeling grateful is only one of the feelings that I have. It's like a ferris wheel, which one stops at the bottom and gets out for a while. There’s a bitter feeling, like I'm taking medicine, then there’s a huge feeling of relief. Wait thirty seconds and then there’s a new one.” D.M.
Do I Need to Lower My Expectations Right Now?
Simple answer: yes.
But not in all areas.
Lowering your expectations about the big things, like staying healthy, fertility treatment, keeping a roof over your head, or food for sustenance is not an option. Those are the larger things we do need to keep our focus on, and I applaud all of you out there, balancing your energy and attention. I’m sure you noticed that I did put in fertility treatment as one of the aspects of our lives that continue to need our attention.
The unintended political and psychosocial advancements that Covid-19 has brought is impressive and long reaching.
As fertility practices, like Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut, re-open and rededicate themselves to their patients suffering from the reproductive diseases that cause infertility, there is a renewed public and, yes, political acknowledgment that infertility, fertility
treatment, and reproductive health are essential services. I feel grateful to see that statement coming from Governors of many states (including New York and Connecticut), Departments of Public Health, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, Resolve New England, the newly formed Fertility Providers Alliance, and many more organizations and individuals.
It’s true that these statements declaring fertility treatment an essential service will likely advance advocacy for infertility accessibility and coverage. This is a truly unintended result that is to the benefit of all those trying to build their families, who need reproductive health services. These very public statements will be changing the conversation about why, in 34 states, there’s no insurance law covering infertility.
Yes, the political and social conversation will be changed forever about fertility treatment, in ways that we can’t even yet imagine.
Pacing May be the Key to Our Fertility Success
Because of my role as Patient Advocate at RMA of Connecticut, I get to speak with many people going through treatment. As you can assume, there is eagerness being expressed to resume fertility treatment. People are grateful to their fertility practices that are open or are reopening. And because we are living in a chaotic and paradoxical time, those very same people also have other feelings.
- They want to resume fertility treatment. And they want to be safe.
- They want to get pregnant. And they want to be healthy.
- They want to have their babies. And they want to deliver in a virus free environment.
Can we have it all?
The answer seems to be yes. The key seems to be timing, caution, and patience. Things may not happen as quickly as any of us would like as the world has not recovered yet and likely will not for quite some time.
And so we’re back to another pandemic paradox. Can we be impatient and kind at the same time? Let’s hope so.
A lot of our experiences are going to depend on kindness. Things take longer because temperatures are being taken, masks are being donned (and changed), disinfecting and cleaning is radically different than it was, and so on. Waiting patiently or impatiently will affect
how you feel and how you treat the person in front of you. Look into that person’s eyes, it may be the only part of their face that you can see. That person is there for one reason:
To help you achieve your goal of parenthood.
Be kind to them. They are doing their best, just as you are, trying to balance their fear and their courage.
An internal message from Joshua Hurwitz, MD, speaking on behalf of all the doctors at RMA of Connecticut is shared below. Mind you, this was never meant to be public. This was an email to “the entire RMACT work family.” I received special permission to share this with you because to me, it spoke to why I love my job and my practice the way that I do.
“Some of you have asked, WHY we have decided to reopen. There has been a lot of discussion around reopening, and we thought it best to share some of our thinking. On a fundamental level, our patients need us. Our mission here at RMA of Connecticut is never ‘non-Essential.’ Helping people have babies and build their family is at the core of our patients’ lives and hearts... there is nothing more essential to our humanity than this. We have all dedicated our lives and careers to helping our patients do this - and they still need us.” -Dr. Joshua Hurwitz, RMA of Connecticut.
Tone Deaf and Aware
There’s that possibility that this piece of writing resonated with you, and paradoxically, that it really didn’t. However you felt, the point is that it’s ok. Your feelings, while entirely valid, aren’t facts and may change more quickly right now.
A Sufi poet, known as Rumi put it beautifully:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness
comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi
About Lisa Rosenthal
Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her. She was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has been with RMACT for eleven years and serves as Patient Advocate and the Strategic Content Lead.
Lisa is the teacher and founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support men and women on their quest for their families through gentle movement and meditation.
Lisa’s true passion is supporting patients getting into treatment, being able to stay in treatment and staying whole and complete throughout the process. Lisa is also a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, which is helpful in her work with fertility patients.
Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.