Fostering Resiliency During Fertility Treatment

What is ‘resiliency’? According to the American Psychological Association, resiliency is “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences”.

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Resiliency is not ‘a trait’ that we inherit.  It is a combination of behaviors, thoughts, and actions aimed at coping specifically for you. Going through infertility can be very difficult emotionally and learning resiliency skills can help you get through this trying time. Hopefully your journey will be successful and short-lived. But by developing your resiliency skills, you’ll be able to emotionally handle the roller-coaster and hang in longer for success. Either way, you’ve learned some great coping strategies for other life situations!

Strategies to Develop Resiliency

Let’s look at some ideas to help develop resiliency. Not all of these will interest you. Take what does and leave the rest. We each have diverse styles and needs.

  • Develop realistic goals in conjunction with your medical team. Open dialogue between you and the team can put you on the road to realistic expectations. Bring questions to meetings, paper and pencil for notes and when possible, your partner who can not only be your advocate, but pay closer attention to the dialogue if you, like many, tend to disengage because of strong emotions.
  • Notice your internal thinking by turning your attention inward.  Notice your ‘self-talk’ patterns. When faced with adversity, do you:

Beat yourself up? (It’s all my fault!)

Compare yourself to others? (How come everyone else gets pregnant on their first try?)

Go into a negative spiral? Protect yourself by going to ‘worse case scenario?

Is everything a catastrophe or do you think in ‘all or nothing’ ways? Do you jump to conclusions without proof? (I’m never going to get pregnant)

Run away thinking creates anxiety; the unknown does not mean disaster – it means “I don’t know! One way to counterbalance your run away thoughts is by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness puts you in the present moment, and encourages passive acceptance without judgment. As your mind wanders to a place that creates anxiety or negativity, gently stop, let go of the thought, bring yourself back to the present and find a non-judgmental affirmation such as: I AM DOING THE BEST I CAN followed by refocusing your attention on the present.

  • A shift in perspective means re-framing a problem into an opportunity to learn about you. It doesn’t mean you have to like any of what’s happening to you, but it can create a different reaction, more curiosity, compassion for yourself, and certainly a more resilient way of looking at things.
  • Learn relaxation techniques – meditation, visualizations, mindfulness; listen to soothing music, practice yoga (if medically allowed).Perhaps you have a hobby that is particularly relaxing for you.
  • Practice self care! Feed your body nourishing food, get a good night’s sleep, get a massage, engage in a  joyful experience that you let slide by the wayside – something you put on hold once you started fertility treatment.
  • Work on maintaining a hopeful attitude. Positive affirmations are great for this. There are lots of websites with ideas for affirmations. A positive outlook does not deny reality but allows you to be cautiously optimistic. Visualize outcomes you want rather than those you fear. Or create a gratitude journal. If writing isn’t your thing, each night before falling asleep, think of 3 things you are grateful for. Remember: You are way more than your infertility!
  • One of the hallmarks of an infertility journey is isolation. We turn inward, and choose to avoid potentially uncomfortable social situations. See where you can make connections. Perhaps volunteering (pet shelters come to mind) would bring you in contact with people and at the same time, perhaps shield you from difficult interpersonal experiences. Look for support groups. It is extremely difficult to try to explain what you are going through to someone who has not experienced infertility. Support groups help you exhale – the women or couples there  may not be on your exact journey, but they certainly understand your pain.
  • Another hallmark is the lack of control! Lots of grey areas where you just don’t know what to expect. Here’s an opportunity to get to know the part of you that needs to control for all possibilities, which, by the way, is NOT possible. Be open-hearted to that part of you and try to find other ways to help it relax. Try the above suggestions. Or, try this as an exercise to help with lack of control: try something you’ve never done before, something where you can’t imagine how it will turn out. Get curious about the end result. This just might help build some tolerance for experiences where control is at a minimum.

I hope you find some of these ideas helpful in fostering your resiliency during your treatment.  Upcoming blogs will focus more in depth on each of these individual ways to develop resiliency.

Bette Galen, LCSW

FOSTERING RESILIENCY DURING FERTILITY TREATMENT – SERIES

PART 1 : Setting Realistic Goals
PART 2 : Noticing Your Thoughts
PART 3 : Relaxation Techniques

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