Helen Adrienne L.C.S.W.

On Fertile Ground

"Letting-Go Coping" With Infertility

Things you should know about coping with infertility...

Posted Jan 26, 2011

Letting Go and Letting Down

Coping means dealing with and overcoming problems, and there are plenty of those if you're in the fertility battle.  In fact, problems of one kind or another roll at you like a tsunami at times and the main goal in coping is to learn how to ride the wave without getting swamped.

Two interesting definitions of "coping" suggest the kind of adaptation that we need in order to deal with challenges effectively.  Coping, in one definition, describes the round-edged tile that is used to give a bathroom or kitchen wall or a swimming pool a finished look.  In the other, coping refers to the strips of fabric that go in-between the sections of a quilt which help to make up for imperfections.  Infertility leaves us feeling unfinished and suggests that there is something more that is needed to recreate a sense of wholeness.  You need coping skills to be able to ease the tattered edge of the mental and physical disruption caused by this unwanted reality.

Coping can be divided into two categories: Problem-Solving and Letting-Go.  Problem-Solving coping is about doing-going into action, changing something.  Examples would be, shifting from an ob-gyn to a reproductive endocrinologist, hiring a nurse to give you the required injections if your partner is averse to doing it him/herself, refusing to attend gatherings where there will be babies and bellies, searching books or the internet for answers that will clarify confusions or distracting yourself from the upset with shopping or cleaning.  Problem-solving coping has its place and has merit.

And then there's Letting-Go coping.  This is about diving under the turbulence, clearing the decks of the worry and frenzy.  It's about letting yourself be so you can enter a mind-clearing, meditative state.  Learning how to just be gives an over-taxed physical and emotional system a break.  Muscle tone relaxes and rates of breathing, heart rate and blood-pressure simmer down.  Your body will thank you.

And then there's your mind. Most folks find it much harder to let go of emotional upset than physical tension.  It's common to think that unless you can sit as still as a Tibetan monk, and for as long, you're not accomplishing anything.  While the letting-go techniques of meditation, hypnosis or self-hypnosis, guided imagery, mindfulness or deep breathing are skills that can be developed with practice, even the simple act of a few deep breaths can bring you in for a landing.  The relief may be short-lived, but with commitment to "letting go" as needed, you can realize that providing yourself with relief puts you back in the driver's seat of your life.  Until you bring home a baby, this is as good as it gets and it's better than you might think.

Letting-go coping can make a big difference.  It should be considered the Siamese twin of coping. Going into action can discharge the normal anxiety that goes with the infertility territory.  But it is the letting-go aspect of coping that, when studied, showed a positive correlation with rates of pregnancy!  [Nathalie Rappoport-Hubschman, et al., "Letting-Go Coping is Associated with Successful IVF Treatment Outcome," Fertility & Sterility 92, 4 (2009)] And hypnosis, which is a most powerful letting go coping method, when used at the time of embryo transfer resulted in rates of pregnancy that were double those of the control group.  [Eliahu Levitas, et al., "Impact of Hypnosis During Embryo Transfer on the Outcome of In Vitro Fertilization: A Case Controlled Study," Fertility & Sterility 85, 5 (2006):1404 - 1408.]  

Aside from the benefit to mind and body when you let go, what else do you stand to gain when you relax enough to center yourself and orient yourself inward?  At such quiet moments, you are open to your own ideas, truths and inner resources that get shoved out of the way when you're in a spin.  I'm reminded of the power of inner stillness or inner reflection all the time when I facilitate hypnotic trance work with patients who are confused and upset.  They free themselves of mental chaos and therefore can access their answers.  What a joy to see the relief as people come to know what decision is right for them.  If you are unpracticed in this realm, you might want to consider getting professional guidance. 

Here's a simple exercise which can allow you to flirt with letting-go:

Close your eyes.  Savor a deep breath and a slow release.  And as you rest in the rhythm of your breathing, presume that you have shifted from "before" to "now-the present moment."  Moisten any finger with saliva and touch the center of your forehead.  Then just notice with each breath, the difference in temperature between the wet place on your forehead and the surrounding dry area.  Stay as long as you like.  Don't rush this.  Let yourself languish in your gentle breathing as you realize ... what?  That's all.