Staying Sane and Whole During Treatment By Jennifer Bloome, MS OTR, HWC

On the surface, and to those who haven’t experienced it first hand, infertility treatment may seem similar to any other treatment for a non-life threatening health condition.  First, do many tests to find any medical issues.  Next, you and your doctor determine the best type of treatment for the issue or choose the type of medication that will bypass the issue.  Once the issues are handled, pregnancy will occur.  Nothing to worry about.  Well…maybe.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Which group are you going to fall in?
This is the fundamental issue that is the basis for the difficult and emotionally heart-wrenching problem of infertility.  Not only is this an overlying theme of infertility treatment, but something you live with daily. Each and every month you get to ask yourself:  Is this going to be the month for me?  Is this going to be the protocol that I finally respond to?  You must balance hope and protection – hope that this is the month for you, protection for your heart and mind if it isn’t.
So, how do you live in both the world of hope and the world of protection AND stay sane? 
First: do what you know how to do.  We are used to being in control; knowing what we want, working on it and achieving our goal.  What are your usual strategies when it comes to solving a problem?

Advice from Friends?
Medical Information?
Work as hard as you can to find a solution?
Make a plan based on all the evidence and follow it?

These are all helpful in working on infertility  – to a point.  It is crucial that you know enough to be your own advocate and to understand all of your options.  You want to know what you need to do to have your goal met – a child in your arms.  However, one of the problems of infertility is that these usual strategies just don’t work all of the time.  So what can you control?

You can research the best doctor for your condition
You can educate yourself on any medical condition that is found
You can understand all your treatment options
You can learn about non-traditional means of bringing a child into your arms
You can’t figure out with 100% or even 50% accuracy the formula that will guarantee: this is your month
You can’t control, with absolute certainty, what your outcome is going to be

While medical science has made huge leaps and bounds in terms of learning about fertility, much of the process still remains a mystery.  A woman who has one fragmented embryo and a less than perfect cycle will go on to become pregnant, while a woman who transfers three top quality embryos with a perfect lining and a “picture perfect” cycle won’t get pregnant. 
So, since you don’t know what the magic formula is, you try everything.  Figuring out everything you should be doing brings on more stress – each time you do something “wrong” you wonder if this will be the mistake that will cause guilt later if your cycle fails.  Suddenly, IF has grabbed you and pulled you under – the treatment is now in charge of your life.  To make matters more complicated, we know that depression and stress can have a role in determining the outcome of a cycle.
With so much out of your control, how do you manage to keep living some semblance of a “normal” life while you are cycling?  How do you keep yourself from being pulled under?  How do you maintain hope and sanity while cycling?  Here are some of the methods that have worked for others:

The first task is acknowledging that all of these feelings are present and are valid.  So many friends and family members don’t really know what you are going through.  Infertility, not being a life threatening illness, is easier to minimize, particularly for those who haven’t experienced it.  But, for you, today, it IS threatening your life, at least the quality of it.  Acknowledge this and validate its importance.  Once you stop feeling guilty for all that you are feeling, you can get on with finding a solution.

Truth or Fiction?
Your emotions and thoughts provide you wisdom and protection.  But sometimes, our thoughts and emotions are wrong.  Not wrong because someone else believes them not to be true, but because they are factually wrong.  It is all too easy to get caught up in a spiral of negative thinking.  Upon closer examination, you are basing your emotions on thoughts and conclusions that aren’t even true.  Challenge your thoughts to find out if it is a fact or a belief that isn’t true.  For example, regardless of your struggles with fertility, you CAN become a mother.  Adoption, third party reproduction, foster parenting or connecting with the children in your life, are all ways to be a parent.  Another common un-truth that we tell ourselves is that if THIS cycle fails, we’re doomed.  Not true.  The world is filled with the results of cycle # 1, 5, 15 or 20.  Each month is different and each month brings another chance for your dream to be fulfilled.

Finding the balance between doing everything you can and being focused on the present is the key to staying whole and sane during fertility treatment.  Finding the balance between making a plan and living in the moment.  Finding the balance between determining what your options are and staying focused on what you are doing today.  Finding the balance between knowing what all the options are and predicting that you will need them.  Try to cultivate friends, activities and yes, even hobbies while going through fertility (no, monitoring your cycle is NOT a hobby).  Your life need not be empty regardless of your reproductive challenges.  But, it is your job to keep it full.

Shooting for neutral
You do not need to be a bubbling optimist to achieve balance.  You do not need to be unrealistic in your expectations.  You do not need to expect that you must shift from despair to happiness in a short time period.  It is okay to be at neutral.

Sometimes, it is difficult to think about being happy during infertility treatment because if you are too happy, the other people in your life are going to think that everything is back to normal, that you have “gotten over” the problem.  This can be a real stumbling block to finding your own personal level of balance.  Communication is the key here – to be able to articulate what you are going through with those in your daily life who are the most important to you.  Also, to be able to make the decision about those who really don’t understand – it isn’t worth your mental health to make them “get it”; they probably never will anyway.

Mind Body Work
When you work on problems that you haven’t had before, sometimes it takes techniques that you haven’t utilized before.  Mind-Body work gives you tools to work with all of the stress, anger, grief, anxiety, and the multitude of other emotions which infertility brings.  When you elicit the Relaxation Response (RR) on a regular basis, you change your body’s reaction to stress and ease feelings of depression and anxiety.  The RR is completely different than the Rest and Relaxation you get by taking a mini-vacation or enjoying a good movie (both helpful in their own rights), or the mandate from relatives to ‘just relax’ (not helpful).
The RR is a physiological event in the body, which is the complete opposite of what happens to your body when you are experiencing stress.  Does this mean you need to become a meditation expert?  No.  What it does mean is that you take time on a regular basis to shift your focus from doing-doing-doing, to being.  Being quiet.  Being still.  Being gentle with yourself.  There are many techniques and ways to elicit the RR – yoga, imagery, breathing techniques, walking meditations, prayer, muscular and emotional relaxation techniques.  Explore many of these, as you will find that certain techniques work better for you in some situations and different techniques will work better in others. 
Most importantly, give yourself, and your body, a break.  You can do everything right and not succeed.  Don’t blame yourself for every ‘missed’ cycle.  Consider that every failed attempt brings you one step closer to a success, no matter how that is defined.  For today, consider your biggest success to be taking a step towards taking charge of your emotions.  This is a result that you can control and one that will pay off not only today but for the rest of your life.

Jennifer Bloome, MS OTR, HWC founded ANJI, the Ojibwa word for Change, as an antidote to her circumstances and those faced by so many women dealing with problems of Fertility, Pregnancy and General Health issues. By applying her professional training and her personal insight, Jennifer was able to develop and utilize Meditation and Guided Imagery in order to help herself and others change not only the circumstances of their physical conditions but the accompanying fear, anxiety, anger and stress.

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