Struggling to fall pregnant is probably one of the most emotionally fraught times a couple can experience. From dealing with well-meaning (but still intrusive) questions, pressure from family and your own personal expectations, going cycle after cycle with no pregnancy success will undoubtedly take its toll.
“Infertility or going through IVF is still such a taboo topic,” says counsellor and life coach Claire Hall, author of Empowered Fertility, who wants to equip women with solutions for dealing with their fertility issues. “I have seen the frustration of loved ones going through this, and felt really powerless,” she explains. “My hope is to build up the resilience of women, and empower them rather that dwelling [on the emotional struggle].”
Whether you’ve been trying for months; are considering in-vitro fertilisation (IVF); or are simply starting to consider the baby question, here are the most important things (both practical and emotional) the experts want you to know.
1. Don’t overestimate your own fertility
Not the most positive point to begin with, but it’s key to manage your own expectations. According to fertility specialist Dr Devora Lieberman, who contributed to Hall’s book, women tend to underestimate their infertility. “People know in general that fertility declines with age, but I think women will think, ‘that’s someone else, that’s not me,” she says. “We’re confronted with so many celebrities having babies later in life that people think, ‘if Halle Berry can have a baby at 45, I can too’.”
However, in reality, it’s a slippery slope once women hit their mid-30s. “[Fertility] starts to drop at 35,” says Lieberman. "The slope gets pretty slippery at 37, and then by 42, half of us won’t be able to get pregnant at all with our own eggs.”
What’s more, if you’re relatively healthy, lifestyle changes won’t improve you chances of conceiving naturally. “It’s certainly true that you can diet your way out of fertility. You can be too fat, too thin or a smoker. But if you’re reasonably healthy, being healthier is not going to make you more fertile – that’s a huge myth.”
2. The good news is, IVF isn’t as scary as you think
For Lieberman, information is power. “Fear is one of the biggest hurdles people have to overcome when looking at IVF,” she says. “It’s the fear of injections, the fear of the procedure and ultimately the fear of failure.” But when it comes to the actual process of IVF, Lieberman says it’s fairly simple. “These days the cycles are shorter, and the needles are small and easy to inject yourself with.”
3. It’s ok to be selfish
When you’re trying for a baby, people are going to unwittingly say the wrong thing. Establish boundaries to protect your emotional health. For Hall, it’s all about encouraging “self-compassion” in the women she counsels. “That’s giving yourself permission to be where you’re at [emotionally],” she explains. “If that means you don’t go to baby showers, that’s ok. It’s not about pushing people away, it’s about putting tools in place to protect yourself.”
4. You don’t go through the process alone
Going through IVF isn’t something you and your partner have to navigate solo. According to Lieberman there’s a whole network of professionals behind you. “You’ve got a whole team of people there barracking for you. You’ve got a doctor, nurses, counsellors; a whole support network which women should take advantage of.”
5. Limit the baby talk
When trying for a baby, it’s easy for it to consume not only your thoughts, but every conversation. “The topic of having a baby can be so overwhelming, so I suggest following the 20-minute golden rule: only talking about it for 20 minutes per day," suggests Hall. Otherwise, “communication may close because the same story is being re-hashed. The thing is to be honest, and give each other the respect and permission to hear where the other person is really at.”
6. Have your responses ready
For women who are part of communities where there is a big focus on family, it can be hard managing the expectations of friends and relatives. Hall suggests having prepared responses to that pesky ‘When are you going to have a baby?’ question. “Get in front of the bathroom and repeat these answers confidently: When the time is right; that’s not something I can answer right now, or why do you want to know?” she says. “The point is, if you’re not comfortable; give yourself permission to leave or to change subjects. It’s no one else’s agenda apart from your own.”
Empowered Fertility: A Practical Twelve-Step Guide by Claire Hall and Dr Devora Lieberman ($19.99) is published by Hachette Australia.