When it comes to conception, discussions about infertility are seldom included.
Sex education classes in high schools focus on how to never, ever, ever get pregnant
Doctor’s appointments among the sexually active are about what birth control option is best, and
Characters becoming unexpectedly pregnant is a common plot line in movies and TV shows.
Of course, none of those things are inherently “bad” or “wrong” in and of themselves. Instead, it simply highlights an underlying assumption in Western culture: everyone can get pregnant easily.
Further, countless people I've worked with have have shared that discussions about factors that affect pregnancy don’t occur until they’re sitting in a fertility clinic.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what happened to Breanna Hughes, co-founder of Bird & Be. A Toronto-based company, Bird & Be offers personalized fertility-supporting products to help people individuals and couples along their journey.
Enduring four years of recurrent pregnancy loss and failed IVF cycles, Breanna describes her fertility journey as “the most stressful point of time in [her] life.”
In today’s post, I share excerpts from my recent interview with her to help you gain first-hand information about how to stay strong as you go through your journey, too.
What She Wishes She Knew From The Start…
Breanna wishes she’d known how long the whole process would have taken and that she’d done earlier testing to learn more about her body.
In fact, Breanna only learned certain information from requesting access to her old medical files. For example, when she had bloodwork done previously, her doctor had shrugged off the fact that Breanna hadn’t gotten her period for a year since it was “common for people to not get their period after going off birth control.” Likewise, they failed to mention that Breanna had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)—one of the most common (yet treatable) causes of infertility in women.
“I could have done more planning. We would have likely moved into intervention sooner,” said Breanna. “It took six years of trying so I’m a lot older than I was when we first started out… All of my friends are on their second kid and I still am yet to have my first.”
Really, the solution here is two-fold: health care professionals and clinics need to start being more mindful of including infertility in their discussions, and we can empower ourselves by asking more questions at appointments. Additionally, becoming more knowledgeable about the world of infertility altogether can help reduce its invisibility.
Dealing with the “Hurry Up & Wait” Pattern…
For those who might not know, there’s a lot of waiting during fertility treatments. The most
difficult one of all, however, is usually the two-week wait that come after an embryo has been transferred to the uterus during an IVF cycle. It is only after those two weeks that someone can take a pregnancy test to find out if IVF was successful.
“I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and situational depression because of this,” Breanna reflected.
She said that three things saved her life during this period of time: her Peloton, therapy, and sharing her story.
“Taking care of myself physically and mentally was extremely important,” she said, adding that she and her husband decided to do both individual and couples therapy.
“At the beginning of my journey, I was very quiet about it. I was ashamed and kept all of those feelings and thoughts and stuff hidden.”
Now, Breanna is candid about her experience with the many people that Bird & Be helps.
Dealing with shame…
Breanna highlighted that there’s still a lot of stigma within the fertility community—something that became even more apparent when Bird&Be’s launch was announced in The Globe & Mail.
“The comments were all directed at me saying that ‘my genetics aren’t that good,’ that I ‘should just adopt,’ or ‘ use it as a sign from God that [I’m not] meant to be a parent,’” she said noting that she and her husband had to eventually stop reading the comments altogether.
At other times, however, the shame she felt came from within.
“I felt a lot of shame towards my body and I had—am continuing to—kind of build back from having a very unhealthy relationship with my body,” she said. “I was really blaming myself when in reality, there are so many factors.”
The comments were all directed at me saying that 'my genetics aren't that good,' that I 'should just adopt,' or 'use it as a sign from God that [I'm not] meant to be a parent.
Breanna said that to help nurture her relationship with her body, she says daily affirmations when she looks at herself in the mirror: You can do this. Your body is capable of this.
She also reminds herself of how incredible the human body is to be able to grow and support a human and go through a birthing process to help her connect with what she admires about her own body.
Finally, she highlighted the importance of being realistic about your expectations of yourself.
“There is stuff that you can do more proactively and then of course, there is no silver bullet. You cannot expect that you will get an answer,” she said. “You might get an answer, but very few people get an actual answer as to why it’s taking as long as it is or why they might need to move into additional interventions.”
In other words, there are certain things you can do to naturally enhance your ability to conceive like taking the right supplements, maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. But these won’t guarantee a pregnancy—and don't forget that there are people who smoke, drink, and sit all day who can become pregnant!
Navigating friendships, relationships, and ignorant comments…
Breanna said that the source of stigma wasn’t just the internet; she expressed that she lost friends during her fertility journey due to feeling like there was a lack of understanding and lack of willingness to understand what she was going through.
She admitted that feelings of jealousy and resentment seeped into her friendship dynamics at times, too.
“Still to this day when people tell me they’re pregnant, I still feel sad for me. I feel two emotions at the same time but one is a little more powerful and I feel totally ashamed of that. ‘Why can’t I just be happy for everyone else and not reflect on my own experience?’” she reflected. “And just the resentment and anger. I definitely feel angry towards being dealt this hand and I’m super jealous of people who have free babies.”
As a matter of fact, Breanna shares that she and her husband have almost spent the equivalent of a down payment for a house to get to where they are now.
Simultaneously, she said that hearing or seeing ignorant comments in-person and online exacerbated all of the stress she was already experiencing.
“Yesterday I counted 13 jokes between a combination of Instagram and Twitter where parents with kids are jokingly saying, ‘Hey, would you like to adopt my child or take my child from me?’ And that’s completely hurtful,” stated Breanna. “Not only does the person on the receiving end [feel] desperate for a child that's annoying them to death, but ultimately, they want that! They want to move into that piece and not be dealing with the fact that they might not ever have a child of their own or a child at all.”
A common phrase uttered to many infertile individuals and couples, including Breanna, is the old “you-should-just-adopt” line.
“It is not the job of people dealing with infertility to adopt all of the world’s children. People who have children: instead of having children, why don’t you adopt as well if that’s something you’re super passionate about?” She said. “All of a sudden then they'll be like, ‘It’s very expensive, it’s super emotional, it’s time consuming.’ Exactly!”
It's not the job of people dealing with infertility to adopt all of the world's children.
Indeed, what many people don't realize is that private adoption for a child born in Canada can cost anywhere between $15,000 to $25,000. Looking outside of the country? Expect a bill for $25,000 - $50,000 or more.
(While we’re talking about this, please take a look at my 2020 blog post for Infertility Awareness Week entitled, “Are You Making These Inappropriate Comments?” The first step to reducing ignorance is to become more knowledgeable and aware!)
Her Advice for Anyone Struggling With Infertility…
The most important thing to keep in mind, according to Breanna, is that navigating a fertility journey is a marathon not a sprint and that doing whatever builds your resilience is key. For Breanna, her Peloton not only helped build her up physically, but provided an emotional outlet too. At the same time, she discussed the importance of giving yourself permission to take a break or stop moving forward altogether if you ever feel like the process is simply too much.
“I will never tell people to not give up because I understand that financially, emotionally, physically, there are so many reasons to stop and find a different path,” she noted.
Finally, she shared that finding and nurturing a positive sense of community helped eliminate toxic positivity, which involves dismissing negative emotions and responding to distress with false reassurance rather than empathy.
Now, Breanna is eight months pregnant and due very soon.
“I found the people that were going through [this] by speaking out,” she said. “That brought me to a lot of other people who are going through something similar that we were able to really help each other through.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, be sure to check out our inaugural support group for infertility. Much more affordable than regular psychotherapy, the support group involves attending five virtual sessions every Sunday to help participants process grief, learn the art of self-compassion, and connect with a powerful sense of community and hope. Read details about the group here.