In October 2020, I experienced my first pregnancy loss at 10 weeks; just four months after my mom passed away from brain cancer. Over the next two years, I went through various fertility work ups and treatments, including endometriosis surgery, IVF, and had three more losses. To say that I have anxiety during my current pregnancy is an understatement. However, I have found four practices to reduce fear during infertility that I want to share with you.
Loss has made me stronger, but it has also given me some bad habits, especially in patterns of thinking. When our minds are so focused on one thing, we can start to believe crazy things.
I AM NOT OKAY
Throughout this period in my life, I often found myself repeating “I am not okay” in my head. I don’t know how or when it started, but I think isolation and feeling like I had to keep my struggle to myself compelled me to frequently declare internally that I wasn’t doing as well as I pretended. When I went through a fertility treatment or became pregnant, I would tell myself it probably wasn’t going to work out and not to get my hopes up. When I got bad news (again), I would say to myself, “It’s my fault. I need to be doing more. I need to just do xyz…”
Many times, when expressing the amount of anxiety I felt, my therapist would ask, “What are you most afraid of? Why does that scare you?” My fear was that I wouldn’t be able to grow my family the way I wanted to, or that doing so would involve many many more hard things that would eventually break me.
I still have this fear.
However, my therapist would always follow up with, “Are you afraid you are not going to be okay if it doesn’t work out the way you want?” I would always admit that I knew that I would be okay, eventually. It has taken me a lot of time, therapy, and practice to begin to develop better habits of talking to myself.
1. Practice cultivating hope.
When I found out I was pregnant this time, I lit a candle every day and tried to be present. I did this for my baby, but I also did it for myself. It helped to do a physical thing to counter the negative thoughts and hopelessness that felt pervasive at that moment. I often fall into a belief system of, “If I don’t want it too much, maybe it will happen.” It is my way of trying to be cautiously hopeful, which has always been an oxymoron for me.
Hope is leaving caution behind.
We cannot hope too much or manifest a desired outcome in fertility. However, we can affirm our choice to be hopeful and that is what lighting a candle does for me.
2. Relaxation Practices
One thing that has helped recently are some practices I learned through hypnobirthing. Hypnobirthing is a way of practicing self-hypnosis to encourage oxytocin and calm feelings during labor/birth. It is a practice agnostic to any type of birth, as you are preparing your brain to be in a calm state. Subsequently, the practices are well suited for daily life and fertility journeys.
You can find some of the relaxation recordings through an internet search, and apps like Calm or Mindful IVF can be helpful for learning and developing a practice. There are relaxation meditations focused on your body, where you can do a body scan, relaxing one section of your body at a time, and other meditations focused on your mind, like imagining letters passing by or a relaxing rainbow colored cloud. The mind-focused relaxation techniques have been very helpful during those nights full of anxiety while waiting for a test result or just imagining the very worst. What is really great is that the more you use these techniques, the quicker your body and mind learn to relax.
3. Relax through rituals and routines.
This does not have to be a hour-long thing. I do these for about 5-10 minutes every day, often before bed but sometimes in the morning when I feel particularly anxious. They can include things like going for a short walk, sipping a favorite beverage without looking at your phone, taking ten deep breaths, or listening to songs that feel safe and calming (I made a playlist on Spotify that includes the song they always play during savasana at my yoga studio).
I purchased a lavender scented eye pillow, like the ones they have in my yoga class, and this little purchase makes this practice feel like even more of a treat to myself. I am really prone to spiraling when I worry about something, and this practice has helped stop the spiral.
The point is not necessarily to try to fall asleep, but to help yourself feel safe and slow your breathing and heart rate. Doing these routines regularly will help you achieve a calm state more quickly. I wish I would have had this practice when waiting for a clinic call or preparing for fertility treatments. It is just a good way to take care of yourself, to acknowledge the stress and bring something else to your body to counter it.
4. Listen to affirmations.
This one was surprising to me (see my above thought, you cannot manifest a pregnancy or a fertile egg or a blastocyst). I did not expect to like this or benefit from it. It seemed like a thing people out of touch with reality do. Something like wishing on a star.
Listen to me–affirmations are not about wishing something into existence.
Instead, affirmations are a way of retelling the story in your head. You have a story in your head, whether you admit it or not. The story might be:
- that your body is not functional
- that you are not meant to be a mother
- that you are unhealthy
- that you are not okay
It might be one you’ve told yourself or you’ve gleaned from others. We hear all kinds of messages all the time, and we absorb them without meaning to. Affirmations are a way to consciously rewrite the stories we tell ourselves or have assumed are true.
Where to find affirmations.
There are affirmations abound on the internet- on podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Instagram. I started by just searching affirmations on my Google podcasts app; listening to them at random. If the vibe didn’t immediately appeal, I would delete it and choose another. One affirmation that spoke to me immediately was, “You are strong, and you have f—ing got this.” The person read it with such feeling that I immediately believed it–I do have it! That’s the response you want.
I had a really hard time early on with affirmations like “Your baby is safe and healthy” because I couldn’t quite believe it and immediately would begin thinking of ways my baby might not be safe or healthy. If this is your response, let that one go. Find the statements that feel immediately right, or like ointment on a wound.
Over time, I have found a few tracks that feel calming and empowering to listen to every day. I mentally skip over the statements that don’t serve me. What has helped me the most is to repeat the ones I really feel. I listen for about ten minutes a day while walking, or sometimes even while washing dishes or before falling asleep at night.
Reading affirmations may also be helpful to you. You can find Infertility Cards of Affirmation HERE. You can also write your own and place them on your laptop or places you’ll see frequently, or even record yourself or your partner saying your favorites through an app or voice notes on your phone. Frequency is key, so listening or reading or saying them aloud daily will have the biggest effect.
Some caveats if you write your own…your brain will focus on the words, so choose positive sayings. Avoid “I am not scared” because your brain may just hear the word “scared” over and over again and focus on that. Choose instead something like “I am brave” or “I choose to feel confident.”
Avoid future tense. Tell yourself what you are or what you want right now. If you don’t feel brave, phrasings like “I choose to feel…” have really helped me begin to own the feeling I want. If you record in your own voice, you can use “I” statements. However, if someone else is reading, have them say “You” so it sounds like they are talking directly to you.
Some examples that have helped me:
“I surround myself with supportive, caring people.”
“I choose to take care of myself when I do hard things.”
“I have healthy practices that help me thrive.”
“I make the best decisions with the information I have, and I trust myself.”
My new story.
All of these practices have helped me finally get rid of the voice I used to hear constantly telling myself I was not okay. If it pops up again, I can dismiss it quickly. The new story I have written myself assures me this is not true. I am okay, and I am okay because I am using the supports I need to take care of myself. Not because I am trying to do it all alone.
I am really grateful to have found and adopted some of these practices in my life. To be clear–I started all of them after I got pregnant.
They did not bring me a healthy baby.
I started them in my hope for a calm, safe birth. I share them with you because I am reaping the benefits of feeling more calm and less anxious. Perhaps, I feel even more comfortable in my body than I have felt in a long time.
Daily Practices Improve Mental Health
These are daily practices and some days go better than others. The cumulative effect has improved my mental health and helps me feel more grounded for whatever the day has in store for me. Whatever happens, I will be in a better place to handle it.
I hope that if you are feeling overwhelmed, these practices might help you with whatever you are going through, too.
Written by Jess Hall for the Hopeful Mama Foundation. We are incredibly grateful to all of our writers, who open up their heart and share their journey with this community. If you would like to connect with one of our writers, please let us know by submitting an email on our website’s contact page.
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