Helen Adrienne L.C.S.W.

On Fertile Ground

The Fertility of Infertility

The "Three A's" of managing infertility.

Posted Jan 13, 2011

This is my first post. As an introduction it will provide an overview. Along the way, I'll be posting on different aspects of this arduous struggle with topics such as anger and infertility, shattered self-esteem, maintaining intimacy. I'll also be offering strategies for enhanced coping, since the most stress-hardy people invariably arrive at a place where they feel leveled by the emotional drain of sadness and worry, compounded by the physical demands of treatment, the social isolation and the spiritual confusion.

Infertility is a mine field. You never know when the next step will feel like a grenade exploded, leaving you feeling ripped limb from limb. So first of all, if people are telling you to buck up, then the important thing for you to get is that they don't get it. There is no such thing as "too upset."

One study measuring the psychological impact of infertility found levels of stress to be on par with those who were contending with a potentially terminal illness such as heart disease, cancer or HIV/AIDS. [AD Domar, et al, "The Psychological Impact of Infertility: A Comparison with Patients with Other Medical Conditions," Jrl of Psychosomatic ob-gyn 14, supp (1993): 45 - 52.] One of the IVF nurses at the NYU Fertility Center in New York City where I conduct stress reduction classes described how patients feel after they've attended an orientation. She said, "Their hair hurts." The most common word that infertility patients use to describe this challenge is "battleground." Can you relate?

I want you to feel understood and I want you to know that there is much that you can understand about how to cope in ways that provide relief. It is counterintuitive to imagine that in the course of dealing with this adversity, your life could actually change for the better. When faced with adversity, the instinct is to want to run away. But when you run away from adversity, you are actually running away from yourself. You are also running away from an opportunity to mature into a new, improved version of yourself. Of course it seems like this challenge is as hard as the shell of the coconut. But the opportunity to learn that like a coconut, sweet and nourishing water, milk and meat inside is there for the taking.

"Good grief" or worse expletives might be crossing your mind right now. But I invite you to at least leave open a space to test the hypothesis that when all is said and done you can feel changed for the better. There is fertility in infertility.

Skeptical? Why wouldn't you be? Yet it is possible to learn to convert your reactions to this adversity into responses. You can make your ability to respond your response-ability. If you step back, you can gain a perspective on your behavior. Furthermore, if you enter into the experience, you can get through to the healing side. I call this "seeing you and being you." Each of these posts will teach you something about how to work with these seemingly opposite perspectives.

Information is important as an anxiety reducer. A basic premise to help organize your thoughts is what I call "the three A's." Hard as it may be, you need to embrace acceptance. Nothing can change if you are in a state of denial. Seeing you and being you will foster awareness. With a growing awareness, you are in a better position to adapt to the circumstances. The most common feeling associated with infertility is the feeling of being out of control. However, gaining perspective and actively learning new coping skills puts you in position to reclaim that control. No, you are not in control of the fact that you are on this journey, but you can absolutely be in control of how you navigate it. It never seems like that at first.

For now, here's the takeaway: The most important gift I can give you now is to highlight the fact-yes, the fact-that our breath is a built-in tranquilizer. So I invite you to stop now and notice how you feel. You might need to do a quick body scan and feel where you are holding tension. Take in a slow and really deep, luxurious breath followed by a slow, relief-giving exhale. If you don't feel the impact of this kind of breath, try it again, maybe a few more times. Stress constricts our breathing and if you're not accustomed to breathing fully, it may take a while before you experience that relief-giving exhale.

The breath is our vitality, our life force. It is also a metaphor for the new life you are longing to create. You can use a simple deep breath to give yourself a reprieve from the stress. Sometimes people feel that they must stay in overdrive to barge through this challenge. Just the opposite is true. You need not lose your determination to get your family if you take a breather-regularly! I can tell you that letting go and letting down has a positive association to rates of pregnancy. There will be more on this in the next post.