How to Manage the Ups & Downs of Your Mental Health on Your Fertility Journey
Embarking on a fertility journey is expected to be a fun and exciting time between you and your partner. The many plans and dreams that you discuss and imagine can feel like a honeymoon phase.
As months go on, thoughts, feelings, and stressors can arise that can make this time feel challenging. Whether you’ve been seeing negative pregnancy tests month after month trying on your own, or have begun fertility treatments like IVF (in vitro fertilization), one of the most jarring aspects of navigating the fertility journey is how different your expectations are from the reality of what you’re experiencing.
Because of this, many people on their fertility journey—especially those dealing with infertility—experience mental health ups and downs. First things first: know that you are not alone. Also, try to remember that managing your mental health is as important as managing your physical health during your fertility journey. Here are a few ways to help make this time less of an emotional roller coaster ride.
Uncertainty is something our brains hate; it interprets uncertainty as dangerous or something to be feared. Our brains want to know what will happen before it happens so that it knows that it will be safe. The trouble with this is that everything outside of us is uncertain and not subject to our control, which means we only have control over how we think, feel, and do.
But most often, we are not afraid of the thing we are worried about happening or not happening; we are worried about how we would think and feel if that were to happen. We are afraid of our feelings. We’re worried that if we don’t get what we want, that will mean something terrible about ourselves; that we are unworthy, unlovable, or not enough.
If the root of uncertainty is the fear of how we would think and feel about ourselves, then create a plan for how you would expect to feel and, most importantly, how you will take care of yourself should you not get what you desire. If your cycle starts, or your fertility clinic calls with bad news, plan to be disappointed, sad, or frustrated. There is nothing wrong with these emotions. But, most importantly, remind yourself that you can feel these emotions and not make them mean anything about you as a person. You are inherently worthy, lovable, and enough with or without a baby.
Clean up your brain
Mindfulness and self-care are some of the most effective strategies for regulating and improving your overall mental health. Regular mindfulness practice can improve mental, emotional, and physical well-being throughout your fertility journey. Common mindfulness techniques include, but are not limited to:
- Connection with the present moment
- Breath work
- Finding a good support group or support system
No matter which one(s) you engage in, the most important thing is that you feel good doing it. The goal of a mindfulness act is not that you are telling yourself that you “have to do it,” but rather, it is something that does not feel forced or like an obligation.
Another way to clean up your brain is to look at what you are taking in. Many of us spend hours on social media, in Facebook groups, scrolling Instagram and seeing beautiful baby showers, searching Google for information and similar stories of those navigating fertility issues, or answering endless amounts of questions from family members on if you’ve started TTC (trying to conceive) yet.
There is nothing wrong with doing those things, but I would encourage you to check in on how doing those things leaves you feeling. Do you feel empowered and informed? Or do you often find that you feel defeated or disheartened? If you experience the latter, it is likely because you engaged in those activities while pursuing certainty. We want an element of control that we get a taste of through our research. Take that opportunity to unfollow or mute accounts or groups that leave you feeling worse.
Speak kindly to yourself
Most of us have an inner dialogue that is not so kind. This internal dialogue can sound like insults or judgment, but it is rooted in shame for the most part. Shame is an incredibly powerful emotion. The overriding belief surrounding shame is that there is something wrong with you. That is where the negative self-talk comes in; if you believe something is wrong with you, then that is the lens through which you will view your every interaction, choice, and outcome.
One of the best predictors of how you will feel on your fertility journey and beyond is how you talk to yourself. Kindness and compassion are two of the most beautiful emotions we can experience. However, cultivating kindness and compassion is, in the beginning, an intentional practice; it does not come naturally for many of us. We can often extend kindness and compassion to those we love, which seems to come instinctually; however, we can also turn that mirror towards ourselves.
One of my favorite exercises for this involves journaling. This exercise aims to show you how you think about yourself and to help you reframe those thoughts based on how you would respond to someone you love. Start by taking a pen and paper and writing out a few thoughts about you and your fertility journey. Write a thought down, skip a few lines, write another, skip a few lines, and continue until you have as many thoughts as you want; I would recommend at least three to make this exercise as impactful as possible.
Then you run each thought through what I call “a filter.” There are three filters, and they all start with “Talk to yourself as though you would talk to….” You can use as many or as few filters as you choose. The different filters are:
Talk to yourself as though you would talk to your best friend.
What would you say to your best friend if they said, “I don’t like the way I look”? What is the tone of voice you would use? How would you console them? Would you point out all the amazing things you love about them?
Talk to yourself as though you would talk to your pet.
Think about if your pet needed something: a snuggle, a treat, a cuddle, food, a visit to the vet. Would you ignore their needs? Would you tell them that they are being dramatic or that you don’t care what they need? Would you tell them they don’t deserve something that they want, like a walk, because they weren’t good enough? How would you respond to your pet if they believed what you believe?
Talk to yourself as though you would talk to your romantic partner or spouse.
How would you react if your partner was hurting, crying, and blaming themselves for something entirely outside of their control? What would you say to them? Would you agree that it is their fault? Or would you offer love, support, and reassurance? What would you say to the person you loved most in the world?
When you actively engage in this exercise and practice it regularly, you will begin to fundamentally rewire your conversations with yourself. After all, those are the most frequent and important conversations you have.
Reach out for help
The stress levels from trying to get pregnant can extend to areas of your life beyond your fertility journey, which means that undergoing the process of having a child can affect areas such as your finances and your relationship. Adding those specific stressors to what you’re already dealing with can intensify pre-existing emotions—namely depression, sadness, frustration, etc.
Getting help for those additional life stressors is crucial, as it’ll help you improve your overall mental wellness. If possible, do your research and find a mental health professional to speak with, whether that is a psychiatrist, a counselor, or a coach. This is not a journey that you have to walk alone. Building an emotional support network around yourself can have an immeasurably positive impact on your life and your journey.
It is easy to get so focused on the journey that we forget that we are a whole person before, during, and after this time in our lives. Instead, take the time to focus on and take care of yourself. Your mental health is as important as your physical health.
There are so many resources that can help guide you along the way. There’s also a support system built out of a community of people who have been there. It is just a matter of finding what is right for you.