When I started fertility treatments in an attempt to give my son a sibling, I was the ‘perfect patient.’ I trusted the professionals whose care I was under to guide me through the process. I let them lead the way and I was along for the ride. I deferred to them to make decisions about next steps instead of being an active participant. I felt like they knew best. I didn’t want to rock the boat. I was meek, agreeable, pleasant, and followed every rule.
Now, five years later, my journey to give my son a sibling is coming to an end. The end is not what we wanted. We are walking away empty-handed after years of… what’s the right word… Trying? Persisting? Fighting? Failing? All of the above?
As I pack up my things to leave, I think about what it is that I need to leave behind. This all couldn’t have been for nothing, right? So here’s what I want to tell you: after five straight years of disappointment, heartache, and grief, this is what I learned, probably too late in the process. This is how you can be the ‘perfect fertility patient.’
Take ownership of your journey.
I’ve been in the care of three different REs. What I’ve learned is that REs have a lot of patients. I’ve been ‘lost in the shuffle’ so many times, at very critical points in our journey. This has cost us months of lost time. But I let that happen to myself because I didn’t want to be a bother to anyone. Silly, right?
Don’t be me. Don’t let yourself get lost in the shuffle. Pay attention to the treatment plan, the dates, the dosages. Speak up if you notice something a little strange or off. Your medical team is paying attention to you as well as many, many other patients. You’re the only one paying attention to only you.
Stand up for yourself.
The number of times I’ve let myself be bulldozed or dismissed in this process is embarrassing. For me, my turning point was two years ago when I noticed that I had an endometrial biopsy scheduled one day earlier than it should have been. I called the clinic and inquired, and they called my doctor and inquired, and long story short, I was going to have a wasted cycle because “they don’t do biopsies on Saturdays.” Well, that wasn’t going to work for me. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was completely full of estrogen and didn’t want the last 20 days to have been a waste because someone wasn’t paying enough attention to my file.
I finally spoke up for myself, and things escalated. My RE told me that I wasn’t fun anymore. Fun! I realized he shouldn’t be my RE for much longer. But… they found a way to do a biopsy on a Saturday…
I had a new RE in a few months’ time. He’s awesome.
Yes, medical professionals know best when it comes to the science, the medicine, the options. But they don’t know YOU. You know your body the best – the ins and outs of it. You know what you can handle – emotionally, physically, financially.
Make sure to vocalize what you know and make sure your professionals are listening to you.
Ask for what you want.
I learned (very late in the process) that fertility treatments aren’t as rigid as I originally thought. There is some flexibility, but you have to ask for it.
For example, if there are key dates you won’t be able to go into the clinic because of work obligations, say so. They may be able to work around those dates. If your medicine is leaving you with normal, but difficult, side effects, say so. There may be ways to mitigate those side effects without affecting the efficacy of the meds.
You can’t get everything you want in this process, but there may be small changes that will help it work better for you.
My first and second REs didn’t ‘get me’. Sometimes, when we met, it felt like they didn’t even remember me. As a result, I found myself being a much quieter version of myself around them, not wanting to rock the boat, trying to keep the relationship as positive as possible.
After a few years of this, still without a baby, I was over not being true to who I was. When I met my third RE, I was just myself. I cracked jokes, I swore, I cried. I spoke to him as honestly as I would my husband and showed him exactly who I was. And as a result, I saw him make recommendations that were best for me – for my journey, my preferences, my life.
As a result, even though we’re leaving this journey without that sibling for my son, the past year and a half have been a much more positive experience than the 3.5 years prior.
What I’ve learned in five years of fertility treatments is that the ‘perfect patient’ isn’t what your RE, your nurses, or your ‘team’ want to make the process smoother for them. The ‘perfect patient’ is who you need to be to make your own life easier.
Fertility treatments aren’t how anyone wants to have a baby. But if they are what you need, remember: this is your journey. Do what you need to do to make it work for you.
By Vidya Ledsham