Three ways to emotional self-care when you’re trying to get pregnant
Three ways to emotional self-care when you’re trying to get pregnant - By Brigid Moss
Brigid Moss is a wellness writer, editor and consultant. Contributing Editor at Red magazine. Author of IVF: An Emotional Companion
When you’ve been trying for a while, as you probably know, it consumes your thoughts. It also takes sex off the nice-to-do list and onto your actual to-do list. Which is possibly the least sexy thing ever. It wasn’t until I’d let go of trying to get pregnant that I could look back and see how much I’d been obsessing about trying to get pregnant. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, right?
But I did learn something about looking after my emotional health in those years. During my third cycle of IVF, I was writing a book: IVF: An Emotional Companion (PUB) which involved interviewing 21 women about their fertility experiences. And it was while doing that, that I found some much-needed perspective and advice that worked for me, which I’ve described below.
Just because these three things worked for me, doesn’t mean they are right for you. And if you are deep in the fertility abyss, please don't feel you have to improve your approach as well as all the other stuff that comes with fertility issues. And please don’t take any of this as a criticism of the way you’re approaching it. You’re doing your best, and that’s all you can do.
A little bit about my background: we first tried for a baby when I was 31, and finally conceived my son via IVF aged 35 (with more than a few medical tests and procedures during those four years, which you may have experienced too). The reason I ended up needing IVF was because my Fallopian tubes were blocked. A couple of years later, I had a failed frozen cycle of IVF, then a year after that my third full cycle ended in a positive test, then a miscarriage at 15 weeks.
1) Don’t bottle things up
The longer it takes to get pregnant, the more pregnancy announcements at work, pictures of beautiful baby showers, cute baby spam and social media pregnancy reveals you have to endure.
For the first couple of years of trying, my horror of being pitied stopped me telling almost everyone but a small handful of friends that we were even trying, let alone having problems. I could talk to my husband of course, but my need to discuss every possible treatment and every outcome of every test before it happened wasn’t always the best thing for our relationship; usually, after discussing an issue twice, his strategy is to stay positive by thinking positive.
While writing the book, I spent hours on the phone, talking women about fertility, sex, tests, doctors, clinics, treatments both medical and alternative. But, most of all, about how we felt. As they confided in me, I’d do the same with them. I found there was a huge advantage in talking to people who can speak the shorthand of fertility: who know what your hormone levels mean, or what it’s like the first time you have to inject yourself in the stomach, can’t visit a lovely friend who’s just had a baby. There’s also an instant bond of confiding the guilt you feel when you’re jealous of another woman’s accidental or instant pregnancy. So whether it’s online, or a specialist fertility counsellor, or just a group of friends, try to find your group of fertility friends.
2) Let it out
One friend going through treatment had what turned out to be an excellent way to deal with the grief of a failed cycle. It’s worth trying for the days you get a negative test or an unwanted period, too - or perhaps the weekend afterwards, if you’re at work that day. What she used to do, is shut herself away for a day - or even two - and let herself fully cry, feel all the pain, experience it completely. She’d prepare for this: make sure her bedroom was nice with cosy sheets, she had lovely pyjamas, she had both good and junk food in the house. And she’d have selected friends as well as her partner around to be with her, too. After a day or even two, she’d get showered and dressed. She’d still have allowing herself to be sad when she needed to but would have accepted and lived the grief. Wallowing may be your idea of hell, of course. And perhaps you find the grief too overwhelming, in which case a fertility counsellor might be a good idea.
3) What story are you telling yourself?
There are some clichés of fertility treatment: almost everyone I interviewed described it as a ‘rollercoaster’, of being ‘over the moon’ or ‘devastated’. But, digging down, I discovered the ‘rollercoaster’ isn’t the same for everyone. What I found is that two people could have, on paper, the exact same experience - say, a failed IVF cycle - but describe it, in fact live it, in radically different ways.
For some women, for example, the clinic receptionist was rude, the doctors were dry and uninformative, the pain was bad, the nurse was unhelpful. For others, whose cycle had also failed, the story they’d tell themselves was that they were just unlucky this time, the staff were lovely and supportive, and they’d come away from the cycle talking about what they’d learnt to take to the next cycle.
Of course, clinics do vary in the level of support they give, as well as in their success rates. I’m not saying it isn’t really, really painful. Please don’t take this as some Pollyanna suggestion about bucking up and being perfectly composed or pretending bad things don’t happen. But realising there were different ways to choose how to experience the ‘rollercoaster’ did make me think: am I like the first group of women, or the second? Am I seeing every period or cycle failure as a disaster or am I seeing it as the next step? And I wish I’d learnt this in the first year of fertility treatment, rather than my last.