Dealing with infertility can put you on an emotional roller-coaster.
Last night a woman told her story for the first time before someone. It had taken her years to gather courage to share it. But the look of relief as she spoke, her sense of comfort as her feelings were understood was palpable to me.
Shalini, 29, has been battling infertility for five years. She began planning a family at 24. Thinking age was on her side, she did not contact a doctor when she failed to conceive after two years of unprotected sex. She went in for fertility treatments but, during the counselling session, confessed that she feels infertility is the will of god and she has lost her will to battle god. Exhaustion, defeat and anger alternate, punctuated by resolve, hope and grief.
When the world stops reeling after a diagnosis of infertility, what you are left with is a constant need to think clearly and resolutely. The excessive demands of infertility and the prolonged amount of time that could be involved in resolution require not only clear thinking but emotional strength and stability, internal and external resources, colossal resiliency to recover from each month’s potential disappointment and the capacity to identify feelings to communicate it effectively to the people you rely on. So, how do you cope through this journey to parenthood?
You will experience negative and painful emotions. Acknowledge the validity of your emotional state and don’t try to change or suppress it. Realise the impact that infertility has had. Contact a counsellor if you need help with coping. Research shows that people who seek counselling have greater success in conception because chronic emotional stress is reduced. Remember to talk to friends and family. You will need a support system.
According to Dr. Rohit Gutgutia, Genome: The Fertility Clinic, Kolkata, obesity and polycystic ovaries can contribute to infertility. “These are exacerbated by an unhealthy lifestyle, junk food and chronic stress.” Eat well and exercise. For those already undergoing treatment, fitness coach Sanjib Das suggests light cardio and core workouts to strengthen abdominal muscles and yoga to increase circulation, flexibility and decrease stress. He advises his clients against extreme weight training or high impact workouts during this time.
Infertility can impact your self-esteem and body image leading to depression and hopelessness. Identify unrealistic, distorted messages of low self-worth, shame, guilt and responsibility related to infertility. Re-frame and restructure these messages into realistic, constructive thoughts. Learn to focus on factors that are within your control – stop smoking – rather than on factors beyond your control like age. For the infertile partner in a couple, feelings of guilt and responsibility can arise. Recognise that men and women react differently to infertility, so talk to your partner about their feelings. Question internalised cultural values around motherhood and gender roles, and release unnecessary social pressure. Find your own truth.
Explain your situation firmly and clearly to those who pass insensitive statements like, “When are you starting a family? You are old enough” or “Where’s the good news?” Many people do not understand infertility and, remember, others do not know what you are going through. After sharing, recognise those who are downers and draw strong boundaries. Be clear on what hurts you or makes you feel disillusioned. De-clutter personal relationships and reduce stress associated with them. If being involved in baby-focused activities bother you, avoid them. Reach out to supportive individuals who can provide empathy and concern.
It’s easy to get swallowed by the demands of infertility, but find a space for yourself through art, meditation, therapy, prayer, reading, spirituality, or connecting with people, animals and your inner creativity. Identify physical signs of stress and work on them through yoga, tai chi, Pranayam etc.
If you do decide to stop treatment, don’t believe it is giving up. There is a lot of courage in setting limits and knowing when to re-think your life. But, at the same time, don’t be afraid to explore alternatives. As a former client said, “My delight in my child comes from having her and not by a biological connection to her. The rewards are so great, if you are able to work and get through the hard stuff.” I hope all of you can reach an ending that makes you happy.