Hope Is Not A Strategy....Until It is Written by: Krysten Beaven
A former colleague and great friend used to love to remind me (and our team) that “hope isn’t a strategy” when we were creating and setting our team’s objectives and goals. I heard many times throughout the years that one must use concrete, action verbs (you know, the whole "SMART" - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound statements) when creating them so that you can ultimately measure whether or not you are making progress toward and, ultimately, meeting your objectives and achieving your goals. This is helpful and works quite well in the business world. Not so much, however, when you are looking to start your family and are faced with infertility.
It was almost exactly two years ago that we began IVF (in-vitro fertilization) after extensive testing, a definitive diagnosis (something I was ultimately thankful we got as many couples suffer from “unexplained infertility”), a treatment plan and two (or was it three?) other failed less-consuming treatments. As someone who was used to leveling up when the going gets tough in order to meet professional goals I set, this whole journey to start a family threw me for a huge loop. My husband and I wanted to become parents. To put that dream into a SMART-type objective statement sounded ludicrous or at best came across as an aggressive attempt at manifestation (not to mention phrasing such a precious wish in that manner made my superstitious self squirm). This was precisely one of those times in your life when you have to give up any illusion of control and look to hope and faith. Since so, so much of the process is out of your hands when you are going through it, hope is really the one thing that you can cling to throughout.
And cling to it I did. In this fight, there were no guarantees. I vividly recall sitting in our Reproductive Endocrinologist’s (or RE’s) office, staring at her computer screen that displayed our fertility testing results and blinking back tears, wishing she would just tell us that the odds were good that we would be successful. Unfortunately, she had limited data to go on and was not able to give that type of reassurance. “But what if this doesn’t work out?”This panicked question swirled through my head multiple times per day, every day. That period when we were going between lab visits and doctor’s appointments, unsure of whether or not there would be a baby at the end of it all was a hard space to live in. I led a dual existence: going in to work each day and showing up, contributing to and being present in meetings, meeting my deliverables and gaining a clearer understanding of my professional value while personally I was spiraling into doubt and feeling “less than” as I struggled to understand why something that happens to so many people unintentionally every day was not happening for my husband and me despite all this effort. And if one more person told me to just relax…
I tried to look to the next appointment, the next step in order to maintain some optimism. It was so hard. I felt like I was walking around with a heart that was a little bit broken and I cried a lot during those days - often times while driving to and from work but also in the doctor’s office, my acupuncturist’s office and probably some other places as well and made for some awkward times. I also prayed during that time as well. I won’t say that I just went ahead and “let go and let God” - noooo I am way too much of an overthinking control freak for that but I did find myself talking to God, St. Anthony and the other patron saints of mothers and those who wished to become mothers. I also was happy to receive any communication from the universe when it came about: that time one morning after a failed treatment round, I drove into work behind a car with the license plate “ITCANB” and found it comforting.
There were so many points in the process where I was pushed to the limit of what I thought I could handle but in those instances I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and some days those steps were tiny, but they were steps nonetheless:
Being told we had to take an IVF class before we could proceed with treatment. What? Yep. We ultimately did it and were certainly not alone as the room was full of couples seeking the same end. We left there with a binder of information on all the ins and outs of IVF (and who said babies don’t come with manuals??)
The fertility drug regimen. That box filled with hella expensive medications seemed so intimidating when it arrived. We read each and every label and all of the instructions and then lived by the alarms on my phone. I also got very used to needles.
Our first round of IVF that resulted in an ectopic pregnancy. This was certainly not the outcome we had wanted but I ultimately felt encouraged that I did get pregnant. For this, I had to go to regular lab visits as well as some additional doctor’s office visits to confirm that the pregnancy was, in fact, ectopic as they closely monitored my hormone levels. Once they had final confirmation, they called me in the middle of my work day and informed me that I had to leave work to go to the hospital for treatment.
The hours I sat in the hospital waiting for my name to be called for me to receive treatment for my ectopic pregnancy were some of the worst and lowest I had ever experienced. I grew numb as I sat and tried not to make eye contact with anyone. There were pregnant women all around me and I knew most would be leaving there that day still pregnant, but I would not. I saw an expectant teenage couple walking by, a little reminder that no, life is not always fair. The treatment itself was a Methotrexate shot that was administered in under five minutes. The hours of waiting among pregnant folk were just icing on the cake. I asked my doctor if there was a chance I would have a normal pregnancy and she said that she had a patient who was recently in my same position and who was now pregnant again and was 25+ weeks along. Thank you, universe. I needed that glimmer of hope so very much then.
When we returned to the RE’s office three months later, I found myself looking at that same computer screen, but this time the doctor’s words were different. “Based on the last round and the fact that you responded so well to the meds and you got pregnant, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be able to have a successful pregnancy.” At last, the phrase I had wanted nothing more than to hear. Happy tears welled up this time and I offered a silent thanks to the universe. Data can be a beautiful thing.
After our first loss, returning to yoga helped me see clearly how angry I had been at my body for so long and allowed me a space to truly witness that I could do more than I believed I was capable of physically (aside from self-administering fertility meds like a pro). It flipped my thought process on its head to be gentler, softer, and more hopeful. At the opening of a yoga class shortly before that second round of IVF, the reading that the instructor did felt like it was being delivered directly to me: it was about how sometimes there is something that we want but can’t have and that it can be so incredibly hard, but that we must keep an open heart as miracles can only happen when your heart is open. I felt the tears well up in my eyes and began class with goosebumps, a grateful heart, and hope. As we went into our embryo transfer on that cold January day a week later, we had no idea what would come of it, but we did believe that miracles were possible and hope carried us. Throughout everything, I was able to keep moving forward thanks to more than a little support and encouragement from my husband. Those two and a half years plus were hard. Yet, he always knew we would become parents. Many nights I asked him how he knew. He replied that he just knew. As frustrating as that answer was at times, it was just what I needed to hear. His hope was unwavering and helped renew mine. As my acupuncturist told me many times “families are built in many beautiful ways,” and if IVF ultimately didn’t end up being our path then there would most certainly be another way to parenthood for us.
Nine months later, the greatest little miracle came into our lives. I still look at him and marvel, thinking back to all the heartbreak and tears I shed during that dark time and his little face and smile are so much more than my heart could ever have imagined. Trying to comprehend and then convey the magnitude of the blessing we received in our son is overwhelming to me still and it feels a bit like staring into the sun. Suffice to say, even on the periphery it is pretty wonderful. Hearing his babbling and giggles each morning when he wakes up brings a smile to my face. In a world that at times can break your heart and take your breath away with its cruelty and injustice without a second thought, miracles and magic do exist as long as you believe in them. Any attempt to articulate the dream that has manifested into a small human form that I see in front of me now could never have been summed up into the tidy goal statements I was so used to setting and then achieving. Ah, no. He is so much more than that. This quest in realizing the dream of parenthood far surpasses anything that small SMART box could ever hold and it would have never revealed the beauty, grace and gifts that only come from struggle, uncertainty and hope when that is all you have to hold onto.