Around 1 in 6 people in Australia who want to become parents experience difficulty either conceiving and maintaining their first pregnancy or getting pregnant after having their first child. A physically and psychologically stressful and demanding process, many people find their resources stretched, their coping mechanisms under pressure and their vulnerabilities amplified. This may also affect treatment outcomes if they are on IVF. To many, this is unexpected, confusing and not at all the way they thought their life would go, often leaving them feeling like the rest of their life is on hold.
By Kellie Edwards
Trying to have a baby and finding it harder than we would like it to be can be one of the loneliest pains of adult life. It can be hard to put into words, and we might not even want to. It can feel like it follows us around as we move about our day. The sadness, the longing and the confusion. Gradually dragging us down and robbing us of the joys we used to find in our work, our friends, our leisure. Curling up on the couch can become our comfort zone as we withdraw ever so slightly into our own private suffering.
And then the questions come: Why? Why me? Was it something I did? What can I do? How can I fix this? Like doing laps in hell, trying to think our way out of this unwanted reality, our mind goes over and over the same questions, as if somehow this time we will miraculously think of something we haven’t before.
Often, we become obsessed with every possible path to be at our healthiest and maximise our chances of conception – and yet this very understandable preoccupation can find us feeling more stressed and overwhelmed than we were before this whole journey began. Adding this to an already busy life can become overwhelming.
“Most of us treat ourselves rather unkindly when bad things happen to us. Rather than offering ourselves the same sympathy and support we would give to a loved one, we tend to criticize ourselves (“What’s the matter with you!”), we hide from others or ourselves in shame (“I’m worthless”), and we get stuck in our heads trying to make sense of what happened to us (“Why me?”).”
Christopher K. Germer PhD, and Kristin Neff, Assoc. Prof of education Psychology.
We can unintentionally become our own worst enemy, layering on more distress in an already stressful situation. Feeling emotionally and physically bruised, we can become consumed with waiting, wondering, worrying, hoping, dreading and calculating every step of the demanding process.
We feel even more stressed, even though we know that this stress can interfere with the very outcome we are longing for. We don’t always know what to do to manage the emotions that surge up in us or how to restore the calm we know will help most. Inevitable frustrations and disappointments along the way seem to create even more distance between us and our dream.
Having a reliable way of soothing our pain, of turning towards it with the kind of support we would offer a loved one who was going through a difficult time, is perhaps the most useful tool at a time like this.
Mindfulness and self compassion practices can make a real difference. We can find relief and calm, reduce anxiety and depression and get back into the drivers seat of our own state of well-being and our relationships. Learning how to do this practice resources us on an ongoing basis, creating space for other aspects of our lives again.
One practice that clients of mine find helpful is a simple mindfulness based practice I designed – which I call the New ABC for Conception, because it makes the four steps easy to remember, but not neccessarily always easy to do. If you would like professional support for conception, please reach out to a qualified counsellor or psychologist.
Outlined below are the steps so you can give the practise a try for yourself.
Before you begin, find a cosy and comfortable place to rest where you can have just a few minutes of quiet without being interrupted. Take a warm wheat bag or a cosy rug with you and see this time as an experiment in taking care of yourself in an easy and restorative way.
Start by gently closing your eyes and taking a deep breath in, then slowly letting it out….fully. One more time, taking a deep breath in, then slowly letting it out. Now, let your breath resume its own natural rhythm – you don’t need to force it in any way. Just allow your body to look after that for you.
Now bring your attention inwards and tune in to your body, slowly scanning it from head to toe. Be curious about what you notice. Are there any obvious areas of tension? If so, pause, invite them to soften – just a little, before continuing to move slowly down your body
Now just begin to open up just a little to any difficult feeling you might be feeling right now. Perhaps you are worried, scared, frustrated, disappointed or sad — and follow each of the four steps of The New ABC for Conception:
WE CAN UNINTENTIONALLY BECOME OUR OWN WORST ENEMY, LAYERING ON MORE DISTRESS IN AN ALREADY STRESSFUL SITUATION”
1 NOTICE what you were feeling. – ask yourself – what am I feeling? See if you can name it silently inside your head — what word would you use to describe what you are feeling?
2 ACCEPT that this is what you are feeling without pushing it away or trying to change it. Silently remind yourself that it is OK to feel this, and any other feeling that you feel, anytime. Breathe in the sense that it’s OK for that vulnerability to be there and you are not going to reject it. Remind yourself that other people feel this too. You are not alone in feeling this way or in going through this difficult time.
3 BREATHE KINDNESS all around that feeling. Breathe kindness, friendship, softness and warmth right into the feeling. You are soothing that feeling — like you are giving it a big hug and a gentle smile all at the same time. Let the comfort of your kindness in.
4CREATE a helpful next step. What do you need? What would be most helpful to you right now in this moment? It may be something you actually want to do to take good care of yourself or it may be a simple decision that “Breathing Kindness“ around your difficult feelings is what you want to do more of — because it feels good and is one tangible way you can “be on your own side” and support yourself.
Now just let all that go and let your body soften and relax, breathing calmly … and when you are ready, you can slowly open your eyes.”
It’s so understandable that you might feel like withdrawing from parts of your life right now. But it is really important not to cut yourself off from others who can support you just by keeping you company. Making the choice to soothe whatever feelings are with you right now and throughout your journey might be just enough for you to reach out for the support you need, connecting with those who care about you and want you to be healthy and happy.
Kellie is a Psychologist and Mindfulness teacher and runs individual and group mindfulness programs for conception, pregnancy and parenting, both online and face to face in our local area.
Register interest here: mindfulness4mothers.com/contact/
If you would like personal support please call PANDA’s National Helpline, Monday to Friday, 10am – 5pm AEST on 1300 726 306 or contact Kellie at email@example.com