"Everything I wanted to be encompassed the ability to have my own children. Everything. Nothing mattered anymore," wrote Lori Kerriganin in 'My Name is Lori and I am Infertile.'
No one can fully understand the weight of having been robbed of a life dream until it happens to them. Couples unable to conceive face similar feelings of loss and depression that befalls athletes sidelined indefinitely by an injury and people who have received a diagnosis of a disabling chronic illness. When diagnosed with infertility it may feel impossible to find joy in life when a life-dream deeply tied to your identity and purpose has been pulled out under from your feet. While it may be impossible to untangle your identity completely with the inability to conceive, it is possible to gain purpose and overcome jealously by cultivating outlets that foster a deep love for yourself and others.
While envy and sadness are inevitable with infertility, it is imperative for your health and wellbeing for jealously and anger to not take over your life. Research shows that people who are happy and satisfied with life have and face the same amount of problems as people who are unhappy. The difference is not in their life experiences, but in the way they think. Here are some exercises to aid in healing based on cultivating the way people think who maintain happiness in their life, no matter what challenges come their way.
When none of the choices you have to move forward feel like good options, your brain will do what it can to feel that you are gaining control and being productive. The feelings that are born out of infertility, such as depression, jealously and loneliness, may be the brain's attempt to develop a coping strategy. It's perfectly healthy to allow moments for yourself to feel sad and angry at times and it is also important to recognize that no amount of sadness or anger will make a baby. Silly as it may sound, you may need to write down or say out loud that by turning your attention to other activities does not mean that you are not still 100% dedicated to having a baby. You may try saying out loud to yourself, write it in a journal and say it to your partner, "I need to announce that I'm working on how to want a baby more than anything at this moment and also enjoy life at the same time as feeling this way."
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference."
You can't force yourself to be happy, but there are things you can do to help find joy in life in spite of infertility. You will need a journal and a pen. To get the most out of these exercises, write or review them daily. Add to them as more thoughts and ideas come your way.
Exercise One: What Makes you Happy?
Start by Writing Down 10+ Things that Make you Happy in the Moment. This is an ongoing list and most likely will change and evolve with you. If listing 10 things that make you happy in the moment is hard for you to do, that is ok. Keep adding to the list as they come and as you try more things. When you were a child, it probably would have been easy: going to the pool, eating ice cream, biking to my friends house.... It's time to get in touch with things that make you happy and present in the moment once again.
Here is a sample list:
- Running outside
- Getting Massage
- Having tea with my sister
- Painting flowers
- Reading a book in the bathtub
- Baking pies
- Volunteering at the homeless shelter,
- Playing with a puppy
- Going to the bookstore and buying a magazine
- A warm cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop
Now start doing at least one of these things each day starting today.
Exercise Two: Finding Purpose Creates Connection
Picture yourself on your deathbed (depressing I know, but stay with me). Now write down at least 6 things you believe will make you feel as if you have lived life as you wished. Include at least one way that you hope that your presence on this earth will have positively impacted the lives of others and include at least two things that you desire for yourself other than being a mother. It's ok to list being a mother, but include other ideas as well.
Start the line with: "When I look back on my life when I am old, I hope to have experienced and accomplished the following."
Here is a sample list:
When I look back on my life when I am old, I hope to have experienced and accomplished the following:
- To experience having true love
- To have been the best partner I could be for my husband
- To have saved at least one dog from the shelter
- To have a career that makes me feel that I've contributed to making the world a better place
- To be a patient and loving mother
- To have experienced living in a different culture for one year
- For my family members to feel that I have been there for them
Exercise 3: Be your Own Role Model First
Now write down 5 things you feel are essential to be a role model. Or think of a role model in your own life and what you admire about them.
Open with the line, "To be the person I admire, I need to practice the following."
To be the person I admire, I need to practice the following:
- Make others feel good about themselves and empowering them
- Be seeking out opportunities to be generous like sending flowers, cards, listening and offering help
- Be present in what ever activity I am engaged in at the moment
- Being a respectful and loving partner by not criticizing or controlling
- Looking people in the eye and reflecting their words back to them when engaged in conversation
Exercise 4: Own your Life
Now write down what you are doing today. Write as many details as possible. Does what you are doing today get you closer to your goals from exercises 1-3? Adjust your activities, thoughts and to-do list if necessary.
- Wake up and hit snooze
- Rush to work
- Eat lunch at desk
- Research fertility options
- Go to grocery store
- Decline party invite
- Watch TV
- Scroll on Facebook
- Go to bed
- Wake up 30 minutes earlier and do not hit snooze
- Take dog for walk
- Eat breakfast
- Go to work
- Go to lunch with colleague
- Research fertility options
- Go out to dinner with husband
- Write in journal and draw
- Read favorite book
- Send a card to a friend going through a hard time
- Tea and snuggles with husband
- Go to bed at an hour for 8 hours of sleep
Exercise 5: Nip Jealously in the Butt
While jealously is perfectly normal, if it starts to interfere with your wellbeing and produces negative thoughts about people you care about and strangers, then it is no longer healthy. While you are healing from a diagnosis of infertility or a miscarriage, it's ok to avoid pregnant women and babies, but only for a duration of time. Pregnant women and babies are everywhere whether in your family and friend circle, the grocery store or on Facebook. At some point, it is healthier to overcome feelings of jealousy.
If you are feeling jealous, it's important to first ask yourself what you hope to gain by your jealousy. You may simply be able to overcome jealously with this method:
- State what you are jealous of.
- What will you gain from being jealous
- What will you gain from not being jealous
- What you are grateful for in your life (many people pine for a husband, to be cancer-free, to not have chronic pain, to look good in a swimsuit- what do you have that you know you are forturnate to have in your life?)
Example: "I am jealous of my sister-in-law getting pregnant with out even trying. I will not gain anything from being jealous. I will feel better by wishing her happiness and health. I feel super lucky to have a supportive and loving husband. "
For more intense and stubborn feelings of envy, follow the below guidelines to find where they stem from. When you realize grief and sadness is what is truly hiding behind all that anger or jealously, feel free to cry and let go.
How I feel: I feel angry that my friend is complaining about her baby keeping her up at night. Does she not even know how lucky she is! I would do anything to have a baby and she is so lucky to have these experiences.
Why I feel this way: Because I want to be having these experiences
What is it like to be in her shoes (practicing empathy): [How she feels] Being woken up is hard even, especially every night multiple times when your body is healing from birth. We have always talked to each other about both joyful and hard experiences and she is telling me these things because she trusts me with her feelings and not to judge her. [In what ways can you relate?] I appreciate my husband but sometimes I need to complain. So just like marriage, having a baby is both a blessing and work.
How I would like to feel (refer to your role model list in exercise 3): I would like to be able to listen and be empathetic to her struggles.
What will I do: I will listen to my friend and not compare her situation to my own. I will also talk to my support group or role model that has been through the same thing about this issue.
How I feel: Why her and not me? I feel too jealous to go to the baby shower.
Why I feel this way: It feels so unfair that I don't get to have this experience and joy in my life. To see the baby clothes will break my heart. I'm just really sad that this is so hard for me and that I have to go through all of this and I still am not yet pregnant. I'm also stressed about money since the treatments are so expensive so buying a gift is just another burden.
What is it like to be in her shoes (empathy): [How she feels] She is really excited for this time in her life. A baby shower is special and she want to share the joy with friends and family. [How can I relate] When I had a bridal shower I enjoyed my friends who were not yet being married being there for me to share that special time.
How I would like to feel (refer to your role model list in exercise 3): I would like to feel happy for my friend
What will I do: I don't want to lose touch with my friend but I feel that it is too hard for me at this time. I don't want to lose an opportunity to be apart of her babies life so I will send her a card and gift and visit her on another da.
"Although the psychological challenges of infertility can be overwhelming, most patients ultimately reach some type of resolution - whether becoming parents to biological children, adopting children, or deciding to build a life without children. But this resolution is usually hard won, and patients may feel forever changed by the experience of infertility"- Harvard Health
Hopefully by doing these exercises you mind will create new and positives patterns of thinking. They will help you to trust that you are making the right decisions and that life will work out. Mrs. Kerriganin wrote, "I am not sure when the depression ended, but I know why it ended. I stopped fighting this path for my life and started embracing what it could mean." She practiced some time-tested method that are shared in this article as well as some other techniques. Healing won't happen overnight, but start implementing the exercises and you may win this hard fought resolution. While people are extraordinarily resilient and able to “bounce back” after experiencing a tragedy, getting professional help may be necessary to achieve this goal.
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