Infertility has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through.
Anyone who has experienced infertility in any form knows the toll it can take; physically, mentally and emotionally. I recently read that Harvard Med found couples dealing with infertility have the same level of psychological trauma as patients facing cancer. Self-care is often overlooked when experiencing infertility, but it is important. It took me a long time to get to where I am now and I am sharing what helped me take care of myself in hopes that it may help others, my ultimate goal.
1. Talk about it.
When I first started this journey, an instinct in me felt like I had to keep it a secret. I didn’t want the added pressure of people knowing that we had been trying, and then later, struggling. However, as I began to open up, I was amazed at the amount of people who could relate to what I was going through, especially those that I had known for a long time and never knew this about them. Having people to talk and relate to during this difficult time has been the biggest blessing. We could vent to each other, share experiences, help and encourage each other. When something is on your mind 24/7, which it likely is, it is difficult to hold it in. It’s okay to talk about it, and it might even feel like a weight off your shoulders. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with those in your life, the infertility community is large, supportive and easily accessible (more on this below).
2. Put yourself first.
This is the part where I admit things that I am not proud of. The intense emotions that come with trying to conceive…along with the hormones…can make you bitter. I never wished ill on someone else, but pregnancy announcements were my trigger. Seeing those social media posts, with the little onesie and the ultrasound photo, or even a text from a close friend, would trigger me. The closer I am to the person, the harder it was. It’s not that I wasn’t happy for them. I was. But I was sad for me. That was supposed to be me, I’d think. It got to the point that I had to take a break from social media. If this sounds like you, I highly recommend it. It did wonders for my mental health. I also stopped going to baby showers, gender reveals or any other events that may trigger me. It took me a while to realize that it is okay to do this. It is not selfish to do what’s best for you. Read that again. That became my mantra. Once I realized this, upon receiving a baby shower invitation, I promptly and confidently RSVPed no and sent my husband the registry to send a gift. I felt guilty at first, but I had to remind myself that my mental health comes first. Period. If you’re reading this, and I didn’t attend your baby shower, I am sorry. I hope you understand.
3. Take Action.
This one’s tricky and will look different for everyone. It took time, a low moment and a push from my husband, to realize that I need to take action when it comes to my happiness and mental health. Here are some of the things that helped for me:
- Setting goals (that are unrelated to pregnancy or parenthood). These goals can be small or big. Perhaps something that you have always wanted to try, do or accomplish. Not only will focusing on these goals help deter your mind from always thinking about infertility but accomplishing something will give you something to feel proud of. Infertility is consuming and focusing on a goal may help you find yourself outside of infertility.
- Journaling. This can also look different for everyone. Maybe you are traditional and like keeping a written journal. Maybe you want to document your feelings via a blog, vlog, or social media account (whether or not you choose to share it with others). On top of reflecting on your experiences and feelings, make it a goal for yourself to reflect on something positive, too. For example, keeping a gratitude journal or recording one thing that made you happy each day.
- Positive Affirmations. After scouring the internet, I found some positive affirmations specific to infertility (for more: https://robynbirkin.com/affirmations-for-fertility/) and would read one to myself each day. I have to admit, it does feel a little silly at first if this is a practice you’re not used to. However, over time, I found that when I was struggling, I would repeat these affirmations to myself on my own, as if I had begun to internalize them, helping me cope and giving me a more positive outlook overall.
- Explore within the infertility community. This is especially important if you don’t feel ready to open up to those in your life, which is completely understandable. There is nothing like being able to relate to others, and it helps with the education aspect as well. There are many ways to get involved, whether actively or on the sidelines. Some of the things that I did was search Instagram hashtags to find accounts that I wanted to follow, listen to podcasts about infertility (I specifically enjoyed Big Fat Negative www.bigfatnegative.com), read books about infertility (My ultimate favourite: Hilariously Infertile www.hilariouslyinfertile.com By Karen Jeffries. I read it in one sitting, twice.), and lastly joining a local Fertility Matters support group on Facebook (find yours here: https://fertilitymatters.ca/find-a-support-group). Choose what works for you-but know that you aren’t alone.
The last message that I want to leave you with is to remember that you don’t know other people’s stories. Many people choose not to share their fertility struggles, especially to social media. So for every pregnancy announcement you see, remember that it may not have been easy for them, either. I realized this when I began to open up about my struggles and others came forward with their stories. I was finding out that the people I had felt jealous of went through similar experiences that I did. We cannot make assumptions, judgments or compare ourselves to others. Even when we think we know everyone’s story, we don’t. We need to hold each other up. We need to support each other. Because you never know what that person went through or is going through. This is what changed my perspective. Behind every pregnancy announcement, there’s a story. This trek is never going to be easy. But in the end, it will make you stronger, and you might even find that taking the steps to care for yourself will continue to benefit you in the long run. I realize that everyone is different and what worked for me might not work for you, but if anything, I hope this inspires you to explore ways in which you can incorporate and prioritize self-care in your life. I would love to hear how others care for themselves during infertility as well. Please comment below!