The fertility and emotional and wellbeing series continues
“Sorry for not being myself….it’s just that I’m still not pregnant.”
Last month I shared the startling statistic that one in six couples in the UK are currently experiencing the pain and frustration of infertility. Look around you now, think about all of the people in your life; friends, relatives, colleagues, professionals…and now consider that ‘one in six’ statistic.
Infertility can be a taboo and is very much a private anguish for those involved. These amazing people often put on a brave face, yet beneath the surface they may feel like they are frantically trying to stay afloat.
I don’t know about you, but I blindly rely on my car to deliver me on any journey I please. I fill it with fuel, tax it, insure it and I think a lot about cleaning it (and occasionally I even do clean it). I am so busy focusing on where I need to be I forget to consider the vehicle that will take me there.
This is fine, until it unexpectedly breaks down, just as it did last month. Deep breath: ‘No problem, it just needs fixing, I will take it to an expert, they will fix it and I will continue on my journey.’
In many ways this reflects how we take our bodies for granted – they are our biological vehicles delivering us to our life destinations. We can all resonate with that feeling of panic when our bodies suddenly do not do what we expect of them.
Like with a car, we go to the experts and together we explore under the bonnet to see what’s wrong, to understand what needs to be ‘fixed’.
Living with the ambiguity of infertility may change our relationship with ourselves in this way. We are suddenly so conscious of bits of biology that we completely took for granted before. We become amateur doctors and our analysis and management of the fertility logistics (timings, temperature, diet, sex, to name but a few) can be incredibly precise.
In order to manage the rest of our lives at the same time, we dissociate ourselves from our bodies, becoming separate, detached and clinical with ourselves. This is scary and risky to ignore.
Of course the experience isn’t unique to infertility, but the big difference is that whilst for some infertility is caused by illness, infertility itself is not seen as an illness. In fact for as many as one third of couples there is no known reason why they are not falling pregnant. Some of my clients have been trying for almost a decade, to the point where they are now not ‘living’ but merely ‘existing’ – a tragic irony when trying to create new life.
How do they keep going? Month after month, year after year of periods; horrible, painful, draining damn periods, shouting: “Hey, you failed again!” If this has never been you, it is hard to imagine how soul-destroying it is.
You have to swallow the pain, pick yourself up and keep hoping for next month, all whilst keeping the plates of life spinning.
The strategy for surviving is to create a ‘public self’ sending out messages to the world such as: ‘Hey, nothing wrong with me.’ Meanwhile the ‘private self’ grapples with: ‘I cannot contemplate my life without kids and therefore my life without trying, but I am sick of doing everything known to man to achieve this and still failing. I don’t want to impinge on your happiness with my misery, so it really is far better that I deal with this myself.’
This may be a useful strategy in the short-term, but what about the long-term? It can be very draining, stressful and psychologically damaging to exist in this way continuously, as we can neglect other key areas of our lives, such as relationships. It can lead to depression, anxiety and other stress-related disorders which themselves can trigger poor health.
So, what are we supposed to do?
In working with clients, I help them to develop additional strategies to reconnect their public and private selves, enabling them to ‘refuel and service’ their engines. Here are some concept ideas that they have found helpful:
Give yourself permission and develop your ability to:
1. Let off steam!
In private, on your own or with someone that you trust (although try not to overload your partner who is also dealing with this!) cry your rivers – it really helps to have this emotional clear-out.
Have regular ways of letting your emotions flow so that they do not build up. Try‘yoga with a pen’ – treat yourself to a nice private notebook, and every morning or evening just let your pen roll with all of your thoughts about everything, anything and nothing in particular. It may not make sense but who cares as no-one is reading it – you don’t even have to.
2. Take some time off from yourself
Have fun, laugh and be silly. However you must do this for you – not to keep up the pretence to others that you are OK. So, it’s comedy box sets, blasting your favourite tunes, being naughty and enjoying guilty pleasure, having outrageous laughs with your friends. It’s called ‘living again’ even if only for one tiny re-energising moment.
3. ‘Fertility amnesia’
If you can’t do point 2 yet it is because you haven’t conquered ‘fertility amnesia’. It’s easier than you think, just take a deep breath and tell yourself:
‘I am doing everything possible to maximise my chances of getting pregnant. My body will not forget that I want a baby if I stop consciously reminding it – after all I manage to breathe without thinking! My main goal is to be healthy, and switching off for a bit will support this’
You could also try yoga or pilates as they help you to relax in a different state of consciousness where you will find that you can direct your thoughts in helpful ways and switch off background noise.
4. Google ban!
An absolute must – it can be addictive, it will suck up your time and energy and it will prevent your successful achievement of points 1, 2 and 3. Be strong and stay away as much as possible.
This in no way represents a definitive way to breeze through infertility, however these strategies can nurture your emotional wellbeing along the way. If you are a ‘1 in 6’ then please know that you are not alone, and that the ‘5 in 6’ greatly admire your resilience, tenacity and strength.
Next time I will be exploring how infertility affects our relationships with our partners, both physically and emotionally. We all know about safe sex, but what are the risks and consequences of ‘clinical sex?’