The journey to conception looks different for everyone. For many, it is not a linear path and can contain more ups and downs than you ever thought you’d have to go through. Dealing with infertility often means dealing with loss, and not enough people talk about the toll that these experiences can have on your mental health. I hope that by sharing my journey here, I can help support others who are going through something similar.
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My experience with infertility and loss
At 29 years old, I became pregnant for the first time, and my partner and I were overjoyed. I had never wanted anything so desperately in my entire life. Unfortunately, I was soon diagnosed with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. (This happens when a fertilized egg implants in one of the two fallopian tubes instead of implanting in the uterus.)
Ectopic pregnancies are not viable, and they can be life-threatening to the mother if left untreated.
I was taken to the operating room for surgery and woke up several hours later — minus one fallopian tube and no longer pregnant. We were devastated. We received an outpouring of love and support from family and friends, but I was surprised by how lonely and isolated I still felt, despite that support.
I know that everyone meant well, but hearing those heartfelt but empty words, such as, “It will happen when it’s supposed to,” or, “At least you know you can get pregnant” didn’t take away any of what I was feeling.
How I coped with stress, anxiety, and loss while trying to conceive
I work as a licensed mental health counselor helping people navigate through pain and mental health symptoms. Yet, here I was struggling with depressive symptoms: intense feelings of emptiness and persistent sadness, fatigue and difficulty sleeping, trouble focusing, and a loss of interest in things I used to enjoy.
I also struggled with symptoms of stress and anxiety, including chronic worry, muscle tension, persistent anxious thoughts, and restlessness. It was difficult to function, and I found it hard to be myself, which was isolating. There were work deadlines, Christmas parties, baby showers, and trips planned, but I couldn't shake what I was feeling.
Eventually, I started practicing what I preach to clients about self-care and finding a support system. I also used the Kindara app every day to track my cycles and connect with others who knew what I was going through. It was pretty incredible how quickly these steps helped me feel so much better. After a few months, I got pregnant again and delivered a beautiful, healthy baby girl later that year.
Here are some of the practices that I found helpful while I was dealing with infertility and loss. Everyone’s journey and emotions are unique, so you may find yourself resonating with some of these tips more than others. The important thing is that you find a way to take care of yourself and connect with people you feel comfortable talking to.
1. Reach out for support.
Emotional support can come in many forms. Some people may feel more comfortable talking to a licensed mental health professional, while others may prefer sharing in a group setting. No matter who you choose to reach out to, you deserve to find a space where you feel heard, understood, and supported.
Mental health professionals
After my loss, I worked with a great health psychologist to process grief and get my mind and body in a better place. If you’d like to find a mental health professional for therapy, you can try contacting your local mental health center or searching online. Once you find a licensed provider in your area, don’t forget to make sure they accept your insurance.
As you’re searching, you’ll notice that different therapists have different specialties, such as infertility, depression, or stress management. Depending on your preferences, you can use these specialties to help you choose which therapist is right for you.
Attending a support or therapy group is another great option for mental health support while you’re trying to conceive. With groups, you get the chance to connect with others who are facing similar challenges.
I used the Kindara Community daily and connected with women all over the world who had also lost a tube via an ectopic pregnancy and were trying to conceive again. I am so grateful for their support and those relationships.
Talking about infertility and loss can get uncomfortable, but online support groups provide a helpful outlet for anyone that prefers anonymity. Online community groups and forums allow you to freely ask questions or share experiences with peers, giving you a level of safe connection you may not be able to get elsewhere.
Note: Exercise caution when taking any advice from someone online, and never seek psychiatric or medical advice from unknown online sources. Always talk to your doctor right away about concerns that may need medical or crisis support.
2. Practice stress-relieving techniques.
Like acquiring any good skill, learning to relax actually takes practice! So how do you do that? Deep breathing is a great place to start. It may seem like a no-brainer, but breathing exercises can be a total game-changer when you’re feeling anxious.
I’ve had a lot of success using a tool called “four square breathing” or “box breathing.” It’s a simple method that can help slow your thoughts, ground you, and help you regain emotional control. To try it out, follow these steps (1):
Breathe in for 4 seconds and pay attention to the feeling of the air entering your lungs
Hold the breath in for 4 seconds
Exhale slowly for 4 seconds, noticing the sensation of the air leaving your lungs
Hold your breath again for 4 seconds
Repeat the first 4 steps as many times as needed
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another powerful tool that can help you change the way your brain processes tough emotions. It’s an evidenced-based practice used by many therapists because of its effectiveness. CBT can help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress and is a more concrete approach to making positive changes in your mental health and quality of life (2).
You can also look up mindfulness activities or “grounding exercises” to help you focus on the present moment. I always tell clients that these are tools you carry with you all the time, no matter where you are or who you’re with — so use them!
3. Invest in your passions.
It’s important to make time for things that give you purpose and value that have nothing to do with getting pregnant. This isn’t to distract you from your TTC goals or prevent you from grieving a loss, but rather to help care for the “whole” you.
Fulfilling hobbies can also serve as a healthy outlet for emotional release on challenging days. For me, it was photography, but it could be cooking, hiking, crafting, skydiving, or collecting beanie babies. It doesn’t matter what your passion is as long as it brings you joy.
4. Do things now that you can’t do when you are pregnant.
Often, our experiences are shaped by our perspective more than our actual circumstances. How often do you catch yourself focusing on what you lack instead of what you have? What about wishing you were someplace else instead of enjoying where you’re at right now?
When facing the disappointment of infertility, I found it helpful to enjoy doing things that I couldn't do if I was pregnant. Whether it was helping myself to plenty of cocktails, sipping triple caffeinated drinks at Starbucks, painting the walls in my house, or eating my weight in tuna, hot dogs, and soft cheese (or anything else pregnant women should steer clear of), I did it.
5. Enjoy being in the present.
Focusing on your mental health doesn’t mean not letting yourself have bad days. It’s more about learning how to process negative thoughts and make room for happiness and gratitude. The practices in this post really helped me in a time when I needed it the most, and I hope they can do the same for you.
Anne Jackson is a licensed mental health counselor living just outside of Denver, Colorado with her husband, daughter and two dogs. Anne enjoys spending time outdoors and photography, and is passionate about spreading awareness of mental health issues and decreasing stigma.