Trying for a baby is one of the most exciting yet scary times in your life. Once you decide you are ready to embark on the journey into parenthood, it’s normal to expect that it is all going to happen magically! But for many of us, this is not the case. If it does not happen quickly (and it rarely does), it can become one of the most frustrating and heart-breaking experiences you will ever face.
I had a six-year journey (that, believe it or not, is not over) to hold my baby in my arms. When we (my husband Mark and I) started, we were excited, optimistic, and dreaming of our future family. However, it was not long before the excitement turned to disappointment, with test after test coming back negative. All of a sudden, trying to get pregnant — something that should be fun — took over our lives.
It was this ‘taking over’ that suddenly made me feel out of control. I was in control of my life- until now, at least: completed college, working in a job I loved, married to my soul-mate, and blessed with the fantastic friends and family. And yet the one part I could not control was getting pregnant.
I suddenly felt in ‘limbo’, which is a particularly apt description as it implies a temporary state, a lack of movement forwards or backwards in life. And let me assure you, being in limbo, and all that it entails, is incredibly uncomfortable.
Being in limbo meant — or at least felt like — I had no direction, no goals or actions in my life, no meaning, and I was not moving forward. Worse still is the fear that accompanies the feeling of being in limbo: fear of the future, fear of the unknown. And then there’s the fear of outcome that can immobilise our thoughts and actions.
Another discomfort — and arguably the hardest one —is the feeling of losing control. Today, in addition to the loss of control, we are compounded by a world that, for the time being, at least, also seems out of control. You might be feeling stuck – stuck at home, stuck in lockdown, stuck on a fertility treatment waitlist, and stuck in that fertility limbo.
There’s a famous quote by the late Maya Angelou about the power of change: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
Applying this to how I felt in limbo, I realised that change was required. Sure, I could feel sorry for myself and remain in limbo indefinitely, allowing myself to be consumed by — and paralysed by — negative thoughts; or I could take a proactive role in my fertility health.
Thankfully, I opted for the latter and decided that I would take control of the ‘controllable’ things – factors and variables of which I could determine the outcome. After all, your sense of control is how much control you feel you have over your life; having the right amount of control is what helps keep you balanced.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, sadly, but what worked for me may be helpful to others. So, with this in mind, the following areas are the ones that helped me get ‘unstuck’ from limbo and take control during my fertility journey.
Do you have a plan for your fertility journey? It might sound boring, admittedly, but taking steps to plan and prepare for your fertility journey is essential. Having a plan kept me — a self-confessed planner — focused and more in control, and that’s always a bonus if you’re struggling with fertility.
Take time out with a piece of paper and a pen and think of your plan. Do you have all the information you need to understand where things stand with your fertility? Armed with information, you can better understand your options and how appropriate they will be for you and your unique circumstances. Only then can you make an informed decision about what the next right step is for you.
Regardless of whether you’re a die-hard control freak or utterly disorganised, planning is empowering and can help you feel more in control of your fertility and your future. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription: everyone’s journey is different but think about your lifestyle and what changes you can make – stop smoking, reduce your alcohol intake, start your supplementation regime, focus on your food and nutrition, and ensure you get sufficient daily exercise.
By doing all you can to boost your fertility and chances of conceiving, you will feel more in control and more positive as you take ownership of your journey. Rome wasn’t built in a day, of course, and — additional cliché alert! — fertility struggles tend to be a marathon rather a sprint, but by doing all you can and taking each step daily, you will edge ever closer to your goal.
Allow yourself to hope
Every month, I expected to see those two pink lines, and each month I was presented with a blank space. As the months began to blur (and the pink lines still failed to materialise), my hopes, which were already dwindling, started to plummet.
Looking back, this was my self-protection mechanism: by not allowing myself to dream, I was saving myself from the inevitable hurt. But no matter how hard you try to convince yourself, you can’t cheat your feelings. No matter how much I convinced myself there was no chance of conceiving, it still hurt me to the core. And that’s when I thought, sod it! I decided that I would let myself hope and to hope BIG.
I allowed myself to visualise what I wanted in life: a baby. Granted, it might sound very ‘new age’, but research has shown that visualising what you want in life can accelerate how quickly we achieve it! And that’s why it’s important to make time daily to imagine the family you dream of. Create a visualisation board with pictures, words and thoughts to bring that vision to life.
Talk & get the support you need
I am a private person and, consequently, felt our journey did not need to be shared. But I was WRONG. There are far too many emotions, feelings, and (usually negative) thoughts associated with fertility struggles to muddle through and sort all by yourself.
Having fertility challenges can be incredibly isolating. It can be hard to be around people who are pregnant or who have just had babies, as they may, naturally, seem to talk incessantly about their pregnancy or their children or, worse, complain about them. At gatherings, you may feel worried about being surprised by the unexpected announcement of a new pregnancy, or being asked yet again when you will have children, or why you’re not yet pregnant.
Quips, comments and questions are invariably well-intentioned, but frequently utterly insensitive. Even people who care about you and have your best interests at heart often fail to understand what you are going through, or blurt out the most hurtful things.
It’s important to fine someone you trust and feel comfortable to share your story. It could be a close friend, a colleague or a neighbour. It may be a professional and could even be someone you have never met before but who happens to be going through something similar.
Irrespective of who you chose to confide in, be sure to let yourself be heard. Finding a trusted person with a positive outlook who can listen to what you have to say and who does not judge or blame you can be incredibly therapeutic and healing.
Be thankful for what you have
Practicing gratitude daily is proven to make people happier. When you obsess about getting pregnant, you can lose all sight of the good stuff in your lives and take it for granted.
It can be hard to see the positives in life when all you see and feel are the negatives. We can also compare ourselves to others around us who are getting pregnant – but they are not you. They do not have your life, your family, your friends and your circumstances, whether they be genetic, financial, personal, or whatever. We are all unique, so it’s pointless — and counter-productive — to make comparisons
Without wishing to come over all Monty Python, there’s an awful lot to be said for looking for the positives. So, try to begin and end each day with some gratitude. Remind yourself of all the good things in your life – no matter how small.
Allow yourself to cry
When it comes to emotions, they’re usually better out than in. And by cry, I don’t mean elegant, ladylike weeping; I’m talking full-on red face, snotty bawling!
I spent far too long bottling my emotions up because I was supposed to be the strong one, and — more than ever since I felt out of control when it came to my fertility struggles — I needed to control my feelings. Instead, I was like a volcano, ready to erupt at any moment.
Find a safe place and time to express these feelings (which will look different for every person. And probably — but not necessarily — should not be while queuing in Tesco!) and let them all out.
Pick yourself back up
Disappointment is lurking menacingly on every corner of a fertility journey. You build yourself up so much, then you see a big fat negative, and it all comes crashing down. And that’s why it’s so important to learn to pick yourself back up.
Good things are not always easy to come by, and failure is part of the process of getting there. Take each step daily but still know there is the next step – every step brings you closer to your goal.
I have kept a journal since I was 13 years old! Journaling enables you to create a ritual. It is not just about writing stuff down but creating a space where I can be me: warts and all. No judgment. I can release my emotions through pen and paper; I can organise my thoughts and get them out of my head.
Be mindful of your mind
Stress does not cause infertility, but fertility challenges cause stress! Research has shown that people are struggling to conceive similar emotional distress and stress levels as those going through a divorce or who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening health condition, such as cancer or heart disease.
Thankfully, there are many effective ways to manage or reduce the negative impact of stress. These include yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, guided imagery, acupuncture, massage or bodywork, counselling focused on useful coping tools and relaxation techniques, Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction-Training, journaling (as mentioned above), and expressive artwork. Find whatever works for you – and use it! Your body and your mind will thank you for it.
Fertility challenges are tough. It is essential to be kind to yourself and to treat yourself with care and compassion. That’s not to say that you need to max out your credit card with some online retail therapy, or splash out on a luxury cruise; self-care can take a number of forms, and need not entail a bank loan or overdraft facility!
You may choose to look after yourself by reading a favourite book or magazine. Perhaps it’s switching off your phone and luxuriating by candlelight in a long bath. It could be a walk outdoors by yourself, with your best friend, partner or pet. Or it could be treating yourself to an impromptu bouquet of flowers, a new scent or perhaps a coffee or smoothie. My point is that it can be anything, so long as it makes you feel good. These little pleasures can make a huge difference to your sense of wellbeing, so don’t forget to incorporate them into your routine whenever you feel the need.
Do what is right for YOU
All too often, we told what we should eat, how we should move, how we should think – all, yes, these are all important. But the one thing I learned was to do what was right for you.
Your fertility journey will be full of different phases and stages, but it unique to you. It is your decision as to when and how you take each one of those steps.
Be prepared to make changes & make the decision to make one change today
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
There’s a lot to be said for this, and that’s why I always recommend the following brainstorming exercise:
- Grab a pen and paper.
- Focus on what is making you feel helpless now about your fertility.
- Choose an area where you have been able to achieve positive results in the past.
- Take 15 minutes and write down ideas about how you can change this problem you are facing.
- Do not criticise or judge any of your thoughts or ideas.
- Rate each idea from 1-10 depending on how likely you will try the idea in the next week.
- Pick one idea and try it this week.