What to expect when you are (finally) expecting.
Written by: Samantha Parent
Infertility is a nightmare-like reality that one cannot even begin to imagine or understand until they experience it themselves. My journey through infertility was very challenging and felt like I was living in a thick fog. The future seemed so uncertain. I would go through dark days when I felt like no one cared about me or understood. I questioned how long my husband would love me for if I couldn't give him a child (which was not based on anything he said or how he treated me, it was just based on my own insecurities). Our relationship suffered because in different ways, we were both broken. We both fell into coping mechanisms because we just didn't know what to do. I withdrew from a lot of social settings, especially those involving children. It's sad because you hate feeling the way you do, and yet - that's how you feel and you can't just turn it off. You spend so much of your life mapping out exactly how you want things to go, and then infertility reminds you how out of control you really are and how cruel life can be. Life isn't completely hopeless; there are moments of joy and beauty and friendship and love and support...but there is also a reminder almost everywhere you turn of what you are lacking.
So what happens when everything turns around and someone struggling with infertility becomes pregnant? A lot of things happen! This post aims to cover this scenario in a general sense, as many experiences are similar and yet each uniquely their own too. I hope this post can help shed insight for women on this path to have an idea of what to expect, and also for the loved ones of women on this path to better understand and provide support. It's also important to note that many women can experience some of these feelings and that they of course are not exclusive to pregnancy after infertility alone.
1. Excitement and gratitude
Of course, after prayer upon prayer that you will be blessed with a baby, when you finally become pregnant you are so incredibly grateful. Most women who experience a healthy pregnancy after a journey through infertility explain that they are able to maintain an incredibly positive and appreciative outlook, even through a new world of symptoms, discomfort and pain. The pain now has a purpose, and it means you are one day closer to meeting your baby! It is common to want to savour every single little moment and joy because you fought a long time to experience them. Sometimes you can almost feel completely obsessed with your pregnancy, and that's totally normal! This is also the reaction that is often expected of you by those in your life. It just makes logical sense that after so much longing, you would be completely excited and grateful when your dreams come true and you are pregnant. Let yourself feel ALL of these happy emotions whenever they present themselves. Jump for joy, dance in your kitchen, sing happy songs, journal - allow yourself to fully indulge in the world of "mommyhood" because it's about freakin' time that you got to!
2. Disbelief and numbness
Although most women at their core are excited to be pregnant after infertility, many report having a really hard time letting that reality sink in. This is especially true for those who have experienced the heartache of pregnancy loss. For myself, I finally became pregnant after 4 long years of struggle and questions, only to lose that pregnancy 5.5 weeks in. I never imagined I would have a problem carrying a pregnancy and was not at all worried about miscarriage. I figured my body's problem was getting pregnant, and once I got there, it would just stick and everything would be peachy. I was completely blindsided by the loss and it changed me and how I viewed pregnancy moving forward. When I became pregnant again just a short month and a half later, I was excited but suspicious. There was a hesitation to really believe that this one would be healthy, which is completely normal. It's hard because all you want to do is be positive and experience a joyful pregnancy, but instead you are often almost numb to your emotions. Defenses go up to protect your heart since it knows what happened last time and doesn't want to hurt like that again. It can feel like a dream and can be so hard to believe that a baby is really coming. The numbness can be challenging too because so many people are excited for you and are expecting you to be excited, so you feel like you have to put on a smile and put your best face forward at all times, despite whatever you may be feeling inside and this can most certainly be alienating.
3. Depression and/or anxiety
I know, I know. It doesn't make much logical sense. But it is true. Depression and/or anxiety are very common in women who have experienced infertility, even after going on to a healthy pregnancy. Not everyone experiences these battles but you are not alone if you do. The truth is you can want something for so long and finally get it, and yet find yourself still broken. An infertility journey takes a huge toll on couples and sometimes a positive pregnancy test can't undo years of turmoil and stress. Mental health can be hard to understand. Sometimes the causes of the depression/anxiety can be due to the fertility treatment and medication, the psychological impact of the infertility journey itself, the immense fear of pregnancy loss/complications, or a combination of all three. A Harvard study done on infertile women found that these women felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or recovering from a heart attack. So even though pregnancy would seem like a cure for all of this, sometimes it can take time and even medical intervention to help women heal from the impact that infertility had on them. If you are pregnant and feeling depressed or anxious, remember that getting help is no less important than the help you got to get pregnant. Sometimes we just need help - whether it means talking to a friend, a medical professional, and/or getting on some form of treatment or pregnancy-safe medication. Many essential oils have helped me greatly - especially those with calmative and nervine properties. Do whatever you need to do to work through how you feel and to keep yourself and baby safe.
4. Guilt and confusion
When you have journeyed through any type of infertility, you quickly realize that there is a "sisterhood" available to you (generally online but sometimes among friends or family too) of women who also are struggling. It is a beautiful thing to have that support through those hard times. You can vent together and understand each other when you both see a frustrating post from a mom complaining about their messy kids or taking for granted their blessings of a family. But what about when you become pregnant? It can be really hard to know how to announce your pregnancy to those still in the desert and the reality is, it's possible that relationship may dissolve. It's tough to accept because on one hand you really enjoyed that support bond but on the other hand, your news can be incredibly devastating to the women who are still hoping to become pregnant but are living in the reality of infertility. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to be happy but also allow yourself to accept that those people may need to distance themselves from you. The good news is that you now are able to bond with other pregnant women and you shouldn't have a problem finding other women to bond with in this new chapter of life. If you don't have many pregnant or mama friends, don't be afraid to bond with women online in support groups! They can honestly be so helpful and encouraging and sometimes it's easier to discuss things like hemmorhoids or spotting or peeing yourself with women you don't actually know...lol. Another confusion can be about how open you should be about your pregnancy. Maybe you are incredibly sick and don't want to sound ungrateful, but really could use some people stopping in to help you out or even just texting to check in. It's hard to feel like you can't vocalize your pains or concerns because you probably believe you don't have the right to complain and you don't want to appear ungrateful. However, know this: you have suffered in many ways for many years, likely in silence, and there really is no reason that should continue. If you need support or need to vent, find the appropriate outlet and do so! Don't guilt yourself into bottling up everything you are feeling - this can actually set you up to be more prone to postpartum depression . Don't feel guilty if you have days where you really don't love pregnancy. Pregnancy can bring on a world of surprises and sometimes you can face a lot of health challenges on the journey - no one should expect you to love being in pain or being sick! As long as you aren't constantly just focusing on the negative, don't feel like you are only allowed to vocalize the positive. Being real and honest through the highs and lows will help other women have a better idea of what they can expect too, and we all win when we can support and understand each other.
Fear is different than clinical anxiety, and in this case, definitely needs it's own category of discussion. Even if you do not battle anxiety, it is still likely that you will feel more fear in your pregnancy than most women, at least until you pull in the reigns and work through how you feel! It is completely normal to fear ultrasounds and appointments and to worry that something could go wrong. If you've known the reality of something going wrong in a past pregnancy, it really only makes sense that you would have to battle those fears this time around. Know that is is okay to be afraid. It is also entirely normal...and you will get through it! You are likely to make a big deal out of any little symptom and Google anything and everything about 5000 times. Try to take your fears to medical professionals whenever possible. The reality is, Google will tell you you are dying and sometimes support groups can play doctor and make you even more afraid. My rib pain quickly became a deathly pregnancy complication as soon as I brought it to Google or a pregnancy forum. When I brought it to my midwives, it was completely normal and common but they recommended if it was really bothering me to consider seeing a chiropractor. When I brought it to a chiropractor, it turned out I was right to feel something was off - I had popped a vertebrae out of alignment with my spine which caused my rib to twist! The best thing I did was bring my concerns to medical professionals who could actually make a proper diagnosis. Don't put yourself through unnecessary fear, however tempting it may be ;)
This is one of those silver lining benefits that comes from overcoming something awful. You will find you have strength that you never knew was possible - and it will surprise you. I am not just talking physical strength (though all the poking and prodding and meds and interventions and surgeries and whatever else you've endured have certainly made you a tough cookie) but mostly I am referring to a brave inner strength that you have earned through perseverance and not giving up. This strength will carry you through a lot of challenges: through pregnancy, labour, and post partum recovery. Know that you are going to be a great mom, not in spite of all you've been through, but because of what you have overcome. You've learned so much because of the journey you have been on and you are much stronger because of it.
If you are a positive person, even one who struggles with anxiety/depression/fear etc., you will undoubtedly feel an intense amount of appreciation for this new journey and those who have supported you. By now, you will have learned through many up's and down's who your "people" are and you are so thankful for them and the time and effort they have put into supporting you. You also are likely in awe of how lucky and blessed you feel to be able to appreciate all the little things that you used to dream about. To finally have a baby shower, to finally be able to put together a nursery, to have tiny little outfits to wash and fold, to have people text you or call to see how you are feeling - you will appreciate every milestone as your pregnancy progresses and take nothing for granted. Soak up every moment...you deserve it!
The best advice I can give to women on this journey is this:
1. Find a support group! It's awesome to have a group you love and connect with on Facebook. I am in one for Canadian Mamas due April/May 2017 and it has been so helpful for me!
Specific to infertility, there is an excellent one on Facebook you can join here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/629150837238627/ - it's a secret group so if you can't view it, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll get you added into it!
2. Research birth, become informed, and make sure to select a birth team to support you who you really trust. After all you've been through emotionally, I strongly recommend a doula for your birth. Not even just for you, but also for your birth partner as well! Doulas add so much to the birth experience and will support you in whatever birth you have. Birth is so unpredictable, and pregnancy can take you down many roads you never anticipated, so it's wonderful to be informed and to feel in control of your own emotions as you navigate all the changes! I love this Facebook group all about overcoming your fears in birth and being empowered in your birthing choices: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1251704451530952/
3. Don't wish away the days, no matter how you may feel. Just take it all one day at a time. Those 9 months are going to fly by and soon you will be holding your little miracle!
Are you reading this because you may know someone who is pregnant after going through an infertility journey and you are wondering how you can be the best support possible? My best advice is to give your loved one full permission to feel however they are feeling! If they want to excitedly look at pictures of nurseries, be right there excited with them. If they are super scared or down or anxious and have no idea how to navigate through everything they are experiencing, be an ear to listen, give them a hug and tell them you are there for them, check in on them often (even via text), send some flowers to them with a note saying you are thinking of them, and remind them that how they feel is common. If you are worried they could be feeling something pretty serious, encourage them to speak about their feelings to their OB or midwife and of course take them straight to the hospital or call 911 if the situation is a mental health emergency. If they are super sick or uncomfortable or in pain, offer to help them! See if they need anything from the grocery store, ask if they are craving anything and bring it over, ask if you can come help with throwing some laundry in or cleaning washrooms. You have NO idea how grateful they will be for the help and how much any level of support and thoughtfulness will mean to them. Even something that takes two seconds like a text checking in will mean the world.
Is there anything you would add to this list? Does this list ring true to what you've experienced?
I would love to hear from you in the comments!