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The Gift of 10 Terrific Coping Strategies for Infertility

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a blog by Traci Shahan, RN, WHNP-BC, Doctor of Nursing, Albrecht Women’s Care: A Center for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility

It seems like a split second ago, my husband and I were traversing the slippery slope of getting through the holiday season, childless once again. We have now spent more holiday seasons as parents than we did coping with infertility, but the empathy remains. Never too far from my frontal lobe is the indelible impression of how delicate life is and, consequently, what an absolute miracle it is that I am a mom, as ours was one of the more unique roads to parenthood.

But I digress.

It's OK to Feel Sad

Holidays are difficult for most patients I work with as an REI nurse practitioner. After all, it is a time steeped in Rockwellian images, frankincense fantasies and the nearly pandemic idea that the season is magic, what with all those tiny reindeer hooves clickety-clacking away on someone’s rooftop and Handel’s Messiah proclaiming miracles from every speaker and stage. Many feel guilt if they don’t want to revel in the season or if they feel sad or even depressed that they are childless. After all, our American credo is pull yourselves up by your bootstraps already, Little Buckerina or Buckeroo, as the case may be. Most of us were suckled on rugged individualism and chided to put on our happy faces even when we feel awful.

I vote that this is just plain unhealthy, never mind not authentic. Faking feelings will, in the end, merit feelings of low self-worth, a sense of phoniness, and outright isolation at times. After all, if we’re busy pretending like we are something we’re not, we can rarely share honestly with a trusted other what is bothering us. And if we can’t own what’s bothering us, it will not simply go away on its own.

Good Relationships Help You Cope

One hallmark of robust mental health is if a person feels able to confide in others, trusting them to keep her confidences. In short, we all need others to whom we can bare our soul.

I have cherry-picked from our patients, as well as my own personal experience, the top 10 most helpful coping strategies for thriving — not just surviving — the holiday season as person affected by infertility.

  1. Intentionally cultivate trusting, loving relationships. Start with one person you can open up to. Tell them what it is like for you to be infertile during a season when you might feel obligated to be happy.
  2. Journal. The power of writing down what upsets you, your dreams, in sum, your feelings, cannot be overstated. Make it fun: go to a bookstore and purchase a beautiful journal. Write, color, draw, cry into it. Consider it a mental spa between two covers.
  3. Protect yourself! This is important. Trust your gut! Just because the company holiday party is where most of your coworkers will be on a given evening of the year does not mean you need to attend. If you are not feeling up to it, by all means, go with what you know will be most comforting to you. Remember, infertility is a major life challenge and has been likened to the degree of stress that an oncology patient endures. Be gentle with yourself!
  4. Ask for help. Yes, I said it, and I know that it rubs against most of our American acculturation, but find someone you trust and ask them to help you, whether that means rides to medical appointments, phone calls in the middle of the night, e-mails, or having dinner together.
  5. Create. Even if your body is (temporarily, most likely) unable to gestate at this time, try your hand at growing or creating something.
  6. Consider soothing modalities such as a massage — yes, you deserve it! You’re in the sisterhood of us peeps who have gone through infertility. Try aroma therapy or even light therapy.
  7. Eat a little — I said little, meaning less than one ounce — of dark chocolate per day. Not only will it increase your serotonin levels, resulting in mood enhancement, but it’s not harmful to a pregnancy like alcohol, and it’s great for heart health.
  8. Moderate lean protein is helpful for many patients affected by infertility, especially patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Try new, zesty sources like some of the new preparations of seasoned nuts (a palmful only per day or per your health provider’s recommendation), hummus or even tofu.
  9. Take a walk with someone you love. Challenge each other to forgo talking fertility during your time together, and instead tell that person how precious s/he is and how much you love his or her presence in your life.
  10. Above all, consider counseling if you feel overwhelmed or even just to pick up helpful hints about how to deal with stress. There are many excellent mental health professionals that specialize in helping those affected by infertility. It almost goes without saying that, should you feel depressed to the point where you cannot function normally or are considering harming yourself or others, you need to obtain emergency mental health services. You can also call 911.

    Infertility is difficult for most of us. Remember that you have a built-in network of people who are going through the same. You can find them on any number of websites including FertilityAuthority. Don’t just get through this season — thrive!

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