This week is a special guest column by Madeline Licker Feingold, PhD
Originally posted on the RSC Fertility Blog
“On Mother’s Day I’m going to stay in bed with the sheets pulled over my head.”
Every day is difficult for women who experience infertility, but Mother’s Day may be the most challenging of them all. Many women want to become mothers more than anything else and are emotionally devastated by problems with conceiving or carrying a pregnancy. Women often feel helpless and hopeless and frequently describe infertility as “the worst thing that’s ever happened” to them. For infertility sufferers Mother’s Day focuses a painful spotlight on multiple losses and unrealized dreams and provokes fears about the future.
Although I know you may feel especially sad, angry, anxious, envious, frustrated and despairing on Mother’s Day, there are ways to decrease your pain and improve your coping. Here are a few suggestions that I hope will be helpful.
Name your feeling:
Naming your feelings on Mother’s Day will help you become aware of your experience and express your emotion. Though some feelings definitely are pleasurable and others are painful, it is important not to judge your feelings as right or wrong or good or bad. Adopting a nonjudgmental attitude will help you be compassionate and accepting toward yourself rather than self-critical and blaming. Remember that feelings ebb and flow. Trying to get rid of a feeling actually keeps you stuck in it. Naming a feeling is the first step in letting it go.
Be Mindful of Your Thinking:
The way you think will affect your mood so try to notice your thoughts and identify your beliefs. Are you generalizing by telling yourself, “I’ll never have a baby” rather than “I’m sad I haven’t gotten pregnant yet?” Are you discounting the positive by telling yourself, “I’ll never be happy unless I have a baby” rather than “Although, becoming a mother is the most important thing to me, there are good things in my life now that make me happy.” Do you personalize your infertility by telling yourself, “It’s my fault that I’m not getting pregnant” rather than “I’m doing everything I can, but getting pregnant is beyond my control.” If you find yourself hampered by negative beliefs, try to be aware of your thinking.
Focus on the Positive:
People are hardwired to react more intensely to negative than positive occurrences. While we absorb and hold onto upsets, we may let positive experiences quickly roll away. Infertility is one of the most stressful events in a woman’s life and the negative emotions associated with it can very quickly take over and make life feel unbearable. On all days, and especially on Mother’s Day, try not to let infertility color your entire emotional palette. Consciously make a special effort to notice the positives, however small, in your day and let yourself really sit with them and soak them in.
The stress and anxiety provoked by infertility is exacerbated in situations centering on motherhood, children and families. Fortunately, it is possible to elicit a relaxation response to counteract stress and produce a sense of calm. When you feel provoked, conjure up an image of a relaxing experience, beautiful place or a situation in which you felt strong and capable and pair this mental imagery with deep breathing. Focusing on your breath will decrease agitation. Adding a relaxation practice, such as meditation or yoga, to your daily life will reduce your overall level of stress.
You may want to take control of Mother’s Day by planning a strategy ahead of time for how you are going to spend it. Set your sites on a special day with your partner that takes you away from triggering events. A stroll on a secluded beach or a hike on a remote trail will connect you to nature and increase wellbeing. Talk to understanding friends and family about your feelings and accept their love and support. On this day when you feel deprived and depleted indulge yourself with self-care and kindness and let yourself know you are worth it.
I know that you will feel sad on Mother’s Day and that a grey cloud may hang over your head. I hope these suggestions let a few rays of sunlight through and ease the strain of the day.