Did you know that in Australia 1 in 20 babies are born from IVF? This certainly does not mean that facing infertility and going down the path of IVF is easy. IVF is an emotionally challenging and physically gruelling process for many people who undertake this pathway.
Infertility is a scary word because it can sound so final, and this is how it is defined in then dictionary – “inability to conceive children”. However, in practice ‘infertility’ actually means ‘fertility problems’, and refers to when a couple have been unable to conceive after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse. Figures suggest that 1 in 6 Australian couples will have this problem, but many of these couples will in fact go on to have a child.
Knowing that fertility difficulties are common doesn’t make it any less difficult to cope with. Researchers have shown that the anxiety and stress experienced by women who have fertility problems is in line with cancer patients. Despite this, couples undergoing fertility treatments often do so privately, or at least without the psychological support that a serious medical illness such as cancer may bring. Finding ways to care for yourself and deal with the stress that comes with fertility problems is very important. Below are some of the strategies that we’ve found to be most helpful when working with clients undergoing fertility difficulties.
Dealing with family and friends
Family and friends often have positive intentions but can say the wrong things or struggle to know how to help. This often comes from a place of ignorance and so if you know the things that would be useful for your friends to say or not say and do or not do it is useful to share these. These suggestions could be quite specific and include things like:
- please support me by validating my feelings
- don’t say you can imagine how I feel
- don’t talk about your children
- give me private notice of pregnancy announcements
- please understand if I decline social invitations.
Re-affirming how important they are to you at the same time as letting them in on how best they can support you through this difficult time is likely to be helpful for you both, and strengthen your relationship overall.
Social situations and news from others regarding pregnancies and babies can be very triggering when experiencing fertility struggles. It is completely normal to want to avoid baby showers or meeting new babies. It is also completely normal to feel jealous or angry when others announce their pregnancies. These things don’t make you a bad person or mean that you don’t care about your friends. These responses are temporary – and you need to do what you need to do in order to protect yourself and keep functioning.
Maintaining other aspects of your life
For many people, as trying to conceive becomes more and more consuming, it takes over more and more areas of your life. However, placing all our ‘happiness eggs’ in the fertility basket can make it really hard to ride the rollercoaster of fertility treatments and the IVF journey.
Take some time to consider all aspects of your life and try to imagine what living your best life would look like in all areas. Achieving a sense of satisfaction and happiness across different facets of your life will help, at least a little bit, to offset bumps along the way in your fertility journey.
Acceptance of where you are at and all the emotions that that brings
Coping with fertility struggles requires acceptance, and acceptance isn’t an easy process. Acceptance of a diagnosis of infertility (remembering that that means 12 months or more trying), acceptance of the lack of control that you have over your own fertility despite the huge efforts you have gone to influence it, and acceptance of the feelings of sadness, anger, and fear that all of this brings up.
Accepting these things does not mean being happy about it, but it means trying to give up the struggle with it. Whilst this can sometimes feel easier said than done, when we accept things it can lead to feeling freer or lighter. It’s about saying – “we don’t want to be here, but now that we are, what’s the best way forward”.
Acceptance is also about accepting and making space for all the feelings that your fertility difficulties bring. These feelings are often lurking below the surface and when they’re in the shadows they almost feel too big and powerful to deal with. But, sometimes shining a light on the feelings – labelling and calling them out, can help us realise that they can sit there and we can make space for them. No one can make the hurt, anger, and fear go away – but observing and acknowledging those feelings can help them feel less overpowering.
Some clients find that journaling is helpful. You might simply write for 10 minutes at a time all the feelings that you notice regarding fertility right now, or you could write a list of your fears about what these fertility struggles mean for you and your future. It might be helpful to reflect on the journalling process and ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this thought help me feel empowered?
- Is it even true?
- Does this thinking bring compassion and kindness to me or others?
If the answer is ‘No’, then these are unhelpful thoughts and ones to try and let go of.
Seek further support
Finally, don’t endure your fertility struggles alone. There are some great resources out there in the form of books and social media accounts that provide fantastic information and guidance. There are also a number of fertility related support groups on Facebook that can help provide a feeling of community and be another source of guidance from the lived experiences of others.
If you are really struggling with the psychological and emotional impacts of your fertility problems, consider reaching out for professional support. Obtain a Mental Health Care Plan and look for a psychologist who specialises in supporting women through fertility challenges.
Written by Pip Johnson, Clinical Psychology Registrar