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5 Lessons About Fertility Treatment We Can Learn From Simone Biles

How setbacks and triumphs can support your fertility journey.

Key points

  • Only you can know when your mind and body need a timeout or when it’s time to talk to your partner about moving on.
  • Many patients work through their anxiety and their physical and emotional exhaustion and go for it again, and some choose not to.
  • We all deal with disappointments, losses, and fear of failure in our own way and at our own pace, especially during fertility treatment.

Sometimes life may feel as daunting as the Olympics, especially if you are going through fertility treatment. For example, you may have experienced:

  • Try after try, disappointment, and then small victories
  • Feeling like you are letting your “team” down when a cycle doesn’t work
  • Feeling like all eyes are on you
  • Thinking you must hide your fears and anxieties
  • Giving yourself pep talks
iStock/cmannphoto
Source: iStock/cmannphoto

All while trying to move forward to the gold: a healthy, safe pregnancy!

Gymnastics world champion and four-time gold medalist Simone Biles’ experience at this year’s Olympics is a parallel example with many lessons to be learned. The 24-year-old withdrew from the team competition after she was unable to complete her planned vault, landed off-balance, and received a low score for her team. Although some criticized her for “quitting,” she said she had mental and physical challenges to deal with. Her teammates instantly supported Biles through her decision, and her withdrawal helped six of her USA teammates win at least one medal each. Then, after Biles worked through her mental roadblock, she came back to win a bronze medal herself on the balance beam. It was a dramatic and unexpected scenario, one that serves as a great example of how we can make it to our own personal finish line.

Fagreia/Shutterstock
Source: Fagreia/Shutterstock

Here are five key lessons that we can take away from Simone Biles’ brave journey.

Be your own coach and fan

Biles was not only competing at the games, but she was also the face of the Olympic Games for NBC, a foster care and adoption ambassador for the organization Project Glimmer, a fan-favorite, and a sponsor for numerous corporations. As the outside pressure grew, the internal stress did, too. She said she had to “do what’s right for me and take a step back.”

If you are going through fertility treatment with a partner, you are probably saying “we” want to be pregnant, but the reality is, “you” are the one taking the medication, administering the injections, and going through the retrievals. Only you can know when your mind and body need a timeout or when it’s time to talk to your partner about moving on to ovum donation, adoption, or even a new life plan. Self-care is just as important when you’re part of a team because it can help you last for the long run.

Do what you can do, not what you think you should do

Biles told us one of the reasons she wanted to recheck her mental health was because of the “twisties,” which is when you lose awareness in the air in the middle of a dangerous move. To have ignored the problem could have been life-threatening. To have pushed herself would have been soul-threatening.

We all have our own version of the “twisties.” Some of my patients going through fertility treatment say they hit a wall and must stop, catch their breath, and reassess. Like Biles, many work through their anxiety and their physical and emotional exhaustion and go for it again. Some do not. But those that do know they are moving forward by choice.

Be self-centered

I don’t mean selfish when I say “self-centered,” I mean self-aware. I tell patients to look from the “inside out,” meaning to look out at the world through your own eyes, not at yourself through everyone else’s eyes.

Biles was looking at herself from the “outside in” for a while. She told interviewers that she was looking at herself through the eyes of her family, fans, sponsors, opposing teams, NBC executives, and groups that promote the causes she stands for. The immense pressure to push for perfection became too much. She finally found her own mojo in the middle of the Olympics. We can find ours again and again, no matter what our goal, if we keep reminding ourselves why we started our journey.

Accept help if you need it

No one is perfect, so don’t try. Ask for help if you need it. Biles did. She was molested by the former USA Gymnastics team doctor throughout her childhood but accepted the help she needed to continue competing and overcoming. The medals that came in the end were just an added bonus.

If you need emotional help during your fertility journey, reach out. Since the start of COVID, there have been many more support groups online and tele-therapists available to help. They can help you balance your mental and physical health against that “one more try” before moving on to alternative family-building paths. Ask your fertility clinic for recommendations or check out the mental health resources and the “Find a Therapist” tool on Psychology Today.

Travel your own journey

There are no neat stages and no right answers when you are dealing with your emotions. We all deal with disappointments, losses, and fear of failure in our own way and at our own pace, especially during fertility treatment. Be aware of this if someone tells you differently.

Biles has said that criticism was hurtful and came from people who didn’t understand her issues or how the sport of gymnastics works. If you are offered unsolicited advice or criticism during your fertility journey, it will probably also be from people who don’t understand your issues or how fertility treatment works.

In the end, this is my biggest takeaway from Simone Biles’ story:

To move forward, in the Olympics or in our own lives, we must stay in what Fritz Perls called the “here and now.” If we are reliving past problems or pre-living future fears, today will pass us by—and today is when we can redefine our goals and our idea of personal success. Today is the day that, like Simone Biles, we can start our next comeback.

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