This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. If you are reading this, you likely already have “awareness” of what it is like to experience fertility challenges. But you may not be aware of what you need to feel better and more empowered as you face this challenge in your life. Here are some ideas that may help:
Make a game plan: Do you have the information you need to understand where things stand with your fertility? If you haven’t already, consider scheduling a consultation with a reproductive endocrinologist, who has more specialized training and experience with fertility issues and reproductive assistance options than an OB/GYN. Sometimes people put off taking this step, because they are afraid of what they will hear. But, experts say that if you have not achieved pregnancy after one year of timed intercourse or, if you are over the age of 35, after six months of timed intercourse, this should be your next step. Armed with information, you can better understand your options and how likely it is that you will be successful with each option. Only then can you make an informed decision about what the next right step is for you. Making a game plan is empowering and can help you feel more in control of your fertility and your future. Also, as fertility declines with age, typically the earlier you start getting information and making decisions, the better your chances are of being successful in getting pregnant.
Be good to your body: Lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep, and exercise can affect your overall physical and emotional health and well-being, making your body more responsive to efforts to conceive and helping you feel better and cope more effectively with the challenges you are facing. Pay attention to what foods make your feel healthier, better nourished, and more energetic and try to include more of these in your diet. Typically, this means plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and only limited amounts of processed foods, meats, and foods high in sugar, fat, or sodium content. But don’t be a perfectionist. Focus on small changes that are realistic for you and that you feel motivated to make. If possible, rest or take a short break when you feel tired during the day and don’t shortchange yourself on getting enough sleep at night. If you have trouble sleeping at night, try to limit electronic use within an hour or two of bedtime and do something relaxing instead. Make time for physical activity, but in moderation. Exercise is great for improving mood and energy. If exercise feels like an obligation, try to find physical activity that you enjoy and that you can look forward to— dancing, playing Frisbee, and taking a walk all count as exercise!
Expand your focus: When you are trying to conceive, it’s easy for that to take over your focus and your life. Even if you have to push yourself to do it, make time for activities you have historically enjoyed. Activities that give you a sense of meaning or identity outside of becoming a parent can be especially helpful, as can activities that give you a sense of accomplishment and completion.
Get the support you need: Infertility can be an isolating experience. It can be hard to be around people who are pregnant or who have just had babies, as they may seem to talk incessantly about their pregnancy or their children or worse, complain about them. At gatherings, you may feel worried about being surprised by the unexpected announcement of a new pregnancy or being asked again when you are going to have children. Even people who care about you and mean well may seem to not understand what you are going through or say the most insensitive and hurtful things. You may be able to get more support by identifying one or two people in your life who seem more “teachable” and sensitive and letting them know what is helpful and what is hurtful. Also, rather than socializing in groups it can sometimes help to socialize with people 1:1, because in these settings, people may be better at finding things to talk about that are relevant to both of you. Consider attending a support group for people with fertility challenges and/or trying to deepen connections with people in your life who don’t have children. And take heart, even if you find yourself feeling more distant from a person in your life you’ve been close to in the past, friendships do ebb and flow over time. There may well be a time in the future when it’s easier to be close with that person again. In the meantime, be open to discovering new relationships that may remain important long after you resolve your fertility challenges.
Manage your stress: Stress doesn’t cause infertility, but fertility challenges definitely cause stress! Research has shown that people struggling to conceive report similar emotional distress and stress levels as those going through a divorce or who have been diagnosed with a life threatening health condition, such as cancer or heart disease. There are many effective ways to manage or reduce the negative impact of stress. These include yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, guided imagery, acupuncture, massage or bodywork, counseling focused on effective coping tools and relaxation techniques, Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction-Training, journaling, and expressive artwork.
Nurture Yourself: Fertility challenges are tough. It’s important to be good to yourself and to treat yourself with loving care and compassion. This doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Read a magazine or book for fun, take a long bath, listen to music that makes you feel relaxed or happy, spend time with a pet, buy yourself flowers, learn how to make a healthy smoothie or other treat, trade a foot massage with your partner, put the to-do list away and take a day trip on a Saturday, try out a new body lotion or fragrance, spend time in nature, or enjoy a cup of good quality herbal tea. Try to incorporate “little pleasures” such as these into your life more often.
Article written by Britta Dinsmore, Ph.D. a psychologist specializing in fertility challenges and alternative family building. Dr. Dinsmore provides counseling for people at all stages of family building. She will be offering a free drop-in support group at Oregon Reproductive Medicine on Tuesday April 26th from 6-7:15pm. To register, call Britta Dinsmore, Ph.D./Family Building Connections at (503) 913-4791.