Updated: Mar 24, 2021
The number one question I get asked by other infertility warriors is how to cope with infertility. I'm often asked how I find the strength to continue walking this path after years of infertility, failed IVF cycles, and even the loss of our first and only pregnancy. The truth is that infertility sucks. It's not an easy journey for anyone. Throughout the 6 plus years we have been struggling with infertility, I have found a handful of things that have allowed me to comfortably walk through our journey. Make no mistake though that walking through this is no easy task - no matter how effortless someone makes it appear to be. It's hard work and some days are really difficult, and that's ok. You're going to have bad days, but you are so much stronger than you think you are.
Today I'm sharing 10 ways to cope with infertility. Everyone's journey is different and everyone will cope a little differently. What works for me may not neccessarily work for you. With this list I am hoping that you can find at least one way, if not more, to help ease the pain of infertility and make your journey a little easier.
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. In other words, it is a way to focus on the present and be content with what is happening in the here and now. You might be wondering how this can be helpful in coping with infertility. For me, I found that a lot of my depression and anxiety I experienced while struggling with infertility came from fear of the unknown. Fear of wondering what my life would be like without kids. Who would take care of me if I get too old or too sick to take care of myself? What my life purpose would be if I didn't become a mother? The more we focus on the future, the more anxiety we fill ourselves with and the future as we see it does not yet exist. So why are we putting all of our energy and emotions on worrying about the future?
What has helped me in my journey with infertility is practicing mindfulness. To focus on what I'm doing in the present moment and not put too much emphasis on the future. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't come easily. Our brains are made to be constantly problem solving and cause us to worry about the future. Just as we cannot run a marathon without taking time to practice and prepare our bodies for the race, we have to practice and prepare our minds for mindfulness.
A few ways to start practicing mindfulness are, focusing on your breath, doing a full body scan to see where you hold your tension, focusing on one task at a time, taking a mindful walk and notice all of the sounds, scents, and scenery around you, or having a conversation with someone where you listen without worrying what your response will be. The more you try these small practices, the easier it will be to allow for your day to be filled with mindfulness.
I will be very honest. I was not good at practicing self love during most of my journey. It wasn't until we were 5 and half years into our journey that I started taking self love seriously. Our miscarriage was very hard on me. Mind, body, and soul. It broke me and put me in a dark space that I was not sure I would be able to get out of. Somehow, I kept going and eventually knew that something had to change. I wasn't taking care of myself or my body. I wasn't giving my body the love and support it deserved and showed me during my most difficult days. I decided to set the intention that self love comes first. Here are a few ways that I practice self love daily:
Yoga helps me connect with my body and my breath. It allows me to live more in the present moment and enjoy time in solitude. I could get lost in a yoga session - it feels really good! I love to start my mornings with Yoga and full body stretch. I have noticed that my mood has been drastically boosted since practicing yoga 4-5 times a week. My husband even enjoys practicing with me here and there, so it's a great way to bond together as well.
I typically end my yoga sessions with a quick meditation. This is really great way to get reconnected with your breath and be present. Meditation is proven to reduce anxiety and depression levels, reduce stress levels, and increase happiness levels. I typically like to light the same candle every time I meditate to ground myself during my meditation sessions. Meditation can feel overwhelming in the beginning, so start with a few minutes at a time and gradually increase the time as needed. You can try guided meditations or meditate in silence.
3. Schedule Time For Self Love
Sunday's are my self love day. I do not allow myself to work or do anything other than serving my own needs. It might sound selfish, but guess what? Self love isn't selfish, its a neccessity! I typically practice yoga, get all the groceries I need for the week, take a long hot shower, watch my favorites re-runs of Real Housewives or Sex and The City, have a home cooked meal with my husband, and end the night by going to bed early and reading a book or watching a movie. That's self love to me. That's the beauty of self love, it's what you make it. Whether you have an entire day to practice, or just an hour at the end of the night, make time for yourself.
Live Your Truth
One of the best things I ever did for myself on my journey was to open up about our struggles. We spent nearly 5 years hiding our infertility. It felt like a dirty little secret. It also felt extremely heavy and not to mention - isolating. One day I sat down and opened my notes app on my phone and wrote out everything we had been struggling with. It felt really good. Then I got the idea, what if I shared this on Instagram? I toyed with the idea for a few days until I decided to ask my husband if he felt comfortable with me opening up to the world. He didn't even hesitate and was fully onboard. As soon as I opened up I was flooded with hundreds of messages from other people going through the exact same thing. Suddenly I felt less alone. The weight was gone. We were finally living our truth.
In just over one year, sharing that single instagram post has blossomed into a podcast, dedicated youtube videos, finding a sense of community, starting a blog to help others and so much more. I'm not suggesting that you go out and share your journey with the world as it comes with it's own unique set of struggles, but opening up to just one person you trust who will support you whole-heartedly will be more freeing than you can imagine. Do what is comfortable with you and you partner.
Social Media Detox
While you move through your journey, you are going to learn what your triggers are. A trigger refers to something that affects your emotional state, often significantly, by causing extreme overwhelm or distress. Triggers also affect your ability to remain present. For me, pregnancy announcements are my trigger. I can be in the best mood, but as soon as I see a pregnancy announcement or someone talks about their pregnancy with me, it sends me into a spiral. It controls the rest of my day and causes me to become irritable and depressed. Facebook has a lot of those triggers, so I deleted that app and only use it for posting purposes and no longer allow myself to scroll. For a while, I had it deleted completely and I can tell you I didn't miss it. Another thing I do to prevent triggers is to mute or unfollow anyone who is pregnant on social media so that I don't have to see their posts. This has truly worked for me and I highly recommend to do a social media detox if you're finding you're being triggered by pregnancy or baby related posts.
Feel Your Emotions
Speaking of pregnancy announcements, one of the most common things other women have said to me is "I know I should be happy for them, but I can't help but feel sad and depressed now that my friend is pregnant. I feel so guilty for feeling this way." Something I want to validate right now for you is that whatever emotions you're feeling during your journey is ok. There is no wrong way to feel. It's not selfish to feel upset or jealous if someone you know is pregnant. If that's how you feel, then that is how you feel. We cannot control our emotions. There is a huge spectrum of emotions that come along with infertility. Sadness, fear, anger, guilt, shame, and resentment are all very common. It is important that on your journey instead of shoving your emotions down and pretending that they don't exist, to instead feel them when they surface. If you feel sad, cry. If you feel anger, scream into a pillow. If you are fearful, write out what you're scared of and feel it. Feel it, then release it. Let every emotion pass through you. Nothing you feel on your journey is wrong and no one can determine how you should feel. There is no should, there is only what is.
Something that I found to be extremely helpful on my journey once I opened up was setting boundaries. Setting boundaries comes in many forms.
1. Speaking up for yourself.
If someone says something insensitive about your infertility journey, it's ok to correct them and explain why that might be hurtful. Toxic positivity is real. While someone might think what they are saying is coming from a good place and feels optimistic, it might actually be hurting more than helping, so it's important to speak up when something bothers you. I have an entire post dedicated on what to not say to someone struggling with infertility that I highly recommend you read and share with loved ones who know you're struggling
2. Cut Out Toxic People
Never tolerate someone who makes light of your struggle, lacks empathy for your journey, or speaks ill of your infertility. Infertility is already a difficult and stressful experience on its own, you do not need someone putting you down and being disrespectful on top of it. Kindly remove yourself from people who do not lift you up on your journey. Whether it's just temporary or permanently, your mental health comes first. Surround yourself with supportive and loving people.
3. Say No To Potentially Triggering Events
Set boundaries for yourself by staying away from events that could possibly take a toll on your mental health. I personally have a rule for myself that I do not do baby showers, or attend events that circle around children. I find those to be extremely difficult to attend and I'm very aware on the mental toll it takes on me. It's important to communicate those boundaries to people you know. Let them know it's not personal, it's just important to protect your mental health.
Journaling is something I only recently started doing, but has already made a huge impact on my mental health when dealing with infertility. I have found it especially helpful on days when I have been triggered. Whenever I notice that my mood has shifted, I sit down with a journal and do a brain dump. If you've never tried brain dumping before, it's the process of writing out all of your current thoughts and emotions on paper until there's nothing left to write, or you feel a sense of relief. I also like to schedule brain dump sessions on days with importance such as the day we found out we were pregnant, the day we were supposed to give birth, or even on a regular holiday. This helps me release all of my emotions and clear my mind to better be able to appreciate the day and not stay in a depressed frame of mind. You can also write a letter to yourself or someone you know, practice journal prompts, or simply doodle.
Infertility makes it easy to be down on yourself. Especially after miscarrying, I found myself speaking negatively to myself multiple times a day. I didn't love myself or my body, I lacked any level of confidence, and I felt completely disconnected from my body. It is very common for women who miscarried to feel an immense level of guilt, which is why practicing positive affirmations daily is crucial to coping with infertility. You can speak them aloud or write them down. I like to do a mix of both and always practice them in the morning to get my day started on the right note. Below are a list of examples of positive affirmations I like to practice:
- I am strong and resilient
- I love my body unconditionally and without judgement
- I am worthy and capable
- I am enough
- I am thankful for all that my body has done for me
Gratitude changes the way you see the world and allows you to be happy with what is rather than what could be. When we become happy with what we already have, we allow space for more happiness to enter our lives. Choosing gratitude is not always easy when struggling with infertility, especially when you don't have the one thing you've always wanted. Practicing gratitude is essential in making your journey with infertility easier. For example, instead of looking back on my journey and wishing I was pregnant or had a baby, I look back and feel grateful for how much my body did for me, how amazing of a partner I have in my husband for being by my side during every injection, every surgery, and grieving our pregnancy loss, and finally, I have a lot of gratitude for my resilience and strength that I never knew I had. Along with my positive affirmations, I like to start my day by stating three things I'm grateful for. You can speak these aloud to yourself, or write them in your journal.
Finally, one of the best things I did for myself was seeking out a grief counselor. Like I had previously stated, my miscarriage rocked me to my core. After months of grieving, I got to a point where I knew I had to get help. I made sure to find someone who understood what I was experiencing, and even though she hadn't personally experienced infertility, she did understand that pain of miscarriage. She let me know that everything I felt was valid. It really helped that she knew where my head was at and gave me the strength and resources to move through my grief and help me cope with our infertility. I owe a lot to my counselor for where I'm at today.