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Posted By YouMeMine on 10/20/2020

Family Building in the Age of COVID-19

Family Building in the Age of COVID-19

For many, COVID-19 has turned family building and the fertility journey on its head. To help the TTC community navigate these unknown, scary waters, we turned to Carole Lieber Wilkins, MA, MFT, for guidance. Here are her words of wisdom: 

 Q - How has COVID-19 changed the fertility journey?

 A – COVID has created tremendous anxiety in those who are pursuing pregnancy, either in their own bodies, or in those of a surrogate.  Medical information has trickled in, but no one yet has been able to give very much reassurance about a pregnant woman contracting COVID-19.  ASRM shut down, then opened, then shut down, then opened with limitations and in that time, my patients were extremely confused and anxious about what to do.  Often, physicians didn’t have answers either.  It’s scary to not know who to trust or what to do, and during this time it is also very important to use your intuition and your gut to know what is right for you, specifically.  Some people may move forward, and others postpone. All these choices are correct, if they make you feel safe, if not very frustrated.

 Q -For those just beginning to look for an egg donor or surrogate, the process can seem overwhelming. What can they do to incorporate wellbeing as they move ahead?

 A - Get support.  Join organizations, like Parents via Egg Donation (PVED),to be in community with those who have walked, or are walking this path.  Know you are not alone.  Read what you can about parenting with third party reproduction.  Mental health professionals can help you navigate the process, while also helping you resolve grief you may be carrying, as well as help you heal from the trauma of infertility.

Know that you will get there.  Like anything in life, there is a learning curve, and you will get it.  You will make choices that are right for you.  Ask for help.  Be patient, even though it can be the hardest thing in the process.

Q - The infertility journey is stressful, and in the time of COVID, even more so. What can people do to manage stress and focus on mental health?

Because of the restrictions on us in order to stay safe and healthy, we don’t have many of our usual coping strategies.  Gyms are closed, friends are limited in how they can gather, and our relationships are remote.  It is very important to continue to cope with anxieties about the fertility journey, as well as the state of the world with everything in our toolbox that we can utilize now.  These may include exercise outdoors or at home instead of at a gym; meditation; eating well; and as much contact as we can have both safely in person and virtually, to stay connected.

Q - For those looking for an egg donor or surrogate, what can they accomplish now, in light of COVID restrictions?

A - Ask for help.  Seek out a counselor with expertise in family building, who can help you decide what is important to you when looking for someone who will replace your genetics or carry your baby.  It is not always appearance or education or even health that can light you up when you read about her.

Consider known donation as a path to parenthood.   This is currently believed to be best practices for your future child, to grow up knowing the three (or more) branches of their tree.  Many agencies are open to facilitating known matches, and many women offering their genetic material are very willing to know the families who will receive them.   Talk to a counselor who can help you understand how this works and why it can be beneficial to all.

With regards to a surrogate, ask your physician, or ask in some of the support organizations for referrals to ethical matching programs.  Decide what is important to you in partnering with the woman who will bring your child home to you, and trust yourself in your choices.  Then trust her to do the most important job in the world—carry your child to a healthy birth.

Q - Partners have a dual role of supporting and needing to mind their own wellbeing. What are some ways partners can accomplish this?

 A - Partners often have the challenge of feeling kind of useless, but he or she is most definitely important!  

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Have a short term and long term plan.  Ask how you can help.  Keep track of the calendar.  Call the doctor for information, and not leave all the medical knowledge to the one going through treatment. Attend appointments whenever possible.  Validate each other’s feelings, without judgment.   And utilize your own coping strategies, just as mentioned above, to stay patient, sane and supportive.

 And of course, seek counseling before conflict has disrupted your relationship.

 Carole LieberWilkins is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the co-author of Let’s Talk About Egg Donation:  Real stories from real people.  A specialist in the field of reproductive medicine, adoption, and family building options since 1986, Carole has a deep understanding of the complex family building options as she built her family through adoption and egg donation.

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