Losing weight. Watching less TV. Spending more time with loved ones.
While these are all noble new year’s resolutions, they kind of skirt around the larger issue those of us dealing with the emotional fallout of infertility face: How do we learn to honor our feelings without letting our story define us or control our relationships?
(Kind of makes losing weight sound easy by comparison, no?)
So, how do we do this? How do we stay true to our feelings and allow ourselves to experience the very real grief, fear, anxiety and sadness that washes over us without falling victim to it? How do we trudge through our pain, without giving it too much power? How do we feel the hard stuff and then use it to inspire and energize us, rather than stunt us?
This question always feels particularly poignant after overly emotional Christmas breaks spent dodging those, “So when are you gonna have kids!?” questions from curious cousins…
I was shocked at how much harder even my most natural friendships became after struggling with infertility. Finding a way to stay true to my feelings while trying to keep my loved ones comfortable was a tough line to tow. I didn’t want them to worry about me. I certainly didn’t want them to pity me. But I wanted them to know I was struggling and needed support. And while most tried to be there for me in a meaningful way, I sure didn’t make it easy on them…I was prone to bursts of crying, snippy texts and social hibernation. Infertility was definitely controlling my relationships, and it took a long time for me to figure out the right cocktail of support, love and self-care I needed to stay true to myself without letting infertility control my life.
Below are a few techniques I used to try and give myself the emotional support, perspective and self-care I needed to experience my reality without feeling powerless against it. Of course, there’s a caveat: not every option works for everyone…but learning how to process your own unique feelings, share your story and give yourself the space and support you need to feel at least somewhat in control is the main goal here.
- Find a Fertility Mentor: The beautiful thing about confiding in a fertility mentor is that they know firsthand what you’re going through. Like you, they’ve also had to answer those awkward questions, tell their parents they had a miscarriage or inject themselves with insane hormones. It’s a great way to confide your deepest feelings to someone who gets it and can offer up some much needed empathy, understanding and perspective. If you’d like to sign up to receive a free fertility mentor, you can sign up through Fruitful.
- Get a Kickass Therapist: Therapy is a great way to learn the feelings sitting right below your more obvious feelings (anger, jealousy, resentment). It’s not just for people with huge emotional issues…it’s really something everyone can benefit from. The biggest hurdle is finding the right therapist for you and your personality/values/outlook/budget. Luckily there are a few search tools online that can help you find a mental health expert to help you navigate these murky, emotional waters.
- Keep a Journal: Writing can be intimidating for many people, but you don’t need to be Ernest Hemingway to gain something from simply keeping a journal. After all, you’re the only one reading it, right? Keeping a journal is a great way to share your innermost fears and thoughts without judgment. Don’t add needless pressure or worry about grammar or anything like that. Just sit and write. Giving yourself this time and space allows you to explore why you’re feeling certain things, or even just stating that you have no idea why. Sometimes just by giving our fears and feelings a name, we can alleviate some of their powers. Again, you don’t need to publish anything or share with anyone…just type some notes to yourself to clear your mind and find some grounding.
- Be Selective About Who You Share With: Not everyone you know deserves to hear your deepest fears and innermost thoughts. In fact, most people don’t. The first time I heard this idea was from researcher / psychologist / writer Brene Brown. She speaks frequently about not letting shame control your life, but also not just sharing it with anyone who will listen. Make sure the people you choose to confide in around your fertility struggles are those who DESERVE to hear it. Make sure they are safe, caring, empathetic people who know how to support you. Strategically find a small tribe of people and confide in them. Trust them. But don’t spill your guts onto the feet of every random coworker. Confiding in someone and hearing a negative response (or a callous “Just relax!”) response can oftentimes make you feel more alienated.
- Listen to What You Need: “Self-care” has become the buzziest buzzword of our generation, but it’s for a good reason. Self-care is a great all-purpose way of saying “YOU DO YOU.” This is imperative for those struggling emotionally with infertility…because only you know what you need. Do you need to skip your boss’ baby shower? DO IT. Do you need to find some extra cash and time to invest in acupuncture? DO IT. Do you need to go out on the town and enjoy a few cocktails with friends? DO IT. Do you need to bail on said plans because you just got a negative pregnancy test? DO IT. Only you know what you need at any given time—whether that’s a nap or a vacation or a cup of coffee or a massage…you know yourself best and it’s your job to advocate for your needs. This is the single most empowering thing you can do. Free yourself from the guilt of the things you “should” do and allow yourself to care for your own mental health and well-being.
What are some other ways you allow yourself to experience sadness and fear surrounding your infertility? How do you stay honest to your journey without falling into it?