A couple years ago, my school district’s yearlong motto was “mindset matters: dream big.” For a teacher, mindset is beyond important, especially on those days when your students are squirrelly. But, really, that little motto is relevant to every aspect of our lives. Perception and perspective have a huge influence on how we feel about our day-to-day lives. It’s much deeper than the glass half-full adage. Mindset can make or break you, especially when you’re involved in something, like fertility treatments, that can take months or even years.
Wise men, gurus, fortune tellers, life coaches, therapists: thosepeople all make a living by helping people form healthy perspectives. They would be out of a job if mindset didn’t matter. However, most of us don’t have a life coach or therapist or wise man at our beck and call. We have got to learn to train our brains to see situations with an appropriate perspective.(Notice that I didn’t say positive. While optimism is important, sometimes a strong dose of realism is needed.)
With infertility, the factors that influence the success of any cycle are seemingly endless: medication, hormone levels, ovulation, follicle growth, sperm count, etc.. So much of our journey to conceive is dictated by science and the body’s ability to perform. Often, it feels like those factors out of our control. I could have great follicles, but I cannot guarantee that they will move successfully through my fallopian tubes. My husband’s sperm count may be awesome, but I cannot make any of those little swimmers fertilize an egg. It’s maddening to hear that everything “looks good” and not be able to force the next step to happen correctly.
What you can control—even if it takes practice to do so—is your mindset. You can walk into each situation, whether it’s baseline bloodwork, an injection tutorial, an IUI procedure or an embryo transfer with the best attitude possible. You can decide if you’re going to let hope or anxiety dominate your two-week wait. You can tell yourself every day that this is the time it will work.
- Easier said than done, right?
When I look back at our fertility treatments, there are specific moments that stick out. One was the day that I picked up a window crayon and drew on our bathroom mirror. At that time, I was slowly surfacing from my roughest stretch of mental and emotional struggles. I had just had surgery to check for endometriosis and do ovarian drilling. Ahead of us we had one last IUI cycle before we moved on to IVF. I absolutely knew that I had to change my mindset if I wanted our dream to happen. I had to get my head in the right place so that my body could function the way I needed it to. That day I drew two stick figures—one with curly hair and one really tall—with a tiny stick figure between them. Every day I looked at that image and told myself that we would have a child. Every day I changed my mindset a little bit more.
Convincing myself to believe that this cycle will be the one when I had more failed pregnancy tests than fingers (and toes) was a challenge. But I knew that I needed to feel great about the chances of our cycle working, and I knew that I needed to step away from the second-guessing, trust my husband and the nurses, and move forward. Before, we had done IUI after IUI after IUI. Each time we changed it up a bit, but essentially we were relying on a procedure that was not working. The nurses and Chuck kept hinting that we needed to move to IVF, and I kept brushing them off. I convinced myself that IUI would work despite the evidence in front of my face. My mindset was totally wrong.
So I drew the picture. Then we did our last IUI. When we got the pregnancy test phone call, we were at the state fair. I tried to remain hopeful until the moment Chuck’s face fell. The good news is that I was able to move past that phone call faster than the previous ones. I think that was because of a couple of reasons.
The first is that I had made a commitment to myself to stay positive. I needed—desperately needed—to remain optimistic. We got the phone call; we took a few minutes to let the sadness envelope us then we metaphorically squared our shoulders and moved on. Even though I didn’t read the book until recently, something Rachel Hollis says in Girl, Wash Your Face comes to mind: never break a promise to yourself. That is exactly what Idid that day. I kept my promise that I would handle a negative pregnancy test with grace and look to our next step: our first IVF cycle.
Making the decision to do IVF next before the IUI cycle is the other reason I could keep myself more successfully in the right mental state. With our little cheering section of stick figures and our faith that IVF was going to work, we were ready to begin the process. Every step of the way, I focused on my attitude. I poured all of my brainpower into feeling great about each pieceof the cycle. Truthfully, I was finally being honest with myself. I had faced my hurdle with IVF (having extra eggs), asked the nurses about a billion questions, and trusted Chuck’s opinion on what we should do. I knew that all those things should have happened months before, and now the path we were on truly felt right.
Our IVF cycle went so smoothly. After the embryo transfer, I felt really good. Like really positive that this cycle would be the one. I vividly remember telling myself several times to dial back the hope. I didn’t want to move too far away from our history with pregnancy tests, but it felt like everything had fallen into place. My mindset was completely different from a few months before. During that rough period, it wasn’t that I had lost hope. It was more like I had let all the terrible parts of fertility treatments and living in a world full of pregnancies and babies overwhelm me. I couldn’t fully invest in hope because I was too scared of another failed cycle. I let myself feel like I would never become a mother.
Let me tell you, making the decision to step away from that despair and move forward was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It was also one of the best decisions I ever made. Even though we did all the right things for the IVF cycle, including Keto, and had all the luck we could have asked for, like ten viable embryos, I truly believe that my mindset, my absolute determination to look at every step of the way for its potential, not its obstacle, was a huge part of why I finally became pregnant.