I’m one of those people who really likes to plan ahead. Check lists rule my personal and professional life, I’m rarely late to anything. A classic “Type A” personality.
Before I had kids, I dutifully attended Ashtanga yoga class multiple nights a week because I found peace in the structure and order of the series of poses. I liked knowing what was coming next, and I found great comfort in that both on and off the mat. Timelines provided an important structure to my life.
When it came to wanting to become pregnant, I had a plan for that too, of course. When my husband and I met each other, we were in our early 30s and both knew we wanted to start a family. We wanted two kids, around two years apart. We would time the pregnancy so that my maternity leave lined up perfectly with our graduate school semester schedules. I was finishing a clinical degree and my husband was in the dissertation phase of his PhD.
We joked that we could even time their births so that their astrological signs would be compatible with our own.
I was studying to be a women’s heath nurse practitioner and worked as a nurse in sexual and reproductive health. I had a solid understanding of fertility, conception timing, and how best to get pregnant. I started with meticulously tracking my cycle and fertile windows (oh data, how I love thee) and thought “this will be easy”.
Trying to get pregnant initially was fun. After years of trying to prevent pregnancy, the energy around starting our family was exciting. We went into the experience optimistic (and looking back, perhaps a little na ïve), thinking pregnancy would just happen if we did everything ‘right’.
After three months of tracking and what we considered to be ‘perfectly timed’ intercourse, our first positive line on the home pregnancy test finally appeared. We attended a pregnancy confirmation visit at six weeks, which included an early ultrasound (this was important because a year prior I had an unplanned ectopic pregnancy). We learned that while I did have a pregnancy in my uterus this time, there was no heartbeat, making the pregnancy non viable (would not grow or be successful). My healthcare providers gave me guidance on how to prepare for a miscarriage. I remember thinking “but this is not the plan.”
I could already feel my precious timeline slipping away and anxiety creeping into its place. My clock was ticking and I was running late to my appointment with parenthood.
A couple of months later, after I was emotionally and physically ready to try again, we resumed our plan with vigor. Months of trying to conceive turned into half a year. I felt like all I could think about was my ovulation. I began psychoanalyzing every twinge I felt, and ensuring that work trips weren’t scheduled during fertile windows. I became obsessed with how many days it would be until I could pee on yet another stick and imagine invisible lines–surely a real one would pop up?
After six months of active attempts I became pregnant with our daughter. I took 10 pregnancy tests from multiple brands just to make sure that positive line was real. I knew this wasn’t needed, but the extra data helped calm my nerves while I simultaneously did a happy dance around the bathroom each time I saw the positive result pop up. My pregnancy and birth, albeit challenging, rewarded us with a fiery girl who was well worth our wait. Was it on the timeline we had planned? Certainly not. But it ended up working out for our family in ways we couldn’t have predicted.
When it came to adding our second (and final) baby to the mix, we decided to start trying when our daughter was 18 months old. Again, the ‘plan’ was to have them around two years apart, and given our first experience, we got right to work. This time I felt less concerned about the perfect timing and more focused on just getting pregnant. Trying to conceive when you have a toddler to care for was also a lot less fun. Timing sex becomes more of a logistical scheduling issue for two exhausted parents.
This was no easy journey. It took 22 months, five miscarriages, a series of difficult medical complications, and two different fertility doctors to get pregnant with our second baby.
The feeling that timelines would provide structure and comfort was challenged at every level. The end result was positive, but the journey to get there was just as difficult emotionally as it was physically.
I now have two beautiful rainbow babies, a term often used for pregnancies after a previous loss,(whose astrological signs are definitely not the most compatible with our own) who came when they were ready. Honestly, nothing prepared me more for the reality of parenthood than the winding and unpredictable journey that got me here. The fierce feeling of love and devotion, coupled with frustration and fear–all while nothing happens on the timeline you planned, pretty much sums up parenting for me.
Miscarriage is more common than you think (occurring in up to one out of every five pregnancies) and is often not talked about enough. My experience with miscarriage was less common, and considered to be recurrent pregnancy loss. My hope is that my story does not color your own personal experience, but rather brings perspective and validates feelings of disappointment when growing your family does not happen as you may have planned or hoped.
The greatest life advice I have ever received is to be “fearless in the mystery” and I have used that wisdom to guide most things in my life. We don’t know what’s in store for us (that is the beauty and agony of life after all), but sometimes surrendering to that unknowing can help what is meant for us to fall into place. Our biology doesn’t always cooperate with the schedules we set for ourselves.
I don’t consider myself to be a “Type A” person anymore. I still love checklists, but these days I’m often running late. I traded in my rigid style of yoga for leisurely stroller walks and bike rides with my kids. For me, I found that going with the flow and softening my expectations is essential when trying to balance life with parenthood.
These are some things that helped me feel more in control of the process when we were trying to become pregnant:
Nourishment and rest: Nourishing my body with wholesome (and comforting) foods. Fitting in movement when I felt up for it and giving myself permission to skip workouts when I needed rest. Sometimes the distraction of exercise helped take my mind off the pressure of getting pregnant, other times it kept me in tune with the subtleties of every little change in my body.
Friendships and community: I couldn't have survived the years of fertility challenges and loss without good friends who listened, hugged me while I sobbed, texted well-timed memes to cheer me up, delivered food to my doorstep, and allowed me to share my emotions and frustrations openly and freely. I found that many of my friends had also struggled with their own fertility challenges and we found comfort in sharing our stories.
Stop comparing yourself to others and ignore the commentary: This is probably one of the harder things to accept. I couldn’t help but feel left behind as friends and acquaintances grew their families, threw baby showers, and complained about how exhausting their children were. I wanted all of those things. I heard stories of people who ‘got pregnant on the first try’ or talked about how easy it was for them. Unless you’ve experienced loss, it’s hard to fully understand. While I found that most people were generally empathic, I still found myself dodging well-meaning but insensitive comments.
Seek professional help: After several losses, it became clear that I needed more support to help me process my frustration and grief. My need for control went deeper than pregnancy planning, as do most things we struggle with. I was lucky to find a therapist (who was also a nurse) who specialized in perinatal mental health and pregnancy loss. I only spent a few months with her, but she provided me with some helpful tools that I have carried with me into parenthood.
Talk to your healthcare provider and find a fertility specialist: If you are 34 years or younger, it is recommended that you talk to your healthcare provider if you have been trying to become pregnant for 12 months. If you’re 35-39, you should see someone after trying for six months, and if you’re 40 years old or older, you should see a specialist straight away. It took trying two different fertility practices before I found a fertility specialist that was able to navigate some potential underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to my miscarriages. They also helped me identify alternative pathways to pregnancy and parenthood such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) should I have decided to explore that route.
Meditation: I’ve personally never been great at maintaining a consistent meditation practice, but using apps like Headspace have helped bring down my anxiety level when I really needed it, especially when waiting on test results. There are focused fertility meditations that are helpful.
Mantras, optimism, and faith: My miscarriages are not my fault; my worth is not determined by my ability to easily become or stay pregnant; I will become pregnant when the time is right; together we will complete our family on the timeline that is meant for us. We are not religious people, but we do feel spiritual and positive mantras helped in times of stress.
Find the right balance for you: I fully confess to being a serial pregnancy tester. I routinely bought 50 packs of pregnancy tests online. This data sometimes helped me feel in control, but it was also a source of great anxiety. It’s important to find a balance that works best for you. For more information on when you should take a pregnancy test, read this.
Stress reduction. For me this was huge. Our pregnancy planning coincided with graduate school, intense clinical rotations, moves, a global pandemic, and new jobs in high pressure medical practices. Reducing my work stress was important for me when it came to trying to conceive.
Grace and self-love. Your ability to become pregnant or not, quickly or not at all, does not determine your self worth. Remember that.
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