Pregnancy after Infertility: What Next?
“Congratulations, you’re pregnant!”
At NRM, we love to “graduate” our patients back to their obstetric care providers. A positive pregnancy test followed by a healthy-appearing pregnancy on ultrasound mark the unfolding of a new phase. Yet for many infertility patients, this may bring new-found anxiety. The longed-for pregnancy may have been achieved by exhaustive measures involving fertility treatments, financial sacrifices and an emotional roller-coaster. It is rarely a natural-feeling or private process. How does pregnancy after infertility differ from other pregnancies and what new emotions does it present?
Pregnancy after infertility brings with it all the normal concerns that a non-assisted pregnancy brings, but adds other layers of emotional complexity.
Prior to infertility, your identity was likely defined by your role with your partner, your work, your interests and hobbies, and your friends. While struggling with infertility, your identity and life became increasingly defined by your desire to conceive. You may have experienced years of infertility treatments, and if so, chances are that your life resolved around treatment cycles, your moods and “the two week wait”. As friends of yours became pregnant, you may have found it increasingly difficult to socialize with them.
Seemingly overnight, you find out that you have crossed over to the other side.
The first challenge is to get over the shock and disbelief of actually being pregnant. The emotional and financial resources you expended trying to get pregnant can often create a deep- seeded fear of losing the pregnancy or of something going wrong with the baby’s development. The dilemma looms of when to announce a pregnancy to family, friends and employers. These fears may prevent you from sharing their pregnancy news until the second trimester when the greatest possibility of miscarriage has passed. Ironically, like your feelings during your infertility journey, this can be a very lonely, frightening and isolating time for some couples.
Patients often tell us that they anticipate moving on from the distress of infertility and reveling in the joy of pregnancy, yet may instead find that they have entered challenging new medical and emotional territory. The anxiety of, “Will this treatment succeed in getting me pregnant?” shifts to, “Will this pregnancy last?” Many women say that they feel numb, and do not allow themselves to trust their bodies to work properly, to sustain a viable pregnancy and produce a healthy child after so many disappointments. There may be disappointment that infertility has robbed them of the blissful ignorance of risks that those who did not experience infertility may enjoy.
Patients also tell us that while we excitedly “graduate” them to their obstetrician or other health care provider to manage their pregnancy, they feel vulnerable, and this successful graduation from our comforting nurses and fertility clinic environment paradoxically causes an increase in their anxiety.
Coping mechanisms learned during infertility treatment may provide you help. Mind/body techniques (yoga, mindfulness), stress and relaxation therapy (acupuncture, exercise, massage), keeping a journal or developing e-mail networks are particularly useful for managing anxiety and negative thoughts. Reaching out to organizations such as RESOLVE, Parents of Multiples, and utilizing other Internet pregnancy resources can also be sources of support. It is especially important that couples be encouraged to find ways to normalize the pregnancy such as attending pregnancy exercise programs, childbirth and preparation for parenthood classes. This will help you transition to the non-infertile pregnancy world.
Perhaps most importantly, it is important that you honor and respect the feelings you have when you become pregnant after struggling with infertility.
This is your pregnancy. There is no right or wrong way to feel about it. If you find that your emotions are controlling you however, then working with a professional who is experienced with infertility can be helpful to allay your fears. Call us at NRM and we can direct you to local providers and groups.
For more tips about transitioning from your fertility doctor to obstetrician or other health care provider, visit: Resolve.org
Want to hear it from one of your peers? Read about this patient’s own experience: After I.V.F.: Pregnant, but Still Stuck in the Past – NYTimes.com