Letting Go During Infertility
How I learned to stop trying to control the things I couldn't
The autumn air was unmistakably crisp on the morning of my beta hCG test. I was surprisingly awake in the pre-dawn hours, jitters in my stomach as I drove on highways coming to life with the flurry of morning commuters. When I arrived at the clinic, the nurse was expeditious with the blood draw, despite my stubborn veins.
Returning to my car moments later, I looked at my watch: a one-hour drive for a five-minute blood test. Facing the rising sun, I squinted through my hourlong drive back home, my heart ablaze.
There was nothing left to do but wait. The end result was completely out of my control.
In the 10 days after my embryo transfer but before the blood test to see if I was pregnant, my emotions vacillated between nervousness and excitement, hope and dread. I resisted the overwhelming urge to scrutinize every sign my body gave me, knowing my twice-daily injections of progesterone rendered any symptoms totally unreliable.
Now the culmination of my four-year struggle with infertility floated in a tiny vial of my blood in a sterile lab somewhere. And the two-week wait for the results was nothing short of a religious experience: an experiment in faith, a Buddhist retreat, a Zen enlightenment.
It was plain that I was no longer in control of my infertility experience, even though I had tried my hardest to be since the day of my diagnosis four years earlier.
Letting go of control is not something human beings do instinctively. We are not hardwired to simply let life happen to us. We must strive to be the masters of our own destiny. We must be in control. To let go of that control is to resist our instinct to take action by fight or flight. For four years, I had been fighting.
Letting go puts us in a place of deep vulnerability, an unwilling arrival into uncomfortable truths we'll avoid any way we can. Brené Brown, author and a leading researcher on vulnerability, explores the origin of the word "vulnerable" in her book Daring Greatly. The word comes from the Latin vulnerabilis, and the meaning is rooted in being "open to wounds."
To be vulnerable is to resist our own instincts to protect ourselves from injury. When we're dealing with infertility, it seems natural to ask: "Just how much more vulnerable can I really be?" We are the walking wounded. Our bodies have betrayed us. Our previously assumed life plans have been derailed. With each cycle, our emotions are built up and torn down like fragile sandcastles on vanishing shores, month after month.
And yet Brown describes vulnerability as "…the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences." How does being open to emotional injury offer us a meaningful human experience?
Brown says it's because "vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity." And in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable – that is, in being open to the possibility of being wounded – we can actually begin to heal the wounds of our infertility journeys.
Vulnerability isn't just lying down and taking whatever happens to us. The art of letting go is a profound exercise in self-awareness to acknowledge, accept, and plan for the possible outcomes of our uncertain journeys. There is nothing more uncertain in infertility than when we ask ourselves, "Did this cycle work?"
Letting go means that we not only acknowledge the possibility of failure, disappointment, and having to start again – it means that we accept these things. At the same time, it also means that we acknowledge the possibility of success and joy, and how it would feel to accept these things into our life as well.
Letting go allows us to plan and ask for the support we need if our outcomes fall short of our hopes: the cancelled retrieval, the failed cycle, the miscarriage. But we may also need support when the cycle succeeds and we find ourselves in the untethered liminal space of pregnancy after infertility.
In my two-week wait, I reached a state of calm acceptance I had never experienced before in my life. I knew the odds were 50/50: Either I was pregnant or I wasn't. There was nothing in my power I could do to affect the outcome, no matter how much I wished I could.
So I just let go. It was the one choice I had left.
I chose to be set adrift wherever the current of my infertility journey would take me. I let my emotions wash over me, and I rose from the waters washed clean of doubt and fear. I was ready to step with confidence onto whatever shore awaited me.
When the phone call came from my clinic with my test results, I was ready. I knew that no matter what the nurse said when I answered that call, it was all going to be okay. But more importantly, by letting go and being open to my own vulnerability, I knew that no matter what, I was going to be okay too.