Whether you are single or in a couple, and regardless of your medical situation and the fertility treatment you undergo (insemination, IVF with your own gametes or with gamete donation), an assisted reproduction journey is a highly medicalised process, in which the emotional dimension is often underestimated – by health professionals (due to lack of time or training) and by the people around you and the general public (due to embarrassment, taboo, lack of understanding, knowledge and information).
The difficulty in conceiving affects us in our most intimate and most human aspects. It affects a vital project, for both men and women. The emotional load is therefore often extremely heavy. We talk about the “assisted reproduction rollercoaster”, because positive emotions (happiness of starting a family, hope, excitement, impatience) are mixed with emotions that are much more difficult to manage, such as:
- Fear: fear of not being able to become a parent – and fear of not getting over it if you don’t succeed;
- Sadness: a visceral longing and a feeling of absolute lack;
- Anger: against yourself because you started too late or did not take enough care of you in the past; against others who do not understand your suffering or who say things that make it worse; against the universe for what is perceived as a real injustice;
- Jealousy: towards a friend or a cousin who announces her umpteenth pregnancy;
- Guilt: in the face of all these emotions that are not always accepted; and, especially for women, the feeling that everything is “our fault”;
- Isolation, because these processes are often solitary and surrounded by taboo;
- The feeling of lack of control – and the frustration of not being able to plan our lives as we wish;
- The stress, which is omnipresent, linked to injections, multiple medical consultations, tests, all the organisation linked to the protocol and this rollercoaster;
And many other emotions that shake us up on a daily basis.
What To Do With All These Emotions?
The first thing we need to be aware of is that all these emotions are normal – and simply human. When faced with the desire for a child, so strong, so visceral, the emotional load is inevitable. There is no shame in feeling all these emotions – even the unmentionable ones. We all go through them. The first step is to accept them: “putting a lid” on our emotions, repressing them or denying them only makes them grow, a bit like water boiling in a pot with the lid on. On the contrary, identifying them, naming them, naming our feelings helps us to accept them and not let ourselves be overwhelmed. Allowing ourselves to feel these emotions is essential. Yes, I am sad, because my deepest desire is to be a mother and this baby doesn’t arrive. Yes, I am angry, because everyone around me seems to be able to have a family and it is deeply unfair. I have a right to feel that way.
The second thing is that these emotions are not so much the result of the situation itself (the situations we experience are neutral: they are concrete facts, neither positive nor negative), but the result of our thoughts. Rather than “managing” our emotions, it is more a question of trying to have some control over our thoughts. By choosing to change our thoughts little by little, we can change the way we experience assisted reproduction: we can take the reins of this journey, decide not to be passive and to live the process as well as possible. And put concrete things in place, on a daily basis, to achieve this.
Changing your thoughts can require real work on yourself, in order to identify your strengths, your internal resources, to gain self-confidence. But it can also be done on a daily basis, through small moments of reflection and awareness. Here are some practical exercises to get you started.
Our Practical Advice For A Better Experience Of The Emotional Rollercoaster.
1/ Identify and accept your emotions:
When you feel a strong emotion, take the time to stop and think about it: what do you feel? What triggered this emotion? What thoughts came to you? You can also keep an “emotional diary”, in which you register your feelings on a daily basis to learn to understand them better.
2/ Change your thoughts:
When you have identified the thought that triggered the emotion, do the exercise of trying to change it.
Replace “I’ll never be able to be a mum, I’m rubbish at it and I’ll grow old alone” (which triggers emotions such as sadness, guilt and fear) with “I am not there yet but I’m fighting every day, I’m doing everything I can to get there and whatever happens I won’t have any regrets” (the emotions that arise from this look more like pride and hope)
Replace “I’m a bad person because I’m jealous of my best friend” with “I have the right to feel this way, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love her but that my pain takes up more space”.
In short, instead of blaming yourself for what doesn’t happen and feeling guilty, value all the qualities and resources that you have mobilised, and that you continue to mobilise every day to achieve your goal. Also value everything you learn along the way.
3/ Make yourself feel good:
Generate positive feelings on a daily basis, by doing something good for your body (a massage, good food, relaxation) and your mind (going out with friends, hobbies, etc.) Your well-being is your priority: don’t forget yourself. The positive begets the positive, and it is the sum of small things that can gradually change the way you experience the situation.
4/ Be informed:
Knowledge is power. Knowing the different stages and alternatives will help you to be better prepared. Ask all your questions to doctors and nurses, they are the best people to answer them (much more than social media).
5/ Get support:
These are processes that can be long and trying, there is no shame in having a professional accompany you to sort out your emotions, identify your limiting thoughts, put in place daily strategies to make you feel better – and simply to empty your bag and talk freely about the subject with a specialised, caring and non-judgemental professional.