Kristyn Hodgdon is a professional writer, voracious reader, and proud mom of IVF twins. After her own battle with infertility, Hodgdon co-founded Rescripted, a media platform for fertility, providing technology tools and resources for wherever you are on your family-building journey.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but when my husband and I started trying to conceive, I didn’t know that I needed to ovulate in order to get pregnant.
As someone who has always struggled with irregular periods, I still thought that if we had unprotected sex I would get pregnant right away. This was five years ago; I was 28-years-old. That’s a big problem, and I know I’m not the only 30-something who feels that way.
My story is, unfortunately, a common one. For years, whenever I brought up my irregular menstrual cycles to my doctor I was told to either go on the birth control pill or to “wait and see.”
It wasn’t until my husband and I decided we were ready to grow our family that I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and referred to a fertility specialist, entirely unaware of what I was getting myself into.
Being diagnosed with infertility at 28 years young, there was so much that I didn’t know. I didn’t know what having PCOS meant for my fertility. I didn’t know anyone else who was going through fertility treatments. I didn’t know that committing to IVF would be like having a second job.
I didn’t know how lucky I was to have fertility coverage, unlike over half of all patients, who have to pay tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket for the chance to have a baby. I didn’t know the toll infertility would take on me, physically, mentally, and emotionally. No one warned me about any of it. I’ve never felt more alone.
Despite all of the pregnancy announcements on social media, having trouble conceiving is surprisingly common. Yet many people are completely blindsided when they receive an infertility diagnosis, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and thoughts that their body isn’t doing what it’s supposed to. I know, because I’ve been there.
Visit a fertility clinic waiting room, and you’ll find no shortage of patients; and yet, they are almost all avoiding eye contact with one another. In fact, in the years I have spent regularly undergoing fertility treatments, I still rarely see anyone looking up from their phones. If that doesn’t paint a clear picture of the stigma that surrounds infertility, I’m not sure what does.
But, I have also noticed something pretty amazing. Nearly every time I have opened up about my fertility journey to someone -- and, in turn, given them unspoken permission to do so as well -- I have been surprised to find out that infertility has either affected them or someone close to them.
That’s powerful. In sharing our stories, however uncomfortable they might be, we can begin to rescript the conversation around fertility so that no one else ever has to feel as alone as I did on the road to parenthood.
Now, after five years, two IVF babies, and more blood draws, ultrasounds, and injections than I can count, I have discovered that while so much of infertility still remains out of my control, there are ways to be proactive rather than reactive when trying to conceive.
Here are a few ways I have learned how to advocate for myself on my fertility journey (and how you can, too):
1. See a fertility specialist, early: While I was initially uneasy about starting fertility treatments, I will say that in hindsight, I’m happy I sought help when I did. Being proactive about getting information and advice about your fertility potential can make a big difference when it comes to treatment and outcomes.
As a general rule, you may want to see a fertility specialist if you are under 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for 12 months without birth control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The same applies if you are over 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for six months, if you are 40 or older, or if you have had one or more miscarriages.
Even if you aren’t ready to have kids yet, it never hurts to make an initial appointment to find out more about your ovarian reserve, hormone levels, and overall reproductive health so that you can make informed decisions for your future, according to Dr. Serena Chen, a New Jersey-based reproductive endocrinologist I spoke with in recognition of National Infertility Awareness Week.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: Whether you start with your OBGYN or jump right to a fertility specialist, don’t be afraid to bring up everything that’s on your mind.
Do you have irregular menstrual cycles? Ask the question. What about pain during sex? Ask the question. It might seem embarrassing, but if it could potentially help you get to the bottom of an underlying issue that could be preventing you from getting pregnant, you’ll be glad you inquired.
When it comes to your health and fertility, no question should be off-limits.
From how to interpret test results to what a potential treatment plan could look like, your provider's answers will help ensure that you feel comfortable and at ease with your care team and their strategy for moving forward. If not, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion.
3. Be as healthy as you can be: This might go without saying, but a healthy lifestyle has been shown to have a positive epigenetic impact on eggs, sperm, and pregnancy outcomes.
So, make sure you are getting good quality sleep, eat the rainbow, take a quality prenatal vitamin, and exercise regularly, according to the CDC. It really can make a difference when it comes to your fertility; just try not to drive yourself too crazy.
4. Find support: Dealing with fertility challenges is extremely stressful, and you don’t have to do it alone. Join an online fertility community, find a therapist that specializes in infertility, or start a new hobby. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so be sure to take care of your body and mind during this time, even if that means taking a break from treatment.
If you’re struggling to conceive or grieving a miscarriage, I feel your pain.
I also promise that despite what it might feel like right now, you are not alone. If I could go back and tell my 28-year-old self anything, that would be it.
There is an amazing community of infertility warriors who have made it their mission to support others through this heartbreaking, expensive, and often overwhelming process. There are millions of us who get it, and we’re rescripting fertility, together.