Infertility – It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
The journey of wanting to conceive and needing assistance can be long, arduous and varied.
I will be completely honest with you all – I am not a runner. I actually loathe running. However, I do know a few marathon runners, and I am in awe of the devotion and energy that is required, much like it is for those struggling with infertility.
Runners and folks going through infertility both endure “wear and tear,” and they both have to manage the physical and psychological demands of having no finish line in sight.
However, runners are able to condition their bodies to build endurance and withstand the long distance, and their bodies get stronger and adapt under careful conditioning and practice. The more they practice and train, the stronger and more capable they become in accomplishing their goal. Unfortunately, the same is not always true for infertility warriors, who bear the burdens of their journey in many unseen ways.
We often see that the longer folks struggle with infertility, the more impactful the experience is.
When I sit with these clients, I recognize some profound elements of the journey:
1. They can start to lose a sense of themselves and become consumed with the ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) process – pulling away from friends, not engaging in usual activities, and losing sight of those of things that were previously pleasurable, nurturing and fulfilling.
2. The constant drain of thinking about outcomes, worrying about their body, impact of medications, etc., all take a toll and deplete their physical and mental energy. Add in the overt drain on time, resources, and physical demands, and life starts to feel consumed by the process.
3. The road keeps going! There is no distinct finish line – Even if ART results in a pregnancy, the worries, anxieties, fear, consuming thoughts do not automatically stop. There is the possibility they follow you into pregnancy and parenthood. As Tricia says, “pregnancy is not a cure for infertility,”
Folks going through infertility may experience their marathon “injuries” in the form of loss of friendships/isolation, loss of focus and drive towards other pursuits, hormonal changes that can disrupt mood, energy, and health, and changes in how their perceive the world.
You may be wondering, how can we train or condition ourselves mentally and physically for the journey of infertility…
1. Quality of life right now still needs attention and nurturing. Remind yourself you have done and are doing everything you need to; your doctors have a plan for you, and you will show up and do your part. But worrying about it now is only robbing you of this moment and life you have right now.
2. YOU ARE MORE THAN IVF! You are more than your fertility status. You are still living your life and you have the opportunity, every day, to make it fulfilling.
3. Continue to pour energy, love, and laughter into your relationships, especially with your partner. This journey can have an impact on your relationship, and it is important to turn towards one another and to continue to build the bonds of connection.
4. Get very clear on what you need, and know that will change along the way. And here’s the tough part – learn how to ask for what you need. Find those people who you can be real with, and ask them to check in with you, sit with you on a hard day, take you out for sushi after a negative result comes in…ASK.
If you are having to explore other avenues to have a family or contemplating living without a child, there is more self-care, love, and nurturing needed to keep moving forward. You need to feed your body, mind, and soul to keep moving on this marathon to have a family. Find what feeds you, nourishes your mind, body and spirit, and keep asking yourself, ‘What do I need right now to feel ______ (peace, loved, calm, fulfilled, successful, whole, etc.)?’
I wish I could give you all a medal at the end of your journey, but there can be great reward in knowing you are a warrior. You are experiencing something massive, and you have survived each day, and on your way to thriving.
By: Shubha Swamy, LPC Manager of Novo Psychotherapy and Co-Founder of AFSA