Guest blog by Maya Grobel, a California licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and psychotherapist who specializes in supporting individuals and couples struggling to conceive.
My husband Noah and I struggled for nearly five years to create a family. During that time, we practiced a handful of different coping tools, ranging from binge eating chocolate croissants and crying it out (me), to rock climbing and going to rock shows (him). I found it really helpful to write and share my feelings through a blog.
And Noah and I both benefited from engaging in the creative process of making a movie about our tumultuous journey to parenthood. It’s called One More Shot and it’s now available on Netflix. We felt that while we couldn’t make a baby, we could make a movie, and it was helpful to be able to create something.
I am a psychotherapist and trained yoga teacher, and I specialize in working with infertility patients. My job and life’s mission is supporting people going through infertility and alternative family building and helping people cope with the emotional turmoil and difficult decisions they have to make on what I call IF Island.
And while there are different ways to survive the stress of assisted baby-making (ie: chocolate croissants), one tool I always come back to both in my personal life and professional work is mindfulness.
The word mindfulness is thrown around a lot and oftentimes I hear people say they can’t be mindful or meditate because “it’s too stressful,” or “there is too much going on” or “they’re “too distracted” to be mindful. Let’s start by taking the pressure out of the word mindfulness.
We can define it as simply paying attention to what is going on with intention and without judgement. I think of mindfulness as a form of awareness and a tool to try and slow down a spinning mind.
Here are three simple ways to use mindfulness to help keep you grounded in the chaotic storm of trying to conceive and infertility:
- Create a Mantra. This might sound fancy but it’s not. It’s one of the most simple and most helpful things you can do for yourself when your mind and heart are overwhelmed by uncertainty.
A mantra is simply a word or sentence you can come back to and say over and over to yourself to help quiet the cacophony of anxieties that are often par for the course with infertility.
When I found myself distracted by doubts and fears, I would take a deep breath and tell myself I will be a mother. That was my mantra. I will be a mother. I will be a mother. I knew it was true because I was open to a variety of family building options, including adoption. Your mantra has to be your truth. Your truth might be, “I will be ok,” or “This too shall pass.”
Or you might just want to remind yourself to breathe. Whatever your word or phrase is, keep it in your back pocket and come back to saying it or repeating it in your mind or out loud whenever you need to calm the storm.
- Practice Focused Attention. Infertility and anxiety/doubt go hand in hand, and while sometimes anxiety can be helpful in advocating for yourself, more often than not anxiety just makes you feel stressed.
Most anxiety takes place in the past or future, thinking about regrets or worrying about what might (or might not) happen. Being mindful about where you are in the present moment can be very stabilizing, wherever you might be in your journey, because the present is all you really have. So stay with what is and remind yourself of that, and use different senses to help you.
For example, during my first round of IVF when I was waiting for news about whether my embryos were dividing properly, I found myself almost sick with worry. What if they didn’t fertilize or divide? What if we had nothing to transfer? Why didn’t I…(fill in the blank with regret)? I gave myself a migraine waiting for the phone call from the doctor, and it just wasn’t helpful.
What I needed to do was stay with what I knew in that moment only. In that moment I knew I had done everything I could. In that moment my eggs and my husband’s sperm were hopefully canoodling in a petri dish. In that moment I could make myself a hot cup of mint tea, take a moment to smell the aroma and feel the heat of the mug in my palms. I could notice the way my shoulders were tensed towards my ears and exhale audibly while trying to relax them.
I could focus on the sensation of taking a sip of the hot soothing tea and pay attention to the feeling of it moving through my body. I could shift my focus to things I felt grateful for and the ways in which my body was healthy and strong. That’s what it means to be mindful.
To consciously shift focus away from the what-ifs and worries and focus on the here and now, using something tactile and tangible as a way to re-center the self.
- Choose what you ingest. I’m not just talking about chocolate croissants here. I’m talking about being aware, conscious, and mindful about the things you take in. That can be food, that can be energy, that can be messages we give ourselves.
When going through fertility treatments or struggling to conceive, we often feel destabilized. For most of us, this crisis is an unexpected one and fertility challenges often have more questions than answers. And unfortunately, the language around infertility can be very negative and self-blaming. People often say they “failed” IVF or their bodies are “broken.”
I would encourage anyone going through infertility to surround themselves with healthy nourishing foods (and the occasional chocolate croissant), supportive and positive people, and an inner dialogue that fosters self-love and strength.
Notice your thoughts and don’t judge them, just try to adjust and be kind to yourself. You didn’t “fail” IVF, rather, IVF didn’t work. You aren’t “broken,” you’re having some difficulties with your reproductive system. Being worried and sad and upset is very normal. But think about the state of mind and the messages that will help you stay strong and move forward.
Mindfulness will not make the sadness or worries necessarily go away, but it can serve as a container to hold some of those negative feelings and empower you to slow down and shift your focus to a more positive place.
Just remember, as in all things, this too shall pass.
Maya Grobel is a California licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and psychotherapist who specializes in supporting individuals and couples struggling to conceive. She is a mental health professional member of ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) and SEEDS (Society for Ethics in Egg Donation & Surrogacy) and feels very passionate about her work with this population. With her roots in social work, Maya feels strongly about advocating for the infertility patient and for many years wrote a Resolve Hope award nominated blog called Don’t Count Your Eggs that followed her five year journey to parenthood, which finally ended with the birth of her daughter via embryo donation in 2015. Maya and her TV producer husband Noah made a feature length film documenting their tumultuous journey to parenthood called One More Shot, which is now available on iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo on Demand and Netflix. Film links: One More Shot Twitter, One More Shot Facebook, One More Shot IG