Allowing Time For Rest
A fertility struggle isn’t a full struggle without the unexpected, and often unwanted, delays. They seem to be par for the course - and they can really frustrate and discourage us.
I talk with women all the time who have faced one timing setback or another - a period that doesn’t start when expected; a test result that comes back awry, requiring a new specialist and treatment to correct; a cyst that forces a cycle cancellation; a clinic that operates on a schedule that is full for the next two months; a doctor who would definitely be able to help you - but has a 6 month waiting list. The list goes on and on and can compile into feelings of helplessness and despair.
Each month of a delay can feel like our chances literally slipping away. Especially as doctors, friends, and the media seems to be pounding an incessant drum of “every minute counts” when it comes to our fertility.
Women tend to refer to these delays as “lost time”.
But, what if, we could reframe delays into rest periods? What if, instead of a time for frustration, despair, and discouragement where we feel we are beating our hands and heads against a brick wall - we could turn this time into an opportunity for meaningful recovery, reset, and rejuvenation?
Most of the time, these breaks or “setbacks” are short in the grand scheme of things. Often, they are necessary to correct a critical hormonal balance or identify a new piece of your fertility puzzle. At the very least, they can provide space to breathe, step back, and re-energize for the next chapter.
All of nature operates in a cycle with periods of activity and periods of rest. Our own bodies have lots of examples of rest and activity: sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, sleep and wake, and exertion and recovery, to name a few. So why wouldn’t our fertility - a natural process and extension of our health - be the same?
Maybe we need time off to refuel, recover, and repair in order to move forward most effectively?
If you’re faced with an unwelcome delay in your fertility treatment, here are some ways to shift your thinking of a waiting period as an opportunity for rejuvenation and possibility:
Focus on egg health. Our eggs take 90 days to prepare for ovulation. This means, if you have a 3 month (or more) window before your next treatment cycle, use this time to prepare your body and your eggs to be the best possible quality. Nutrition, blood flow, hormone balancing, reducing environmental toxins, and lowering stress (both mental and physical) can all contribute to egg quality. A great resource for improving egg quality is the book “It Starts With the Egg”.
Get moving. So often, when fertility treatment begins, our exercise routines end. This is typically due to doctor’s orders - fertility stimulation medication can cause ovaries to increase to a size where pressure and movement from typical exercise could be harmful to them and to you. Also, extreme exercise can be stressful on our bodies and negatively impact our fertility even when we’re not in treatment.
One way to energize yourself during a waiting time is to commit to a, fertility-friendly, way to move and connect to the strength within your body. Fertility yoga is a great option; you may have a local yoga studio or even your fertility clinic that offers this or you can check out Pulling Down the Moon in the Chicagoland area. Still no luck or just want to try something on your own? Check out this online session to get started.
One thing I love about yoga during a fertility struggle is its ability to help us connect our minds and bodies, rebuilding trust and helping us recognize the physical strength we already have. If yoga isn’t your thing, try walking, swimming, or if you’re not currently in a stimulation cycle - a few miles running on the treadmill or the elliptical machine is probably fine (always check with your doctor). Just don’t overdo the exertion. As my acupuncturist once told me, “don’t sweat out all the hard work we’re putting into your body.”
Nutrition. A waiting period can be an ideal time to focus on your nutrition. It is a built-in “sprint” - meaning there’s a set period of time you can focus on one key priority. If dietary changes feel empowering to you, allow this focus to literally fuel you through your rest time. Just like the egg quality process mentioned above, dietary changes will take time (at least 30 days of true commitment) for you to notice any changes. Keep a nutrition log if you like to track the changes - or just enjoy the exploration of new foods that make you feel overall healthier.
The Mediterranean Diet is one that has been proven to have positive impacts on fertility. If you’ve been told by a doctor - or just want to experiment - with reducing or eliminating common inflammatory or non-fertility friendly substances like gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine, or alcohol, give it a try. (Maybe or maybe not all at once…Again, try for a month and evaluate how you feel with and without these foods. If you feel great - keep it up. If not, move on to the next thing and slowly reintroduce the food group. Again, pay attention to how you feel and adjust accordingly.)
This isn’t about restricting yourself, it is about exploring and rejuvenating your body. Nutrition can also be a great way to get a partner involved - especially males - as there are specific dietary changes that have been proven to impact sperm quality. Foods such as seafood, poultry, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can all positively affect sperm health. (Source). For a list of 10 Fertility Foods, check out this free downloadable from Liz Shaw of Bumps to Baby. Or, if you’re ready to dive in, try the Fertility Foods Cookbook from Liz and her co-author Sara Haas.
Try out a new hobby. Are you curious about meditation, cooking, crafting, or learning more about a topic of interest? Maybe it is something that could improve your fertility that you’d be up for trying - and maybe it isn’t. (Remember, this is a time of renewal and rejuvenation - not homework.) Use this break to commit to fully exploring and scheduling it into your life.
Need some thought starters? Try a gratitude practice, meditation, exploring green beauty products, mindfulness, knitting, fantasy baseball, the history of your city or town, get involved in politics or volunteering…I am sure you get the idea. Ask yourself - what fills me up and leaves me energized? Then, start from the answers that come up.
Get back to you. What have you stopped doing or given up due to your fertility journey? What impact does missing these things have on your life now?
Often, when I ask women this question the answers I hear center around friendships, activities, quality time with a partner or spouse, reading for fun, travel, and the like. Most of these things can be added back into your life during a treatment break without a negative impact on your fertility - they may even have a positive impact by reducing stress, opening your heart and mind to new possibilities, and shifting perspective.
Rather than immediately assuming you can’t do something because of your fertility struggle - ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen? And then ask yourself - what’s the best? Weigh the options and trust your instincts on how you choose to move forward. Of course, don’t do anything that would undo the hard work you’ve already put in toward building your family - but chances are, most of the things you will think of would only enhance your efforts.
Set new goals. In many ways, having a baby and a healthy pregnancy can become our only goal - but so much of achieving this goal is out of our control. Realizing this can help set you free to broaden your activities and focus to encompass goals that are wholly within your control, especially when you are on a break from fertility treatment.
Aim for small wins (I like to follow the SMART system) where you can fully control your path toward achievement. Things like: starting a visualization or meditation practice (Circle + Bloom has several options and free trials to get started + get 20% off through this link); establishing a morning or evening routine that sets you up for a great day or helps you wind down; diving into a reading list that thrills and stimulates your brain; developing healthy sleep habits and a delightful bedtime routine; starting a new project at work; setting or revisiting career goals; or identifying organization or home improvement projects. The list can go on and on. Whatever they are - make them fun and energizing and enjoy the rush of accomplishment.
Focus on your relationship. If you are in a partnered relationship, you may have felt it strain under the pressure of your fertility struggle. This is completely normal. Conversations are dominated by fertility talk. Sex and intimacy are timed or restricted based on your cycle. Time together can seem to be focused only on this one thing - getting pregnant - yet that one thing seems to go unfulfilled month after month.
This time off of treatment can be used to intentionally focus on broadening and deepening your relationship. Set aside time for fertility conversations - once a week or less if you can - and stick to that. The rest of the time is then free to reconnect, explore new topics of conversation, or try out new activities and hobbies together. Consider - gasp - having sex for fun again (some tips on intimacy during infertility here). If you feel you don’t really know or understand your partner’s perspective on your family building journey, use some of your “fertility time” for intentional listening to each other. (A great explanation of this is explained in this podcast from my friend and fellow coach, Karenna of Your Fertility Hub.)
Waiting is never easy and delays are frustrating. I hope this list is a helpful reminder of the number of ways you could reframe a frustrating waiting period into, instead, an opportunity that will bring you closer to your baby. If you need some guidance, to find motivation, or help staying accountable in getting started on this process for your journey, reach out and set up some time for us to chat. I’d be glad to help.
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