1) Reduce the isolation that tends to accompany infertility treatment. You can teach all but the least sensitive family and friends how to be helpful and supportive to you. Also, be sure to let them know how you want to be treated and what is OK to talk about with you, and what is not.
2) Allow yourself to feel a variety of feelings. Don't try to cut yourself off from your emotions. Doing so is a waste of energy and it also doesn't allow for all of the other, positive feelings to pass through. Set aside a certain amount of time a day (30-60 minutes) to focus on your feelings about infertility. Experiencing your emotions will provide you with relief and the energy needed to cope with the demands of your life.
3) Allow your spouse to deal with infertility in his own, unique way. Men and women tend to move through the infertility process at different rates. Try to be more accepting and tolerable of each other's differences.
4) Improve your communication with your spouse. Try to limit the amount of time each day that you talk about infertility (such as 20-30 minutes) so as to prevent the subject from consuming your lives. Also, tell your spouse how he can best help you. He is not a mind reader. Asking for help tends to be difficult for many women. However, now is the time to practice, practice, practice. If you need a hug, a few minutes alone, just to be listened to, or to skip the next family function, tell your husband.
5) Become a source of knowledge. The unknown, feelings of uncertainty, and feelings of helplessness are part-and-parcel to the experience of infertility. Although you can't predict the future, you can reduce some of this discomfort by gaining as much information as possible through medical books, consumer books and articles about the emotional impact of infertility or about alternative means such as adoption, ART (Assisted Reproductive Technologies), and child-free living. Since the subject matter is unsettling, you may find it difficult to read. Also, many of the medical terms and abbreviations can be confusing. So, be patient with yourself and don't be shy about asking various resources (such as your physician) for help. Remember, learning about your medical problems can make you a more knowledgeable and consequently, more confident consumer.
6) Keep a journal. Some people find that ‘journaling’ their thoughts, feelings, goals, hopes, fears, or whatever else they may chose, can have a cathartic effect. ‘Journaling’ may provide a release to pent-up emotions. Besides, a journal is there for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and doesn't talk back to you!
7) Permit yourself to mourn. Mourning, or grieving, the various losses that people encounter as they experience infertility treatment, is a necessary process to resuming a "normal life”. Listening to, and paying attention to your grief ends the control and power it holds over you. "Working through" your grief will provide you with renewed energy to cope with your life. Grieving over the months of disillusionment can provide you with a sense of rejuvenation that will help prepare you for further medical treatments and will provide you with greater clarity for decision-making about alternatives. You need to find the right time to do grief work. You can table it if you do not feel emotionally ready to pursue it or if you have family or work commitments that are vying for your time, energy, and attention.
8) Start talking back to your negative "self-talk". Try to pay more attention to the way in which you talk to yourself. Become aware of how many negative thoughts you have. Notice how many "shoulds" (or relentless rules) you have in your vocabulary. Try to rebut them by generating a reply that a sympathetic friend or family member would provide you, one who loves you unconditionally, with foibles and all. Remember, you would have few, if any, friends if you talked to them the way you talk to yourself.
9) Watch your health. It is easy to neglect health and well-being when we are caught in the eye of the tornado of infertility. However, taking care of yourself now is especially important. Diet and exercise are crucial components to physical and emotional wellness. It is best to cut down or eliminate sugar, salt, saturated fats, alcohol, and caffeine. Exercising moderately (at no more than 120 heartbeats per minute) several times a week is equally important to maintaining a well-balanced life.
10) Use Mind-Body medicine to reduce distressing negative emotions (such as anxiety, irritability, frustration, and anger) and physical symptoms (such as neck or shoulder pain, headaches, stomach aches or pains, and sleep difficulties). Join a Mind-Body or Behavioral Medicine group to learn various ways of relaxing and coping with the stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil of the infertility process. Engage in a variety of activities that help to reduce stress, such as yoga, tai chi, meditating, or exercise.
The author thanks the following sources for the information in this article:
• "Coping with the Stress of Infertility", by Merle Bombardieri, a Resolve Fact Sheet Series
• "From Grief to Relief: A Healing Journey", by Merle Bombardieri, a Resolve Fact Sheet Series
• "Healing Mind, Health Woman", by Alice D. Domar and Henry Dreher, Henry Holt and Company, 1996
• "Mind & Body Health Handbook", by David S. Sobel and Robert Ornstein, DRx, 1998
GAYLE CRESPY, Psy.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. She trained at Harvard University's Mind/Body Medical Institute for Women's Health at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Dr. Crespy has had over 10 years of clinical training and experience and has helped individuals deal with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, life cycle and family issues. She sees patients and runs the Behavioral Management Infertility Program from her office in Rye Brook, N.Y. (914) 584-4460; [email protected]
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