To the woman or couple struggling to conceive, I feel you. I know it’s not an easy path. It’s exhausting—in mind, body and spirit. There are so many confusing emotions one is dealing with during one’s struggle with fertility. For instance, it feels bizarre when you feel happy for another while feeling sad for yourself. You feel ashamed because you’re jealous of those who are able to conceive so easily, [and sometimes even when they don’t want to!], yet you’re having to wait. You’re hate going to that party or dinner because you’re scared of those annoying, personal questions or subtly being made to feel like an ‘outsider’.
I know all this, because I was once you. Though there was no known medical cause, I had failed to conceive for many years and that often made me feel lonely and miserable. In retrospect, after conceiving spontaneously, I realised that there were things I could have done differently that would probably have made my journey a tad easier.
In this article, I am sharing with you a few of my insights in the earnest desire that it will make your journey a little easier.
5 tips to help you stay emotionally resilient during your fertility struggle
1. Actively seek support
A lack of moral support makes the fertility struggle worse. It’s like you are in your own little gloomy bubble, with often only your partner for support while everyone around you seems to be making pregnancy announcements or having baby showers. And you silently wonder to yourself why are you ‘left behind’ or when will it be ‘your turn’.
The problem is that infertility is invisible to those who have never experienced it. Only the ones who have walked this path understand and relate to the gamut of emotions that you feel as well as the innumerable ways in which it impacts your life. When faced with fertility roadblocks, we tend to seek out the best gynaecologist, IVF specialist, weight-loss expert, acupuncture expert and what not—but we also need to seek emotional support from those who can help us ride the emotional roller coaster that this journey entails.
I had a couple of friends who were my ‘go-to’ people. But since they had not personally experienced fertility struggles they didn’t always have the right things to say, nor did they know how to offer support to me. Had I made it clear that I only wanted someone to hear me out and not suggest endless solutions or treatment options to help me conceive, they would have been able to be there for me in the way I needed them to be.
Seeking the support of people who are, or have been, in similar situations can help ease the anguish and also provide the much needed hope. Alternately, you can confide in a trusted friend or loved one and actively ‘ask’ for support. This could even be a parent, sibling, relative or friend— anyone except your partner. It is important that categorically ‘ask’ this person(s) to be the shoulder you can cry on when needed, and your cheerleader on other days. This will require you to be open and vulnerable at first, but trust me, it will give you the much needed support on your journey to becoming a parent, which you badly need. Make sure you choose these people wisely—they must be on your team.
Stop those annoying questions
This advice is for those who want to ask that woman or couple why they don’t have kids yet: Please exercise some self-restraint and refrain from asking personal and intrusive questions. “Why not yet?”, “Why are you waiting?”, “Did you try IVF?”, “Why don’t you just adopt?”, “Who has the problem, you or him?”… and all the other questions that you may be itching to ask. First, it’s none of your business. And second, and more importantly, you have no idea what they are going through; don’t make it worse for them.
2. Speak about your fertility struggle
This is one of my biggest regrets. I wish I had spoken about my fertility struggle when I was facing it. For me, it was the elephant in the room. When you have been married for a while and don’t have a child yet, people take it as an open invitation to ask you personal and uncomfortable questions. When such questions were thrown at me I just recoiled and either changed the topic or gave some random reply. However, had I been open to speaking about it frankly, it would have spared me the needless guilt and angst. On the few rare occasions when I did reply that I don’t have a baby yet, because I am having issues conceiving, I received an apology from the person for their insensitivity. A few women even shared how they had once faced the same. Talking about my struggle with fertility felt more freeing to me as well—not having to hide anything and not pretend that everything is fine in my world.
3. Be your own fertility advocate
On our journey to conception we consulted more than one expert and our experiences with each were varied. However, throughout the journey we made sure we only went ahead with a suggested medication or treatment if we both felt aligned. For example, we once met a renowned gynaecologist who went into a tizzy the moment I told her I have not conceived even after a few years of marriage. She suggested that I’m losing time even as we spoke and that—believe it or not!—I should get admitted immediately and undergo a procedure the next morning. While this may work for some, for us such undue pressure didn’t feel right. We were not wanting to work with a doctor who made us feel like we are falling behind in the race against time to have a baby. Plus, I was already anxious and did not want someone who would increase my apprehensions. So we told her we need time to think, and obviously changed our doctor.
4. Banish self-blame
We live in a world where becoming a parent is adulated as if it was a personal achievement of sorts (I fail to see why!), while those who willingly choose to remain childless are ostracised in many ways. Mothers are venerated as demi-gods who can do no wrong. And because we’re constantly receiving such messages from all around us, it conditions us to look at a fertility challenge as a personal defeat. Not being able to conceive becomes our ‘fault’. Along with the denial and sadness, comes the impulse to blame ourselves. And then we go looking for reasons in our life or lifestyle that are responsible for the situation. Thoughts like “I shouldn’t have waited so long”, “I should have lost/gained that weight”, “Why did I eat so much junk all those years?”, “Is there too much plastic in my food or chemicals in my cosmetics?”…the list goes on.
I, too, often found myself going down that road of self-blame, though I tried to remind myself that this is really beyond my control.
Your fertility challenge is not your fault. It’s just a card you have been dealt. A bad one, no doubt. But no different that those who have problematic skin, or thinning hair, or premature greying or a weak heart, or OCD or any other health concern. None of those are our “fault”, right? Likewise, difficulty or failure to have a baby is not your fault. Please say that to yourself as many times as you need to, and change your self-talk.
5. Check in with your male partner
It’s heartening that almost every woman whom I have spoken to who was facing fertility challenges, shares that their partners were their biggest support. Which brings me to an important aspect of the fertility struggle: how is your male partner coping? For me too, my partner was my rock, but I wonder how he stayed afloat and processed his emotions and anxieties about our life situation.
There isn’t much support out there for men who are going through struggles on their way to becoming fathers. And women struggling to conceive, it’s likely that we get engulfed in our own despair and forget to spare a thought for what our partners are going through, what they are feeling and how they are coping. Do check in with your partner from time to time. Also, just in case you discover that your fertility challenge is due to a health concern with the male partner, do not point fingers or make them feel bad about it [even in your weak moments]. If failure to conceive is not your fault, it isn’t his either. It’s just a bad card he [and you as a couple] were dealt.
While I may have regrets about few things that I could have done but didn’t during my ‘trying to conceive’ years, I do cherish that I did try to celebrate the little things that life was offering me, and always stayed hopeful. I hope you are able to do the same and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for you, just as there was for me.
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