“It can feel very lonely when it seems as though you are the only one who can’t conceive,” says Katy, a former Bourn Hall patient. The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 is loneliness, and many people struggling with infertility talk about feeling excluded from a club.
“The news that we would need IVF hit us pretty badly” she continues. “It was very hard to stay positive. It seemed as though everyone we knew was getting pregnant and one of the hardest things was the constant stream of baby announcements on social media. I even had people telling me how ‘whoops’ they had fallen pregnant ‘by accident’ and how easy it had been. I felt really happy for people but at the same time I felt this insane jealousy.”
A type of grief
Jackie Stewart, an independent fertility counsellor, says that these feelings are natural: “It is tough to witness others’ joy if you feel your chance of happiness is slipping away. That feeling can be likened to a type of grief and may include feelings of anxiety, sadness, failure, guilt, anger and loneliness. By acknowledging that grief is a real and valid way to feel about infertility, this can also help you to cope.
“By giving yourself the best support and allowing some of these feelings to be present, it is possible to work safely with these thoughts and feelings. Give yourself permission to feel sad and to grieve for the sense of loss you are feeling. This IS empowering yourself during the challenging time you are facing. It does not mean you will collapse into the feelings and be consumed by them – although that is a genuine fear!”
You are not alone
Specialist fertility counselling support is available for Bourn Hall patients in treatment to help support your feelings and to provide helpful information. There is also a Fertility Support Group that meets on the second Wednesday of each month.
Jackie continues: “It can be comforting to know help is at hand if you are struggling at any point. Accepting and talking about your feelings can be a scary prospect, but it can also be easier than resisting them continually.”
It is very much worth remembering that according to Fertility Network UK, 3.5 million people in the UK go through some kind of ‘fertility challenge’. The charity saw a 300 percent increase in calls during the pandemic.
Sources of help, like Fertility Network UK are given below.
How to keep your friends and your mental wellbeing
Charlotte, another patient, says she can also relate to that feeling of increasing isolation: “I used to find going on social media really difficult at times when friends were announcing pregnancies or posting photos of their children and I would suffer from massive FOMO (fear of missing out).
“My friends were always really understanding but I did start to panic that I would get to 40 and have no baby and no friends because I had cut myself off socially or alienated people. That became more and more of a worry.”
Jackie provides some tips for keeping friends, while building your own resilience:
Give yourself some distance – quietly remove yourself from Facebook for a while and re-focus, perhaps by spending a bit more one-to-one time with real friends who aren’t going through this phase.
If it’s a close friend that is pregnant – tell her you are delighted for her but are struggling with your own sadness. Chances are by the time her baby arrives, you’ll be pregnant yourself or will at least have moved on in your ‘trying to conceive journey’ in some way.
Be kind to yourself, make excuses – it’s not horrible to feel this way. It’s natural. If it is all too much, simply take yourself out of the equation – much better not to go to the Baby Shower than to spend an hour sobbing afterwards.
Take action – being informed about your fertility is the first step towards pregnancy. Find out if there is any reason for your failure to conceive and get good advice about your options. Eating better, feeling fitter, making time to be with your partner can all help boost your emotional wellbeing.
Get fit – take the 80 Miles In May challenge
Being in good shape physically, will not only make you feel better but can also help boost your natural fertility. Walking with a friend can provide companionship and helps conversations to flow.
Why not invite someone to take the 80 Miles In May challenge with you to raise awareness and funding for the Mental Health Foundation. It will also help open the conversation if you are struggling.
Becoming more open with close friends, helped Adam and Anna cope better with their loneliness.
Anna remember the isolation and heartache they felt trying for a baby month after month with no success. “We were in our own little bubble and thought that we were the only ones struggling.”
Adam says that Anna had developed ‘pregnancy goggles’. “She could spot pregnant women a mile off and it would upset her.” he says. “It is only now that we are open about our situation that we realise that there are plenty of people out there who have experienced fertility issues or know someone who has and that we are not unusual.”
You can join or follow the conversation on social media using #IveBeenThere and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. If you sign up to walk, run or jog as part of the 80 Miles in May challenge share your photos using #80MilesinMay.