The state of the world right now is stressful, and fertility treatment can be stressful too. The unpredictability of the fertility journey can, as one patient said to me, “take the stuffing out of you.” At the same time, the world seems to be throwing us challenging curve balls every week. Just when we have hope that there will be a respite from the stress, there is more. And many of us are more isolated than ever, given our current social distancing guidelines.
Under normal circumstances, the stress of fertility treatment can be enough to make you want to hide under the covers and not come out…and now, there’s no one physically around to stop us.
Try not to.
When asked recently on social media, our community of fertility patients want support for themselves, and also want to support each other. And that is amazing. But it is not the end of the story. Leaning on people who “get it” is great – you know, those people that you meet in Facebook groups and clinic waiting rooms and over social media, those who empathize with the ups and downs of fertility. At the same time, remember to lean on those people who are part of your lifelong support system.
This is not just about fertility treatment – your personal support system helps bolster you through life’s positive and difficult moments. When your family is built and the stress is all over (and it will end), you will want those people in your life again. Therefore, it is so important to keep your relationships in a good place, and to treat them with care.
People need people. It may sound corny, but it’s true. We are so happy that you are taking advantage of the RMA of CT community, and we want to do everything we can to make your journey easier through fertility support, stress management, and more.
But we also care about your life after you "graduate" from treatment and the state of your existing relationships. Here are some tips for maintaining the friendships and relationships in your life while going through fertility treatment.
How to Keep Relationships Strong During Fertility Treatment
1. Remember, the Way You Communicate and React is Unique to You
The first thing to remember is that we all have our own set of preconceived ideas, belief systems, and thoughts about how things work in the world. Part of this comes from the way we were raised, part comes from our temperament, and part comes from our current life circumstances. Going through fertility treatment is stressful - I don’t need to tell you that - but it does not need to define you, and it does not need to ruin your relationships. You can choose to act differently than you feel.
Here is an example of how even genetically-linked people can react differently to the same situation. A mother says to her three children, “it’s time to go to bed.” Child number one thinks, “my mom hates me, she never lets me stay up late.” Child number two experiences this feeling - “I feel so taken care of by my mom” because the mother is setting limits for that child and the child knows, on some level, that he needs a good night’s sleep to feel good. Child number three says, “ok,” goes to bed, and doesn’t give it another thought. We all attach different meaning to our interactions with others, so before assuming rights and wrongs, remember that others assign their own meanings too.
2. Talk it Out
When the first pointer is still proving tough, remember that communication is the gold standard.
I spoke with someone recently who was hoping to choose a donor with her partner. The partner avoided discussions about choosing a donor. She became upset, and they would argue. Internally, she felt that he was avoiding the conversations because he either did not care about her, did not care about having a child, or he was just being ‘stingy’ about money. While her partner had previously voiced his concerns about the cost of donor conception, and wondered if using a donor was the right choice for their family, he had resolved those concerns, told her he was on board, and wanted to move forward with treatment.
But that is not what she heard – and she continued to worry that he did not want to move forward, or that he was still hung up on finances. She became very upset when he continued to put off plans to discuss choosing a donor, and she began to think that he did not want to have a child at all. When they made purchases together, she would become angry when he chose the more expensive option, frustrated that he would spend money on those items, but not a donor. She was distressed, and thought of stopping treatment altogether. They argued, and he became withdrawn, in turn making her more upset.
When they spoke about the conflict with me, the partner shared past struggles with decision-making, and she was able to realize that the decision itself was the hurdle, not the idea of using a donor.
Once she understood this, she was able to mentally let him off the hook. She asked him if she would prefer if she made the decision first, and then included him when taking next steps. He said yes immediately! His avoidance had nothing to do with his commitment to move forward, the money, or his love for her. Internally, he just felt that he “should” be part of the decision-making process, but couldn’t bring himself to choose – and then avoided the discussion completely. They both reached a resolution, felt more connected to each other, and eased any existing tension.
I see situations like this every day, both with patients going through fertility treatment, and those that are not! It can be so hard to get out of your own head and see what other people need, but asking if a friend or partner needs help is a great first step. If your partner speaks shortly to you, ask them to clarify or rephrase their comment, rather than assuming that they’re angry. If your best friend has not returned your texts all week, ask her if she received them and, and check in with what’s going on in her life.
I understand that when you are stressed, this may be the last thing you want to do. Life is tough right now, and you may not feel that you have the energy or the interest to take the extra steps to clear up communication with the people you love most. But it’s worth it (even after fertility treatment).
3. Control What You Can
Other things that are worth taking the time, for both you and your loved ones:
- Setting limits with certain people while you’re undergoing treatment, to avoid unsolicited advice.
- Changing the conversation – there may be some people with whom you don’t want to talk about fertility treatment, but that doesn’t mean you must cut them out of your life.
You may feel that they are not helping you reach your family-building goal, and that it’s not worth the energy right now, but this effort is for you, too. This little bit of extra effort can bring about much more joy and satisfaction, both for you and the ones you love. If you can do this, it will not only help the relationship now, but will be a cushion for many of the difficulties you encounter in life.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
We are always here, and we encourage you to stay in touch with us, attend our groups, and connect with us on social. But before you decide to put your loved ones on hold during fertility treatment, take a deep breath, reach out, and try to maintain those relationships. Future You may be glad that you did.
Lisa Schuman, LCSW, is Illume Fertility’s Director of Mental Health Services. With almost twenty years of experience in the field of reproductive medicine, Lisa provides patients with support, guidance and education. Lisa has extensive academic experience, having received several awards for research projects at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s (ASRM) and the Pacific Coast Reproductive Society’s annual meetings. Lisa completed college at Northeastern University and received her MSW at Yeshiva University. Her desire was, and continues to be, to continue to grow and learn with the aim of having added skills to help her patients. Lisa meets with patients at Illume Fertility’s Norwalk and Stamford offices.