There’s a reason why they call being pregnant ‘in the club’ and, for those who struggle to conceive, it can feel like being denied access to a club that everyone around you seems to be joining with ease.
IVF is now in its 40th year and continues to help thousands of people to join that ‘club’ but cuts in NHS funding mean that, devastatingly, many won’t.
If you’re going through treatment or you’re yet to join the ‘club’ and feeling like you are on the outside looking in, here are my 7 suggestions for taking care of yourself…
- Radiators not drains
Think of the people in your life and ask yourself whether you feel warm and nurtured after spending time with them or just drained. Dealing with infertility can leave you feeing depleted and a bit like Velcro; sensitive and prone to picking up any negativity in your environment. So you need to spend time around people who will be gentle with your fragile feelings.
Drains are easily spotted by their keenness to offer advice you haven’t asked for and ‘helpful’ comments like the following:
- Don’t worry; just relax – it will happen when you least expect it;
- Calm down;
- Have you tried [insert sexual position of choice]? Me and my partner did it constantly and it worked for us;
- Cheer up;
- Positive Mental Attitude; and
- Have you tried getting really drunk/having a holiday/putting it out of your mind?
Don’t give them your time.
Be careful as well about what you expose yourself to in the media. By all means read articles that you find hopeful but avoid those publications (you know the ones I mean) that regularly print scare stories about women’s decreasing fertility and shaming tales of ‘career’ women putting their jobs before trying to have a baby.
- It’s ok to be angry
It’s important to understand that it’s not about something you or your partner did or didn’t do – it’s just that life isn’t fair.
No it’s not fair that your friend who drinks like a fish and only started trying to conceive three minutes ago is already pregnant.
No, it’s not fair that every second person in London is wearing a ‘Baby on Board’ badge and you spend your life giving your seat up for them on the tube after yet another clinic appointment.
It’s OK that you’re angry. You have good reason to be.
Women in particular often feel like it’s not acceptable to be angry so we mask it with ‘niceness’. These masks will use up energy that you simply don’t have to spare. Use your anger as a signal to show you what you need. If you need to take time out from certain situations and friendships for a little while, it’s ok. Prioritise yourself; don’t waste time and energy focusing on others instead of you. The other commitments in your life may have to take a back seat for a while; this may mean reducing your working hours or taking a sabbatical.
Do what you need to do to take care of yourself and don’t underestimate the battle you’re engaged in.
- ‘Compare down’ not ‘up’.
There is no joy to be found comparing yourself with someone you (wrongly) believe is better than you in some way (so step away from Facebook). Instead, look at your achievements and acknowledge the unique gifts you have. This is not about beating yourself over the head with the ‘I must be grateful’ stick; it’s about getting a broader perspective on your current situation.
Remember that our pain can help us to connect with others’ pain and to be there for others. While this may be the last thing you want to do at the moment, listening to someone else’s problems can provide a temporary respite from the maelstrom of your own head. Your experience can give you huge reserves of empathy and sensitivity to others’ struggles.
- Surrender to win
Identify what you can control (e.g. going to medical appointments, acupuncturists etc) do what you need to do and let go of the rest. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Difficult (but possible) to actually do. There’s freedom to be found in identifying what you can control and what you can’t and in keeping your focus on the former. The stoic philosophers had some useful stuff to say about this, as do the addiction recovery community who use the serenity prayer: ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference’.
If you can manage to do this, even a little bit, then you will know what it feels like to surrender. It feels like after you’ve had a big cry when all of the pent up tension has gone and you’re left with a feeling of fragile peace.
The nature of dealing with infertility is that you’ll have many other days when you’re railing against the world about the unfairness of it all. But you will have other moments when you can find this sort of peace. And once you’ve experienced it, you’ll know that that’s available to you when you need it.
- Learn to love your body again (or at least give this a go)
It’s easy to fall into self-blame and to feel that your body is somehow ‘defective’ and that you are less than ‘normal’ if it’s proving hard to conceive. This is a lie. Around 1 in 7 couples (and possibly more) in the UK have difficulty conceiving. You are not an oddity nor are you defective. You are a normal person going through a normal, albeit painful experience. Try to treat yourself and your body with gentleness and kindness as you would a much loved friend and when you notice your inner self-critical voice, acknowledge it but don’t buy into what it is telling you.
- Work on communication with your partner
Recently I watched the US family drama ‘This Is Us’ and I thought how wonderful life would be if we all communicated as ‘functionally’ and were as emotionally open and honest in our relationships as some of the characters in that show. My experience is that life’s not like that. Women are often more open than men and if, for example, our partner is a bit of a closed book and reacting differently to us to the situation (which is really common), it can be easy to take this as evidence that they don’t care.
Try to understand how your partner shows his/her feelings; including the subtler signs. Try to be there for each other, even in your differences. Infertility is one of the toughest things a couple can go through and you’re going to have difficulties, disagreements and probably some stinking barnies along the way. He/she may not always be able to give you what you think you need at the time you need it. This is normal. it doesn’t mean there’s something fundamentally wrong with the relationship. Good friends and family are also a vital resource.
- Identify the ‘dark gift’
Author Kent Newburn talks about how every difficult situation in life contains a ‘dark gift’. Try to identify the dark gift in your situation. There will be one. This situation could be the catalyst for you to rip up your life ‘plan’ and start again. I’ve known many people find a creative outlet as a result of infertility, including blogging, drawing, training as an acupuncturist or as a therapist for example. Some get a pet that they cherish. Many develop strong networks with others going through similar situations and friendships that they would not have otherwise had. Some read and/or write inspiring books. These are beautiful things borne out of pain.
There is a gift there in the darkness for you. You just need to find it. I wish you luck with it all