When You're Not Expecting

Exploring the emotional aspects of women's reproductive health

A Vacation from Infertility?

A Vacation from Infertility?

In my large library of books on infertility, I could find only one with "vacation" in the index. And, no surprise, that book ("When You're Not Expecting") was written by me! In today's blog I'll offer my thoughts on why a vacation from infertility can be such an important and challenging issue to consider.

The very word "vacation" tends to elicit memories from our earlier lives of restful and restorative times that we have tucked away, simply because they have been memorable in such a positive way. And then all of us have memories, perhaps better forgotten, of vacations filled with stress, mishaps, unmet expectations, and other disappointments. So we begin this blog already aware that the word "vacation" can be a double-edged sword.

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On one edge of the sword are the lost vacations. These are the vacations never taken because you need to use your savings for infertility treatment or costs associated with adoption or surrogacy. Or these are the vacations never taken because you need to be close to home for clinic visits and treatments. Or these are the vacations not taken because the family members who would join you all have infants, toddlers and pregnant relatives in their midst. And that would be a lost vacation from your perspective.

So how about the other edge? Is there an alternative to lost vacations?
We need first to consider whether we are talking about a vacation or a vacation from infertility. If we're talking about a vacation, you and your partner need to make time in your crowded lives to decide how to avoid the lost vacation syndrome. One strategy could be to plan an inexpensive vacation (think close to home, bed and breakfasts, camping, new experiences big on spontaneity but low in cost). Another strategy might be to see whether a clinic in the vicinity of your destination could administer straightforward tests and procedures. And still another strategy would be to break the news gently to your family that you and your partner are taking a vacation this year where reminders of your infertility are at a minimum -- much as you love tiny nieces, nephews, pregnant sisters and doting grandparents, you and your partner need some vacation time to restore your own emotional energy.

And it is this issue of restoring your emotional energy that is actually behind the concept of an infertility vacation. This vacation probably will not be on the beach or in some yet-unexplored new environment (although it could be). An infertility vacation is a choice made by couples who feel their lives have been so consumed by their infertility that they have lost sight of themselves in the process. They decide to take several months off from treatment, not to touch adoption applications, not to investigate surrogate possibilities, and not to time intercourse with fertile times of the month.

So why would one come to the point of considering such a vacation? Well, I suspect I really don't need to elaborate on the obvious for most of my readers who are infertile, but in the spirit of hoping that loved ones and health care providers may be reading too, I'll elaborate briefly. Being infertile can consume your life: your schedule is no longer your own (in my book, one chapter is subtitled "When Life is on Hold"), you are constantly facing decisions that relate to your diagnosis or treatment, you may feel as though you are stuck too long in a particular treatment regimen, side effects from treatment (which can include weight gain and mood swings) are debilitating and, to top it off, your sex life is suffering. Who wouldn't need a vacation from this?

Well, yes, but an infertility vacation also means losing valuable months of treatment and medical continuity. Depending on your age, you may be feeling as if each month is a precious opportunity not to be wasted. So now the question becomes whether taking a few months away from infertility might enable you and your partner to rejuvenate your relationship, to see how it feels to be a family of two indulging yourselves with more spare time, more flexible schedules and more focus on restoring your own resilience. This is not a vacation meant for decision-making, but the mental and physical rest from treatment may give you enough new perspective after a few months that you are ready to begin facing new options, new decisions and new support systems.

Dr. Seuss, author of "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" has identified The Waiting Place as one detour that both children and adults face during their travels through life. Individuals with infertility will identify with Seuss's depiction of this involuntary life pause, as well as his assurance that life can move forward in new ways after a wretched waiting period.

So, in the spirit of encouraging you to appreciate that both vacations and involuntary waiting involve double edged swords, I hope you will take time to consider how several months of an infertility vacation might offer an opportunity to open your sensibilities and awareness to new ways of thinking about your life.

 

Connie Shapiro, Ph.D., is a professor of family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of When You're Not Expecting: An Infertility Survival Guide.

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