Infertility is something that no woman expects to have. Most of us who suffer from it don’t know we have it until we’re trying to get pregnant. And instead of joyful expectation, we’re faced with months or years of doctor’s visits, tests, trying this, trying that, and tears.
Managing our mental and emotional health during this time is difficult. But there are concrete ways we can help ourselves and make this time of suffering less trying.
1. Don’t Blame Yourself
In the movie What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Jennifer Lopez’s character is infertile. At one point she breaks down, telling her husband, “I’m the one who can’t do the one thing a woman is supposed to be able to do.” It’s hard to love yourself when you feel broken and incompetent. But remind yourself that infertility is mostly outside of your control. You didn’t cause it and it’s not your fault, so don’t blame yourself!
It’s hard to love yourself when you feel broken and incompetent. But remind yourself that infertility is mostly outside of your control.
2. Communicate with Your Husband
Get out of your head and be open and vulnerable with your spouse. Infertility can make you feel alone and isolated because you can feel like it primarily affects you – it’s your body after all. It’s important to tell your spouse what you’re thinking and feeling, what you’re hoping for and scared about. Let him hold you and suffer with you. Remember, your spouse is affected by the couple’s infertility too. Ask him to share about his side of this struggle. Support each other through this.
3. Have Patience
One of the hardest parts of coping with infertility is how slow the process of testing, diagnosing, and treating is. It’s not just that making appointments for tests and then getting the results back takes time. It’s also the fact that women have fertility cycles, and some tests and treatments have to be started at a certain time in the cycle, which often means waiting until the next cycle. Try not to let the wait until that appointment or those days of treatment take control of your life. Shift your focus to other important events and activities.
Try not to let the wait until that appointment or those days of treatment take control of your life. Shift your focus to other important events and activities.
4. Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude
There is much recent research on the power of gratitude. Developing a habit of acknowledging and appreciating what is good in your life can uplift your mood and change your perspective. Studies show that a habit of gratitude can reduce stress, anxiety, and the sense of isolation, among many other mental and physical benefits.
You can practice gratitude in many ways: keep a gratitude journal, thank the people around you, think of three things you're grateful for every day. If you want more information and ideas about how to be grateful, check out the writings of gratitude specialist Dr. Robert Emmons. For a quick introduction to the power of gratitude and ways to express it, get a copy of The Little Book of Gratitude: Create a Life of Happiness and Wellbeing by Giving Thanks.
The act of physically writing about your feelings and experiences is an excellent outlet and way to process emotions and experiences. Numerous studies show that writing helps you make sense of an event, lessen your damage from stress and trauma, lowers blood pressure, and enables you to maintain a sense of identity. For more information and links to specific studies, check out the online article “Science Shows Something Surprising about People who still Journal” by Rachel Grate.
Regular exercise can reduce physical and emotional stress, as well as regulate hormones. If you’re already at a healthy body weight, aim for moderately intense exercise three times a week for 30-60 minutes. Keep in mind that over-exercising can reduce your fertility. You still need to have healthy body weight and body fat for optimal fertility! If you’re not at a healthy body weight, talk to your doctor about a diet and exercise plan that will help you either safely gain or lose weight as needed.
Regular exercise can reduce physical and emotional stress, as well as regulate hormones.
Meditation and mindfulness training can reduce anxiety and depression, as well as improve the way we respond to stressful situations. It can help you to better focus. Meditation may even slow the natural aging process of the brain! There are websites, classes, and apps that teach and guide meditation. If you want to try meditation, start a free trial at Calm.com or on their app.
8. Add Value to Your Life
Do work that you find meaningful. Pursue activities you enjoy. Develop your talents. Travel. Volunteer. Visit with friends. Learn something new. Get involved in your church. Adopt a dog. Do things you enjoy with people you love.
9. See a Therapist or Counselor
Don’t be ashamed to seek outside help! It's never shameful to take appropriate care of yourself. A good counselor will not only be a sympathetic listener but will also call BS on the lies we tell ourselves and push us in the emotional and mental direction we need to go for our own good and for the good of our marriage. If you're at the point where the burden of infertility is preventing you from functioning normally (mentally, emotionally, or physically) or it's doing damage to your marriage, I encourage you to seek professional help.
If you want something that's structured and at home, you can take the Organic Conceptions program, which is a research-backed guided program grounded in cognitive behavior therapy and targeted at improving your and your husband's mental and emotional health regarding your infertility.
10. Pray More
Infertility raises many questions. Why is God ignoring my prayers? Why does He give children to people who don’t want kids and yet He doesn’t give me a child? Am I not virtuous enough? Did I do something wrong and now I’m being punished? And on and on. It often feels safer and easier to withdraw from God during this trial, but I encourage you to resist that temptation. We may not be able to understand His plan, and we may even doubt its goodness, but walking away from God prevents him from being able to bring out the good He has planned for us. Infertility can teach some valuable, albeit hard, lessons, such as openness with our spouse, learning to let go of control, humility, and compassion.
Infertility can teach some valuable, albeit hard, lessons, such as openness with our spouse, learning to let go of control, humility, and compassion.
11. Find a Support Group
Whether it’s just your mom and your best friend, a Facebook group for women with infertility, or a church prayer group, having a support system can be a massive source of comfort and information. We can learn from other’s experiences and wisdom, and have someone to empathize with us.
12. Research and Learn What You Can, So You Feel More in Control
There are many books, blogs, and websites you can utilize. If you have a diagnosis, read up on your situation and what treatments are available. Having information will help you feel more in control, and you will be able to ask your doctor better questions.
13. Don’t Be Afraid To Change Doctors
Not all doctors are equal! If you aren’t getting good information or you feel like you’re not being heard, find a different doctor. Look for a doctor who views infertility for what it is - as a symptom of an underlying problem. Don’t settle for just platitudes and a prescription for Clomid or a referral to IVF. I recommend looking for a doctor who is trained in the NaProTechnology method. It wasn’t until I switched to a NaProTechnology Ob/Gyn that I got diagnosed for what caused my infertility and received appropriate treatment. Click here to learn more about the NaProTechnology method or to search for a trained doctor.
Look for a doctor who views infertility for what it is - as a symptom of an underlying problem.
14. Prepare To Be Asked Questions
If you have friends or family who frequently ask “When are you going to have a baby?” or “When am I going to get my grandchild?”, share your struggle with them. You don’t need to give them all the details if you don’t want to. Your explanation can be as simple as “I have some health issues that I am working to clear up. I’m anxious to have a baby too! Please support me in this time.”
The question “Do you have children?" invariably comes up in small talk. Come up with a formulaic response you can recite without bitterness and then tactfully change the topic. A good redirecting question is “What keeps you busy?”
15. Prepare for Pregnancy Announcements
They’re going to happen! Begin coaching yourself on the fact that your friends and family will have babies, and you will hear about it and need to express happiness for them. An excellent way to prevent bitterness is to pray for and support your pregnant friends.
16. Foster or Adopt Kids
While we might not have control over how many biological children we can have, we do have control over opening our hearts and our homes to children who need love, shelter, and security. Infertility doesn’t seem to be a blessing on the surface, but it may push us down a path we would never have chosen for ourselves – a path that results in joy, not only for us but also for suffering children. Click here if you want more information about fostering or adoption.
Good self-care is essential when living with infertility. Not only will it improve your own life, but it will help to maintain healthy relationships with your husband, family, and friends. Make it a priority to take appropriate care of yourself during this time of trial!
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