5 ways to succeed while trying to conceive

Rotten eggs? Uncoordinated sperm? Dealing with infertility is overwhelming, exhausting and stressful. Here are five things I did to make it a little more bearable.

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Infertility is utterly heartbreaking—that is, until you succeed. I went through seven rounds of intrauterine insemination (IUI), four rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF), two miscarriages, two surgeries and countless acupuncture treatments before giving birth to a healthy baby conceived with donor egg and donor sperm.

I often lost hope along the way. I remember one time when I was on FaceTime with my mom and blurted out, through tears, “Maybe it’s just not meant to be.” “No,” she replied with absolute certainty. “You need a baby. We just have to get you a baby!”

Writer Athena Reich and her son How I'm building my family with donor eggs and sperm  I’m so glad that my mom gave me the encouragement I needed during that time. By surrounding myself with supportive friends and family, exhausting all options and even attempting to crack a smile now and then, I was able to survive the seemingly insufferable and finally take my baby home.

It’s possible to increase your chances of success and become another happy ending. My hope is that these five steps will provide some helpful tips on your path to parenthood.

1. Acknowledge it
Your friends and family mean well, but they say the darndest things, like “Everything happens for a reason,” “Have you thought about adoption?” or “Eat more kale/do more acupuncture/think more positively.” My favourite was being told to write a letter to my embryo—like that would help my low ovarian reserve.

People want to help but often end up saying the wrong things. I found that it helped to reply as earnestly as possible with the intention to educate. Some of my go-to responses were “That makes me feel like it’s my fault,” “Infertility is a disease,” “I trust my doctors” and “We are less in control than we think.” You may find, though, that smiling and changing the subject are more your style.

I had to remind myself over and over again that it wasn’t my fault. Infertility is a medical condition, and there are no quick fixes. It helped me be upfront with the difficulties I was having, both with myself and with well-meaning friends and family.

2. Get support
You need support. You need friends who know how to listen and empathize. By going to infertility support groups, I made friends with people who not only understood but also shared resources.

If you have a partner, be sure to keep the lines of communication open—this will be a massive test to your relationship. Couples therapy is more common than you think and can keep you both on the same page.

One of the best things I did was find a therapist who had undergone fertility treatment herself. She helped me navigate the medical system, reminded me why I was in this jam in the first place (because I really wanted a kid!) and gave me the courage to keep trying when all I could see were pregnant women on every corner. If therapy isn’t your thing, there are online chat rooms, helplines, support groups, Facebook groups, books and movies.

Parenthood is challenging enough without entering into it totally depleted or feeling so traumatized that you give up for the wrong reasons. While some people make the choice to live child-free after infertility, you can protect yourself from burnout.

3. Make a plan (but keep an open mind)
Once you’re in the thick of it, the number of options can be dizzying. “Never say never” really applies here. I wouldn’t have succeeded if I didn’t keep an open mind. Whenever I heard someone say “I will never do IVF” or “I will never use a donor egg,” it worried me. Using a donor might not be your first choice, but you might not want rule it out completely.

That said, you still need a plan. Decide on your course of action, such as “I will do IUI for six months, then one to three IVF cycles, move on to egg donation and finally adoption.” As painful as it may be, listen to your doctor’s advice when it’s time to move on. Get a second opinion, but don’t be so stubborn that you get stuck in one of the steps. There are unlimited ways to build a family. Does your heart burst every time you hold a baby? That’s all the proof you need to know that you will love any child placed into your arms. Trust that your heart is big enough.

Practise resourcefulness so that you won’t go bankrupt. There are grants, money-back guarantees, international clinics, embryo adoptions and plain old negotiation tactics.

4. Realize that genetics is over-rated
If you’re like me and plans A and B don’t work, it’s time to consider egg donation, adoption and/or surrogacy. It may seem scary at first, but let’s unpack it. How “perfect” was your family growing up? Do you have an alcoholic aunt? Diabetes in the family? ADHD? You think you’re the bee’s knees, but even you must admit that it would be nice if you were less anxious/better at math/had bigger eyes. And for those considering surrogacy, maybe there are some real advantages to not having to go through pregnancy and birth.

Once I mourned the loss of my own genetics, I was able to have some fun. After prioritizing mental and physical health, I approached my choices like an art project. What features attract me? A sense of humour? Musical talent? Chestnut hair? (Why not enjoy the little bit of creative control you do have?)

Are you thinking about adoption? Go to an adoption conference so that you can connect face to face with parents and adoptees and hear their stories. They will inspire you.

Also, do you know about epigenetics? Donor-conceived kids and adoptees have genetic similarities to the parents who raise them. Genetic markers are turned on and off by the people you spend lots of time with, so your kid will probably inherit your ADHD or sense of humor anyway.

5. Have a sense of humour
It’s no secret that early-morning appointments, hormone treatments, that two-week wait and the losses are gruelling. But so much is out of the doctor’s hands that sometimes you just need to stop thinking.

And that’s where humour comes in. To distract myself, I wrote a play about a pregnant Lady Gaga who gives birth on stage as performance art. When pregnant Lady Gaga vomits, it comes out as glitter and unicorns. When her water breaks, she sells it as a high-end perfume. Humour is the best medicine.

If you are less creatively inclined, let others do the entertaining for you. Here are some infertility-related comic gems to get you started:

  1. An interview with the creators of the New York comedy show “Infertile”
  2. A woman who blew up on Instagram with her infertility memes and videos
  3. Stephanie Jackson, who created “Baby Fat,” a web series that is hilarious and validating

If baby posts on Facebook are driving you nuts, know that you’re not alone. With a little determination and resourcefulness—OK, a lot of determination and resourcefulness—you will succeed. You can do this! Go and get your baby.

Read more:
Fertility treatment guide
6 ways to cope with infertility stress


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