Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) employs the connection between events, thoughts, feelings, and behavior to empower patients and ease their suffering. In the simplest terms, one may try on a bathing suit (event) and have a thought such as “Ugh, no matter how much I work out I’m still fat” this makes them feel hopeless which leads them to sitting on the sofa instead of going for a run (behavior) which then leaves them feeling bad about themselves and generate thoughts like “I’m so lazy.” It’s a vicious cycle.
Take a moment to think about this in your own life. What types of running commentary does your mind generate and how does it make you feel? Now apply this to your fertility journey. How do you feel when you hear fear mongering statistics? How do you feel when you read well researched reassuring articles (like on this blog!)? Women who are trying to get pregnant over 35 are subjected to all sorts of negative input both externally and internally. You may have your own insecurities about your fertility and, unfortunately, they can be easily reinforced by the media, friends, and family. The good news is that you possess some power to change this. You can change your feelings by controlling the language you allow in.
Liberating, isn’t it? The first step is to have accurate information. Your chances of conceiving over 35 are quite good. You can read more about that here and here. In fact, you may be higher risk for twins sans fertility treatment! Second, surround yourself with positive people. Be explicitly clear that you are only accepting encouragement and hope. Seek out women who have had their first baby over 35 and, if appropriate, talk to them about it. When doubts start to seep in, remember these women. The goal is not to stop thoughts or feelings, it is to change them. You can entertain two ideas at once so if you have a thought like “I shouldn’t have waited this long, it will never happen” also think “Sally is pregnant with her third and she is 41.” Counteracting negative thoughts with positive ones will automatically lead to lighter feelings. Lighter feelings will lead to more positive thoughts which will lead to more helpful behaviors (like going for that run!).
If the entire approach to starting a family has left you feeling stressed and bewildered try changing your language around it. One reader writes beautifully of her experience:
My husband and I have been trying for three months, and we have both felt a lot of pressure. My friends who are moms recommended all of these fertility tracking methods before we started trying. I have been monitoring my temp, checking my cm and using LH test strips. I have to say, these techniques are all very interesting and I have learned a lot about my fertility. However, we have also felt a lot of pressure to time sex perfectly and this has taken the romance out of the experience for us. In retrospect, I think we could have started out just making love often without protection for a few months before using all the ovulation prediction methods. A wise friend of mine also recommended not using the word "Trying" to conceive and instead calling it "allowing" yourselves to conceive. Sometimes, we just have to get out of our own way.
Dissecting this from a CBT viewpoint, the thought that they were “trying” to conceive led to the behavior of timing sex perfectly which led to the feelings of stress. It is imperative that you are mindful of the words you use when talking to yourself and others. If “trying” to conceive makes you feel stressed than change it to something more joyful. If your age feels old to you then don’t think of yourself in number of years. In fact, only place one candle on your next birthday cake. If you despair every time your period comes, then add to your inner-dialogue “There is hope that I can be pregnant next month” and be grateful that you have fully functioning ovaries and womb.
In our book, we are very careful to limit the use of the term “infertility.” We often use “fertility journey” instead. Some women have a short and easy fertility journey—they get pregnant within months of trying, others may have a long and difficult road and require intervention. I whole heartedly believe that if you have active ovaries, patent fallopian tubes, a uterus, and sperm, you can get pregnant. Therefore, very few people are truly infertile. In fact, researchers estimate that less than 5 percent of the population is truly sterile. If you have been trying for more than 6 months and you see the “I” word in your medical record, rest assured that it is simply a billing code and get that word out of your mind!
Negative feelings can wreck havoc on our mind and lead to maladaptive behavior. You have the power to change this by carefully choosing your language. I can’t guarantee this will get you pregnant, but it will make the journey a whole lot more enjoyable.