Your Path to Pregnancy is an interview series highlighting conception stories from real couples, brought to you by BeliMen Vitality.
Thank you for chatting with us, Chery! You’ve been through such an inspiring journey to parenthood, and built a really beautiful community around fertility support. The Beli community is also made up of folks walking a unique path to pregnancy and parenthood.
For folks who are meeting you for the first time, what’s your story?
First off, thank you for this wonderful opportunity to help raise awareness about different paths to parenthood. My name’s Cheryl Dowling and I’m the founder of The IVF Warrior.
My journey to motherhood wasn't exactly easy. I have both PCOS and endometriosis, so I knew becoming a mom would have its challenges, but I never imagined it would be as hard as it ended up being. There were multiple laparoscopy surgeries over the years, a bilateral salpingectomy, and a surgery to reshape my uterus. From my early to late 20’s, my husband and I ended up going through 9 rounds of IVF, 3 losses, and many failed cycles before completing our family.
Experiencing infertility was completely life altering. The mental and physical stress you experience is unreal. I decided near the end of my journey to launch The IVF Warrior community with hope that by using my counseling background and personal infertility journey, I could create a platform for others to feel supported, empowered, and more educated during their path to parenthood.
When did you decide you wanted to be a parent?
I think like many women out there, I always knew I wanted to be a mom. It started at a young age playing with baby dolls, but as I became an adult and met my husband, I knew in my heart that becoming a parent was something I not only wanted to do, but needed to do. There was an intense emptiness that filled me while experiencing infertility. I knew that wouldn’t go away until we grew our family.
Did anything surprise you about becoming a parent?
Parenthood is full of surprises! One major lesson has been: there’s only so much you can plan for. Being a parent of three I can say without a doubt, nothing can prepare you for parenthood.
You can read all the books and take all of the classes, but it is 100% a learn as you go situation.
Realizing this helped take some of the pressure off. I feel like a lot of first-time parents try to be perfect and often compare to other parents, but perfect parents don’t exist. Once you realize this, it makes this new chapter much easier. The fact is, we all make mistakes. I’ve learned that it’s reflecting on the lessons as you go, and trying to learn from them, that makes you a good parent.
It seems like there’s a lot of misinformation and pseudoscience out there surrounding infertility.
Absolutely. You see it every day. I try to remind people that just because someone else is doing something, doesn’t mean you should be doing it too. Everybody is different and unique, e.g. different medical conditions, different nutrient deficiencies, different circumstances.
Are there misconceptions or misguided advice about fertility that you think gets in the way?
There are a lot of different opinions on infertility out there based on either pure ignorance, beliefs,and personal experiences. But just because a friend of a friend tried something and it worked, doesn’t mean it’s the cure-all for infertility.
Unfortunately, because there are a lot of misconceptions out there, those either new to TTC (trying to conceive) and/or those who aren’t affected by infertility, might believe infertility isn’t as serious as it is or become victims to many of these must-try misconceptions. My hope is that platforms like The IVF Warrior and platforms like yours will eventually break down the stigma and misguided misinformation out there. I truly believe knowledge is power and that together we can help guide change and make a difference.
What’s the best way that friends and family can support couples who are looking for answers about their fertility?
This is unique to every couple, but a general rule is: Offer support, not advice—unless advice is asked for. Remind the couple that you’re there for them. Give them a shoulder to cry on or an ear to vent to. Empathize with their struggles, but don’t try to relate or offer solutions.
Also, know that not every couple wants to talk about their situation, so be kind and sensitive to their struggles. Don’t bring it up unless they clearly want to discuss it. I know a lot of family and friends become eager to want to help and desperately want regular updates, but please don’t pry. It’s such an emotional journey and when a couple feels ready to share news and/or open up, they will.
Do you hear from men who are grappling with male factor infertility?
Occasionally, but not enough. I feel like men are slowly becoming more open about these issues they’re facing, but unfortunately, most seem to still be struggling alone. It’s hard... Men often want to be strong for their partner and tend to naturally want to fix things. But in this situation, there isn’t anything they can ‘fix’. Infertility is basically surrendering mixed with a lot of waiting and hoping, which can feel paralyzing.
What have you seen make a difference for them?
One thing I’ve experienced and noticed with infertility is men often want to be the ‘fixer’ of all things in a relationship. This is such a struggle for any man dealing with MFI. Common thoughts or concerns I’ve seen from men are: guilt for not being able to give their wife a child, a feeling of lack of masculinity, shame, anger, and sadness. They also often feel no control and devastated that their partner has to become a patient due to ‘their issues’. But, as we know, infertility isn’t a he or she problem, it is an us problem. Learning to let go of blame is important.
When it comes to infertility, it’s so common for people to assume it’s the female who’s to ‘blame’, but this is definitely not the case. In fact, roughly 40% of infertility cases are caused by male factor infertility, roughly the same % as female factor infertility. I’m hoping that over time, more men open up about MFI and their experiences.
What seems to have helped many men dealing with MFI is therapy, support groups (online or in-person), and/or opening up to their partner and finding healthy ways to communicate. Communication is vital during infertility, where you’re dealing with male factor or female factor issues. You have to learn how to express your feelings and thoughts because at the end of the day, your partner wants to be able to support you, but no one can read your mind. Lean into each other and be there for one another, and really try to learn how to navigate this journey together.