This post will be nothing like those year-end holiday cards from acquaintances you may or may not have seen for a while that include a long list of accomplishments and highlights from the year. For me, 2014 was not a year of big travel, notable changes at work, or major fitness successes in climbing, etc.
Instead, 2014 was a year of learning about myself. And this learning predominantly stemmed from my focus on a basic human function, something that many people take for granted: fertility. I didn’t intend it to be the theme of my 40th year, but knowing what I know now, my shot at starting a family has appropriately filled a vast span of time. I knew that my hypopituitism would slow things down, but I had no idea how difficult getting and staying pregnant at 40 would actually be.
I’d like to share with you some of the things I have learned this year:
We are all zebras. There is a saying in medicine: “Common things are common.” As medical students, we are urged to “avoid the zebra chase” when it comes to diagnosis. But zebras are not unicorns; they do exist, and in a way we are all like the zebra – unique and special. When I embarked on my infertility treatment journey, I searched the medical literature for studies about people like me. What protocols work best? What are my chances? My search was quite short because there ARE no studies on people that have my exact constellation of medical problems. Likewise, I realized that I could not easily apply any outcome statistics or advice to my own situation when it is based on the experience of women with completely different reasons for having infertility.
This concept is discussed ad nauseum in health and fitness articles about weight loss. The formula for success for one person may not apply or may even be detrimental to achieiving results for another person. The answer to the question, “Will this apply to me?” is almost always, “It depends.” What this means is that during your pursuit there will inevitably be trial and error. Which requires patience, and waiting….
Waiting is difficult but essential. I blogged about this a few months ago during the height of my frustration as a person who does not normally have to wait long for things to happen at work or in life. We are all conditioned to want quick and clean solutions to complicated problems, but they rarely exist. This fixation is evident in makeover shows such as The Biggest Loser and the myriad advertisements for medications that promise to erase all of our uncomfortable symptoms and feelings with the swallow of a pill.
I don’t pretend to know the perfect remedy to aleviate waiting, other than trying to be mindful, grateful, and concentrate on the present moment. I journaled and journaled and talked and talked… and somehow, I finally accepted the waiting. Ironically, part of what helped was actually seeing an endpoint to the madness of fertility treatments. One that is starting to peak its head around the corner but is not quite in full view yet….
Progress is not usually not linear. Have you ever seen this graphic?
It describes what I’d like to say here perfectly: we all experience plateaus and dips in our pursuit of goals. In this post, I talked about how I saw some sort of improvement during every previous round of fertility treatment I had undergone. Eventually, that line stopped climbing upward, but I (and my fertility team) have continued to move forward. Avoiding trial and error, turning a blind eye to learning from failures, and not implementing small changes are what kill progress. In the face of a difficult goal (obscured by a plateau or a regression), we must recognize these small improvements even when tangible progress is difficult to see. This is the essence of one of my other favorite things to do: project climbing….
Working toward a goal is all about priorities. There are some things that I enjoy doing which happen to directly impede my fertility quest, and it has been a challenge to put them on the back burner. One of these is intense exercise and strength training. During the active part of treatment cycles, it is not recommended to do high intensity or impact exercise anyway, and as you can imagine, significant stress on the body from an exercise program or a rigorous diet/calorie deficit could seriously impede a woman’s fertility.
Another thing I have reprioritized this year is rock climbing. While I have still enjoyed the movement of climbing (mainly in the gym between fertility treatment cycles), I have pretty much ignored my love of projecting, training and improving at climbing, including traveling for climbing. Initially, this change was brought on by a period of burnout following a long climbing trip which happened to precede my first IVF cycle, but the persistence of my climbing apathy is a difficult thing to describe. While climbing can be intense and can involve impact in the case of bouldering or controlled falls (thus something I was forced to cut out of my life at times), it can also be relaxing and mellow and thus I could have done more of it if I wanted to. But normally, the climbing style and settings that I prefer involve a tremendous amount of mental as well as physical energy.
It might be somewhat hormonal, but I have not felt enough mental energy to “try hard” at these goal-oriented things that I normally care about and are a big part of my life and social culture. I wrestle with this inner conflict frequently, but I always come back to the idea that climbing and the weight room and travel and projects will always be there. It may be a while until I get serious about them again (especially if I do eventually have a child). Yet this is my only time to try for a pregnancy. It has to be done now. So I need to let go of feeling guilty and conflicted and identity-less….
Loving yourself is a constant and necessary process. I have had to work at this every day: letting go of the shame, the feeling of being inhuman or unwomanly, the feeling of being in limbo and not being myself, all the while accepting my current situation. No matter what steps you take to reach your goals, guilt, shame, and frustration (“Why is it taking me so long?”, “I’m not worth of success.”, etc.) will stand in the way.
Enough said… except for this great quote:
“I have an everyday religion that works for me.
Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line.”
– Lucille Ball
Happy holidays to you and best wishes for 2015!