Did you know that the stress and emotional turmoil that come along with being an infertile woman is equivalent to that experienced by a cancer patient? Yes, a Harvard Medical School study has suggested that. Infertility is a highly sensitive issue which demands the utmost care when brought up during a conversation. Which is the most common time of the year when you find yourself being questioned regarding when you are going to have babies?
During the Chinese New Year festive season, of course. It’s that time of the year when nosy older relatives take it upon themselves to be your personal family planner. If you are suffering from infertility, how do you handle it all without buckling under pressure? Dr. Cornelia Chee, Director & Senior Consultant at the Women’s Emotional Health Service at National University Hospital weighs in on the delicate matter.
The Stress & Psychological Effects
According to Dr. Chee, women who experience infertility suffer high levels of stress as becoming a mother tends to be an important life goal for many, and also a key part of one’s self-concept and identity. They may also have expectations to fulfill this role from their family members. In addition, this is often at the stage of one’s life cycle during which for a working woman, she is just establishing or has just established her career. She is probably somewhere between her mid-twenties to her late thirties.
Prepare Yourself Mentally Before Heading Out
“What I find can be very helpful is for the couple to practice role-playing and rehearsing answers to the usual questions, so that they don’t find themselves dumbfounded when asked,” advises Dr. Chee. “Quite a few couples I know also avoid social gatherings during this time by going on holiday, but I think it’s impractical to keep going on holiday during Chinese New Year every year!”
Other than rehearsing answers to questions, couples can also choose to focus on the positive aspects of the festive season, such as the chance to take a step back from the usual routines of life, and to celebrate shared traditions with family and friends. A lot of the stress faced by infertile women can be reduced through prior preparation at home. Dr. Chee also thinks that it can help to remind oneself not to be too sensitive and take things too personally. “Sure, the other person is being a little nosy, but that’s human nature. Just go with the flow and focus on the other good things about the visit!”
How Can Husbands Help?
Although parenthood is important to men too, studies show that women tend to be more invested in parenthood as part of their identity, so trying to understand that this means more to the woman can help. Supporting her in leading a balanced lifestyle would also be important. More about that ahead!
Establishing A Self-care Routine
It’s very important to not revolve one’s life around trying to get pregnant, though this can sound strange to someone who is deep into trying to get pregnant. One should focus on the basics to a healthy and happy life – adequate sleep, exercise, a balanced diet, and nurturing one’s relationships and other roles. “Indeed, too much stress can affect one’s cycles as well,” says Dr. Chee.
So, How Do You React to Insensitive Questions?
Rude and insensitive questions about your condition are unfortunately common, and could be due to a difference in generational expectations about privacy. To older people, their concepts of privacy might be somewhat different from younger couples, who naturally would tend to be more sensitive than usual about personal matters.
“This is where the rehearsals come in really handy,” says Dr. Chee. “It really depends on the couple and how they wish to handle it, whether it be using humour, or an upfront statement, or a tactful deflection… it has to feel natural to them.” She continues, “And after a few years, if it’s not happening, it’s not happening. One unmarried uncle told me that after years of being asked, the elderly relative finally wistfully said, ‘Actually, quite clever also ah…’”. (haa!)
Tanja Faessler-Moro, Fertility Counsellor at Virtus Fertility Centre, provides you with seven handy tips on how to survive the upcoming festive season:
1. Be Prepared
At home, rehearse in the mirror a few lines you can say if someone enquires about this sensitive topic. Be polite, somewhat vague and friendly. There’s no need for defensiveness, just take control of the situation, be warm and then change the topic.
2. Communicate Healthy Boundaries
Be patient with people. Politely and firmly reinforce your boundaries – you never have to discuss anything you are not comfortable discussing, and you’re within your rights to make this known.
3. Practice Self-care!
The festive season can be a draining time at best. Set yourself some goals when it comes to eating and drinking, your sleep routine and even your spending habits. Make sure you are not overextending yourself or putting yourself into overly stressful situations.
4. Remember to Be Grateful
A gratitude journal can boost your feelings of well-being by ten percent. If you can get out of your head for long enough, you may notice that you actually have plenty to be thankful for. Write down three things you are grateful for every day!
5. Find Your Own Well-being In The Present
So often, our suffering is caused in most part by our own thoughts and interpretations of reality, rather than reality itself. Try to reclaim your own presence of mind and power in the coming months and remember: nobody can make you feel anything, at least, not without your permission. Find peace and well-being within you, right now.
6. Challenge Negative Thinking
If your thoughts manifest in a debilitating form, it might be time to learn to challenge this negative thinking. When you tell yourself something like, “Everything will be okay, just as soon as…”, what you are doing is completely brushing away the wonder of the present moment, and all the ways that your life is already okay right now.
7. Take A Breather
All of the above can be achieved if we can just take a moment every day to stop, turn inward and reflect on our experiences. By incorporating a breathing exercise into your daily routine, you train yourself to relax, loosen your muscles and lower your cortisol levels, and bring yourself back to focused awareness on the present.
The seven tips above were extracted from the article titled “7 Ways to Survive The Festive Season When You’re Dealing with Infertility” by Tanja Faessler-Moro, Fertility Counsellor at Virtus Fertility Centre. For more information on Virtus Fertility Centre, visit their website here.