Infertility is something that isn’t often talked about. That’s a little sad when you think about it, since one in six Canadian couples will go through the awful experience of discovering that having a baby isn’t as simple as slipping the condom off and throwing out the birth control.
For some couples, even just hearing the phrase, “So is a baby in your future?” can lead to daunting thoughts and self-doubts as they wonder whether one actually is in their future. And why — why, oh why, oh why — hasn’t it happened for them yet? But try explaining that to a well-intentioned friend or family member.
At some point, it’s time to seek help in the form of a family doctor or, if it’s been a while, a fertility clinic. If you and your partner find yourselves at that point, here are just a few things you should know in preparation.
1. You usually have to wait a year
It seems like such a long time to have to wait to get professional help, but they say that average couples can take anywhere from a month to a year to conceive. That’s because there are so many factors that come into play during the monthly cycle. But if you’re coming up on a year of trying and nothing has happened yet, it might be time to book an appointment with your family doctor and get a referral.
2. Both partners really need to be on board
The first thing clinics will want to do is test, test, test. Which makes complete sense since the point of being there is to find out what’s “wrong.” That means both partners will have to be tested separately, which can sometimes lead to hard feelings from one side. The important thing to remember — no matter what — is that you’re a team. If you start blaming each other or questioning each other’s capabilities, it will take a toll on your relationship. And we all know that babies are never meant to “fix” a relationship. Instead, be there for each other and support each other no matter what the tests say.
3. It’s an emotionally trying time just getting yourself there
Physically walking into the door of a fertility clinic is a journey in and of itself. It’s like admitting to the world that your body has failed you and you are now one of “those” couples who could potentially spend thousands and thousands of dollars to conceive. However until you have all the answers (it could be something as simple as one person’s PH balance being out of whack), you just don’t know. And that’s pretty damned scary too.
4. But it also comes with a feeling of accomplishment
Here’s the good news. For many people, just taking this step is one towards an emotional healing process. If you’ve been wondering “what’s wrong” for quite some time now, speaking to a doctor and undergoing these tests can make you feel as though you’re taking back control of your own body. Even if you decide that additional treatments aren’t for you, for some just knowing what’s going on is half the battle.
5. There are a lot more people than you’d expect
Unfortunately, unless we know someone who has undergone this process, most of what we know about fertility clinics is from TV and film. They often seem like isolated, clean places with expensive nurses. In Canada, that’s a far cry from the real thing. These waiting rooms are often packed, and it does’t matter what time of day you go. Be prepared to face a lot of people, probably who are wondering why you’re there just as much as you’re wondering why they are.
6. It’s invasive as heck
For dudes, having to give a sample in a cup is invasive enough. Add in outdated porn magazines or a bunch of other guys who are clearly there doing the same thing, and it’s a little intense. For the ladies, be prepared to have lots and lots of ultrasounds — including one while you’re on Day 3 of your period. We won’t lie — it’s not the cleanest-feeling thing you’ll ever do, but if you do get pregnant there’s lots more shame to lose, trust us. Try and consider these treatments as preparation or practice if you can.
7. After a while, it begins to feel like going to a McDonald’s
Between all those aforementioned people, the testing and the plethora of treatments available, these doctors and nurses see a lot of people. To them, you’re often not a person but a name on their list, which can feel disheartening and overwhelming when you’re going through one of the most emotional experiences of your life. Try not to take it personally, and be sure to write down all of your questions in advance. You may feel rushed, but now is the time to stand up for yourself and get the answers you need. Unfortunately no one can do that for you but you.
8. Seeing an actual doctor isn’t always part of the routine
By the way, once you do begin testing, or even decide to do monthly monitoring (in which the clinic monitors a female’s cycle in order to tell the couple when their best days of trying to conceive naturally are), you probably won’t be seeing a doctor every visit. This is when nurses step in, since to them these are actually pretty routine visits. Often they pay more attention to you than the doctors anyhow, so get to know them if you can.
9. You’ll begin to speak the fertility clinic lingo
Don’t know what the terms Day 3, IUI, IVF, ovarian reserve, uterus lining, Clomid or follicle growth mean? You will soon enough, because they’ll become a part of your everyday vocabulary.
10. The drugs are scary AF
Speaking of Clomid, we’d liken those expensive little pills to the Tylenol of the fertility world. They’re often one of the first things doctors reach for when it comes to boosting your fertility, as they stimulate the ovaries and encourage more than one egg to “grow” during each cycle. The thinking is that if there is more than one egg for the sperm to fertilize, the couple has a better chance.
Some women are completely unaffected by the drug. Others go a little bit mental as their hormones get all out of whack. The change in personality can be really frightening, which is why it’s important that both partners are aware of the side effects and what to look for if this is an option you choose.
11. It’s like being on a constant, monthly roller coaster
Drugs aside, trying to get pregnant with the help of a fertility clinic is one big emotional roller coaster — one of ups and downs and dizzying spins every single month. When you’re trying naturally you aren’t necessarily paying all that much attention to what your body is doing. But when you’re at a clinic, you know your ovulation days sometimes down to the hour. Believe us when we say that makes you think about conceiving in a whole new way, which can also mean the disappointment following another period can feel a lot more epic. We’d say try to relax in between cycles and not think about it if possible, but if you’re at the clinic and you’ve been talking about this journey with friends, odds are you’ve already heard this one. About a zillion times.
12. Sometimes, you’ll get answers… other times it’s sheer frustration
In some cases the cause of infertility can be something so simple as a missed shot or unbalanced PH level. Sometimes it can be more complicated, like a blocked fallopian tube or misshapen sperm. In those cases there are specific treatments available to help. Other times, infertility simply goes undiagnosed. And if you’re the type who needs answers then that’s pretty much the most devastating news of all. That doesn’t mean some techniques won’t work in your case, it just means that for whatever reason the doctors can’t tell you physically why conceiving hasn’t been so easy for you. Surprisingly, fertility is one of the most mysterious medical issues out there.
13. You don’t have to do everything the doctors tell you
Above all, it’s so important to listen to your own body and what it’s telling you to do. Your doctor may recommend in vitro fertilization (in which eggs are extracted from the ovaries and placed in a petrie dish with sperm to form an embryo before that embryo is placed into a woman’s uterus with hopes of it taking), but you may not be ready for that. Maybe you feel like you need a break from the clinic instead, so that you can have a chance to reconnect with your partner or reclaim some “normalcy” in your life.
Either way, trust your body as much as possible and do whatever your intuition tells you. While your doctor may know the science, you know how much you’re physically and emotionally able to tackle, and that’s just as important.
14. It really, really helps to talk it out with someone going through the same thing
We don’t blame you if you’re not ready to share your problems with your friends and family, especially if they’ve never been through something like this and don’t know what to say. But having a friend or an online support group to check into and share some of your fears, questions and concerns can be a true lifeline for people dealing with infertility. As much as you want to rely on your partner, sometimes you need an outside perspective. And knowing that you aren’t the only one having certain thoughts can be strangely comforting. Even though infertility is a lonely road it’s helpful to remember you aren’t the only walking it. And the more we begin to talk about it in general, the more educated we can all be.