The Fertility Chair: Family Building & COVID-19
Here we are, it’s February 2021 and we’ve made it through nearly an entire year of living through a pandemic. Life in the “before world” is merely a figment of the imagination as you grab your mask before heading out the door (if you even leave your home) and throw on your risk mitigation hat. But alas, this is not a commentary on pandemic life, but rather a moment to reflect on life with fertility challenges in the midst of a pandemic. We may be nearing a year, however, for many of you it may feel like just yesterday that your egg retrievals and embryo transfers were cancelled within hours or days before your scheduled appointment. Some of you may have just purchased an exceptionally expensive in-home pharmacy of fertility medications, while others may have been dutifully taking said medications (pills, patches, shots) day after day only to be told to stick a pin in it. Some of you may have been anxiously anticipating your growing family via an out of state or international adoption, surrogate or gestational carrier, only to be faced with cancelled flights and travel bans. Those first weeks and months of the pandemic were a mix of unanswered questions, panic and confusion. For those struggling with fertility or in the midst of building a family, the aching desire to resume was likely a daily struggle- time ticking away with no start date in sight.
Meanwhile, the COVID baby-making memes hit social media, and fertility clinics worked fast and hard to create policies and procedures to ensure safety while triaging fertility care recipients., And isolation set in. For those who have struggled with fertility, isolation is unfortunately a familiar phenomenon. Isolation in the fertility world can include experiencing emotions (anxiety, depression, grief) around desire to grow a family, an experience foreign to the general population that typically assumes growing a family is a matter of when one decides to do so. Many people don’t know anyone who has experienced fertility struggles and have no one to talk to or gain support from. Isolation can further set in as attending baby showers and social events put one at risk for questions such as, “when are you having a baby? Have you tried just relaxing? Have you considered adoption?” For those who have chosen not to share their reproductive story with friends and family, (let alone acquaintances or strangers) these questions (most likely intended to promote social conversation) can trigger feelings of shame and grief. And so many who are going through fertility challenges may choose to skip parties and social events as a means of avoiding these difficult conversations which can sadly strain relationships and increase isolation.
So let’s add COVID to the mix: fertility challenged, isolated and pandemic! Your risk for isolation has quite possibly doubled due to the combination of emotional (due to fertility) and physical (due to pandemic) factors. For those who were able to resume fertility treatment, in-person appointments now excluded partners, creating isolation in what should be a shared experience. Blood work, ultrasounds, egg retrievals, embryo transfers, six week pregnancy ultrasounds- no physically present partner or support person (virtual inclusion may be allowed in certain appointments), creating increased risk for mental health. People have experienced failed egg retrievals and ultrasounds revealing ectopic pregnancies and miscarriage- all without a partner or support person present. Not to mention positive moments such as first ultrasounds of the baby without a partner to share the moment with a look, hand hold or embrace.
It is no secret that our society is currently living through a mental health crisis as COVID-19 continues to take lives, impose barriers to connection with friends and family, and threaten access to our healthcare system and professionals. Fertility community, I want to specifically remind you that you are not alone, and support is available. Who are your people? Connect: phone, text, email, zoom. There are people who “get” you! Here at Family Tree Wellness we have three FREE fertility support groups available throughout the month, via Zoom. Connecting with others (even strangers) who understand your deep desire to grow your family can be profoundly therapeutic. Where are you seeking information and education regarding your family building path? Don’t fall into the 2am Google trap. Check out Resolve, Family Equality Organization or the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. And know that individual and couples counseling can exponentially help you to better understand and improve your mental well-being. Family Tree Wellness offers virtual sessions - hit us up! There is hope with regard to the direction of this pandemic; let’s extend that hope to your mental health and future family, as well.
Written by Jamie Van Zanen, LCSW