The journey to conception is one that looks different for every woman. 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 diagnosed with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy which occurs when a fertilized egg implants in one of the two fallopian tubes, instead of implanting in the uterus. Ectopics are not viable and 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 with only one tube and no longer pregnant. We were devastated. We received an outpouring of love and support from family and friends, but what I didn’t expect was how lonely and isolated I still felt, despite that support.
They meant well- but hearing those heartfelt but empty words of “It will happen when it’s supposed to” or “Hey, At least you know you can get pregnant” didn’t take away any of what I was feeling.
I work as a licensed mental health counselor, helping people navigate through pain and mental health symptoms, and here I was struggling myself with depressive symptoms including feeling very “empty” and persistent sadness, fatigue and difficulty sleeping, difficulty focusing and loss of interest in things I used to enjoy. I experienced 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 accessing support. It was pretty incredible how much better I felt in a very short period of time. I also used the Kindara app every day to track my cycle and body and connect with others for support. After a few months I got pregnant again and went on to deliver a beautiful healthy baby girl later that year.
Not enough people talk about the relationship between mental health and infertility or loss. My hope is that by sharing some of the practices I found helpful in my journey, I can provide support for others.
Reach out for different types of support:
If you are seeking a mental health professional for therapy you can contact your local mental health center, or start a general search at http://www.goodtherapy.org/ to find a licensed provider in your area that accepts your insurance. It's helpful to get an idea of the type of services they offer, such as a speciality in infertility, depression or stress management. After our loss, I worked with a great health psychologist to process grief and get my mind and body in a better place.
Attending a support or therapy group is another great option as it offers a chance to connect with others who are facing similar challenges. Online support is also available and can offer more anonymity, if that's what you prefer. Online community groups and forums often allow you to freely ask questions or share experiences with peers, which can provide a level of safe connection you may not be able to get elsewhere. I used the Kindara Community daily and connected with women all over the world that 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. Always 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.
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 thing to start with. It seems like a no brainer, but if you are feeling anxious, it’s a game changer. Four square breathing is a tool I have found really helpful. You also can practice mindfulness activities or “grounding exercises” to help you in the moment. I always tell clients that these are tools you carry with you all the time, no matter where you are or who you are with, so use them!
Alongside mindfulness and other relaxation techniques, I recommend “Cognitive Behavioral therapy (or CBT)” skills; By changing they way you think, you can change the way you physically feel, so these go hand in hand. CBT is an evidenced based practice that is used by many therapists because of its effectiveness. It can help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress and is a more concrete approach to making change.
Invest in your passions:
It’s important to make time for things that give you purpose and value that have nothing to do with conceiving. This is not to distract you from your goal to conceive or prevent you from grieving a loss, but rather to help care for the “whole” you. For me it was photography, but it could be cooking, hiking, crafting, skydiving, or collecting beanie babies - it doesn’t matter what it is, just that it brings you joy. This also can serve as a healthy outlet for emotional release on challenging days.
Do things now that you can’t do when you are pregnant:
Often our experiences are largely shaped not by our circumstances, but by our perspective. How often do you catch yourself focusing on what is lacking instead of what you have? How do you actually enjoy being in the life phase you are in, instead of wishing you were at a different place? When facing the disappointment of difficulty conceiving, I found it helpful to enjoy doing things that I couldn't do if I was pregnant. Whether it was enjoying 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 (and anything else the internet says pregnant women should steer clear of) I did it. Enjoy being in the present.
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.