You might think that living through a global pandemic and a fertility journey would be very different, but when it comes to the impact they have on our well-being, they are not so different after all.
Three common causes for concern
A study conducted by The Stress Management Society and Huawei AppGalley identified that within the UK, since the Covid-19 restrictions began in March 2020:
- 65% of people have felt more stressed;
- 53% have felt more anxious; and
- 44% have felt more depressed.
The three key causes for concern underlying these results were feelings of:
- uncertainty; and
- a worrying loss of control.
I couldn’t help but notice that these are three key causes for concern on a fertility journey too. If you’re on, or have been on, a fertility journey yourself, I’m sure you will agree.
What triggers these causes for concern?
In the case of Covid-19:
- Feelings of disconnection arise from being confined to home, unable to participate in usual activities, and physically separated from family, friends, work colleagues and communities.
- Feelings of uncertainty arise from changing rules and restrictions, speculation over when things will return to ‘normal’ (and what ‘normal’ may now mean) and financial worries.
- A worrying loss of control flows from an inability to change the situation, not knowing when or how it will end and from experiencing less freedom.
In the context of a fertility journey:
- Feelings of disconnection flow from a sense of ‘being different’, not ‘fitting in’ and ‘falling behind’ when everyone else seems to be starting or extending their families. And from a sense of going through something significant and challenging alone, without being understood. More often, it is an emotionally isolating, rather than physically isolating, experience. However, these feelings of disconnection also arise when social activities, holidays and engagements are dropped or put on hold because of treatments or other fertility ‘to do’s’.
- Feelings of uncertainty arise from the really big issues – if, when and how parenthood will ever be achieved, where it’s all going wrong and what can be done about it. And they arise in relation to the smaller day to day issues – when the next appointment will be, what the next set of test results will show, what impact the new drugs will have, whether it will be possible to attend that meeting, do that piece of work, go to that event, or get that time off, and so on.
- A worrying loss of control flows from wanting something so much and having so little influence over whether or when it will happen. It comes from an absence of answers and fail-proof plans. And it comes from living a life of ‘should’s’ and ‘shouldn’t’s’, desperate to do anything to enhance prospects of success.
It’s difficult to imagine that anyone will have escaped experiencing some impact of the pandemic. By comparison, it’s around 1 in 6 people in the UK who experience fertility challenges. For the 1 in 6 living through the pandemic while on their fertility journey, in addition to all of the above:
- Feelings of disconnection have been compounded by being unable to access the same level of support – whether from professionals or friends and family. Sometimes a hug can go a long way, right? And as Covid-19 restrictions slowly start to lift, and others start to embrace a freer life, any treatment or other fertility related related restrictions on social activities and engagements may be felt even more acutely and lead to an even greater sense of separation.
- Feelings of uncertainty were rife when, in the first lockdown, clinics closed and fertility treatments were suspended and postponed with no indication of when they might resume. Even on reopening, fewer resources and ongoing Covid-19 related risks have continued to threaten treatment progress. Restrictions on travel and rules and regulations in other countries also continue to cause indefinite delays for those seeking treatment overseas. And the introduction of the Covid-19 vaccine has raised fresh concerns over if, when and how to ‘time’ receiving this vaccine around treatment plans. There is no doubt that time is of the essence on a fertility journey and these delays and disruptions have exacerbated fears of running out of time. Financial worries have also spiralled into worries over ability to fund treatments. And again, as restrictions slowly start to lift, there are concerns over how working arrangements will change and what impact this may have on the fertility process.
- A worrying loss of control flows from all of these matters and a general inability to do anything about the additional rules and restrictions inhibiting progress.
So this goes some way to explaining why the general population, including those on a fertility journey, may have felt their mental health has been challenged over the last year. And to give some further context to those findings, a study conducted by Fertility Network UK and Middlesex University in 2016 showed that outside of a pandemic, 90% of people on a fertility journey experience feelings of depression.
What underpins these triggers?
At the heart of these triggers is the normal and natural human tendency to give power to external circumstances, (events and other people), and rely upon them to meet our needs and wants. This is characterised by “what if” and “if only” thinking – catastrophising about what might happen and wishing things would happen a certain way.
What practical steps can you take to try to manage these triggers and therefore these causes for concern?
If giving power away to external circumstances is the essence of the problem, then it follows that reclaiming that power may provide a solution. So here’s three suggestions of things you could try to reclaim your power and experience more control, certainty and connection:
- Know your desires, but attend to your intentions
Let me start by explaining what I mean by ‘desire’ and ‘intention’ in this context. A ‘desire’ is something you wish for that isn’t entirely within your control. An ‘intention’ is something you personally aspire to that is within your control. You can set an intention, with the intention that it will take you closer to your desire.
For example, you may desire to live in a Covid-19 free world, or to get pregnant, or both. It’s okay to have these desires, but if you focus all your attention on them, then it’s inevitable you’re going to feel a lack of control and certainty, (and possibly a big dose of helplessness, hopelessness, powerlessness and failure), every time there’s another spike in infections or every month you do a negative pregnancy test or get your period. If instead you focus your attention on a specific intention, like changing your shopping habits to avoid crowds, or regularly attending a mindfulness class to manage your mindset, you will feel in control and certain of your progress and the contribution you’re making towards your desire, even when you don’t have everything you want, when you want it. You will also feel more connected to your purpose and direction.
- In the nicest possible way – mind your own business
Even when you’re clear of your desires and your intentions and the relationship between the two, it’s not uncommon to veer off course from time to time.
When you find yourself excessively worrying, ruminating, criticising yourself or struggling to have the impact or influence you want, bring yourself back on track by asking yourself this simple question:
“Is this [the issue occupying your attention] my business, their business or a higher power’s business?”
(This last one could be God, Nature, the Universe, Source, whatever it means to you).
For example, it’s your business whether you accept the offer of a vaccination. It’s the nurse’s business to administer the vaccine. It’s a higher power’s business whether the virus develops into new strains. It’s your business to take your IVF medication. It’s your embryologist’s business to combine egg and sperm. It’s a higher power’s business whether conception occurs.
Let go of anything that isn’t your business and you will regain a sense of control and certainty over your personal contribution to that which you desire. Notice how your personal contribution works with other contributions and you will feel connected with a greater system and effort.
- Get to know you
When you’re setting your intentions, minding your own business, making decisions and taking action, keep asking yourself what’s important to you, what’s your priority, what’s this teaching you, what works well for you, what feels good to you? This will require you to get out of autopilot, allow time for self-reflection and notice what feels light versus heavy, free versus burdened, calm versus tense, inspired versus bored, and so on. It will enable you to feel more connected with yourself and when you’re more connected with yourself you will form better connections with others, even when physical restrictions on connections may be in place. You will have the certainty of knowing who you want to connect with, how and when you want to connect and what you want to give and receive from that connection, increasing your sense of control. You will also show up as your true, authentic self making it easier for others to form a connection with you.
I hope you find these suggestions useful.
If you would like 1-2-1 support to feel more empowered, you may wish to consider working with a Coach.
If you’re experiencing chronic stress, chronic anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges, you may wish to consider and/or take advice in relation to other support that may be appropriate for you.
Emma Menzies | 16 May 2021
Copyright © 2021 Emma Menzies t/a Ready Steady Coach