How Can Mindfulness Help With The Emotional Pressures Of Infertility?
When trying to get pregnant and going through fertility treatment, we are often told about the importance of reducing stress, minding our mental health, and the benefits of practices like mindfulness, meditation and yoga.But how can mindfulness actually help with the emotional pressures of infertility? Mindfulness Practitioner Sarajane McCarthy explains how mindfulness supported her when trying to conceive, explaining how it 'doesn’t stop the crazy ... but it catches you before these emotions run away with you'.
My motherhood journey began the minute I went off the pill. We were still on honeymoon when I took my last tiny tablet and, looking back, some part of me thought I’d be pregnant by the flight home.
Months later, no menstrual cycle had returned, the second pink lines were nowhere to be seen and little digital screens repeatedly taunted me declaring that I was still “NOT PREGNANT”. Friends and family asked when they would hear “the pitter patter of tiny feet”, pregnant women were everywhere, I felt broken and alone.
But I was not alone. 1 in 6 Irish couples experience difficulty conceiving, with 20% of these couples having no known reason behind their “unexplained infertility”. The reality is that more and more couples are needing medical intervention in their bid to conceive. Along with the financial burden, a single round of IVF costing between 5,000 and 10,000 euro, there is also an often-overwhelming psychological burden. The stress and helplessness of the situation can lead to major emotional issues on a personal and relationship level.
I was extremely fortunate that I was introduced to Mindfulness before I embarked on my fertility journey. I often say that mindfulness doesn’t stop the crazy, and I certainly had moments of despair and frustration, but it catches you before these emotions run away with you. Most of all mindfulness equips you with the tools to ride the waves as you go.
As a Mindfulness practitioner I work a lot with women at all stages of motherhood, but increasingly I find myself being contacted by women undergoing IVF. Their path is not the same as your typical pregnancy, the stresses and pressures are quite unique and often all consuming. And these don’t disappear once pregnant, they are simply replaced with new ones, add to that a system pumped with hormones and the result can be overwhelming.
So how can mindfulness help? For me, Mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of what is going on in our bodies, in our hearts and minds and in the world around us. By harnessing the power of our breath, we can turn off the autopilot, silence the committees in our head and reconnect with our bodies and hearts.
I have found the “7 Elements of Mindfulness” an excellent guide to living more mindfully, especially when dealing with the emotional pressures of infertility.
Stop judging yourself, stop judging others and stop worrying that others are judging you.
Many couples still feel there is a stigma surrounding the area of infertility. Some have a sense of “embarrassment” and “shame”. They keep their experience a secret for fear of being judged. This is often a projection of their own self-judgement. Some of my clients have admitted to feeling a “failure” or “not a real woman”. They feel guilty for “leaving it too late” and often blame themselves. By learning to let go of this inner critic, people say they feel “less judged” by others and by sharing their journey they are often shocked by peoples caring and understanding responses. “The moment I decided to tell my family and close friends what I’d been going through for the past 4 years it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders”.
Give yourself, and your body the time, space and kindness they deserve.
The road to motherhood has many twists and turns and is certainly not a short one. This is particularly true when it comes to infertility. The preparation and precision timing along with the disappointment and frustration can make the end goal seem almost out of reach. By giving themselves a break, letting go of expectations and bringing a sense of patience and kindness to their journey, many of my clients have said they feel a type of “freedom”, no longer “trapped” in a cycle of wishing and waiting.
3) Beginners mind
Let go of what may have happened before, and the way you think things “should” be.
It is estimated that 11% of couples suffer with secondary infertility. This brings with it a slightly different mix of emotions. Some feel guilty for wanting another child. They are often frustrated that things are not happening like in previous pregnancies. In many cases couples may have had a number of “unsuccessful” attempts or they may have miscarried on previous pregnancies. In these cases, there is understandably a fear of “what if it happens again”? When they can bring a beginner’s mind to the situation, letting go of their past experiences and recognising the unique journey it is, they will often find their frustration decreases.
Listen to your body and your heart, and believe that they know what is best.
Clients have expressed that they no longer “trust their body”, that somehow their body had “let (them) down”. By reconnecting with their bodies and handing over the outcome to professionals or a higher power, many say that a sense of trust returns without the pressure of expectations.
This is not a competition.
The language of infertility can make it seem like an exam. People talk about “failed attempts” and “inviable embryos”. Every pregnancy test becomes a competition, with your body as the “winner or loser”. By letting go of the need to be “successful” and taking your journey one day at a time, many find a greater sense of peace and acceptance.
Open your eyes, your mind and your heart to seeing things as they really are.
Becoming a mother is something many women, including myself, take for granted. We have it all planned out. Some have an age in mind, others imagine the perfect partner. Acceptance means seeing things as they really are, not as we have imagined them to be. Having a clear and calm perspective of our own reality keeps us grounded in the present moment with a better understanding of what we really need.
Let go of the “story”.
It is so easy to get caught up in the “story” of infertility. “I’ll never have kids”, “I’ve left it too late”, “it’s my fault for being on the pill so long”. Mindfulness teaches us to acknowledge, accept and let go. This is where the area of self-compassion is so important. We give ourselves permission to say that what is happening is a moment of suffering for us. However, rather than delve into the story of our situation, we acknowledge that this suffering is what makes us human and connects us with human kind. Then, with kindness and compassion for ourselves, we can let go. This has proven to be one of the most effective practices used by clients undergoing fertility treatment.
When everything else seems out of our control, this simple check list can help us regain control of our own emotions. We cannot predict how our fertility journey will end but we can intentionally choose to treat ourselves with love and compassion along the way. We can be kind to ourselves. We can give ourselves permission to say that this is bloody tough.
We can acknowledge our own courage and strength. We can let go of expectations and travel more peacefully along this path of motherhood, one mindful step at a time. “I am so much more aware of when the negative thoughts come into my mind. Now I know to stop, take time out for myself and breathe.”