Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Postdoc-hood & Infertility: Part 2

Guest Post: the below post was submitted anonymously by an astronomy post-doc.

A few weeks ago I posted about my husband and my quest for fertility. The emails and conversations I’ve had since have been heart-warming. It’s so helpful to hear other people’s stories; those who have happily come out the other side, those who have adopted, and those who are in the thick of it now. It’s also been further confirmation that there are a lot of women and men in STEM juggling infertility issues and career uncertainties. My best wishes goes out to all of you.

In the most general sense, this experience has been a good reminder of the obvious – people present a certain version of themselves at work, but who knows what kinds of obstacles and hardships they’re dealing with outside of work. Remembering this has made me more empathetic in my workplace interactions, treating people with extra gentleness and give.

Since the post, I’ve received an abundance of helpful advice on how to approach IVF/ICSI  (which we’ll be starting in October/November) with as much calm and optimism as possible. Among that advice, I was given the contact info for an acupuncturist who specializes in infertility and have my first appointment in a couple weeks. I also set up an appointment with a therapist, to work on relaxation techniques and identify ways to minimize stress.

I now also have what I hope is a more realistic sense of the potential impact that the cocktail of medications taken pre-IVF have on a person’s emotional and physical state. For some, the reaction is minimal. For others, it’s a real struggle, both physically and emotionally. In response, I’m working now to rearrange my responsibilities and schedule for the weeks leading up to the IVF procedure so that I can minimize time at work and avoid stressful situations (and stressful people!) as much as possible. I’m so thankful that the flexibility of a postdoc allows me to do this. And I’ll be enlisting friends, family, and the few colleagues who know what we’re going through to help during that time. In this case, it takes a village to have a baby (let alone raise it)!

Although we’ve made this choice for ourselves and are firmly on this path, I do wonder whether we’re forcing something that’s not meant to be. It’s interesting being a scientist who embraces all that medicine and technology makes possible, and at the same time, feel doubt about having science assist in this fundamental act. Whatever the answer, I am so thankful to live at a time in history when I have the option to ponder the question in the first place.

One final note: if you do have a conversation with someone who is dealing with infertility, please consider this sage advice.


Anonymous said...

Good luck to you and your spouse with IVF! I am a scientist in astronomy, and my spouse and I are in the middle of our first IVF+ICSI cycle due to my rare infertility factor. We were able to successfully implant Day 5 blastocysts, and now we are waiting an agonizing two weeks to find out if we beat the ~50% odds of a pregnancy. We are very fortunate to have gotten to this stage in the first place, having been given a <10% odds of having a genetic child a year ago (and that is with IVF).

It is incredibly emotionally challenging, from the initial discovery that one has a problem, to the raw waiting for days, weeks and months for progress or changes, to the medications and procedures, to the financials since only a handful of states offer health care plans that cover IVF (Massachusetts is one). IVF is very expensive to pay out of pocket ($10-$15k or more per cycle), and multiple cycles are the norm. Most people don't realize that those who opt for IVF at a young age are often choosing between having a child and any future prospects for saving for a down payment to buy a house.

As a scientist, I've coped with voracious reading of the medical literature and online info., since the doctors often use non-quantitative language. Knowing the chances of success at a given stage helps.

The emotional lows have been very low, and the highs have been very high until one realizes that the progress is just one step of many that have to all succeed. At times I've been able to bury myself in work, but that is not always possible and I've taken days off here and there.

Best of luck in your journey and you are not alone!

Mike said...

Best of luck to you! We went through a long wait and a failed IVF cycle before our doctors zeroed in on the problem: we had a genetic polymorphism connected with high homocysteine levels (the MTHFR gene). High levels can cause infertility and miscarriage and they go up as you get older. Our doctors put my wife on high levels of folate and we both ate a lot of spinach and it worked. Might want to ask your docs about it just in case it could save you some money and stress.