It may be many weeks away, but with advertising being what it is these days, turkeys and Santa will soon be in your face. For infertility patients this can be a devastating, heavy-hearted time.
We live in stressful times and the demands of the season up the ante. Simple things like going to the mailbox and pulling out holiday cards with the smiling faces of your friends’ children can be blindsiding. On any given day, infertility, its treatment and the dark cloud of uncertainty add to the stress. Add the expectation of joy when what you feel is dread and no wonder you’d like to disappear.
In the overall picture, your response to what you are up against is normal for those in the fertility quest. It is also normal to find that whatever your coping skills are, no matter how finely tuned and well-practiced, they may cease to provide relief. I’ve never met a person or couple on the fertility journey who hasn’t come to understand that the coping skills that they have eventually fall short of what they need. You can learn enhanced coping skills.
Yet, honoring and validating your feelings is an important part of accepting the reality and releasing the tension. You can think of the emotional component of infertility – your tears – as clearing the decks so to speak, so you can learn new approaches to coping.
It helps if you understand that some problems that arise along the way with infertility can be reasoned through. It may be complicated but with time, patience and guidance (medical and otherwise) you can choose a solution for each problem. Overall, though, the infertility itself has no solution except bringing home your baby. There is nothing per se that you can “do” to speed up this longed-for outcome. You need more patience than you feel you have to keep on keeping on.
But sustaining a high level of tension for an indefinite period of time without reprieve is unhealthy. There is evidence that learning how to let yourself “be” in an infertility free zone can make a really big difference. Research has shown that letting go and just being in the present moment with a variety of meditative coping skills releases the grip of frenzy and can return the body and mind to neutral. The Relaxation Response, Guided Imagery, Hypnosis and Self-Hypnosis and Mindful Awareness serve this purpose. They are taught in my book, On Fertile Ground: Healing Infertility.
Think how important it would be to dive under the turbulence, so to speak. The bodymind is the stage upon which the infertility saga plays itself out. You owe it to yourselves to learn this type of coping so you can keep the impact of stress on your bodies at a minimum. You will feel empowered.
While you may not be able to control the fact that you are on an infertility journey, you can control how you navigate it. Simple as it may sound, many of the stress reduction techniques have one thing in common. The breath. We walk around with a built-in tranquilizer and yet when we are stressed, we tend to breathe shallowly. Try this. Take one very deep, slow, generous inhalation and then feel the release of a slow but full and satisfying exhale. If you do not feel a shift, breathe deeply again. It’s rare not to come to awareness of the power of the breath.
Broadening your coping options works. But your relationship is your sanctuary. How do you manage to maintain it as a place of solace, especially if the infertility has strained your relationship? It is your right as an adult married or committed couple to make decisions about what is best for you. Therefore, your needs should move front and center, especially in the service of keeping your love alive by keeping the tension between you at a minimum. This may not be easy if each of your families of origin have staked a claim to their holiday traditions holding sway.
Even in the sanest, most well-meaning of families, many pitfalls beyond whose house is holiday central can loom large: Who buys presents for whom, Who’s angry or jealous of whom, and the big one, Who has babies or bellies, all conspire to rankle your sense of well-being. The complications have complications. Someone is bound to say the wrong thing.
Tension escalates even more if no one knows that you’re dealing with infertility. You may be at an agonizing crossroads with complicated decisions to make. Are you and your partner on the same page? Do you know how to communicate clearly and gently with each other? You need to trust that you will get through these difficulties, even if you need to reach out for professional help. You will be looking back on this some day. In the meantime, the challenges that are particular to infertility and internal to the sanctity and privacy of your marriage leave you feeling raw and in no mood to fake gayety. Decide together what’s best for you. Feeling loved and understood reduces stress.
Learning to be and to breathe in the present moment, reducing stress as it builds, in the context of the love and support of each other is as good as it gets. Learning to deal with adversity of this magnitude is emotional growth at its finest. When you realize that you have the power to reverse the physiology of stress and that you can ground yourself as needed, even the sound of jingle bells won’t rattle you permanently.
Helen Adrienne, LCSW, BCD