#metoo: Surviving fertility treatments as a sexual assault survivor

#metoo: Surviving fertility treatments as a sexual assault survivor

Trigger warning: This post contains information about sexual assault which may be triggering to survivors.

I don’t talk about my sexual assault much. For a long time, it lived under the surface of my daily life, allowing me to pretend it didn’t happen at all. But like thin ice, it’s easy to crack through with the slightest amount of pressure. When I started fertility treatments, it was like someone took an ice pick to that thin layer, and it became more and more difficult to pretend it never happened.

I remember my first transvaginal ultrasound. It was over quickly enough, but there was something about the clinical setting and the fact that I didn’t know the ultrasound tech that made me think of my assault. I was surprised by the flood of memories – images of my assault I had long buried.

Surprisingly, I was able to hold myself together… that time.

If you’ve been involved in fertility treatments, you know that the transvaginal ultrasound is a staple. Leading up to every ultrasound, I would have some mild anxiety just prior to having my name called. And during every ultrasound, I would see snippets of my assault in my head, over and over again.

It got even worse as the tests and procedures got more invasive. When I didn’t know what to expect, like before my first sonohysterogram or my first endometrial biopsy, I would fret about it for days or weeks leading up to the procedure. This newfound anxiety would keep me up at night, every night, leading up to the scheduled appointment. And following the procedure, I would book it to the bathroom to quietly cry in the privacy of a stall.

I know, from checking the internet to see if my reactions were ‘normal’, that I am not alone in how triggering I find fertility treatments.

Over time, it has gotten a bit better, but mostly because I have developed some strategies to better manage my emotions and reactions. If you are also struggling with the effects of your assault, I hope this helps you get through that next uncomfortable test or procedure.

Tell your doctor/nurse.

With my first fertility clinic, I stayed silent, just as I had in my personal life. I wasn’t expecting how triggering treatments would be, and when I realized how difficult it was, I didn’t want to be a bother to anyone. When I switched fertility clinics, I felt empowered by my new start and decided that I wanted to pursue fertility treatments on my own terms. I started by telling my main nurse that I was a sexual assault survivor and had anxiety around certain procedures.

I asked that all procedures that I found invasive and triggering, such as sonohysterograms, biopsies, egg retrievals, and frozen embryo transfers, be done by my specific doctor. She couldn’t promise anything, but I can see the effort she makes to fulfill this request when she is scheduling dates. Just knowing that someone else was looking out for me in the process relieved some of my anxiety. And having such procedures being performed by someone I know and trust helped substantially.

I’m not going to pretend that it has completely solved the problem. My most recent biopsy was performed by my RE during a peak in #metoo media coverage. When it was over, I couldn’t control my emotions, and my RE kindly asking if I was okay only seemed to make it worse. I was a mess for two straight weeks following the biopsy, despite having it performed by someone I trusted. At the same time, I truly believe it could have been worse had I been in a room full of strangers.

Do your research.

Prior to an unfamiliar procedure, I learn everything I can about it. I ask the nurse to detail exactly what will happen, I read peoples’ experiences online, and I ask people I know who have been through it before. I learn everything I can in order to feel prepared, and when I feel prepared, I feel less anxious.

Breathe. Or sing.

During a procedure that I expect to be triggering, I focus on my breathing. I count to 5 on my inhale, and exhale as slowly as possible. Another technique I use is to sing a song in my head, envisioning the lyrics typed out in my mind. These simple techniques keep my mind concentrated on something else during the procedure.

Talk to your partner.

Even my husband doesn’t know the details of my assault. But he does know how anxious I get around fertility tests and procedures that I find triggering. I talk to him when I feel my anxiety raising, and I tell him afterwards if it was as bad as I thought it would be. There isn’t really anything he can do for me, but his comfort, love, and unconditional support can go a long way in bringing my anxiety down.

Fertility treatments aren’t fun for anyone. Even without the added complexity of a history of sexual assault, tests and procedures can feel violating and invasive. But they’re also a necessary evil. Do what you can to mitigate your anxiety because your mental health is important and should be a priority as you continue on your journey to expand your family.

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