Most people experience some form of fertility related stress. There are so many decisions, challenges and concerns that are thrown up.
Firstly not wanting to get pregnant before you are ready. As teenagers and young adults this is constantly drummed into us. Although of course this is important, I believe that the conversation could be better managed and therefore not add unnecessarily to the expectation that all pregnancy is easy and immediate.
Imagine if we thought of it differently – like getting to know someone before you get married. Societal expectation is that this shouldn’t happen too fast and will take time, but with getting pregnant the expectation is that it should happen straight away, which just adds so much unnecessary pressure, making it all the more difficult to cope with infertility when it happens.
No matter the length of your journey or the challenges that you come up against, your mindset will play an incredibly important role on how to cope with infertility – I will talk about some strategies I implemented to minimse the impact of our long journey on our relationship, my relationship with others around me and on me personally.
Stress factors of infertility
There is no doubt that any difficulty in having a baby is tough – anything you go through that threatens so fundamentally your hopes and dreams has the potential to be soul-destroying.
Whether you have been trying for a couple of months or much, much longer the feelings are likely to be intense. You will most likely feel stressed and often worry about all sorts of possible worst case scenarios. Here are some of the most common stress factors that come up from an infertility journey.
The time factor of infertility
With infertility there is no respite – you are always tracking your progress, looking at the timing, what is happening next and it all happens so quickly – normally within a month and then it is either elation or devastation – month after month after month.
Then there is the added pressure of sand in an hourglass – time running out, making it all the more finite – this can lead to intense anxiety, despair and in some cases depression.
The effect of infertility on your relationship
Life throws you all sorts of curve balls – there is no such thing as everything going well all the time – at least not for anyone I know! So whoever you decide to spend your life with needs to be someone who can support you during the tough times and who you want to support.
Infertility is quite unique in that you are both going through it together but will both be feeling and thinking different & complex things.
It can be super tough on your relationship – firstly something that is supposed to be fun turns into a chore, the spontaneity disappears and everyone has to perform on demand – talk about stressful! Then there is often a feeling that the other party doesn’t understand how hard it is or what you are going through – inevitably no one can ever fully understand what someone else is feeling we can only listen and care.
Also, there is a very common issue about sharing – some people feel very private about fertility issues and don’t want anyone to know their struggles whilst others are happy to be more open. Within a couple you might have completely opposing views about this which adds to the tension and this needs to be discussed and resolved.
All these issues are very common and add to the stress of infertility but can be managed if you are willing to come together.
The impact people’s comments have on your mindset
Agh people;) People’s comments, regardless of whether they know what you are going through or not, can often touch a nerve or roll around in your head for days. People, often well-meaning, think they are saying the right thing but actually can be saying exactly the opposite of what you need.
Giving stereotypical advice is very common like “just go on holiday and relax”….I found I was able to mainly brush these sorts comments off as well-meaning but misguided and worked hard on not letting them fester in my head. However the biggest one I found was people trying to manage your expectations as they don’t want you to get hurt! Saying things like “it might not happen have you thought about XYZ” – this just puts more fear and doubt into your mind and I found some of these really hard to shake.
And what I learnt and try to do now when talking to anyone struggling with anything is be positive – you can’t manage anyone’s expectations, in fact I don’t believe it is any use to temper your own. I think we should be positive and hopeful and if something goes wrong or doesn’t pan out deal with it then. What use is it living in a suspended state of fear of the worst case scenario.
My Tips on how to cope with infertility
This is so personal, everyone copes with challenges in different ways. For me there were 3 things that were crucial to coping throughout our fertility journey – communication with each other, putting a plan in place with the right support, and probably most importantly, don’t put your life on hold.
1. Communicate as a couple & draw boundaries
Infertility has in the past been seen as a female issue but hopefully today this is no longer seen as the case. It is very much both parties who need to work, support, communicate and cope together.
No one should shoulder the responsibility or feel the blame. It is never anyone’s fault and if you start to go down this route I would say its the beginning of the end. You both need to feel completely supported. Of course the women has to live with her body – does it feel different, is she pregnant – every time she is in the bathroom she will think about this. The man doesn’t have such constant reminders but at the same time that makes them feel helpless and out of control….very hard too.
You don’t want your fertility journey to take over your life….easier said than done, I know! But decide to have times when you will talk about it and when you don’t. This is especially important if you feel it is invading every aspect of your life – make sure you go out for dinner and promise each other not to talk about it, when you think about bringing it up stop yourself – I had to do this constantly. I wanted to talk and talk but actually I knew this wasn’t good for me or my husband. We had regular discussions about it but made sure it didn’t invade every meal or moment alone.
2. Create a strategy with the right support
Deciding together on a course of action, tentative timelines and escalation steps is crucial – depending on your personality this might be necessary right from the start or maybe only later down the track. For me I wanted to have this in place to quash constant doubt and worry.
We had been trying for about 18 months and I had done a lot of research and was implementing bits and pieces but I felt very unsure and confused. When I spoke to the doctor they had a very black and white view about our options – straight down the assisted conception/IVF route.
However, I found natural fertility breakthrough and signed up for their programme – this suited me because it was all in, in my mind it left no doubt that I was on the right track and in good hands.
But it doesn’t have to be something as involved as this – there are support groups where people who are experiencing similar issues come together to discuss like Resolve in the US & The fertility network in the UK. Another option is looking at social media there are quite a few great, progressive doctors and support groups on Instagram, a few I follow are Fertile girl, gpsfertility, IVF warrior, your fertility hub, pcos to wellness.
Also don’t feel you have to talk to your friends about what you are going through. Equally opening up can be quite liberating. Most likely your close friends will sense you are struggling, they will want you to talk to them but may not know how to bring it up, especially if they have kids or are pregnant – they are waiting for you. Don’t be afraid to talk about it – once I opened up on this blog I had a lot of friends tell me about the toughest parts of their journeys. Whilst I was going through it, it often felt that everyone else was just getting pregnant but for every friend who is, there is someone else who is struggling just like you so my advice is reach out and support each other.
Here are some women talking about their journeys – you really are not alone
3. Focus on yourself
This is soooo important. I think we can all get so caught up in the journey of infertility that we forget about what else is going on around us. We are focused on our bodies, but not necessarily on our minds.
Do not compare yourself to others – firstly, you often have no idea what they have been through, and secondly, even if you do know and they got pregnant straight away feeling jealous and resentful helps no one. I am not saying don’t feel it – allow yourself time to feel whatever you feel – sad, angry, jealous but do not let it linger. Feel, really feel it – for a day and move on – you will only be harming yourself if you don’t banish it quickly.
A specific way for us to cope was doing something called “miracle morning”. We started to get up an hour earlier each day and before work we spent time on ourselves – I don’t think it matters how you do it but you need to switch off any distractions and focus on your own development. For me, I wrote a journal, did a short exercise routine, meditated, read a book about personal development, did affirmations and visualisations – everything was only done for 10 mins or so and mostly unrelated to fertility.
Make sure you don’t withdraw from things because you don’t want to be asked about your journey or don’t want to see other people with children etc. Without sounding too harsh, you need to get over it. We all go through tough times at different points – try to be happy for others and know your turn will come in some form or another.
There is no quick fix to the emotional stress, but I hope this post has given you some tips on how to cope with infertility. Whether you have been trying for a few months or several years it will take its toll but over the course of my journey I found the above three 3 things were crucial for keeping me sane – don’t get me wrong there were tears….lots of tears, feelings of envy and despair. But I learnt not to let any of those emotions linger too long – I felt them and then moved on. Because only through action can we create anything meaningful.
So my last piece of advice is it’s your journey – make of it what you will – stay positive, communicate as a couple, find the right support and don’t let it take over in your life. I promise you no matter what the outcome, at a point in the future you will look back on this time and I hope like me you will see that through the challenge you learnt, you grew and you are stronger because of it.
Good luck with your journey & I would love to hear from you – send me a message on firstname.lastname@example.org
Some other listening & reading suggestions:
A great ted x talk about a women’s journey – to the edge of her comfort zone & how she coped.