The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (15 – 21 May 2023) is ‘Anxiety’, an emotion commonly reported by people experiencing the uncertainty associated with infertility as well as those going through treatment. In this guest blog independent fertility counsellor Jackie Stewart, who leads our Fertility Support Group, guides you through some of the key emotional ‘junctions’ you may encounter along the fertility journey and offers some coping tips to help you along the way.
Keeping up hope whilst feeling increasingly anxious
A common concern about treatment is ‘will it work?’ This thought stirs fear in the hearts of most patients and can become all consuming, especially for those with long-term infertility and women with a low ovarian reserve.
The difficulty is keeping hope going whilst feeling increasingly anxious about the final outcome.
It is natural to want to feel a sense of control in overcoming infertility and to do whatever it takes to help your emotional and physical wellbeing. However, this can easily become a bit obsessive and the longer you are in treatment the harder the psychological and emotional impact tends to be.
It is tough to witness others’ joy if you feel your chance of happiness is slipping away. That feeling can be likened to a grief, and acknowledging that this is a real and valid way to feel can also help you to cope.
Acknowledging your feelings as grief
The yearning for a potential child creates an intangible sense of loss and anxiety. This sense of loss grows as time passes and can be likened to a grieving process.
The deeper feelings of grief are not easy to switch off, but by acknowledging your feelings as grief they are validated and become easier to understand.
Although the feelings of grief will vary in degree and depend on your individual situation they may include one or more of the following: anxiety, sadness, failure, guilt, anger, insecurity, shock, numbness, envy, devastation, depression, despair, hopelessness, loneliness, emptiness.
You may also experience at times: emotional and physical exhaustion, tearfulness, stress, negativity, blame, self-criticism, sleeplessness, wanting to withdraw from your social circle/events/social media.
The effects of the grieving process can include: a lack of motivation, indecision, a reduced working capacity, obsessiveness, a high expectation on yourself to be ‘back to your old self’ or to be coping and managing better.
Infertility can slowly impact on relationships, work life, social life and finances if allowed to. It can lead to a feeling of being in limbo, with decisions to book holidays, career choices, moving or renovating a house often put on hold until ‘treatment is over’. These feelings are all natural.
Give yourself the best support
If you recognise that you are experiencing the grieving process, please be reassured you are not alone.
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!
Specialist fertility counselling support is available for patients in treatment and for those working towards infertility resolution to help support your feelings and to provide helpful information.
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.
After all, how are you supposed to feel as a patient experiencing infertility and fertility treatment?
It can help to find the right time and person to talk to in confidence, somebody you trust who will understand your feelings. This could be your partner, a close family member/friend, or a work colleague. It can also help to speak to an objective outsider like a professional counsellor, a GP or other patients who can empathise with you.
Alternatively, you could write your feelings down. To know that they are perfectly normal is key. You may only wish to dip in and out of those feelings when you feel comfortable and safe to do so.
Rest your mind from overthinking
Distraction is always a good coping mechanism, but equally it can be reassuring to know that you are grieving and that this is part of the infertility process, however overwhelmed you might feel at times.
Taking some action whilst you are grieving to help you in working towards infertility resolution, no matter how small, can help you to feel more empowered.
For example, this could simply mean finding out as much information as possible from the Bourn Hall website whilst you are waiting for treatment and emailing the clinic with your questions, however simple or complex. This is an important step to help rest your mind from overthinking and anxiety.
The staff are always willing to help you and, even though they are currently operating at a reduced staffing capacity, they will want to answer your questions and support you.
Having a Plan B can offer a safety net
Having an action plan is like having a big safety net in place – a Plan B. Sometimes it can help you to cope a little better and feel more peaceful by just knowing or talking briefly about what the next step might be.
As helpful as it is to be mindful of the present, there is no reason why high anxiety about the future cannot be gently touched upon if you so choose.
In addition to the guest blogs links in the box below which offer additional coping strategies I have listed some organisations providing information and support for people struggling with infertility.