How to Make Fertility Stress Suck a Little Less

“Having miscarriages taught me that I had to mother myself before I could be a mother to someone else. Then I had Blue, and the quest for my purpose became so much deeper” – Beyoncé

As Beyoncé can attest, fertility challenges irrevocably change you. Though the pain can ultimately make you stronger and the stress can forge resilience, before you can turn trials into triumphs, you must work through the hurt.

Extreme talent, wealth, power, or intellect does not exempt you from fertility challenges. In fact, nestled in the safety of my therapy office, many patients reveal that their difficultly getting pregnant is the first time they’ve experienced true adversity. They feel they’ve done everything right, they don’t deserve this, this shouldn’t be happening. Yet we find ourselves sitting across from one another, working through the loss and unpacking forced membership in a club they never wanted to join.

It makes sense they are in treatment with me. The psychological stress of fertility is equivalent to a cancer diagnosis or heart disease. Too often these struggles stay secret. Many people think if they bury their heads (and worries) in the sand, they will never have to face the depths of their pain. We trick ourselves into believing that when this next cycle works, it will undo all the previous distress and the trauma will instantly disappear. Unfortunately, suppressing the feelings won’t make them evaporate, instead they will reemerge in some other unsavory form. Failing to fully grieve the loss, can lead to more distressing mood and anxiety disorders in subsequent pregnancies.

You find yourself sitting across from one another, working through the loss and unpacking forced membership in a club you never wanted to join.

“Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint” – David Kessler

The first goal in fertility psychotherapy is understanding what you are grieving. It is greater than just the difficulty in achieving a successful pregnancy. The anguish includes everything from the loss of identifying as a fertile woman, to the casualty of your innocence. There is plenty to mourn in the social sphere: preventing your mother from becoming a grandmother, feeling like a failure, or keeping up with your friends. Understanding your deeper feelings around these events can help you identify more adaptive emotional responses.

“The only way the human spirit evolves is through discomfort. It is a catalyst for growth” – Tim Desmond 

Finding acceptance in a challenging fertility journey can resemble grieving a loss of a loved one. Some consider it harder because there are no wonderful memories to reflect back on, only mourning a baby that never was. Your emotional response to this life-altering setback will look different than everyone else. Give yourself permission to feel your authentic emotions. Experiencing sadness or anger does not mean you are weak. Sure, it may feel uncomfortable, especially if it’s unfamiliar terrain, but give yourself space to let the feelings exist. Try setting aside a 30-minute block when you can focus on your feelings, but bookend the session, so it does not take over your day. As you become more conscious of your feelings try catching unhelpful or shaming opinions and replace them with strengthening thoughts. For example, a repetitive rumination that “you’ll never get pregnant” is not as productive as focusing on the small actions you can take, which are within your control, to contribute to the greater goal of becoming a mother.

“Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning” – Viktor E. Frankl

It can be destabilizing to undergo seemingly endless ART procedures. If the universe were fair, all my wonderful patients would instantly become mothers. It is hard to accept that we live in an unjust world. In embracing this reality, we can identify tools to free ourselves from its power. One way to alleviate the suffering is to practice self-compassion. By nurturing and understanding your feelings you will increase your resilience to bounce back after adversity. Some ways to foster self-compassion include comforting your body, writing a positive letter to yourself, and giving yourself encouragement.

All fertility challenges come with inherent stress, but until you come to a greater resolution, be as kind and gentle with yourself as possible. Give yourself permission to grieve, and continually remind yourself that the route to motherhood can take different forms, and that is okay.

Help us change the conversation