The Fertility Doctor Shuffle: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started
After three years of trying and failing to conceive naturally, my husband and I knew we needed help. But where to begin? After cycling through three different OB-GYNs and two different fertility clinics, we finally started treatment. Problem is, all that time I spent searching for the perfect doc and the perfect program, I could have spent getting down to the business of making a baby. Here’s what I wish I knew before I got started:
1. Fertility doctors don’t always know what’s causing infertility. In fact, they rarely seem to know, and in my case, they couldn’t even guess. I got my period like clockwork every 28 days. I had hypothyroidism, sure, along with pretty much every other woman I know. But we corrected that in a matter of weeks. My husband’s sperm were “extremely potent,” in the doctor’s words. All the other tests came back normal, too. What gives? The fact is, none of the docs I saw had any clue. And that’s super frustrating. But figuring out why you can’t get pregnant isn’t the point—getting pregnant is.
2. They go big or go home. That was the case with the first doc I saw. He was competent, professional and well-regarded. But as soon as he saw me (under 35, normal BMI, no major health issues), his eyes twinkled. Before the conclusion of our very first consult he was guiding me and my husband toward IVF. “What about trying just some Clomid first?” I asked. What about this IUI that I’ve been researching? He shook his head: There was only a 20 percent chance of success with IUI, he said, and Clomid alone, he claimed, was unlikely to help me.
Why did he dismiss these other options so quickly? The cynic in me guesses that some docs, seeking to boost their all-important IVF stat sheet, want to skew the numbers in their favor by going for IVF as soon as possible with patients who are likely to have better results. And of course, any fertility clinic has a pecuniary motivation to perform IVF over other, cheaper interventions. At the end of the day, though, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It’s not the IVF doctor’s fault that he wants to do IVF. Some women would probably be happy he was so aggressive. But I wasn’t ready for IVF—financially or emotionally. I walked away.
3. They see sad stuff every day. After switching docs (again) and doing IUI, I finally did get pregnant. My husband and I were overjoyed. But by eight weeks, there was still no heartbeat. By ten weeks it was all over. We miscarried. Those were dark days. But the reality is, for many women who have trouble conceiving, miscarriage and sad news in general is par for the course. And your fertility doc deals with this every single day. In order to do their job, they need to be able to detach from the heartbreak—no matter how ice cold that may seem. The same goes for the nurses and assistants and phlebotomists and even the guy who parks the cars. How many sobbing women must they see on a daily basis? What seems to a grieving woman like callousness is really professionalism, and it’s an absolute must in order for them to do their jobs.
4. They can’t be on call 24/7. After the miscarriage we tried again. I was even more of a nervous wreck on the second go-round. I called the office two hours after every blood draw, hoping for an early result. I prodded the nurses: How did my levels seem to them? What did they think about my case in general? Why couldn’t I speak directly to my doctor, even though I’d just seen him a few hours before? The nurses and docs were patient, but the reality was, as I knew very well, the waiting room was full of women with all the same fears and worries and questions, and they all needed answers. I had to continuously remind myself to step back and breathe. It was a good thing that the doctor was busy, that the practice was full. It meant that he did good work, and I should let him do it.
5. They want what you want. The day my fertility doc sent me and my husband off with a referral for (yet another) OB-GYN, after giving us and our developing baby a clean bill of health, his smile was bigger than mine. The nurses all congratulated us as I left and implored us to come visit them when I had a big belly to show off. It was just three months after the miscarriage and almost six months after I’d started at the practice, with well over 40 visits under my belt. It hadn’t been easy, but I realized that it wasn’t just me and my husband anymore, trying for this thing that we wanted so desperately and feared we’d never get. We were a team, along with all of the doctors and nurses and assistants who made it possible, and everyone was just as thrilled as us to have achieved this miracle. When we go back for baby number two, that’s the idea I’ll try to remember more than anything else: We are not alone.
Getting to this point, where I could put these things into perspective, took a lot of time, research, heartbreak and patience. To those of you dealing with infertility or going through IVF, please know that you are not alone, either.
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