Infertility is An Emotional Roller Coaster & Other Truths
Infertility and fertility treatment are often compared to either a roller coaster or a Ferris wheel, and for good reason. Throughout your journey, there are many twists and turns, ups and downs - and it often feels like the entire thing is out of your control.
That got us wondering, “If all the pieces of fertility treatment were like rides at an amusement park, which ones would they be?”
Let's Be Clear: Infertility is NOT Funny
But that doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally have a good laugh along the way.
As you read, know that while the metaphors here are meant to inject some humor, we will also (seriously) discuss what we do and don't know about fertility, and how to navigate the roller coaster that is infertility.
We know just how frustrating it is to feel like you don't know what lies ahead, and we also have a sneaking suspicion that fertility treatment might have more than a few things in common with amusement park rides than you'd expect.
➡️ Related: New Fertility Patient 101 Guide (everything you need to know)
So, let’s look at a few "old favorites" that one expects to find at the amusement park of infertility, shall we? (A special thank you to our Ladies Night In participants for helping pick the winners for each category!)
Dr. Laura Meyer will also add her wisdom and expertise to explore what we DO know and what you can expect during fertility treatment - so be sure to read all the way to the end.
Insert drum roll here...
The Fertility Treatment Amusement Park
#1 Roller Coaster: The Emotional Unknowns
We can all agree that we love hearing good results during fertility treatment - those are the high points. And we’re devastated when we hear results that are disappointing - those are the unexpected, stomach-dropping dips on this ride.
Here are some thoughts that add to the roller coaster of fertility treatment:
- Will this treatment be successful or not?
- If this doesn’t work, what’s next? Will that work?!
- Can I be okay receiving answers that are disappointing? How?
- My pregnancy losses have convinced me this will never happen
- How can I move on after the disappointments?
- Can I actually get pregnant when I’m so convinced it won’t work?
#2 Ferris Wheel: The Mental Gymnastics
The Ferris wheel is usually considered a pretty benign, gentle ride, right? Sure, unless it won’t let you get off. Then you're just stuck, going around and around in circles. What does that look and feel like when it comes to fertility treatment?
- Coming back to the same thoughts over and over again
- Making a decision, only to doubt it and re-think it later
- Becoming convinced that because something hasn’t worked before, nothing ever will
- Spending time researching everything on Google for hours - even after you’ve already gotten answers from trusted and reliable sources.
#3 Tilt-A-Whirl: The Physical Side Effects
Oh yeah, let’s go with this one! This is the ride that makes you feel completely off-balance, like you have no anchor to the world. Fun? Not so much.
Here are some thoughts that might be running through your head:
- Am I more emotional (even crazy?) because of the hormones or is it just me?
- My belly feels tender and is bruised from the shots, is that okay?
- I can’t sleep because I’m worried all night long.
- I can’t do my regular exercise routine that keeps me sane...is that part of what’s making me feel tired and not myself?
- My knees hurt, is that because of the medications?
- All the vaginal ultrasounds, otherwise known as “You have to stick what, where?”
- I have to come in for how many blood draws?! Say that again?
- My butt hurts from the shots, when will that go away?
- Another hysterosalpingogram (HSG)? Why?
- I’m afraid of anesthesia, can I do my egg retrieval without it?
A fertility nurse explores IVF side effects at each stage:
#4 It’s a Small World: Family, Friends & Colleagues
A very common internal struggle for many of us dealing with fertility issues is “I don’t want to talk about this" or “I want to talk to everyone about this.”
Sometimes we want to talk about infertility, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes when we do feel like talking, we don't know who to go to, or worry that if they say something hurtful, we won't know how to respond.
And that’s often just the beginning. A few more examples of how the world can feel smaller when you’re challenged by infertility...
- Is there anyone out there who actually understands what I’m going through?
- Which of my friends are going to have an empathetic reaction to my story?
- Who can I trust to keep this information private?
- I don’t want everyone knowing my business - but then I feel sad when I don’t get any support.
- How can I keep doing this with no one knowing what I’m going through?
#5 Log Flume: The Language of Infertility
Do you ever feel like you’re drowning as you navigate trying to conceive, understanding your treatment options, finding the right doctor or fertility practice and then you're expected to learn a brand-new language: the language of infertility.HSG, FSH, AMH, A1C, IUI, IVF, FET, ET, PGTA, HCG...how are you supposed to keep track of what all of these acronyms mean?
- Becoming multilingual wasn’t what you signed up for
- It’s hard to understand, even when the people explaining things to you are speaking in your native language
- Not only do you feel confused about the language of fertility, but you don’t speak it either, so asking questions feels difficult and doesn't always yield the answers you're looking for
#6 The Ring Toss: Statistics & the Game of Chances
Is it all in the way you look at it? Statistics always have at least two sides when it comes to fertility treatment, and it can feel like one's the winning side and the other is the losing side.
Land on the right side of the statistics and it’s a yes. The wrong side? It’s a no.
Here are some possible scenarios that may run through your head when looking at the data:
- I have a 70% chance of becoming pregnant with a tested embryo (PGTA), doing an FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer). Wait...why didn’t I become pregnant then?
- Okay, it didn't work this time, but a 30% chance of NOT becoming pregnant, with my diagnosis, still means a 70% chance I WILL become pregnant.
If you're naturally more optimistic (or trying to be), you can view the statistics this way:
- My chance of pregnancy is 10% from this treatment. So, that means there is a 90% chance I won't get pregnant. Or, I could be the 1 in 10 women who does!
- I was quoted a 5% chance of success this month by my doctor. Will I be the 1 in 20 who gets pregnant? Or part of the other 95% who doesn't?
We get it. Statistics can really suck. But knowing what your odds of success are can help set expectations, give you a better understanding of what might work best for you and make you feel more empowered throughout your fertility journey.
➡️ Related: Why You Should Have Hope After Failed IVF
#7 Funhouse Mirror: My Life Looks Unrecognizable
Here's what our lives often look like when we try to make plans as people going through fertility treatment:
- Vacations? Nope. I may start my cycle (or it may be unpredictable)
- Baby showers? Depends. Seeing babies when I’m trying to conceive and full of hormones might not go well.
- Accepting an invitation to a party? What if I have to sneak off in the middle of the event to do an injection or trigger shot?
- Furthering my education? Hard to concentrate when fertility treatment feels like a full-time job, and should I even try if I hope to become pregnant soon?
- Buying a home or car? Well, spending money on those things feels impossible if we need the money for fertility treatment.
All or some of these unknowns may run through your mind and heart throughout the fertility treatment process. And we've barely scratched the surface - you know just how many more questions and worries pop up along the way.
Let's counter all those unknowns with some fertility facts and reassurance from Reproductive Endocrinologist Dr. Laura Meyer.
The Way Out of the "Amusement Park"
Lisa wittily and accurately captured some of the most common concerns that patients share on their paths to parenthood above. For anyone struggling to build their family, uncertainty about the future is often the most frightening and overwhelming part of the journey.
As an example, knowing the statistics about treatment success rates can be helpful for decision-making, but from an individual perspective, the outcome is binary (no one ever gets 30% or 50% or 70% pregnant).
So it's totally normal to wonder “How will this turn out? Will I ever be successful? How much of the outcome can I control?” While there are many “unknowns” along the path to having a baby, there is a lot that we DO know about factors that influence fertility and the success of family building treatments.
What We DO Know About Fertility Treatment
- Fertility treatment works. It works often. Pregnancy rates are higher than they've ever been before, due to improvements in process and technology across the fertility field.
- We now have many tools at our disposal to help people to grow their families.
- There have been over 8 million IVF babies born in the world, meaning that many people have successfully walked this path. And each of them rode the roller coaster of uncertainty and faced fears and unknowns along the way. So know that you are not alone in this challenging journey.
- Our field is constantly evolving. There are people all over the world doing research to make family-building more effective, efficient and accessible. We have many tests and treatment options available to help our patients to reach their goals.
Want to improve your chances of conceiving right now?
More Good News
- Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) means that even with a very low sperm count, many men can go on to have a biological child.
- Preimplantation genetic testing of embryos can reduce the risk of pregnancy loss (miscarriage). It can also be used to help people who carry a known genetic mutation to have a child that is not affected with a serious disease. That's pretty amazing!
- Elective Single Embryo Transfer (ESET) is being used more frequently, and with more success than ever before. This type of transfer dramatically decreases the incidence of multiple pregnancy (which is higher risk for both the mother and babies), and therefore significantly increases the chance of a healthy pregnancy and baby.
- There are many ways to build a family! And there is no one “right” path for all people. Each situation is unique, and the treatment can be tailored accordingly. As an example, “third party reproduction,” in which a donor egg, donor sperm or gestational carrier is used, has given many people a viable path to parenthood that didn’t exist a few generations ago.
- For women who are not yet ready to have children, egg freezing is a way to increase the likelihood of successfully growing their family in the future. The technology used for egg freezing has significantly improved over the years, and there have now been thousands of babies born from frozen eggs.
These are just a few positive examples of what we know to be true in the field of fertility care. Without a doubt, one of the most important things to know is that if you need help to grow your family, this is the best time in history to seek treatment.
If you are facing an infertility diagnosis, know that we have many ways to support and care for you throughout the process and to help you achieve your dream of having a baby.
A Note About COVID-19 Vaccines & Fertility
There is very reassuring research regarding the safety of COVID-19 vaccination for those trying to conceive or pregnant. The vaccine is recommended by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, the American College of OB/GYN and the CDC, among many other leading organizations.
We are lucky to have a safe and effective tool to keep people healthy as they build their families during this global pandemic, and encourage our patients to take advantage of it.
Have questions about COVID-19, fertility and pregnancy? We answer your questions here.
Support & Community During Fertility Treatment
There are many ways to find support while you’re in fertility treatment, including counseling, support groups, acupuncture, nutritional guidance, yoga and more.
These can be helpful mechanisms to manage stress and help us focus on the “knowns” rather than the parts of infertility that can’t be controlled.
Here at RMA of Connecticut, we have a robust Integrated Fertility & Wellness program that offers all of the above, as well as one-on-one support for patients at any stage. Don't hesitate to reach out for the support you need as you navigate this wild ride. It can drastically improve your experience and help maintain your mental and physical health.
Balancing Out the Unknowns
When it comes down to it, wanting to understand all of these "unknown" and "known" aspects of the fertility process comes from the same place.
You want to build a family.
You want a healthy pregnancy and baby.
We want that for you too.
And if the amusement park analogy lightened your mood a bit or helped you see the funny in the (very unfunny) parts of your fertility journey, then we've done our job.
Either way, we’re here for you. Every step of the way.
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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.