National Infertility Awareness Week is April 22nd to 28th…right before Mother’s Day. I’m sure that isn’t by accident. For anyone who’s been affected by infertility, this holiday is one of the toughest. Living with infertility is certainly nobody’s choice. It’s one of those curveballs in life that gets thrown at you. One out of eight couples faces this challenge every day.
As one who has been on this hellish rollercoaster of emotions, I understand how isolating and stressful this time can be. The stress level experienced when struggling with infertility has been found to be similar to the stress of those dealing with cancer, heart disease or chronic pain.
It even qualifies for a language all its own – 2WW (2 week wait – after the middle of the cycle, the cruel wait to see if you’re pregnant), BFN (big, fat negative – what you dread more than anything), BBT (basal body temperature – taking your temperature every morning before your feet hit the floor WITH A FULL BLADDER to help read the signs of ovulation, TTC (trying to conceive) and then the whole alphabet soup of medical tests of procedures - IUI, IVF, HSG, ART, SA…you get the idea. If you’ve been there or are there now, these letters take on a whole new meaning in your life.
The key is to not let it destroy your life. It’s very easy to get swallowed up in this quest for parenthood. Each month you get another chance to try again so the carrot is dangled in front of you over and over. As a counselor with a passion for working with clients going through this very difficult time, I offer a few things that may help make the struggle more manageable.
Practice extreme self-care. Going through infertility treatment is extremely stressful. There are painful tests, invasive procedures and strict scheduling that can easily seem to take over your life. Some women blame themselves for being stressed, especially when everyone tells them to, “just relax!” It’s not that easy and is certainly not the reason for your infertility.
Learn simple relaxation techniques to strengthen your mind/body connection, take long walks, practice yoga, treat yourself and your partner to a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, do some gardening, schedule a couples’ massage – PAMPER YOURSELF. Take time for your marriage or partnership. Infertility puts an enormous strain on a relationship so try to reconnect by regularly setting time aside for an “infertility-free zone.”
Also, don’t feel guilty if you don’t put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable. For example, while going through fertility treatment, many clients consider baby showers or christenings off limits. You can politely decline the invitation and send a generic gift like a gift card since shopping on a baby registry or going into Buy Buy Baby might be too painful. Some things can’t be avoided but it’s important to only do what you can handle and pick and choose wisely. Set those boundaries!
Examine your life and your life’s purpose apart from infertility. What are your strengths? Are you living other areas in your life to their fullest potential or are months and years going by just waiting to get pregnant? Infertility has a way of robbing us of our power. We need to cultivate our sense of power from other areas of our lives. Take on things that will give you a sense of accomplishment and solve unfinished business to help empower you and free your mind up so you don’t get so overwhelmed by all that life is throwing at you.
Recognize that you have ultimate control over trying to conceive or not. Some want to continue until they’ve exhausted every possible option. Some clients need to give themselves permission to stop treatment and may feel a huge burden has been lifted off their shoulders. They are able to mourn the fact that they may never have a biological child but are also relieved to have their lives back again. There is no right or wrong answer here and it is a uniquely personal but difficult choice.
Use your spirituality as a beacon in hard times. Many people reconnect with their religion but spirituality can reflect itself in many ways like through quiet meditation, nature or the arts. With the odds stacked against you, it’s important to get strength wherever you can. Since infertility is similar, in many ways to a chronic illness, studies show that spirituality and mindfulness can be an important factor in dealing with issues like this.
Last but not least…don’t be afraid to ask for help. Join an infertility organization (RESOLVE, INCIID) or a local or online support group. Having a therapist who specializes in this area can help to provide relief by finding someone who understands where you’re coming from so you won’t feel so alone.
In my work, I have been honored to help women process painful emotions, sort through tough decisions and support them through this trying time. Their inner strength and resilience continues to amaze me.
Be kind to yourself! Handling infertility is one of the most difficult things you will ever do.