Let's face it: infertility sucks. Whether you've always known you want to have children or have just recently embraced the idea, learning that it won't be easy—and may require months, or even years of invasive treatments—can cause a flood (and, to be honest, sometimes a fury) of infertility emotions.
According to Dr. Sheeva Talebian, M.D., a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist at New York fertility clinic Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM), "the underlying infertility emotions come from having a complete lack of control over the process," which comes from the shock of failing at something that we've been led to believe will come so naturally.
Lindsay Liben, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) explains that so many of the people she meets have been successful in most areas of their lives. This is the first time they're experiencing this level of adversity that's so far outside their control, so developing survival skills for this bumpy ride is essential. Don't worry, we're here to navigate.
Don't ride alone
When dealing with infertility, the highs and lows of your emotions have a direct and immediate effect on your relationship with your partner. Carolyn Berger, LCSW, says she sees over and over again that this journey either "brings couples closer together or further apart." Keeping the latter from happening will require a lot of communication and honesty.
- Get real: If you're dealing with infertility, you might be trying to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. If you don't talk to anyone (especially your partner) much about it, maybe it will just go away. The hard truth is that this isn't normally how it goes: you could be in for months or even years of treatment. It's no fun, but accepting that will help you and your partner move on as a team.
- Reclaim your body: sometimes it can feel like infertility emotions and treatments have hijacked your body. "Your areas that used to be private are no longer private. It's like Grand Central Station," says Liben. In order to feel like your body is your own, Liben advises taking a "pleasure inventory." These may include super-intimate time with your partner, taking walks and listening to your fave playlist, trying different face masks, or eating that cupcake. Bringing your partner into these experiences will help you remember that you're riding this roller coaster together—wherever it goes.
Self-care is one thing, but what about when you're out in the real world? Emotional hazards come at you left and right, so here are some tips to weather the storm.
- Set your boundaries: It's ok to lie. Seriously. If sitting through a barrage of oohs and aahs at a friend's baby shower makes you want to run headfirst into a brick wall, tell your pal you have other plans. If you feel like you just have to be there, let the host know when you arrive that you have dinner plans and have to leave early. Then, reward yourself for surviving that triggering social experience: go out to dinner with your partner or take yourself to a movie.
- Tell others where to get off: Ugh—those intrusive questions from nosy friends, family members, co-workers and even complete strangers. Berger advises us to remember that "this is your information and you have a right to talk about it or not." If someone asks when you're going to start a family and you're feeling super awkward, one suggestion is to just say, "we're keeping our options open and we'll see if we get lucky." Then, change the subject as quickly as possible. Save your thoughts on how you really feel for your inner monologue.
- Stop, look and listen: Going through fertility treatments can be an all-consuming hamster wheel of thoughts. Berger advises couples to avoid talking about fertility throughout the day and instead set aside a total of ten minutes each evening. During this time, each partner takes five minutes to share all of his or her feelings about fertility, while the other simply listens, without judgment.
- Step away from the needles: Berger also recommends that time away from the process can be helpful. Beyond that, a weekend away in another city, in a yoga retreat, or a couple of good day hikes can give you the time you need to reconnect with your body and your partner.
Ask for help
It can be hard to make time and room in your budget for one more weekly appointment, but finding a therapist who specializes in infertility and pregnancy loss can be extremely beneficial. You can't have too many people in your corner. It can make all the difference between feeling isolated and feeling that you have people to turn to when you need them.
Above all, be kind to yourself. "These are probably not going to be your best moments," advises Liben. "The goal is just to get through and just preserve your relationship and the things that are important to you, while also tolerating this acutely stressful time."
You can search Psychology Today's database and narrow your selections to therapists with infertility and pregnancy loss specialties. Take the time to carefully interview each therapist to make sure they have worked with several clients with similar struggles, and also feel free to ask if they've experienced their own personal losses or fertility challenges.
Holly Lynn Ellis (she/her) is a writer and film and video producer. Her five feature films include the Sundance-selected Prairie Love and she's made countless videos and posts for parents and families on multiple pregnancy and parenting sites, including WhattoExpect.com and AChildGrows.com. Holly’s pregnancy and parenting approaches have been largely shaped by her three miscarriages and experiences of both primary and secondary infertility. She believes that by sharing these experiences openly, and seeking evidence-based advice, we can remove the stigma against fertility struggles and make the family-making journey easier for everyone. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.
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