Impaired fertility (struggling to conceive or pregnancy losses) affects approximately 80 million people globally and according to the NHS, around 1 in 7 couples in the UK may have difficulty conceiving.
If there’s one word that might cause a sudden wave of nervousness it’s the F word (not that one, the other one) ‘fertility.’ You probably went through your twenties not giving the phrase a second thought, but right now, it’s the one that’s dominating your Google history and triggering a whole heap of emotions – ones you might be finding hard to manage.
The current situation and the continuous uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 has, for many, worsened fertility anxiety – after the first lockdown there’s been a backlog of cancelled appointments with specialists, a sudden pregnancy social media boom (it seems every celebrity and influencer is expecting RN) and the continuous feeling of a ticking time clock. It’s hardly surprising fertility anxiety might be at an all time high.
According to Kristin Hayward, Fertility Birth Expert at Zoe Clews Associates, “We’re humans and it’s a natural desire to reproduce and create a family. When this doesn’t happen naturally and easily it feels like a failure, unfair, wrong – people feel like a failure when they don’t ‘fit’ into what society, even in modern times, still expects as the natural progression. The resulting stress creates more stress and an ongoing negative cycle.”
We’ve all heard the stories of the couples who are told they can’t have children naturally who then, months later, find themselves having conceived when they didn’t think they could. It might not be a coincidence, according to Hayward. When we’re stressed our body goes into fight/flight mode and anything that is not essential is put on hold … that can include conception until it feels ‘safe’ enough to have a baby.” In other words, your fertility anxiety might actually be the thing that’s stopping you from becoming pregnant.
But trying to stay relaxed and calm when you find yourself going through pregnancy tests like Pringles, squinting to see if there’s a second line, wondering if those cramps are your period coming or implantation-related and turning to chat sites to give you extra hope make relaxation seem impossible.
As Hayward says, “Each time an unwanted period starts, another month passes, more doubt and anxieties are created and stress levels increase hugely.
“It’s not just the anxiety. There are so many emotions that surface. Women and couples feel alone and left out when they see friends, family and peers producing baby after baby easily. They understandably feel angry and jealous of others’ success. They often can’t share their own emotions and, if they do, people make upsetting comments, unwittingly.”
There’s also the anxiety surrounding money. IVF is often capped at two or three cycles, depending on where you live. While some couples are able to “explore all options” including turning to private help, others may be left, as Hayward says, feeling “resentful” about their financial boundaries.
“For women who haven’t met their perfect partner or choose to remain single there is the double issue of their biological clock ticking and, often, disapproval or concern from friends and family around them.”
So, what’s the solution when you’re feeling like you’re battling fertility anxiety?
“It’s vital to create a strong support network of trusted connections – think carefully about who to tell, who can offer what kind of support and who should perhaps not get the full story in case they add to your stress with their comments, suggestions or own emotions,” says Hayward.
Should you tell your boss and work colleagues? “Fertility is a very personal journey, often kept quiet. However, it can help for someone at work to know what you’re going through. It may not be a direct colleague or your boss, perhaps someone in HR is the one but having someone who understands why you need regular appointments, who can cover for you and put in a supporting word for you can help. That doesn’t mean you need to discuss every detail with them, simply knowing someone else knows can make you feel less alone.”
Kristin Hayward’s top tips for battling fertility anxiety
- Develop awareness of your feelings and acknowledge that they are simply emotions and not something ‘concrete’. Choose a short, daily routine to create a positive mindset:
- Breathing Long, slow (not deep), continual breathing will calm your nervous system down and relax your mind and body.
- Short, positive visualisation and affirmations: When in the shower, when going to sleep and post the affirmations around the house or ask someone to message them to you regularly.
- Physical exercise: Yoga, pilates, nothing too strenuous.
- Address your negative feelings – anger, jealousy, anxiety, loneliness, guilt, inadequacy, fears, etc – use visualisation to let go of negative associations/triggers, work with a hypnotherapist to release deeper emotions that are affecting your wellbeing.
- Harness and use the power of your mind – remember, worries are only negative emotions attached to thoughts ,so transforming a worry into a factual thought, and better still, releasing it, will clear your mind and allow you to move forward more freely and positively.
- Stay in the moment – train your mind to focus on today, find positives in your day, don’t allow your mind run weeks, months, years ahead to ‘what if …’ scenarios.Hypnotherapy is very effective for this.
- Release stress at a subconscious level, consciously choose how to respond to information and situations – a positive mindset is key.
- Choose a few, select people to share your journey with. Remember, your closest friends/family may not be best suited to this support.
- Avoid constant Googling and online fertility groups – be mindful of what is useful and what is creating additional pressure or stress. Someone else’s path is not your path, whether their outcome is successful or not.
- Remember, we like to be right so our mind looks for confirmation that we are ‘right’. Fill your mind with positives, it will look for proof of the positives rather than letting it focus on the negatives.
- Don’t put life on hold for a baby – continue with plans, career promotions, travel (when possible!). Babies are regularly conceived when least expected, when the focus is elsewhere and the parents are relaxed.