My Fertility Journey: When You Should Relax, but You Can’t

With this week being National Infertility Awareness Week I was hoping I could write some posts on the subject and get back into blogging a little more frequently. Thankfully it’s working out so far. In my first post I brought up briefly how people tell you to “just relax,” which of course is NOT what one should say to an infertile person. BUT, the tricky thing is that relaxing is actually an important part of trying to conceive. Important, and incredibly difficult to do.

I wish it weren’t the case, but my fertility journey has been fraught with stress. Part of this is my personality, but part of it is that THIS PROCESS IS STRESSFUL. You’re so out of control, there is so much uncertainty, so many emotions… even the most happy-go-lucky person is bound to get stressed out.

For most of my medicated cycles, I was a bundle of nerves and anxiety. It came out in different ways: controlling my diet, constant Googling…. actually those are the two biggest ones. Oh, also crying.

Every visit to my acupuncturist, she would feel my pulse and tell me I was stressed, and needed to “rest.” Even if I had literally just woken up from a nice long sleep, or had had the least stressful day ever- “You’re stressed,” she would say, matter-of-factly. 😦  And it always sounded like chiding, which annoyed me and initiated big-time internal eyerolls. I knew she was right, that my body was probably stressed even though I felt fine, but I felt like I was already doing everything in my power to reduce stress. For goodness’ sake, I only work like 10 hours a week (doing only things I love), I scale back my commitments strategically based on my cycle, I stretch and do gentle exercise, get massages, pray every day, connect with friends and my church community, try to get quality sleep, eat well, etc. etc. etc. “WHAT MORE COULD I POSSIBLY DO???” I thought. And I even thought it in all caps.

And that was the problem.

I brought up the subject of stress with my chiropractor, asking her what I might be missing, and experienced a true case of right place/right time. In that moment she really helped me put it all together. Stress undoubtedly has effects on the body, which we all know, and while there are physical things we can do to help ourselves curb these effects, another problem is thought patterns. I had heard this before, but for whatever reason (I believe it was the Spirit working in my mind), it clicked that day. She explained that when you get worked up in your mind about “what if this?!?” or “what if that?!?” your brain takes action to protect you. It’s fight or flight. Think of yourself as a zebra, going, “what if I’m about to be chased by a lion?!?” Your zebra brain starts preparing you to RUN, right? Well, my dear doc explained to me that my brain works similar to the zebra’s. If I’m in a constant mental panic about what could happen or what something means, my brain gets ready to RUN, and when I remain in that state it is hazardous to my health.

Before that day, truly relaxing seemed so conceptual, and so impossible. I know I had heard all of the information before, but at that time I understood it on a more personal level and was ready to make some changes. For me that meant no more obsessive/compulsive Googling, no more poring over forums, no more freaking out over symptoms. Just do what I can do, and be done. At a certain point, all will be done that can be, and inventing more to do is not helpful, as much as it may feel like it would be.

So, what did I do instead? Well, I deal in “replacement behaviors” in my professional behavior analytic life, and have seen the benefits, which means I also apply the principle to my personal life. I don’t remove without replacing– try to stop a behavior without putting a new one in its place, and you’re setting yourself up for failure. So I repeated to myself the reasoning that got me to clarity in the first place (a panicked brain leads to a panicked body). I worked to recognize when I was spinning my wheels mentally and reminded myself that what I was doing might actually be harmful to me– and this was not in a self-guilt way, but just a gentle reminder of, “Hey, you’re doing it, time to change course.” I would take a deep breath and think a more hopeful thought.

I replaced ttc forums with Christian infertility blogs, which was much better for my soul. In forums, it’s desperate wonderings and questions of people you know nothing about. Most of them have likely had their babies by now and moved on, but you only see the one day when they were freaking out about something. There usually aren’t any solid answers because those forums are essentially rooms of people wondering the same things. You also get a lot of misinformation and superstition. But with blogs, you can get to know someone’s story. There is more context and background, more honesty, more of a complete picture. And of course there’s the faith element, which brings the Holy Spirit into the process to give more encouragement and peace.

When something came up that I just couldn’t stop thinking about, I would look it up but made a point of looking for articles from reputable sources like a fertility clinic, doctor, experts in natural family planning (great for help with bbt questions), etc. instead of forums full of people just like me– if I don’t have an answer, they probably don’t, either!

I decided to avoid browsing for natural remedies or aids for fertility, too, so no Googling “Clomid + [insert herb here]” or reading articles about the supposed benefits of different natural things. This meant scrolling past posts on Pinterest or Facebook from natural health sites I already follow. Quick aside: I’m not saying that these natural remedies don’t work– I believe that sometimes, for some people, they can– but I have committed to try meds for now, so I’m going to stick to the food and supplement choices I have already made and call it good. A medicated cycle is not the time to start researching all kinds of other things to add to the equation that could either do nothing OR possibly interfere with the medication. This leads to wheel-spinning and what-if thinking.

I listened to less news and more music. I created a specific playlist filled with calming or uplifting songs and made a point to listen to it a few times a day. I put it on my phone, too, so I could listen in the car. I like listening to the radio, especially in the car, but personally I’m sometimes bothered by the jarring sounds of commercials (sometimes without realizing it). So, no commercials yelling about cars or satellite tv or stupid morning shows. Just the calming, familiar sounds of some of my favorite musical friends.

I also wrote some “affirmations” on my prayer sheet that I look at every day, and asked God to help me remember that I am safe, I am doing my best, I am not accepted based solely on what I do, I am guided by the Spirit, I am being equipped for whatever comes my way, etc.

I made these changes at the end of one cycle/beginning of another, and I noticed the positive change right away. I went into the next 30+ days with a more balanced perspective. It felt like I didn’t get my hopes up as much, although I was still sad when that cycle ended. When I got to the parts of my cycle or felt symptoms that would initially power up the Google machine, I was ready to tell myself “no” and make a better choice (hmmm, also exactly what I tell preschoolers when I’m at work…). I spent some time reading heartfelt stories of others who have been through or are still going through infertility and who share their hope through the ups and downs. My eyes were open and ready to identify and avoid my stressors. I’m so thankful to God for the mental clarity and self-control to make the changes, and thankful for practitioners who prompted me to think more deeply about how or why I needed to make changes.

So, if you’re ready, hear this: you can relax. You don’t need to shame or punish yourself into it. Search your heart prayerfully for what you need, and look at how you can make small changes to address those needs. This journey is undeniably stressful, and you will continue to encounter stress even if you do alllll the relaxing things and think alllll the relaxing thoughts, but you don’t have to live in constant panic or worry.

For the Christian, peace is not something we have to strive and strive for, or conjure up on our own. God is a God of peace, Jesus promised peace, and the Spirit brings peace to the heart. I’ve had many times where I just didn’t feel the peace, but I’ve found that in those times I can cry out to God for it. He is helping me understand what his peace looks like and how to live in it, although I’m certainly not perfect at this. Sometimes I believe the lie that grabbing my anxieties back from God and getting my hands dirty in them will help. As you may know… it does not. But I keep seeking, I keep crying out, I keep sharing with trusted people so they can speak peace into my life. I would encourage you to do the same!

Here are some verses that have helped me:

1 Peter 5:7–  “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Philippians 4:6-7– “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Galatians 5:22– “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Isaiah 26:3-4– “You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.”

2 Thessalonians 3:16– “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.”

What are some verses that have helped you when peace feels out of reach? How do you relax when it seems impossible?