Well folks, all the “what if’s” you have ever had may have come to roost in the last couple of weeks. The worst scenarios that you have never thought are here now. Bad things were happening that we didn’t even know were options. Now, the Covid-19 coronavirus is spreading uncertainty all around the world, causing huge changes in people’s personal and work lives. For many of you, you have already been living with the uncertainty of infertility and its treatment.
To add insult to injury, new infertility treatment cycles in the United States ground to a halt on March 17, 2020. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommended that all fertility cycles, be they IVF or intrauterine insemination, be halted until Covid-19 is more under control. I know that this forced pause sent many of you who have been waiting for egg retrievals and embryo transfers into orbit. Gestational surrogacy cycles are also off for now, as well. None of us likes this. Before you might have focused on finding the money to fund treatment, or whether the blood test would be positive. Maybe you hoped to get pregnant on the next cycle. Some of you have been counting down the minutes and hours until you could get to your treatment, terrified that something would go wrong. Some of you fear the passage of time and how that will wreck your ability to have a child. Most of you have wanted a child two years ago or 10 years ago and waiting even one more day is almost intolerable. Some of you are pregnant. I empathize with all of you and with all of your fears. Now that pile of “what if’s” is right in front of your faces. This is a lot of loss to deal with on top of fear.
The “what if’s” are about trying to understand every possible scenario so that you will be prepared for the worst. It’s an interesting exercise but it has never truly been possible. This stupid virus has proved the point that no matter how many worst-case scenarios you come up with, you will never find one like the one that is happening right now. It’s a Black Swan Event, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb established in his 2007 book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Something happens that is outside the realm of normal expectations. The event has an extreme, even historic impact that is far beyond what we ever thought possible. And finally, we look to make up explanations for the occurrence of this extreme event. Ultimately, the event makes sense using hindsight. We are living through extraordinary times, beyond our worst-case scenarios. It’s bringing me back to basics, and maybe you, too.
Pumping the brakes on infertility treatment sucks.
Both are out of our control.
It’s time to find some perspective in your own minds. That is the only place that you have any control at all. That has always been the case but especially now. Here are five steps to regain some control over your thoughts and feelings. Use the steps in any order.
- Stay alive and protect the people around you. Wash your hands. Make other people wash their hands, too. Physical distancing works. If you want to be pregnant in 2020, take care of your health now and prepare for the reopening of your fertility clinic. That WILL happen.
- Your plans are out the window for now. What’s the new plan for right now? Take control of anything that you can take control of. Friends have been talking with me about how clean their houses are. What you make for dinner. What you put on your body. Who you talk with today on FaceTime. This is what you have control over right now. Use this time to figure out your next plan. Maybe this is a time to rest in your body and mind, to get ready. When it’s time to get going, you will be ahead of the game.
- Stop predicting negative outcomes. Human’s predictions and assumptions are seldom positive. Your negative judgements are your fears and they are irrelevant to outcomes. For example: “I will never have a baby now. This virus has killed my chance.” Not so. By making this prediction, you are looking for some sort of explanation for why you cannot get what you want right now. This is not an end to your journey; it is a roadblock. One day it will clear. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 did come to an end. The clinic will reopen at some point.
- Fight your predictions ASAP and question them—Your negative prediction sets off a cascade of other negative thoughts (i.e. I am not meant to be a parent. I have lost my chance. The world is against me.) This is negative self-talk and it can be harmful to you. It also feels bad. Do your thoughts make sense, or do they stem from frustration and self-blame? Such thoughts may be a throwback to rigid, shaming messages from childhood. Infertility is not your fault or your partner’s fault; it is a medical problem that requires treatment. You will have access to that treatment at some point. Have you really lost your chance to be a parent? The answer to this is likely no, but it may mean that you have to think differently about how you get to parenting in 2020.
- Find some kindness for yourself. You are hurting and frustrated and frightened. I know. I am sending you a huge virtual hug. The situation is taxing us in ways that we never thought possible. This is as good a time as ever to find some kindness and compassion for yourself. You must wait. That sucks. It was not your choice. That sucks. Perhaps you can learn something new about yourself as you prepare for a cycle in the near future. Those of us who work in the world of infertility are desperate to get back to doing the work to help you build your families. We believe in you and your hopes and dreams.
Let’s all gather together to get through this through the power and love and handwashing. We will do this. There will be time for planning and action. I am in it with you all the way.