By: Reina Zatylny MSW, RSW
When I ask my fertility clients to describe the most difficult thing they’ve had to overcome in their lives, many tell me that infertility is the most challenging. My clients are bright, thoughtful, and work hard for what they want. They’re used to taking control of their lives to attain their goals, and, up to this point, their lives have been manageable. They equate taking control with hard work, which results in achievement and success.
Once fertility challenges come into their lives, my clients often feel shocked and overwhelmed. They feel at a loss to make sense of their lives, and to cope with the difficulty of achieving a basic function of life, to have children, especially when having a child comes so easily for five out of six couples. They’re used to working hard to achieve success, but begin to realize that hard work doesn’t always result in success. Sadly, they might not have developed the skills they need to cope with a life-challenging event like infertility.
The Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, wrote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
When faced with infertility, a situation that we find difficult to change, we have to think about ourselves in a different way. We have to learn to change our thinking, develop the skills to cope with adversity and give our life purpose and strength. In other words, we have to learn to develop resiliency.
So how do we do that?
1. Accept the reality of the situation. While accepting the diagnosis of infertility is very difficult, once you accept this reality, then you can decide how to face and react to this challenge. Remember that accepting the diagnosis doesn’t imply that you won’t have a baby. It just means that you have to eventually come to a place where you can accept the diagnosis.
2. Choose your attitude and don’t give up the choice. Although you can’t control the diagnosis of infertility, you can control your attitude about it. There’s no doubt that infertility is challenging and frustrating, but how you choose to think of it, and deal with it, is what’s important.
3. Find meaning and purpose in your life. Despite the sadness and frustration of infertility, it’s important to continue to take control of your life. You can become more resilient if you don’t let infertility define you because you are more than just your diagnosis of infertility. By finding ways to develop a meaningful and purposeful life, you can grow your identity. For example, think about how else you can best fulfil your need to nurture and to positively care for someone, or something, just as you would a child.
4. Continue to grow your life. Adversity presents you with an opportunity to learn more about yourselves. How can you nurture your mind, body, and spirit despite the limitations of infertility? Explore, create, connect with others, and choose to live your life despite the sadness and fear that you feel as a result of infertility.
5. Try to “make friends” with the anxiety of an unknown outcome. Anxiety is a part of life, but learning to cope with it helps to build resiliency. Consider building a “toolbox” of strategies to suit your personality. For example, are you someone who can soothe your fears by connecting with others? Or do you prefer solitary activities, such as practising mindfulness or yoga, physical activities, or creative activities? If you’re unsure of your preference, sample a variety of techniques to learn more about yourself.
These are just a few strategies which can help to develop resiliency. In future articles, I’ll discuss strategies to help develop resiliency in couples’ relationships.
Visit our fertility support groups or learn more about fertility counselling.