Going through fertility treatment is complicated; the procedures are invasive, understanding the cycle types is overwhelming, and injectable medications can be uncomfortable. Fertility treatments come with challenges that most individuals and couples don’t expect. In fact, for many people, experiencing infertility is their first “life crisis”. Making sure you get the support you need during this time is absolutely crucial; having a care team whom you trust and can communicate with effectively is key. A fertility patient’s care team consists of healthcare professionals as well as family and friends who can offer support and guide you through every step of your family-building journey. So, who should be in your fertility care team, and what role will they play in supporting you on your fertility journey? Let’s walk through the key relationships that will guide you on your path to parenthood.
Your Reproductive Endocrinologist is the doctor you probably had your initial consultation with. He/she will be making the medical decisions regarding your fertility treatment. It is important that you have a doctor who you can trust and communicate with. You want to feel comfortable with this person and make sure that your goals and fertility treatment plan are aligned. You should feel free to ask as many questions as you have and make sure you understand the answers. Getting your questions answered in a reasonable amount of time is important as well. If your current Reproductive Endocrinologist is not as responsive as you wish, find one that is. There are a number of resources available to help you find an appropriate doctor including Resolve.org, which lists providers and clinics by region, and SART’s (Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology) find a clinic tool. In addition, some insurance companies partner with benefit management programs that profile doctors based on quality and outcome measures. Be sure to ask your insurance company if you have access to these programs.
Your fertility nurse may be the most valuable medical professional throughout your treatment. They are the ones who will provide clinical oversight and field the majority of questions you have throughout the process. Your fertility nurse should be your biggest advocate. They will teach you how to administer injectable medications (which can be frightening for many women!) and give you tips on pain management if you experience any unpleasant side effects. They hold your hand throughout your journey and can offer support in ways many other people cannot. Some fertility benefit programs even have fertility nurses, offered outside of your doctor’s office, that are available to answer questions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You’d be surprised at how comforting that nurse’s voice can be at 3 am when you are panicked about that last injection you took!
Mental Health Professional
There has been extensive research that suggests people who seek fertility treatment experience symptoms of anxiety and depression at their first appointment, and these symptoms only intensify as treatment progresses. Having a professional to speak with, one who supports you emotionally during treatment, will make your fertility journey more tolerable. Some fertility clinics have a mental health professional on staff that you can talk to. Or, depending on your insurance coverage, your fertility benefit management company might also provide Behavioral Health services with mental health professionals who have a background in fertility. Be sure to research all of your options. Working with a mental health professional will help you determine which coping mechanisms work best for you.
Your partner, friends, and/or family
When people refer to your “fertility team”, they’re usually talking about healthcare professionals. However, having the support of trusted loved ones can be a truly valuable resource. Some people prefer not to tell their family and friends about treatment; there is often a perceived stigma associated with infertility and it can be hard to talk about, but giving yourself permission to discuss the struggles of infertility with even just one trusted person can make the process feel less lonely, scary and daunting. Figuring out how to effectively communicate with your partner is also important in staying connected to one another and sharing the experience together as a couple. Many couples feel that getting through the experience of infertility together strengthens their relationship and brings them closer together.
Surrounding yourself with a trusted and supportive fertility care team can make even the most unpleasant medical treatments bearable, and the small steps toward family building more joyous. Clinical professionals, from your Reproductive Endocrinologist, to your fertility nurse, available through your doctor’s office or your benefit management company, and behavioral health specialist, all help to manage your journey. Pair these resources with family and friends that offer support, and you’ve got a powerful team all working together to help you achieve your goal of having a baby—you are not in this alone!