Self Compassion in the Face of Infertility
I remember the day I was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure. At the time, it was as if I was involved in a major train collision or other immense trauma. My reflexes seemed to slow down, and it was as if I had tunnel vision. Daily reminders of my infertility suddenly appeared. Everywhere I looked, someone was either pregnant or had an adorable little baby in tow. I was now sure that story was never going to be my story. Most damaging to me was the flood of negative self talk and subsequent feelings that somehow I had caused my POF and most certainly deserved the pain that I was feeling.
Now twelve years later, I have much more empathy for my 26-year-old self. I have also gained an immense appreciation that while time can lessen the sting of the wound, it is really the self-compassion we build and the changes we make to our own inner dialogue that begins the healing.
One of my favorite authors on the subject of self compassion, Christopher Germer, Ph.D., defines it as a form of acceptance of the self rather than what is happening to the self. It is not self pity to practice self compassion. Rather self compassion is the honoring of the emotions you have. It is allowing yourself to feel whatever it is you may feel in the moment about infertility, whether good or bad, and not judging the thought or invalidating the experience for yourself.
Envy is a common emotion that runs deep for those of us who have struggled with infertility. We may avoid parties, baby showers, or even alone time with friends who are pregnant, all to try to avoid negative feelings. We may even have mean thoughts towards others and ourselves such as “she doesn’t know how lucky she is” or “it’s so easy for everyone else, there must be something wrong (fundamentally) with me because I can’t get pregnant.” These emotions and dialogues can sometimes wreak havoc in our lives, turning friendships on their heads, distancing ourselves from others, and corroding our self-esteem.
When we are met with these challenging thoughts and emotions, it is easy to run the other direction, retreat into a cocoon of pain, or even worse, lash out at those who love us. Practicing self compassion starts by acknowledging that the feelings you are experiencing are valid. There is nothing wrong about feeling envy, sadness, jealousy, loss, anger or a host of other emotions.
It is practicing a kinder inner voice. So instead of the “what’s wrong with me” thoughts, we start to practice gentler thoughts such as “I don’t deserve the pain and hurt, but it is what I am feeling in this moment.” Self compassion is not a running away from emotion rather allowing the emotion to come and go. That is the beauty of emotion; it is both real and yet fleeting. I liken this to the swimmer being pulled from the shore by the tide. The more you struggle against the tide, the greater your loss of strength. It becomes difficult to get to where you want to get, the shore. But if you swim alongside the tide you maintain your strength and get to the shore faster.
Our emotions can be a strong current, pulling us away from our goals and dreams. Being self compassionate gives us the technique to not be pulled by and eventually drowned by our emotions. Self compassion is the route of least resistance and by being self compassionate in your fertility journey, you are likely to make choices, build a good support network, and act in a way that lovingly gets you to the goal of your family’s creation.
For more ideas and concepts on self compassion, I recommend Christopher Germer’s book “The Mindful Path to Self Compassion; Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions.”
Anne Cheever MSW, LCSW
Anne is both a mother and licensed counselor with an interest in women’s health and mental health issues.