Shifting Perspective in Your Fertility Journey
For me, perspective was the key to my well-being. I don’t believe any of the strategies I used to enhance my fertility path would have worked unless I had been able to shift my perspective. It helped me see beyond my fertility experience, to relinquish some control, to know when to advocate, and to know when to accept.
Perspective is defined as “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” We all know the cliche of a glass being half empty or half full. While I don’t believe in diminishing emotions or in ignoring reality, I do believe that perspective can be adjusted to make a horrible situation a little bit better.
When I first started down the road to IVF, I was a few years into my journey and had yet to see it as a journey. It was simply a challenge, a hardship, and - to that point - filled only with disappointment and heartbreak. I felt envious of all pregnant women (who seemed to be everywhere!), disgusted with myself and my body for failing, and only a tiny bit hopeful that the process would work for me. Yet, I could think of nothing else. I felt trapped by restrictions and was angry that this was happening to me. It wasn’t my plan.
My perspective was one of self-pity, victimization, and cynicism.
I talk often about the tunnel vision that can come with infertility and fertility treatment. Oftentimes, we get so focused on the one goal - baby - that it becomes all we can see. Every action and thought is influenced by this goal and all of our energy fuels it. For a time, this can be fine. Maybe even beneficial.
But if your experience - like mine and like that of many of my clients’ - is an extended one, this focus gets exhausting. Instead of giving us fuel, it seems the focus drains us - narrowing the tunnel and making the light at the end dimmer and further away. Perhaps we lose sight of what is working in our lives, of the resources we have available, of who we are and why we’re doing this. Of the fact that conception is one step in the bigger path of parenthood.
My first major shift in perspective came from a good friend who reminded me a few years in that my fertility struggle would end. “This is not your forever,” she said. It was so powerful for me to hear this. I had unconsciously thought that I would never be “done” with fertility treatments. That there was no way out but to have a baby, which at the time, seemed impossible.
I’ve since learned that this thought I had - that I was on a never-ending rollercoaster with no way to get off - was me seeing the world through a lens of Permanence. One of the three “P’s of developing resilience”, permanence is thinking that a horrible situation will last forever. In reality, that’s rarely true. I like how Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, authors of “Option B”, explain it.
The 3 Ps are described by well-known psychologist and a leading authority in the field of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman. When hardship comes, we can shift our perspective by reframing our thoughts in these three areas:
- Personalization. Thinking the problem is you, rather than considering outside factors that have caused it.
- Pervasiveness. Thinking the hardship applies to all aspects of your life instead of happening in one area.
- Permanence. Thinking a bad situation will last forever.
While I only intentionally reframed Permanence while on my journey - and only thanks to my friend and her simple words - I can reflect back now and see how Personalization and Pervasiveness applied as well.
Personalization: I was certain I had done something - in my diet, lifestyle, or simply “waiting too long” - to impact my egg quality and reserve. It never dawned on me that maybe, a) my husband’s sperm was a factor (it was), or that b) spending my energy hating my choices and my body could be as harmful as any lifestyle choice.
Pervasiveness: Because my husband and I were struggling with infertility, I also assumed our marriage would falter, that I was a bad friend because I couldn’t celebrate my friends’ life milestones, and that I would completely disappoint my parents who so desperately wanted to be grandparents. In sum, I believed I was letting down those I loved the most and I would ultimately lose them all in some way.
Ouch. It still hurts to read those words.
If you’re in this space, I’m sorry. I understand and can sympathize with how hard it can be.
I found this simple exercise that may be helpful. It is intended to help shift perspective from Personal, Permanent, and Pervasive to Impersonal, Impermanent, and Specific.
Here’s the thing I’m always aware of when I do this, though: having someone tell you to be grateful for what you have while you're in the midst of a crisis can perhaps make you feel like raging and throwing things at a wall. Or was that just me?
So I understand this may not feel like a helpful suggestion. And if that’s where you are - I get it.
But, if the idea doesn’t feel like a rough loofah on a sunburn, keep reading…
Practicing gratitude has been shown to have physical, psychological and social benefits (more on those here). Extrapolated to a fertility journey, a gratitude practice could help allow a celebration of the present, block toxic and negative emotions such as envy, resentment, and regret. People who practice gratitude have also shown to be more stress resistant and resilient and have a higher sense of self-worth.
During my journey, I fluctuated from writing down specific things I was grateful for every day to thinking about them with intention. I usually started with some seemingly easy things: grateful to be breathing, grateful for legs that could walk, grateful for not feeling pain when I moved (as I know people living with chronic pain), grateful for a foundation of faith that buoyed me.
Once again, a conversation with a friend and fellow fertility warrior brought this all to a point for me. She casually mentioned how grateful she was to live in a time and in a country where procedures like IUI and IVF were options.
I had not been thinking about any of that - and when I started to, it opened floodgates for me. Instead of seeing my situation as a hardship, I thought of how amazing the process of IVF is. How I really had been born at a wonderful point in history and place in the world because I had this option readily available. Somehow, I’d lucked into living in a city that had world-class doctors and IVF labs and a state that mandated insurance coverage for fertility treatment.
You see, I was fortunate. I had the opportunity to try IVF to complete my family.
The other part of my journey I’ll forever be grateful for? We ultimately transferred 14 embryos; 2 of them grew to become our sons. I saw my oldest son’s first 8 precious cells. My baby’s? We saw him at the blastocyst stage.
For the remaining 12 who didn’t become my babies: they were perfect, special, wanted, and loved. And, if I hadn’t had the opportunity to do IVF, I would not have realized their existence.
With tears in my eyes, I can say that gratitude is a powerful thing. If you need a bit of push to get started, here’s a 5-minute gratitude exercise that I love.
I hope these strategies are helpful. I know it is easy to read and see how these mindshifts could work - and just as easily dismiss them or move on to the next thing. I’d be happy to help talk through either of these perspective exercises with you or serve as an accountability partner for the shift you’d like to make in your journey. Just let me know a good time to talk.