My fertility journey has been rough.
Part of me longs for the “normal” journey to baby that I’ve heard so many women go through, but the deeper I get into this world of IVF, infertility, and now pregnancy, I fully realize there is no “normal.”
My fertility story began at the age of 36. I was (finally) engaged to the absolute love of my life – perhaps a little later than planned – but I had “arrived.” Because of my age and our desire to have a child soon after marriage, we had also started to discuss family planning.
As a physician, I knew that with each year I grew older, my reproductive potential and ability to have a healthy child would become more difficult. However, there was an additional wrinkle in our journey to conceive that neither of us ever could have anticipated – my husband had the BRCA gene – a gene that increases the risk of breast or ovarian cancer in offspring.
We found out about his BRCA status because his sister, who happens to be my age, was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer just a few months after we started to date (side note: she is very thankfully in full remission now!). Her diagnosis prompted my now husband to get tested, which allowed us to make an informed decision about the health of our future children.
We decided to do IVF with pre-implantation genetic testing to make sure that we did not pass on this difficult gene to our future children. This was NOT a straightforward decision, but ultimately it was the right decision for us after watching his sister go through such a difficult, over 2-year battle with cancer.
IVF brought a whole new level of anxiety, confusion, uncertainty – not to mention the process completely took over our lives. I have always had the luxury of being able to arrange my life around my crazy job as a pediatric intensive care doctor. I love my job, I love my patients, and I somehow found a husband who supported me in my dreams to not only be the best doctor I could be, but also perform important research to advance the field. But that all had to go into second place for my IVF journey.
Suddenly I had to arrange my life around weekly, bi weekly, and then daily doctor’s appointments, ultrasounds and bloodwork. I would find myself on a 24-hour shift in the pediatric intensive care unit running to the call room to give myself injections of hormones that caused me to gain weight, zap my energy, and make me into a hormonal monster that my poor husband had to manage.
The only saving grace of this process was the community I engendered on social media. I made the decision early on to share our fertility journey. Mostly because I had no idea you could even test embryos for specific genetic mutations – and I figured if I didn’t know this as a doctor – perhaps others didn’t as well. So on my Instagram, @anitakpatelmd, I shared everything. Every shot, every tear, every moment of weakness, every moment of strength. And through sharing vulnerably, I cultivated a beautiful group of friends that were in their own various stages of trying to conceive.
During my IVF journey, the hardest part was the egg harvesting phase of IVF – I wasn’t able to do ashtanga yoga – a guiding and grounding force in my life. Unfortunately, while on hormones to harvest eggs, ovaries get so big that doctors recommend not performing vigorous exercise because you are at high risk of ovarian torsion – and let’s be honest, handstands and jumping around are the exact opposite of low-risk activity during this phase of IVF.
So, I had to go back to basics. And basics for me was meditation. Somehow through social media I stumbled upon the @expectful app. I decided to do a trial of their meditations for women preparing to conceive, and I finally found my moment of reprieve in the day. Did it take away all the pain and anxiety? No. But it did make life a lot more manageable. I had one tool to combat my anxiety (outside of therapy) and that was yoga. When that was taken away from me I felt completely lost.
Finding the Expectful app & meditations was like coming home. SO much so, that I reached out to the Expectful team to say thank you after I had survived the first half of my IVF journey. At that time, I also casually mentioned how much there is a need for a set of meditations for women specifically going through IVF.
From that thought – and from a moment of courage – the Expectful team and I began a beautiful journey to develop a set of meditations for women going through their own IVF journeys.
And now let’s jump ahead about 9 months – we got married and the IVF worked for us soon thereafter! I am currently 30 weeks pregnant with a baby girl who does not have the BRCA gene. My husband and I are beyond thrilled. But I have to be honest with you – this pregnancy journey hasn’t been easy either. From constant nausea and vomiting in the first trimester to gestational diabetes in the third, none of this fertility journey has been easy. But two things have carried me through – my fertility tribe and working on these meditations for all of you.
SO thank you for letting me be of service to all of you. You saved me in ways I can never fully express.