I'll start with a quote from Captain Obvious: "Infertility is stressful."
Don't I know it.
It's a mounting kind of stress, too. For me it started with the disappointment of not conceiving within the first three months of trying. Followed by a lot of worry about something being "wrong" when it didn't happen in the next three. Then just flat out panicked anxiety when still nothing happened in the next six. Here I am five years (and a gazillion treatments) later, still hoping and praying.
By the time most couples reach out to a doctor for help with conception, they're already anxious, scared, and running on fumes of hope. And they're only getting started on what could be a very long journey.
That's another thing: you never know how long the journey to conception is going to take. Going through infertility is like running a race but you have absolutely.no.idea. whether you're embarking on a 100 meter sprint or a marathon. If it ends up being a marathon it's not just running, either. It's like running for years but also getting tripped every month and having to get up, dust yourself off, and keep going.
No wonder infertility is so stressful!
"Just relax" is about the worst advice you could ever give or get when it comes to infertility. There is no "just relaxing" in this world. While it's not clear exactly how stress effects infertility, though, I think we can all agree that less stress is better. So if "just relax" isn't going to help, what can?
Here are five ways my readers and I have successfully reduced stress during infertility:
1) Exercise. Surprise! Saw that one coming, didn't ya? Yes it's true: exercise reduces stress. Personally I hate exercise but after my husband started training for a marathon last year, I was inspired to give running a try. WOWZA! I was floored by how much it enhanced my sense of well-being. I had been walking around with knots in my stomach for years and running was the thing that finally loosened their grip on me.
|John running his marathon!|
I used the Couch to 5K running plan. If you hate exercise like me, let me tell you that when I started I could not even run for 90 seconds. 90 seconds. Now I'm up to over 20 minutes. If I can do it, so can you.
I asked on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for reader suggestions about stress reduction. Instgram user jillianlaine wrote this about her experience running: "It freed my mind of infertility struggle and stress. I set a goal and worked towards it. Entered a couple of 5ks and next weekend I'm doing my first 10k. It's showing me, "Hey! Look what my body can do!"
I resonate with that! After my body failed me so many times, it feels so good for it to be doing something right!
I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that during many infertility treatments women are restricted when it comes to vigorous exercise; particularly if you are taking drugs to stimulate ovulation. During those seasons of treatment walking is a great alternative. Ask your doctor if you can practice yoga. I am particularly fond of youtuber Adriene Mishler and her channel Yoga with Adriene. She has a unique way of making yoga both fun and relaxing. Plus she's sassy and who doesn't need a little sass in their life?
2) Talk. You guy have heard me say this a hundred times, but sharing my infertility story was the best decision I ever made. The support I've received from family, friends, and blog readers has been absolutely invaluable. It has normalized my experience and made me feel less alone. It's also helped me think through my treatment options and given me questions and suggestions to bring to my doctor.
You get to decide who you tell. It could be everyone like me or it could be just a few close friends. Just tell someone.
Facebook user Amy Alkema-Holubeck commented, "I talked to those people who understood where I was coming from, started opening up to more friends and family and not feeling trapped." There is freedom that comes from releasing the secrecy and shame of infertility!
You might also benefit from joining a support group or talking to a professional counselor. For me, support groups have their pros and cons. I've found tremendous support there in the past but I've also had to take breaks from participating in them because they've given me more things to worry about. Usually knowledge is power but there can be such a thing as too much knowledge (and too much googling) when it comes to infertility... and in those cases a little chosen ignorance can be helpful. You will know what's best for you!
3) Take Breaks. I was surprised by how many of my readers said taking a break helped them reduce the stress of infertility. Infertility treatments are all-consuming and, because of the relationship between age and infertility, couples often want to be aggressive with their timelines. I know I do!
|Camping, summer 2015.|
Robin 'Wieringa' Jellema commented on Facebook about a break she and her husband took from treatment to enjoy a camping trip, "I got back home with a whole new attitude! Our time in infertility wasn't over, and we still had ups and downs. But I had been feeling frantic and it was the rest I needed."
I know that "frantic" feeling and I have a feeling many of you do, too. Taking a break, even just one cycle off, can be the grace we need to fill us up before we keep running that infertility race.
4) Prayer and meditation. This summer John and I had the opportunity to enjoy a bi-weekly spiritual retreat, led by our church's Spiritual Director. I loved the way he described our prayer times each week: "A retreat (prayer) is intended to help you create ample space to listen to God and rest in his transformational love."
Each week as I spent time reading the scriptures, journaling, and in silence, I experienced a deeper sense of God's love. I've found that in our Western evangelical culture, we too often believe that we are suffering because we are doing something wrong. As in, "My infertility is a punishment or a test from God." This mindset can do serious damage to our souls as it paints a picture of a angry, spiteful God. The truth is that suffering is inevitable, reasons are often unknown, and God wants us to rest in his undying love as we walk through it. Spending time in prayer and meditation before the LORD is how we do that.
Read this incredible poem by Karl Rahner, which describes the awesome peace that happens when we spend time with God (if you aren't into poetry I bolded the parts I thought most important).
Only in love can I find you, my God.
In love the gates of my soul spring open,
allowing me to breathe a new air of freedom
and forget my own petty self.
In love my whole being streams forth
out of the rigid confines and narrowness and anxious self-assertion,
which made me a prisoner or my own poverty emptiness.
In love all the powers of my soul flow out toward you,
wanting more to return,
but to lose themselves completely in you,
since by your love you are the inmost center of my heart,
closer to me than I am to myself.
But when I love you,
when I manage to break out of the narrow circle of self
and leave behind the restless agony of unanswered questions,
when my blinded eyes no longer look merely from afar
and from the outside upon your unapproachable brightness,
and much more when you yourself, O Incomprehensible One,
have become through love the inmost center of life,
then I can bury myself entirely in you, O mysterious God,
and with myself all my questions.
- Encounters with Silence
I can testify from personal experience that engaging and prayer and meditation with God has not answered my questions about why he has allowed me to suffer so long with infertility, but what it has done instead is quiet and agony that comes along with them. I believe this is what it means to trust. There is no better way to reduce stress than to trust in God.
Anyone can pray and meditate. You can do it right now if you want! But if you want to dive more deeply into the art of spiritual practices a good place to start is with Dallas Willards' The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives.
5) Massage or acupuncture. Many of the women in my support groups swear by massage or acupuncture, both to help with fertility and to reduce stress. I think we can all imagine why a massage would make us feel better! There are some practitioners who will give a special "fertility massage." I have no experience with that, but again I know women who get them and love it. I can see how just doing something to care for your body and yourself would lift your spirits.
I started acupuncture treatments this summer after receiving approximately nine million suggestions about it. It seems everyone and their uncle knowns someone who conceived after treating their infertility with acupuncture. My "results" remain to be seen, but I can tell you that the emotional experience of getting acupuncture has been wonderful! I would recommend it to anyone. I love my practitioner's positive attitude, I love feeling like I am doing something good for my body, and I love the 20 minutes of stillness and silence I get as I lay quietly with the needles in my body. I leave my sessions with a true lightness of spirit. Will it heal my infertility? I don't know. Has it helped with my stress level? Absolutely.
(If you are in West Michigan and want a recommendation for a practitioner send me a PM!)
Have you tried any of these five tips for stress reduction? Or something else? What has your experience been?
As always thanks for reading!