Let’s be honest, the ‘fertility road’ can be tough for some. Sadly, we can’t control all aspects of our life’s journey and I want to share with you my take on making your journey as bearable – if not as positive – as possible. Without those vexing rose tinted specs.
The path to parenthood is not always an easy road and the journey can sometimes be a marathon rather than a sprint. It can feel like riding a rollercoaster rather than a pleasure cruise. It can take unexpected turns and the destination may not always be the place we plugged into our life sat nav. It can be a slog mentally, emotionally and physically. I know this.
I also recognise how frustrating and upsetting it can be when friends and family try to encourage baby-makers with well-meaning platitudes like “relax and it’s bound to happen”, “be happy that you are already blessed with one child”, “there are worse things…” and “expect a miracle” or share stories of other people who have overcome similar difficulties to have a baby.
In my work, I meet a lot of people planning babies naturally or via assisted means, like IVF or egg donation. And many of them, I’d describe as not in a good place. Many are stressed by modern life generally, and those facing challenges to fertility are often understandably stressed by that too.
Let’s be clear. Stress affects fertility and is best reduced in pregnancy.
Let’s also be clear. Reducing stress and fear and coping with uncertainty are potentially the hardest parts of preparing for a baby. I understand that too.
I’m in the camp of taking control of all the things that you can and allowing ourselves to let go of those we can’t. Remaining positive, practical and realistic and trying to steer away from fearing the worst.
Stress, Fertility and Pregnancy
When we’re stressed, cortisol – a stress hormone – increases and when it’s persistently really high, it can impact fertility for women. That’s because, cortisol is made from the same basic ingredients as the sex hormone progesterone and so if the basic ingredients are all used up making cortisol, there may not be enough left to make progesterone, which means potential hormone imbalances and fertility issues.
There are also studies suggesting that maternal high stress during pregnancy is affects both mother and baby.
What’s Stressing You?
When we think of sources of stress, many picture work pressures, financial worries, troubles with time management, relationship and family issues, bereavement and loss, the daily grind like commuting.
There are others – maybe less obvious – like unhealthy diet, health issues, poor sleep quality, toxic burden in the body, addiction, adapting to changing circumstances. Some of these things are definitely within our control, like diet and lifestyle; the things I teach to my own clients and have written about in past issues of Fertility Road and on the Fertility Road website. Whilst I know some stresses can’t always be removed immediately, like leaving a sucky job, we can take steps to reduce the pressure at work and make a plan to leave it at the right time. Take stock of stresses and make plans to reduce the impacts.
We are also in control of all the decisions along the path to parenthood; everyone else is just a potential adviser, not the person driving.
Who’s Supporting You? Or not?
By “you”, I’m not simply talking about the prospective mother. I mean both partners, if you’re planning a baby in a partnership or marriage. A partnership ideally involves supporting one another before your decision to have a baby, on the journey and as parents.
If the ride is bumpy, you’ll almost certainly benefit from extra support – physically, mentally and emotionally. That can be family, friends, colleagues and professionals, including doctors, other healthcare professionals, complementary therapists, counsellors and coaches, charities and support groups, cultural, community and religious guides. Build your own team.
Most people are well intentioned, but that won’t stop them putting their foot right it in sometimes. Please remember that it’s usually thoughtlessness or insensitivity and not intentional. The motivation behind it is usually to make you feel better or diffuse tension, what I call a “motivation good, execution lousy” situation. Most people want to make us feel better, share something helpful or take away the fear, pain and stress.
So how might you handle such situations?
Try acknowledging how you feel, recognising it for what it really is, drawing a line under it and letting it go. It may sound silly, but things like writing it on some loo paper and flushing it can help or standing under the shower and letting the water symbolically wash it away.
Be prepared. Have a stock response or way of handling the more obvious difficult situations and questions. You might choose to be direct, deflect or make a joke. For example when someone asks when you’re having kids, a direct response might be “You know that you shouldn’t ask anyone that personal and potentially hurtful question, at a time where 1 in 6 couples who try for a baby, struggle with infertility, right?”. A deflection might be “When the time is right, now tell me about …..” and ask them about themselves. A “jokey” approach might be “I already have one” and mention the name of someone you know who would find it funny or your pet. The approach is up to the individual.
Help people understand how they can better support you. Again, that’s very personal. Do you need someone just to listen without judgement or advice? Do you need to take a break from some social gatherings? Do you need people to talk less and complain less about their own children? Do you need to talk about something that’s totally unrelated to your journey? Tell people what you need from them and what you can and can’t give back to them right now.
Do You Have Strategies in Place?
At the risk of repeating myself, coping strategies are highly personal choices.
Good diet and lifestyle helps the body fuel to deal with stresses. Food is fuel, medicine and information for every cell of our bodies. An unhealthy diet is actually a stress to the body. Ditto smoking, drinking alcohol and other lifestyle choices. These are within our control and these are things I teach my clients.
We need enough, quality sleep for rest and repair. We can take steps to improve both the amount and quality of our sleep.
We need activities and exercise for strength, flexibility, endurance, balance, relaxation and positivity. You could choose activities like deep breathing, meditation, journaling, creative pursuits like crafting, therapies like massage or reiki.
You could choose to stay as positive as possible through affirmations, positive quotes, mindfulness, coaching and counselling and other talking therapies. Or join a support group.
You can take care of your body and mind with a range of exercise and activities from cycling to yoga and from dance to team sports. Exercise not only helps boost natural fertility, it can support general stress reduction and a healthy pregnancy and post-partum too.
Sometimes you might choose to do things with others, including your partner, sometimes it may feel best to pursue activities alone. There is no one right way, simply the right way for you.
There are so many resources available physically or online ranging from books, through classes and groups to tutorials. Some will be paid, some low cost, some free. Online search engines are your friend for local and national resources, practitioners and support.
Be Kind to Yourself
Speak to and about yourself, your body, your history, your choices and your partner and supporters with love and kindness and encouragement.
Positive affirmations are one way of speaking kindly, with purpose. Or listen to your self-talk and general talk and ask yourself if you would speak to your nearest and dearest in this way, if they were in your shoes?
Although I understand the focus people place on having their baby, it’s good to remember that it’s one aspect of your precious life and that there are other aspects of life to be celebrated, enjoyed and which require our attention, like our relationships, work, environment, health, spirituality. Practising gratitude daily and celebrating successes, great and small, makes for a happier and more balanced life.
Whatever your journey, whatever the outcome for you, I suggest preparing by having strategies in place to deal with bumps in the road, ideally before those potholes potentially throw you a little off-course.
Love, Kathy x
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