The part of my practice devoted to working with women who are having a hard time conceiving has been growing quickly. I love these women. LOVE.
A lot of new readers have found their way to this blog from some of the fertility-related events I’ve been speaking at. So I wanted to re-post parts of my own story and some material especially relevant to infertility.
Sure, maybe I was starting a little late, but women have babies in their 30s and 40s all the time, right? Maybe I drink a little too much wine or get a little too stressed out but I know women who drink and stress much worse than I do and they get pregnant.
I thought that I’d decide it was time to have a baby, stop using birth control, and I’d be pregnant in a few short months. That’s what I thought until I wasn’t, month after month, 18 times.
In the months I spent trying to conceive, I felt completely lost and powerless. Parts of my struggle were transparent, broadcast to the world or anyone who was paying attention.
I saw my doctor constantly, almost daily during treatment cycles. I came to know his vacation schedule, how he took his coffee, and his secretary’s children’s names.
I took deep breaths through internal ultrasounds and learned to count my follicles along with the nurses. I joked with the lab techs as I became accustomed to giving up my blood and my neat and simple life as I knew it. And those were the easy parts, the parts that weren’t a secret. It was the hidden parts of my life that were hell on earth.
First, there was the shame. Infertility made me feel less like women, unable to participate in the fundamental rite of womanhood. I knew I wasn’t alone but being part of this unwanted sisterhood felt disgraceful.
And then there was the guilt. I felt unbearable guilt toward my patient, healthy husband and well-meaning parents eager for grandchildren.
But the worst part was the loss of control. This was the one time I couldn’t work hard enough or study long enough to get what I wanted. Instead, I sensed that the harder I worked and the more I tried to make pregnancy happen, the further away I pushed it.
Conception is something that is allowed, not something that’s forced, but I just didn’t know how to summon that receptive, peaceful energy in the midst of my struggle. I was a go-getter and this is the one thing I couldn’t make happen. New life is God/goddess/the universe’s business—not mine—but that truth felt almost impossible to accept.
Rationally I knew it was okay to ask for help but I had too much pride to admit my lack of control. I chose to go through this hell alone and isolated, stuck in a maze of my own painful thoughts.
I vacillated between living in the past (Have I been too career-focused? Am I being punished for those college flings? Is God telling me I’m too selfish to be a mother?) and living in a painful, imaginary future (I’ll never have biological children; My husband will regret marrying me; The world will know what a cold, barren person I really am).
That common but dreaded advice, “just relax and it will happen” haunted me. What the hell does that mean? Are they saying I’m too uptight, too type-A, to deserve a baby? Are they sensing my desperation and fear? I tried in vain to meditate, medicate, and listen as others told me what worked for them, but I only felt like more of a failure for not being good enough at relaxing. It wasn’t until I found the courage to question my beliefs, inviting even more uncertainty, that I could finally breathe and truly relax.
I’m not going to lie—questioning your beliefs and surrendering to reality can feel like hell. There will be times you’re just not at peace. When you get your period or hear that a friend is expecting, you aren’t always going to feel good. But you can learn to summon a relaxed energy more and more often. You can find better-feeling thoughts and spend more of your life in peace regardless of where you are in your struggle to get pregnant. Here are three steps to help you get there.
1. Question what hurts
When you’re thinking something that causes suffering, don’t take it as truth. Check in with your body and recruit your logical mind to evaluate the truth in that thought for you.
For example, you may have had moments when you’ve thought “I’ll never be a mother”. What does your body tell you when you go inside yourself and sit with this statement? What does logic say—is it logical to know that it won’t happen? Questioning your automatic negative reactions gives you the sense of peace needed to truly relax.
Activities like getting a massage or taking a nap are fabulous. I highly recommend as many indulgent acts of self-love as possible, as often as possible. But they’re temporary—the peace they produce lasts only until the next painful thought. Dissolving your habitual, stressful beliefs cuts straight to the cause and lasts much longer than a bubble bath.
2. Stay here, now
I know it sounds terribly trite and simplistic, but please, try it anyway. Keep your thoughts out of the past or future and keep them in the present. You can do this.
Make a list of your most frequent painful thoughts. Now go down the list and note whether each thought is about something in the past, present or future. If you’re blaming yourself for not tracking your ovulation last month, notice that and pull yourself back to the present. If you’re predicting that giving yourself shots will hurt like hell, notice that and come back to the now.
Then go back to Step 1; check in with your body and use your logic to inquire into those painful beliefs.
3. Practice allowing
Think about how you can allow life to unfold instead of trying so hard to control the details.
This doesn’t mean cancel your IVF or stop taking proactive steps. Continue with whatever action steps feel good but be easy, don’t force things.
Consider that perhaps your obstacles in life are perfectly designed to teach you what you most need to learn; this will help you to surrender. It’ll be easier to practice this in less important areas of your life until you get it down and then transfer it to baby-making. Can you think of a few ways that you can surrender in your daily life?
So, when you find yourself feeling powerless and out of control, experiencing guilt or shame or beating yourself up for not knowing how to relax, stop.
Question your nerve-racking thoughts for logic and how they feel in your body.
Look at where those thoughts reside—if they are thoughts about the past or future, consciously pull yourself back to the present.
Finally, practice allowing in areas of your daily life where you’re used to forcing. This is how you begin to “just relax”. It’s not always easy, but it is incredibly simple and feels incredibly good.
This is what finally led me away from the vicious cycle of pain and into the space where wonderful things are born.