This summer, while your friends post pictures at amusement parks, you find yourself holding a ticket for a different kind of ride: the emotional fertility rollercoaster. The intense ups and downs throughout this process can leave your head spinning. Balancing optimism and despair when trying to conceive can be almost as challenging as getting pregnant itself. As an infertility psychotherapist, I work with many women who struggle with how to manage their feelings during this time.
Ugh, it feels like everyone around me is pregnant…
Michelle*––a marketing executive with a busy social life, married to her husband of four years––came to see me 16 months into her journey trying to conceive (TTC), after experiencing a breakdown during her cousin’s baby shower. Before that moment at the shower, Michelle had felt like she could manage these feelings on her own; after all, she regularly obsessed about them with her husband and close friends. Her eyes welled up as she shared, “When I looked around the room at the shower and noticed three pregnant women holding their bellies, the floodgates opened and I couldn’t contain my emotions.” To Michelle, it seemed like everyone around her was pregnant and she automatically assumed they all had an easy time getting there.
Where do I go from here?
The decision to enter therapy came at the necessary time for Michelle. She was suffering from a serious case of the Shoulds (“I should be pregnant by now”), combined with excessive pressure, unrealistic expectations, and unprocessed emotions. This potent mix resulted in an emotional hangover that was too hard to shake on her own.
Balancing optimism and despair can be almost as challenging as getting pregnant itself
I already have plenty of people who will listen to me vent… Do I need therapy?
Therapy is not just a venting session. Sure, there are times when you need to blow off steam, but therapy can be the perfect, non-judgmental setting. With my patient, Michelle, we worked on more constructive ways for her to communicate her needs to the people around her. Sometimes all she really needed was for them to listen supportively, or sit with her while she dealt with her grief and sadness. Other times, she wanted them to empower her and reignite her wavering sense of hope. Before she could make these asks, she had to identify the underlying drives fueling her requests. After deepening her insight into these needs, she could then determine the best way to get them met. Helping Michelle get in touch with her authentic self allowed her to make the decisions that best addressed her genuine needs.
When is it time to consider meeting with a therapist?
Sometimes emotional distress creeps up on you, other times it can come on more suddenly (i.e. that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach when the fertility nurse calls to report another failed cycle). If you are experiencing such acute distress for more than two weeks you may want to consider seeing an infertility specialist. Other signs to look for are changes in your appetite, sleep disruptions, increased anxiety or panic, withdrawal or lack of interest in pleasurable activities, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, loss of sexual interest, and constantly feeling overwrought throughout your assisted reproductive treatments.
Better days ahead?
You may be missing your happy, confident self, but before you judge yourself too harshly, keep in mind infertility is a life-crisis (just as death, divorce or disaster). It is appropriate to seek counseling when you are experiencing any destabilizing event. While so much of this process is outside your control, this is one step you can take to increase your personal agency and improve your emotional state.
*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality