Carolyn N. Berger, LCSW, has been helping people build families for 20 years.
She is a psychotherapist specializing in infertility, all family building options, and adoption. She is Founding Chair, Board Member and Adoption Coordinator of The American Fertility Association. Carolyn writes and speaks frequently on family building options and was recently interviewed by “The Today Show” on raising families created through birth and adoption, a subject she knows well—her sons, ages 16 and 20, came into her family through medical technology and adoption. She is available for counseling at New York Fertility Services by appointment. She is offering free introductory consultations to patients who would like to meet with her. Carolyn can be reached at 914-834-6396 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learning to Let Go of the Stress of Infertility
By Carolyn Berger, LCSW
For many of you, infertility is the first major life crisis you have encountered. I know that’s how it was for me.You may be feeling anger, sadness, or disbelief that this is happening to you. Your life isn’t moving forward as you thought it would. You may be struggling with the feeling that this very important aspect of your life—having a child– is out of your control, and realizing that you need to find new ways to cope. I would like to share a couple of de-stressing exercises that have proved helpful for people in the process of building their families through assisted reproductive technology. I hope they work for you, too.
My first suggestion is that you consider sharing the emotional weight of infertility by “Encircling Yourself.” Start by envisioning yourself as the hub of a very large, beautiful wheel. Then look at the spokes of the wheel, which extend outward from the hub and help hold the wheel together. Each of these spokes represents a person who can help you stay calm and centered as you go through your journey toward your child. As you know, there’s an array of professionals at New York Fertility Services. You can choose to add them as spokes on your wheel. Your doctor, nurses, all the people providing complementary care– acupuncture, massage, nutritional guidance, and counseling to name a few.Another spoke on your wheel could be your partner. Maybe you want to add in your most trusted friend—the person in your life you who is always there to listen to all the details of your treatment and how you feel about them. (Mothers can also be good at this—I remember mine was.) Other spokes can be for the other friends or family members you know you can count on. If you join an infertility support group, these people can be spokes on your wheel, too.
Remember, you are the hub of the wheel, “ Encircling Yourself” with people who have the special skills to help you build your family by offering all kinds of supports, whether they are medical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological. The number of supports you can add is really limitless. You are the hub so you get to decide which kinds of supports will work for you. And because you have many supports, no single spoke (let’s say the spoke representing your partner) will be bearing too much of the weight. If one spoke is getting loose, there’s another one right beside it, ready to help out. Another challenge: Are you finding yourself thinking about creating a baby every waking moment? There are ways around this. I recommend “Changing the Channel”—a strategy that takes practice, but really works.Suppose you’re at a meeting at your workplace and you have no idea what’s going on because you are anxiously awaiting the results of your recent IVF.Begin to get yourself back into the “here and now” by focusing on your breath. You may realize that your breathing is shallow, something that often happens to us when we are anxious. Take a few deep breaths. Then try to re-engage your mind with what is being said at the meeting. (This is the “Changing the Channel” part.) Recognize when you have accomplished this and give yourself a big pat on the back. Moments later, if you realize your mind is going back to thoughts about your IVF cycle, tell yourself kindly but firmly that you must pay attention to the meeting now, and that afterwards you can think about infertility as much as you like.Every time you are able to redirect your mind away from infertility and on to a new pathway, recognize that you have accomplished a great deal. This exercise gets easier the more you practice it.Infertility can challenge us in ways we have never been challenged before. If there is an “up side” to this it’s that by finding new ways to cope NOW, you are building skills that will last you a lifetime.