By Dr. Meghan van Drimmelen, ND
Having children is one of the most natural and basic of human desires. However, achieving conception and maintaining a healthy pregnancy is not always a straightforward journey. When one’s dreams of starting a family face challenges, the emotional impacts can range from frustration to devastation.
I have worked with numerous men and women who have struggled with their fertility, but have also experienced this turmoil personally. Fortunately, fertility treatments have come a long way, and many individuals who have fertility concerns can still have the children they dream of. However, fertility treatments often represents a journey in and of itself, and even with these treatments in place, each step of the journey can be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Throughout my fertility journey I experienced feelings of stress, fear, and even hopelessness. I had to learn how to manage these feelings so they didn’t take over my life. I realized that I am so much more then my fertility diagnosis. I connected with others going through similar experiences, and I tried to make time for the simple things in life that put a smile on my face. Today, in honour of infertility awareness week, I want to share with you what helped me cope throughout my fertility journey.
Honour your emotions, and connect with others.
When your fertility is challenged, understand that it’s completely normal to feel a ‘roller coaster’ of emotions. You may feel hopeful after a consultation with your fertility doctor, or leading up to your expected period, and then frustrated and sad when your period shows up, yet another month. If you are able to conceive, but experience recurrent miscarriages, the highs and lows of emotions are intense as well, and the grieving process may linger longer then you would like. In either case, over time, you may start to feel overwhelmed with the process of starting a family, and may even experience hopelessness.
Acknowledge these emotions, and reach out for support. Talk to close friends and family members about your experience, or join a fertility support group. You will realize that you are not alone, and that there’s probably a family member, or friend, or a friend of a friend that is going through a similar experience. Connecting with others who also see the world through a fertility lens can provide a very comforting sense of relief and support.
Fill your time with positive distraction.
Don’t forget about the things in life that put a smile on your face. Fertility concerns can be all consuming - you are constantly thinking about it, and planning your life around it, which can be incredibly overwhelming. This feeling of being overwhelmed or anxious can present as a sense of edginess, restlessness, problems sleeping or even fear. One of the most effective ways of reducing this anxiety is through positive distraction. Schedule in time for activities that are fun, relaxing, and enjoyable. For each person these activities will be different, but can include yoga, gardening, nature walks, cuddling with your dog or cat, brunch dates with girlfriends, watching a funny movie, reading a good book, or going out for dessert.
Keep openly communicating with your partner.
Struggling with your fertility month after month can cause stress on a relationship. Keep talking with your spouse, and share how you are feeling. Offer a space for your partner to talk about how he is feeling. Once this dialogue is in place, and you are truly listening to each other, you will have a deeper understanding of what the other is going through. This will ultimately strengthen the bond in your relationship, and help you support one another in the best ways you know how.
Protect your heart by creating boundaries.
There are many emotional triggers for individuals who are experiencing fertility challenges. Identify what these triggers are, honour your feelings, and create healthy boundaries to manage triggering situations. For many, these triggers can be pregnancy and birth announcements on social media, baby showers, or being asked whether or not you have kids, or are planning on having kids. Give yourself permission to take social media breaks, and miss baby showers. When asked whether or not kids are in the picture, it’s often helpful to have a short and sweet answer ready, so you can easily move on to another topic. This can be as simple as ‘no we don’t have kids, but it’s in our plans.’ In some situations you may want to share your story. But remember YOU get to choose who gets this insider information. From my experience, although it was hard at first, I found it helpful to share my story with close friends and family. After I started talking about my fertility experience, I started to feel ‘lighter’ emotionally, and through the process found a great deal of support.
Create a support network of healthcare providers.
Create a team of health care providers to help guide and support you throughout your fertility journey. Ask questions; learn about your diagnosis, underlying causes, and treatment options. This information will help you feel empowered in your fertility journey. I am a huge advocate of integration between health care professionals, and I find the best care comes from a team environment. I highly recommend a team comprised of a fertility specialist (OBGYN), a naturopathic doctor, an acupuncturist, and a counselor or psychologist. These professionals all have specific strengths, and together will provide you with very comprehensive care.
My fertility journey…
I’m happy to say that my fertility journey ended with the birth of our beautiful baby girl, Ella Grace van Drimmelen this past January. Over a period of 3 years my husband and I went through multiple miscarriages, an ectopic pregnancy, and a period of 12 months of not being able to conceive. I was diagnosed with recurrent pregnancy loss of unknown origin, and unexplained infertility. With the help of IVF, naturopathic support, and acupuncture our dreams of having a family came true. Ella is a shining light in our lives, and we couldn’t be more grateful.
Big thanks to my fertility team…
Dr. Meghan van Drimmelen is a naturopathic physician, women's and children's health expert, and co-founder of Juniper Family Health, an integrative clinic located in Victoria BC. She has dedicated her practice to the care of women and their families, and has a passion for supporting women through fertility challenges, pregnancy and postpartum, hormone imbalance, and growing healthy vibrant children.