Handling the conflicting emotions of infertilityJan 09, 2023
Infertility is……..complicated. The main reason is because there are so many big emotions. And because we spend most of our young adult life assuming we’ll have children when the time is right, it’s a kick in the gut when we struggle. Trying to reconcile that picture we’ve had in our head for so long – the one we see in all the movies of the perfect family, all of a sudden, it’s a question mark, instead of a full stop.
The emotions you are currently experiencing are HUGE at the best of times, but if you’re going through fertility treatments at the same time, it amplifies everything.
And then there are the conflicting emotions, which is what I’d like to talk to you about.
We feel so torn apart during infertility, because a lot of the emotions that are coming up, or the thoughts that we are having, are on opposite sides of the coin.
For example – when you’re about to pee on that pregnancy test, there is hope and anticipation. You may then be flooded by a surge of fear and negativity. And when that happens, your brain gets a little confused.
Or when you’re going for exploratory surgery to see if there’s a reason for your “unexplained infertility”, and a part of you is hoping that they find something wrong, and another part is scared that they find something wrong.
It’s like you have two voices in your head. One is saying – this could be the answer we’ve been waiting for, or this could be the finish line for us! And the other is saying – don’t get too excited, you know what happened last time you got excited.
The conflicting emotions, and the constant tug-of-war with your thoughts, are exhausting.
One of the things that has really helped me, and that I know helps those I work with, is the concept of AND. We are all under the misguided assumption that we need to know which camp we sit in. You’re either positive, or you’re negative. You’re either happy, or you’re sad. So, you can imagine the conflict I felt when our first pregnancy was via a surrogate.
Surrogacy is the MOST confusing journey. You’re excited that you’re pregnant, but you’re grieving all the kicks you don’t get to feel. You’re grateful that you have found someone to carry your baby, but you’re jealous that they get to take photos of their (or your) baby bump.
If only I had known back then, that I could be both at the same time, I don’t think I would have punished myself as much. There would have been less struggling, if I had known that it wasn’t a matter of being excited OR grieving. It was being excited AND grieving.
So I’d like to share this one simple concept with you.
It’s not one or the other – it’s both. And we need to make space inside us, to handle both at the same time.
Let me demonstrate -
You can feel excited that you might be pregnant this month AND you can be scared that you might not be.
You can be grateful that you have the means to do IVF AND you can resent the fact that you have to go through this.
You can be happy that someone else gets pregnant AND you can be jealous that it’s not you (note – this is a freaking hard one to separate out though).
You can feel hopeful that this will all work out in the end AND you can feel sad that this month you’re not pregnant.
One doesn’t have to cancel out the other. It is essential that we hold space for both, rather than fighting to be at one side of the spectrum (with the other side pulling you back). Let’s drop the rope, and stop playing tug-of-war.
If you’re feeling a little uncomfortable voicing the “negative” or fear-based statement, I understand. One of the things that inevitably happens when you’re on your fertility journey, is that we become very superstitious. Note – the pineapple socks, searching for rainbows, and eating Mcdonald's fries on the way home from our IVF transfer. This is understandable because there are no answers for a lot of us i.e. Why did my last transfer not work despite doing ALL the things? Why did my last pregnancy end in miscarriage? Why did it take so long for me to get pregnant? We feel like we’re walking on eggshells. And because so many people tell us to just be positive, we feel that our thoughts could be the reason. So it’s natural that we don’t want to jinx it by putting our fears and negativity out into the universe.
While I believe we can attract our reality to a degree, I also don’t believe that our thoughts alone can prevent you from getting pregnant, and they most definitely can’t cause a miscarriage (see – we can hold space for both!!) And just to confirm, a quick google search of possible causes for miscarriage or infertility (as I’m sure you’ve done yourself), does not include negative thoughts.
BUT, because we’re grasping at straws here, we take the high road, and we push down those “negative fear-based” thoughts and emotions. We lean toward the “just be positive” side, not realizing that those other emotions are still there. And that’s why we feel so unsettled most of the time.
So how can you feel safe to hold all the mixture of emotions that are coming up? How can you feel comfortable changing your inner dialogue to AND?
We list all the things we don’t like AND all the things we do like at the same time. Here’s a little exercise you can do. Grab your journal, and on the left-hand page, write down all the things you don’t like about your fertility journey so far – yes, this may be a long list – the timed sex, the injections, living your life in 2-week increments, the supplements, the restriction of alcohol, the fear etc etc.
And on the right-hand side, write down all the positive changes you’ve made, the realizations you’ve had, the difference in perspective, the things you’ve learned about your body, and the things you’re grateful for.
This exercise allows you to express your true feelings, without feeling guilty for saying only the “bad” stuff. Because we are counteracting it with the positives too.
So the next time someone tells you to “just be positive or hopeful or grateful”, you can tell them that you are. But you’re also scared, sad, and disappointed. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.
And when you start to feel conflicted.
Remember – infertility is complicated. It’s not a matter of OR, it’s a matter of AND. And we can hold space for both.
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