Intelligence in fertility care for South Australians

Coping through the infertility journey

Are you, your partner or friend, on a journey, not yet quite sure how it’s all going to end up?

Every day people take on challenges and risks and go off into unknown journeys. However, those who are on the infertility or assisted reproductive treatment journey can also experience grief, loss and rejection, coupled with stigma from their family and friends which may be quite hurtful to them.

So, infertility and navigating treatments can be an extraordinarily stressful time in people’s lives. It’s why it’s really important to us at FertilitySA to ensure you feel safe, supported and reassured.

The reality is, that everyone has their own way of managing their mental and physical wellbeing, so while a face to face conversation with a medical professional isn’t always the answer for one person, it may be for another. We hope you take on board that we are here for you when you do need us. 

So what actually is Coping?

“Coping is efforts to prevent or diminish threat, harm, and loss, or to reduce the distress that is often associated with those experiences.” Carver C. (2013) Coping. In: Gellman M.D., Turner J.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. Springer, New York, NY.

Coping does not mean we won’t have challenging feelings, negative thoughts, sadness, loss, grief, feelings of hopelessness and failure; it’s what we do with these feelings and emotions that enhance positive coping.

When we feel distress, the best way of ‘coping’ is to notice the feelings and emotions, communicate about the feelings, and embrace the feelings and emotions in the moment and let them come and go as needed.

Sometime distress is exacerbated by the negative self-talk that accompanies it. It tends to sound like all or nothing and is often self-critical.

Consider if the self-talk accompanying the distress is valid or not?

Thoughts are not always factual eg I’m a failure is very different to ‘this treatment failed despite all the best efforts’. Or “I’ve become an angry and lonely person” is very different to “I feel angry that I have to try so hard to achieve my dreams and it’s been difficult for me to be as sociable as I like to be.”

Sharing how we cope

What doesn’t work and results in people “not coping well” is often the default that most humans go to, which is “avoid”, “stop communicating” “distract” and “stay busy”. This can work in the shorter term for some, but is often unhelpful in the longer term because the more we avoid the stronger and more toxic it can become.

What we need is (for partners, friends etc) to witness the feelings and (for us with them to) validate the feelings.

People experiencing emotional distress also need their partner to share their own feelings with them, even if they are different from each other.

Our counsellors support you at key points throughout your fertility treatment, recommend stress relief strategies, and help you navigate the sometimes complex decisions that arise in treatment. It can be a huge relief to talk to someone who fully understands the ups and downs associated with infertility, as well as the unique aspects of your treatment, and dealing with pregnancy loss.

We care deeply about our patients and the integrity of the medical treatment we provide.

The experience of trying to conceive a pregnancy and become a parent can be all consuming and there is considerable evidence of the unique nature of the stress and sense of loss felt by people experiencing fertility difficulty. Sometimes just being able to talk and have this heard, validated and normalised, is all that is needed.

Asking for support is not a sign of weakness. It can be useful when your usual support avenues are not as accessible to you or you have not shared your journey with others.

Fertility SA’s counsellors are able to respond in a timely way in event of urgent or crisis need.

10 Ideas for positive coping:

  1. Don’t avoid the pain or distress – pay attention to it, honour it, and bear witness to it individually and together
  2. Clear your schedule of all non-essentials in the days following difficult or challenging times
  3. Prioritise self-care and relaxation
  4. Stay mindful in the present moment- what is happening right now in this moment, what I need/want to do in the next hour, the next few hours/today. Pause any non-essentials.
  5. Plan ahead for the times that may bring distress/challenging emotions by thinking about what supports practically and emotionally you might need and who can help you
  6. Allow yourself to cry, ask for help, and accept help
  7. Honour yourself and your body, mind and spirit for all that it is navigating and managing
  8. Communicate with your loved ones. Let them know they just need to listen
  9. Rethink positively
  10. As always be kind to yourself and each other and come in to talk through how you are feeling if you think this would be helpful.

Our counsellors, Brooke Calo and Julie Potts, are available for patients who are accessing assisted reproductive treatment/planning at Fertility SA. They can access the counselling service free of charge, on an as needs basis as part of their decision making, or during treatment for emotional support, crisis counselling and therapeutic counselling.

You can meet with a counsellor in person, by phone or via zoom/skype.

Patient information flyer [pdf download]

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