Struggling through 4 years of infertility prepared me for the uncertainty and isolation of the coronavirus pandemic

Author Amy Klein writes about how enduring four years of infertility prepared her for the stress and isolation people across the world are facing due to the coronavirus pandemic. Getty

The isolation and unknowns I’m experiencing due to the coronavirus pandemic remind me of my recent infertility journey.

Yes, one is a deadly global pandemic and the other is a personal, and not potentially fatal, issue. But both induce loneliness, doubt, heartbreak, unanswered medical questions, and yes, fear.

I’m sharing the skills and lessons I learned from my four-year journey to have a baby to help others facing the physical, emotional, and psychological trauma of COVID-19.

Don’t dwell on the disappointments

“No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition,” Monty Python says. That was just as true for me with infertility as it was for the global pandemic.

I always thought getting pregnant would be the easy part of the process – two glasses of wine and a night of passion.

I didn’t expect to have four miscarriages and to seek out fertility treatment. Those initial feelings of shock and loss were similar to how I felt when the pandemic hit.

We’re isolating in my cramped New York City apartment. My daughter’s preschool moved online. My book tour, which was two years in the making, got cancelled.

But there’s only so many times you can say “Oh, I was supposed to…” I learned from infertility that it’s best to absorb the initial disappointment and not dwell on it. Once you do that, it makes it possible for you to identify potential solutions and figure out how to get through this trying period.

Try not to think too much about the life you’re waiting for

FILE- In this April 10, 2020 file photo a woman wearing a face mask sure to CVID-19 concerns walks along the Jersey City waterfront with the New York City skyline in the background. New York City may be the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak but of the city's suburbs have been hit just just as hard. In some, there have been more fatalities per capita than in super-dense Manhattan. (AP Photo/John Minchillo File)

It’s just as important to avoid looking too far into the future.

When I was going through infertility, I had no idea if the next treatment would work, if I could travel in the summer, or make plans for a friend’s wedding in the fall. Would I be pregnant? Would I have another miscarriage?

I learned not to think too far ahead because I had no answers. Trying to come up with ones drove me nuts.

People are prognosticating now about when this pandemic will end. I can’t help but wonder if the stay-at-home orders will be extended, if there will be camp or summer festivals, or if my daughter’s school will even reopen in the fall. As was the case while I was facing infertility, no one really knows. Making predictions may make you feel worse. So, it’s best to take it one day (one hour!) at a time and try not to think too much about the result you’re eagerly awaiting .

But envision a few things to look forward to when this is all over

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That being said, it was always important for me to have a vision of the endgame – a pregnancy and a baby. During every IVF treatment, I pictured my round belly, my labour scene, the gorgeous squall of a newborn. It helped me endure every hardship I went through.

When I used to meet women who faced infertility, but then had kids, it gave me great comfort to know that this was only a temporary struggle in my life. Just like I did while trying to get pregnant, I have to believe there will be an end to this soon, and I want to be able to count on that eventuality.

I think about the book I will work on when my daughter returns to a preschool program, where we will live, and what goals I have for my life.

Help other people, if you’re in a position to

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Many people are supporting healthcare workers by sending meals to hospitals. Getty

Infertility showed me that sometimes, the best way to distract yourself from your own troubles is to help others. I did so by sharing my story.

I chronicled my journey in The New York Times’ “Fertility Diary” column, and tried to help every woman that reached out to me with questions. That’s what I hope my new book about infertility, “The Trying Game” does, too.

During this pandemic, I’ve been looking out for family and friends who may not have enough support. I check in with my single friends, Zoom with my daughter’s grandparents nearly every day (despite my daughter’s scorn of video calls), donate money to supply meals to healthcare workers and as always, answer fertility questions.

But also focus first on your needs, even if that feels selfish

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Shoppers practice social distancing while waiting to enter Trader Joe’s in Bailey’s Crossroads, Virginia, in March. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

When I was trying to get pregnant there were some days that I didn’t have it in me to help anyone else. After recovering from my fourth devastating miscarriage, I couldn’t even cheer on my sister during her pregnancy. I sometimes avoided a mum friend because I didn’t want to listen to her complain about her kids. I gave myself permission to not attend baby-centric events, such as baby showers and namings.

I felt guilty, but I had to take care of myself.

Now, five years later, during this pandemic, there are days when I feel that I can only handle the bare minimum – taking care of myself, my daughter and my husband. That means I can reach out to help others, but if I feel I’ve over-extended myself, I have to pull back. Self-care sometimes means hunkering down and not helping others and just retreating with immediate family. I need to recharge me to take care of anyone else.

Protect your relationship with your partner

Coronavirus masks

“What’s the point of fighting during infertility if there is no ‘us’ at the end of this?” my husband would tell me when we argued while I was going through IVF.

Although I might have been seething at him for something – perhaps not coming with me to an appointment that I told him to skip – I understood what he meant. A traumatising event, like infertility or a pandemic, can destroy a marriage and a partnership.

“The coronavirus may turn out to be the ultimate stress test for couples,” Jennifer Senior wrote in her New York Times column,Welcome to Marriage During the Coronavirus.” Couples are facing an unprecedented crisis and first seeing how their partners react to this magnitude of stress and uncertainty. One person might constantly consume news, while the other avoids it. One might remain optimistic, while the other pictures the worst case scenario. Differing responses could foment conflict.

Of course, there are also the inevitable day-to-day arguments. There are going to be many times during this pandemic when we want to lash out at our partners (“Can you please take your feet off the table!”). Living, working, homeschooling and exercising in the same crowded space creates a ripe environment for fighting. But what’s the point of getting through this if there is no “us” in the end?

Remember that you’re a lot stronger than you think

When I began trying to get pregnant, I had no idea that it would take me four years, 10 doctors, nine rounds of IVF and hundreds of thousands of dollars to finally have our daughter. I don’t think I would have wanted to know that at the beginning, because I wouldn’t have believed I could make it to the other side.

When the pandemic hit, and I first learned what was expected of us to stay healthy and flatten the curve, I didn’t think I would be able to handle it. But now, more than a month has passed and we are handling it. Some days are better than others, and some days are a lot worse, but I know from all the vicissitudes of infertility that we will make it through – somehow.