5 year old girl

When thinking back about previous posts about my experience getting pregnant through in vitro fertilization, I realized that I took a tough-love approach in my fertility treatment advice. I thought there was a one-size-fits-all approach for infertility advice. But I now know tough love doesn’t fit anyone.

My infertility was directly related to my advanced age. I had no one else to blame but me. I was frustrated by the life choices I had made that led me to be a mature bride at 41. I had a tough love approach for myself because I was irked at myself for being in an infertile situation.

With time and reflection, here is what I do know now. There is one approach that works for everyone: Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Love yourself.

I was recently struggling with something in my personal life, and a friend gave me advice that sounded odd at the time, but it now makes sense. She told me to put a picture of myself at around age 5 in a place that I would celebrate or announce an accomplishment. The refrigerator, the office, your bathroom mirror. Look at that picture and think, “How would you talk to yourself at age 5?”

The picture I used was my first-grade school picture. I had dried the tears from my eyes long enough to have my picture taken. I was in a new school, had a bowl haircut, crooked teeth and a speech impediment. I couldn’t pronounce my “r’s” and, unfortunately, my name had three “r’s.” I was impossibly shy, lacked self-confidence and didn’t have any friends.

The following is how I would speak to my 5-year-old self.

Embrace yourself and your differences. I would say to that 5-year-old that she may be different, and it’s good to be different. I would tell her that she may not have any friends yet, but someday she will have wonderful friends who will love her despite everything! My best friend today is someone I met in first grade.

Maybe your journey to having a family is different from those around you or markedly different from what you had always imagined. Your journey is what makes you special; embrace the challenge and your inner strength. Lean on your friends who can make you laugh, or reach out to new friends who have also gone through fertility issues.

Dagnabbit, go easy on yourself. You, yes you with the bad haircut and no friends, it’ll be OK. You are a good kid with amazing qualities. Love yourself and good things will find you.

Throughout my infertility, I was beating myself up for things that were out of my control and things that happened in my life way back when color TV was only for the rich kids. Every time I had a failed IVF, I’d beat myself up again. I was mad at myself for being so dadgum old (See? Even my adjectives are old). If I hadn’t been so carefree and averse to responsibility (but having an amazing time traveling the world), I might have married sooner and started a family at a more fertile age.

This attitude reminds me of a “laughed until I cried” moment on TV. It was on “30 Rock” with Tina Fey as Liz Lemon. Liz is nervous about the premiere of her new talk show, and she is channeling Gollum while talking to herself in the mirror. Liz says, “I know that it’s been a hard day,” and her reflection in a Gollum voice replies, “I could have had it all, but you had to ruin it with your thinking.” That is/was me, and I recognized how hilarious she looked being so antagonistic. It’s good to laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Find that 5-year-old joy and wonderment of the world. It’s out there.

Be kinder to those around you. What I tell my elementary-age kids is if another kid is mean to you, they probably have a difficult situation at home, and it’s not their fault. You never know the struggles others are going through.

Your partner may not be able to articulate the frustrations and feelings that he or she is going through. Family members may seem insensitive, but they have their own agenda, usually wrapped up in that “I only want you to be happy” conversation, and honestly, the only thing that would make me happy is not to have this conversation. You need love and understanding right now, so give that out to the world.

Be sure to share. Sharing at age 5 is difficult, but once you learn to be a good sharer, you will make friends. The kids who say “mine” all the time usually end up alone with all their toys.

I never agreed with the adage, “If I only helped one person” … I want to help as many people as I can. By sharing, you may end up with a different doctor or procedure that will yield the result you want. Share your IVF stories, share your fertility tips, and your brothers and sisters in the infertility treatment struggle will thank you.

Now give your 5-year-old self a hug.