Anxiety and Infertility

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1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility. Infertility is a disease that carries a lot of stigma. If you are going through infertility, it is common that you may be feeling: shame, loss of control, detached from your body, sad, angry, emotional, depressed, and even anxious.

Anxiety is common when going through infertility.

In Rewiring your Anxious Brain, by Catherine M. Pittman, PHD and Elizabeth M. Karle, MILS, you learn that anxiety can come from the cortex or the amygdala. The anxiety that develops in the cortex, is the anxiety that you interpret; the “what ifs”. What if you never get pregnant? What if you never become a parent? What if you do get pregnant and lose the baby? What if infertility ruins your relationship?

In addition, these thoughts are usually accompanied by physiological symptoms. This is anxiety that comes from the amygdala. Anxiety that comes from the amygdala is the physical sensations and anxiety of past experiences. This type of anxiety contains the triggers and associations. Examples include feeling anxious every time you see a pregnancy test because it was negative before and that caused anxiety. Also, anxiety about going to the doctors office because the last time you were there you got bad news.

Anxiety symptoms can include, but are not limited to, racing thoughts, rapid heartbeat, sweaty or clammy hands, upset stomach or butterflies, tight muscles, inability to focus, feeling lightheaded, and dizziness. Everyone experiences anxiety, as it is our body’s coping mechanism for danger. It is when there is no danger and our body still goes into the fight/flight/freeze mode that it starts impacting our functioning in life and becomes an anxiety disorder.

Stress is a common trigger for anxiety. If you are going through infertility this can be a stressful time in your life. Infertility treatments can also be emotionally and physically stressful. If you are feeling anxious you do not have to let it control you.

Here are some ways to deal with your anxiety:

  1. Exercise - When you exercise you can lower the baseline for your anxiety so that it doesn’t peak every time you start to notice your symptoms of anxiety. Exercise is also great when you are feeling anxious. When your body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode your body sends energy to the parts of the body that you need to either fight or flee, when you exercise you can use up that excess energy allowing your body to get the message that you are no longer in danger.

  2. Breath - If you are feeling anxious one of the best things that you can do is start to take some deep breaths and start to notice your breath. When your body is in the fight or flight mode our breathing becomes quicker to get more oxygen into the parts of our body preparing to fight or flee. When you start to slow down your breath your body gets the message that you are no longer in danger.

  3. Take charge of what you are in control of - If you are going through infertility, it can be easy to feel out of control. Write down your anxious thoughts. In one column, put those thoughts that you have control over. In the other column, put those thoughts that you do not have control over. Take the list that you have control over and work on those things. Rip up the other list.

  4. Say no - It can be very difficult some days to be facing infertility. You do not have to go to every baby shower or every kid’s birthday party. You do not have to join in on every holiday. You get to decide what you can handle that day. You do not have to listen to people’s advice or tips on how they got pregnant. It is okay to say no and to set boundaries.

  5. Be kind to yourself - Going through infertility is not easy. It is very important that you treat yourself kindly through the process-self affirmations, self care, mediation, support groups, counseling. These are all great ways to show yourself kindness through this difficult journey.

    If you are struggling with infertility and anxiety you are not alone. Please contact Kull Counseling, LLC to learn more about coping with anxiety during infertility. 608.239.4807 or julie@kullcounselingmadison.com

The Grief of Infertility

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The Mayo Clinic describes grief as: an emotion, sorrow, numbness, a natural reaction to a loss, a universal and a personal experience. When going through infertility, you may not realize you are experiencing grief. You may identify with feeling sad, worried, hopeless, or angry. Many of these emotions are part of your grief. Infertility has so many losses that are not acknowledged. Grief is a huge part of what you are going through if you are struggling with infertility.

Types of loss when going through infertility:

  1. Loss of dreams and expectations. You may have grown up playing with dolls, being told that you are a good mommy, or that someday you will make a good mommy. You might have been told that when you meet someone that you love and decide to get married then that is the right time to have children. You also might have been told to put your career or school first, and that after you accomplish your goals then you can have children. You may have the age planned out of when you would like to have children. You probably were never told you might get to be a mother or that you can decide when you want to start trying to conceive but that might not be when you get pregnant. You probably were not told when you were a little girl playing with dolls that it may take months, if not years to conceive, and that you might have to use assisted reproductive technology in order to do it. With infertility there is grief over your dreams and the realization that they may not be what you thought they would be.

  2. Loss of identity. Many of you grew up wanting to be a mother and probably felt it was always part of your narrative. For many of you it is part of your identity even before you ever start trying to conceive, knowing that one day you will be a mother. You may wonder if I am not a mother than who am I?

  3. Loss of relationships. When you are going through infertility it can be extremely difficult to watch friends or family get pregnant when you are also trying to conceive. You may feel disconnected, such that if someone invites you to a party you may not want to go because everyone will be there with their children or will be talking about their children. If you are not invited because you do not have children it is equally as painful. If you are going through infertility your relationships may be changing, weakening, dissolving and even ending. Even if your relationship with someone does not completely end you may feel a loss of what your relationship had been with the person.

  4. Loss of body function. When you are suffering from infertility it can be because one of your reproductive organs is not working. There is a loss when you feel like a part of your body does not work or is broken.

  5. Loss of youth. If you are going through infertility you might have heard the term, “advanced maternal age”. You also might have been told that you are too old to go through assisted reproductive technology, which may leave you grieving for your youth.

  6. Loss of control. You may be feeling a loss of control. This can look a like a loss of control of emotions. You may feel like you are on a rollercoaster of emotions, one day feeling hopeful, to the next day feeling like you cannot get out of bed. You may also feel a loss of control over your body. Even if you are timing everything perfectly, following your medical advice on how to conceive it still might not be working for you. You may also be feeling a loss of control over the fact that you do not have as much control as you thought. You might have thought that when the time is right that you would get pregnant, that you could decide when you were ready to be a mother and coming to terms that you do not have that kind of control can be a loss and need to be grieved.

  7. Loss of not being pregnant. For most of you every time you only see one line on a pregnancy test or get your period every month there is a loss of not conceiving. You may need to process your grief every month after this happens.

    Grief is an emotion that many of you are feeling during the infertility process but may not have acknowledged was there. Acknowledge it, name it, feel it, observe it. There are ways to process this grief.

    For more information on grief during infertility contact Julie@kullcounselingmadison.com or 608.239.4807.


The silent suffering of secondary infertility

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“Is that your daughter? She's adorable. So you just have the one child?”

I overhear a mom speaking to another mom and cringe. Even before the other mom tells me that she's been trying to get pregnant for years, even before she tells me about her failed attempt at IVF.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Secondary Infertility is the inability to conceive or carry a child to term after already having a child. Secondary infertility, much like infertility can lead to feelings of: isolation, dissatisfaction with your body, anxiety, feelings of sadness, problems with your relationships and grief.

Secondary infertility also presents a new set of challenges:

  1. Feeling like a bad mother-There are different reasons why you may feel like a bad mother. You might be feeling this way because you cannot get pregnant again. You might feel this way because infertility may be causing anxiety or depression and may effect your parenting. You may feel like a bad mother because you want to give your child a sibling.

  2. Disconnection from your child- You may feel disconnected from your child. It may be hard for you to make sense of parenting a child that is here and grieving the one that you do not have. Infertility can be all consuming. You may have trouble staying present with your child.

  3. Feeling split between wanting more kids and wondering why you had them in the first place-It is hard to have a child. Really hard. You may be having opposite feelings of wanting another child and at the same time feeling not cut out for parenting all together. It is really hard to think about having a child when your current child is taking all of your energy and mental space.

  4. Feeling shame because you already have a child- You may be feeling shame about wanting another child. It is common to hear comments like “well at least you already have one” or “some people can’t have any”, “appreciate what you have”. You may also have trouble connecting with others that are struggling with infertility because you have a child and they may not.

If you are struggling with these symptoms you are not alone.

Ways to cope with secondary infertility:

  1. Find support- Find someone that you can talk to about your feelings. Whether this is a professional, a support group, a family member or a friend, it is important to talk about your feelings and get validation that those feelings are real for you.

  2. Make me time- In a culture that prides itself on being “so busy” take some time for yourself to do self care. Self care is not selfish, it is not a luxury, it is necessary. Taking time away from being a mother, partner and trying is important. Finding something for just you is important. This could be exercise, massage, getting your nails done, taking a class, sometimes even just grocery shopping by yourself can feel therapeutic. Make this a habit and set boundaries so that it happens on a regular basis.

  3. Make special time to connect with your child- Find some time to spend time with your child in the moment. Whether this is reading a book at night or playing a game time find to be present with your child and connect.

  4. Take some time with your partner-Spend time together outside of trying for another child. Go on a date. Have dinner without your child around. Make time to talk to each other.

  5. Take a break- You may feel that it is necessary for your mental or physical health to take a break from trying.

  6. Sit with the discomfort- know that these feelings will dissipate. Let them wash over you. Name them, acknowledge them, and let them pass. It is common for women going through infertility to feel a lack of control. This can be one of the hardest things for women to process, especially when they are planners and are used to being able to achieve goals. It is hard to sit with feelings of discomfort. Using grounding and mindfulness exercises can help with sitting with these feelings.

If you are struggling with secondary infertility I Can Help.

If you would like to learn more about coping with secondary infertility contact Julie at 608.239.4807 or julie@kullcounselingmadison.com for a free 15 minute phone consultation.