‘We just want to feel that we’re perceived as normal. We don’t have kids and we just want to know that it’s not entering into people’s consideration of who we are. We’re okay people – does the fact that we’re struggling to have a child make us different?’ — Alastair, 38
Coping with infertility
One of the hardest parts of struggling to get pregnant in a child-driven world is that you feel you have to put on a brave face when coping with infertility.
There are several reasons for this:
- You’re surrounded by families
- You’re at a time in your life when all your friends are having kids
- People are always asking you when you’ll have yours; pretending everything is fine can consume a lot of energy
The emotional stress you might go through as you look for various strategies to cope with infertility can affect your emotional wellbeing. It’s not only the fertility struggles but the added psychological stress experienced by a couple in their fertile years who fail to have a child when society expects them to have one.
I know. My wife and I thought we’d get pregnant very easily – as almost everyone does – and so we were totally unprepared for having to wait five years. We tried lots of ways to get pregnant (some weird, some scientific and some medical) and ended up on IVF infertility treatment.
For us, it was difficult to face the inevitable question: ‘So when are you two going to have kids?’
It was a question my wife learned to loathe, but after hearing it for what felt like the millionth time, and with some help from our fertility specialist, we found some ways to deal with it.
Over time, people who have been in this situation have well-developed coping strategies and they learn to avoid talking about things. If people raise issues of related to family planning, they learn tactics, shortcuts and ways the questions can be deflected.
Some people find that they become very good at not expressing how they feel, but they adopt an armory of fob-off replies to that inevitable question, ‘When are you going two to have children?’ They reach into their arsenal and pull out answers , such as, ‘We’re letting nature take its course’ or ‘All in good time’.
Sometimes it’s better not to swallow your pride and fob people off. Telling them that one of you is having serious medical problems or is, in fact, sterile can be a great way to stop a conversation dead in its tracks. There are times when saying something different can be helpful.
Coping with infertility is a difficult process that causes a great emotional impact on the infertile couple.
It’s normal to be confused, angry, or to feel ripped off. Trying to be normal and fit in with everyone else is a defense mechanism that protects you both.
There are several reasons for this:
You might not want to invite people into an intimate part of your life
If you’re feeling down and someone asks you ‘that’ question, you might be caught off-guard and feel overwhelming pressure to tell them about something intimate. Even saying ‘We’re having trouble’ invites them into this part of your life because they now know you’re having problems.
You also run the risk of a host of other problems, from others trying to fix your problems for you to what they might think of you. Because some people lack understanding, it can be good to be cautious. When we were on IVF, I didn’t want people asking us every five minutes how it was going.
Finding healthy outlets to express clearly what you’re going through in such an isolating experience can help a lot with you cope in a healthy way with infertility. Professional support is of extreme importance when dealing with infertility.
Coping with infertility – you don’t want to be seen as a ‘whinger’
Unless you have very open and honest relationships with all your friends and family members, you might feel as though you’re burdening them with stories of unsuccessful attempts to have a child and that they’re actually getting tired of hearing about it. We had some friends who, we could tell, had had enough of our ‘poor childless us’ stories. This left us with terrible feelings of stress and anxiety and ‘feeling like a burden’ in our relationship with others.
Controlling our emotions
Unfortunately, many of the emotions that you’ll feel when going through a hard time trying to conceive – such as confusion, anger, pain, numbness, anxiety, even depression, and a lack of patience with people – are not the happy ones we all want to feel.
One of the reasons you try to hide how you’re feeling could be that you’re experiencing emotions that you are taught to suppress, hide or not acknowledge. Regardless of the reasons for the course of action you take, it can actually add to the confusion that you might already be feeling.
Trying to be normal can also create an internal conflict. You put on a brave face but that isn’t how you really feel. On the outside, you’re happy.
On the inside, you might be hurting. Believe it or not, it takes energy out of you when you keep your chin up and deny how you’re actually feeling. You might feel guilty when you aren’t at fault. Dealing with infertility gives us a very difficult time.
How to deal with it
Most people who have to deal with problems when trying to get pregnant have no prior warning. They must go through the process of learning to live on the outside of the predictable, ‘fertile’ world. They find themselves having to survive in a very child-focused world where, for many people, being ‘grown up’ means producing offspring at some stage along the way.
There are many ways to deal with unpredictable infertility. One technique that has worked for many couples is the ‘Four Step Survival Guide’. It’s best used for short periods of time, when couples are feeling very low, going through a particular challenge, or when they have just had a setback.
You’ll find more about the ‘Four Step Survival Guide’ in the book Swimming Upstream, but briefly, the four steps are:
1. Reduce challenges
Uncover the challenges that you find difficult to handle and reduce them. For many people, the greatest challenges are social occasions. With your partner, decide whether a particular event is one you really must participate in.
2. Choose people and places that are high on your comfort list
If you have to go to a function that is high on your challenge list, consider places at that venue where you are most comfortable. Is your partner attending? Can you take a close friend with you? Make sure you have a game plan for challenging events.
3. Action/body focus
During the occasion, use whatever flexibility you have to your advantage. Offer to perform a role that you are comfortable performing. You might be happy to be the host because it suits you to have a defined role, or you might prefer to stay quietly in the background and just being the observer.
4. Reward yourself
After surviving a difficult event, give yourself a reward for getting through it.
What else can I do?
When dealing with infertility there are other important things that should be taken into account
#1. Get professional help
When you’re dealing with infertility your mental health might suffer greatly.
Professional help will be good support as you move forward. A mental health professional who specializes in fertility will be of paramount importance, not only in your fertility treatments but in the infertility journey.
Support groups are usually an oasis for infertile couples, who can share with others in similar situations and feel understood. Going through fertility treatments will have associated emotional distress that can affect your own feelings and leave you anxious or depressed.
Seek professional support for you and your partner. Talk about your feelings, your relationship, your present and your future. Keep communication open with the right professional help.
#2. Leave negative feelings behind
Easier said than done, I know. And I think this is the main reason why you should get professional support.
Going through infertility is hard. Going down the reproductive medicine road and getting fertility treatment isn’t easy. You might feel low at times and self-esteem can be bruised more readily.
Self-care is very important when going through something so intense.
Although it is completely normal to have emotional ups and downs, it’s important to try to be optimistic and positive.
If you are going through fertility treatment, try to believe it will work. If you are going to a family gathering, then plan ahead, find healthy common ground and ultimately ask one trusted person to tell others, prior to the gathering, that you will not be talking about this topic.
#3. Be compassionate
Compassion always goes a long way. Sometimes it’s harder with friends and family. They worry for us. We worry that they worry. They might say the wrong thing and we feel uncomfortable because we think they should know better.
Our loved ones have no intention to hurt us. However, friends and family members are only human and cannot always know how best to help.
Compassion can go a long way; you also need be compassionate to yourselves. Don’t be hard on others but don’t be hard on yourselves, either.
#4. Take your relationship to the next level
You can take this chance as a couple to regain intimacy and focus on each other and what makes you happy, individually and as a couple.
Did you know that, in many cases, infertility doesn’t have a clear physical cause? Research shows that many fertility patients don’t actually have any physical problems.
I’ve been working on boosting natural fertility for many years, with couples that were finding it hard to conceive but had no physical impediments.
The emotional stress a couple might go through trying to conceive might be enough to stop them from conceiving.
Have you heard about the relationship between the hormones oxytocin and adrenaline?
Oxytocin is the love hormone and, as its name suggests, it’s released when we experience love, when we give birth, when we fall in love, when we orgasm, when we laugh and giggle and when we share a good time with friends. Adrenaline is antagonistic to oxytocin, which means that when one is present the other isn’t and vice versa.
When pregnancy doesn’t happen as soon as expected, we start to stress about it. We tell ourselves that everything is okay but that’s not the message our body actually receives. Instead, the body senses something is wrong.
That stresses us out and makes us release adrenaline. Even if it’s a low dose, when we secrete adrenaline there’s no room for the love hormone.
We learn to function with a constant adrenaline flow that makes our bodies tense. The reproductive system feels that tension and shuts down, as it understands this is not the right time to reproduce.
We need to switch the balance between oxytocin and adrenaline. This means regaining trust in our bodies’ capacity to reproduce. Reestablish intimacy, get your sexy flow going, and forget the clock and the days you are supposed or not supposed to have sex.
Dedicate time to each other and plan getaways and romantic weekends. Having a good amount of oxytocin flowing in your bloodstream will get your body back into reproductive mode, clear any adrenaline from your system and might very well restore your fertility without any medical help.
In this natural fertility course Natural Fertility our team has put together many resources to boost your fertility to its highest level.
#5. Change your mindset
Physical and mental health are very well connected and depend on each other. A positive attitude goes a long way to affecting anything that happens in our lives.
I understand this is not easy and by no means am I implying that it is. Feeling depressed and low when you’re experiencing fertility problems is a normal response to what’s happening to you.
Finding healthy ways to cope with infertility is no easy task. However, the way you approach what life gives can affect your happiness.
Mindfulness, meditation, yoga and relaxation techniques might help you see the path in front of you more clearly or at least help you enjoy the journey, even though there’s fog in front of you.
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