Infertile couples are as anxious and depressed as patients with other chronic illnesses such as cancer or heart disease. Why is infertility so hard to handle? Most infertility treatments demand lots of blood tests; frequent vaginal ultrasounds where your most private parts are poked and prodded by strangers ; and the use of hormones , which are pumped into our body in the form of injections, tablets and pessaries. As a result of all this , we feel we no longer have any control over our body !Infertility treatments are costly and can empty our bank balance in no time , leaving us panicking about the future. In many societies, infertile women are treated as unfortunate, pitiable creatures who are considered to be second-class citizens. This damages our self-esteem and our confidence vanishes. Many women leave their much sought-after job, fearing that their ‘job stress’ makes them incapable of conceiving , only to realize later that this decision causes even more havoc financially and emotionally(no career, no money, no baby and lots of spare time in which to obsess fruitlessly !) Infertility can disrupt friendships as well. An infertile woman recount, ‘ I had a friend with whom I used to share my pain and suffering , but when she got pregnant , she didn’t even inform me until very late into her pregnancy. I felt betrayed and was totally crushed ‘ .
This physical and emotional ordeal , coupled with the social stigma of being infertile and being subjected to a barrage of ‘advice’ from ‘well-meaning’ people can make the infertility journey more hazardous than walking through a minefield ! How can you endure such suffering and yet remain sane ? Can we find a purpose and meaning in life during this crazy struggle ?
Is suffering bad ? Before answering this question let me ask another - Is physical pain bad ? What will happen if we lose the ability to feel pain ? It appears on first thought that if we do not feel physical pain , everything will be well and good – no need for painkillers, no need for a doctor, and because the body always feels good , there is no fear of physical suffering. But, if you stop to think clearly , you will understand that if you stop feeling pain , our body is in danger all the time. For example, what happens when you step on a sharp object ? The pain you feel immediately alerts you; you remove your leg from that sharp object and you take care not to step on it again. In this way, your body is protected from the danger of being wounded deeply. Pain also alerts you to seek medical help at the proper time , so that further damage to your body is alleviated. In short, pain teaches you to avoid dangerous situations and to seek help when necessary, by acting as a protective shield. A person who is unable to feel physical pain is physically handicapped – and a living example of this is patients with leprosy, who are at risk of progressively losing their fingers and toes because they cannot sense pain anymore . Just like physical pain is good for our body , emotional suffering is definitely good for our soul ! Emotional hardship makes us sensitive to other’s pain; it teaches us to respect life; it helps us to appreciate the goodness in our own life; and makes us stronger and humble at the same time . Suffering teaches us a lot of life lessons – and most of us learn much more by experiencing hard times . Suffering helps us to grow spiritually; and shapes us into mature human-beings. A human without suffering is emotionally handicapped , because he cannot relate to what others are going through , nor can he know what real happiness feels like !
It is true that suffering teaches us many valuable lessons in life which happiness cannot, but if we are not resilient , this suffering can tear us apart emotionally, rob us of our natural goodness and can leave us bitter and full of fear and cynicism. But there are humans who blossom gracefully amidst the pain they endure – like a dazzling flower in a desert ! How can some people manage to become better human beings inspite of all the suffering they have had to experience ?Why do others become bitter, resentful and downhearted ?How can we use this experience of infertility to become better human beings ? How can we find the strength to cope ? I have listed some strategies which help me to stay strong , and I hope they help you too !
Compare yourself with the less fortunate !
When you compare yourself with someone who is worse off than you, it will help you to accept your suffering gracefully. Gratitude for the blessings you do have in your life ( as compared to those who do not have these) helps you look at the glass as being half full, rather than half empty. Being empathetic and experiencing another’s pain makes managing your pain a lot easier .‘Look at people who are less fortunate than you are and be contented with what you have ’- this is the lesson which my parents taught me at a very young age - and it has helped me to tackle one of the worst crises in my life very effectively. As the saying goes – I felt sorry because I had no shoes – until I saw a man with no feet .
I agree infertility is very hard , but if you decide to live a life filled with anger, resentment and hopelessness , won’t this just make it much worse ? I have a friend who was full of happiness and energy. Her favorite pastime was to read books. She completed her PhD with flying colors. She stood first throughout her studies; got married to the love of her life and gave birth to a beautiful daughter within a year of her marriage. A year later, she fainted and slipped into coma. The doctors , after a lot of struggle , diagnosed her as having TB of the brain. In the course of her treatment , she lost her eye sight. She turned from a beautiful woman to a person who is just skin and bones. Her daughter was separated from her for three years. She spent this time all alone , sorely missing her daughter. Now she is getting better after years of struggle. She is someone whom I respect and worship wholeheartedly. I believe the suffering she has endured has raised her above all of us. When I talk to her I learn a lot about life. Even if she is depressed sometimes , she fills me with positive energy. I have never seen her cry for herself but she broke into tears when she heard about my IVF attempts and the failures I went through. She has given me many gifts, but the best one is a book (I hope you understand the importance of getting a book from her – she gave me something which she cannot enjoy anymore - her unfairly denied pleasure !); and a cute pink frock for my prospective daughter. She is the most beautiful human being I have ever met and her suffering has transmuted her into a woman full of strength and compassion. When she was in hospital , she wrote the following verses from the Bhagavad Gita and stuck it in her room (in her present childish scribbling).
It read :
“Whatever happened, happened for the best . Whatever is happening, is happening for good . Whatever will happen, will also happen well. For what are you crying? What did you bring with you, for you to lose? What did you create, for it to be wasted or destroyed? Whatever you took, it was taken from here. Whatever you gave, it was given from here. Whatever is yours today, will belong to someone else tomorrow. On another day, it will belong to yet another”. I understood the profound wisdom in those words; and if I hadn’t been infertile , I don’t think I would have been able to do so !
Is infertility a greater suffering than what many other people endure ? I have come across people who get very angry when I say - Look at the suffering which others go through in order to console yourself. Their argument is, isn’t every suffering unique ? Is my pain worthless ? Don’t I have the right to feel my pain ? Like happiness, suffering is relative. Comparing yourself with persons who are less fortunate than you, will turn you into a compassionate and grateful human. When you feel their pain, your pain will automatically appear a lot lesser , and this protects you from many negative emotions and depression. It stops you from complaining , and helps you to appreciate life. If you spend most of your life feeling sorry for yourself because you are infertile, learning to shed tears for others will help your own life to appear worthy and precious !
Be happy !
Isn’t the purpose of life to be happy? What will you achieve by being sorry for yourself, carrying a ton of guilt, being resentful and angry and by becoming bitter everyday , just because you are infertile ? Aren’t your hurting your spouse too by being sorry for yourself all the time?
How can you be happy when you are struggling with infertility? The truth is our circumstances don’t have anything to do with our happiness – it is the way you look at your circumstances that either robs you of your bliss or helps you to stay strong. Look at infertility as an interesting challenge rather than a mere struggle. You have something to hope for, to wish for, something to be excited about (a baby!) most of the time – is there anything else needed to keep someone happy ? Of course there are very hurtful and sad times during infertility struggle, but doesn’t that sadness make the happiness in our life taste better ? The best way to be happy is to make someone else happy– try it and you will understand! Give happiness priority in your life. It will make all the suffering appear a lot less and you will gain enormous strength to cope with infertility ! Below is the serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr which helps me to remain serene amidst my infertility journey :
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Hope it helps you too ! Stop worrying about things which are beyond your control and appreciate the blessing which you do you have.
Do not equate happiness with a baby
The mistake many infertile couples do is equate happiness with a baby. They wait and wait for a baby - and for happiness too. All through their journey to have a baby , they remain sad and bitter. When you are sad and bitter , you turn the people around you off . Happy souls tend to make others happy and hence attract happiness ! During your infertility journey, you need support from your friends and dear ones; leading a lonely life only adds to emotional suffering. Many infertile couples live an isolated life. People do not move away from you just because you are infertile – rather, you move away from them because you are sad and depressed. I have heard many women say – “ If only I had a baby , how happy I would be!” Do you think having a baby will solve all your problems and bring you everlasting joy ? Of course having a baby is one of the sources of happiness , but a baby is not the only source of happiness. The time to be happy is now; you never know what the future has in store for you ! Only when you are contended with what you have do you get the ability to enjoy happiness ! If you make your happiness conditional to getting something you don’t have , life becomes miserable. If you learn to be happy , you learn to tackle life’s ups and downs with equanimity !
Helping others is the best way of helping yourself !
We all need help sometimes ! When going through infertility we definitely need help; I am not talking about monetary help, I am talking about emotional help. We need kind words to keep us strong ; we need a shoulder to lean on when we are tired; we need an understanding heart who empathizes with us ; and we need to know that we are not alone ! But how do you get this much needed help ?I have learned a very important lesson in my life by going through this infertility struggle – “ helping others is the best way of helping yourself”. My blog helps me to help others by sharing the knowledge I have acquired. When I do this , I gain more knowledge too , because I have to keep myself updated !After all, teaching others is the best way to learn something. So by gathering knowledge , I am helping myself first so that I can help others ! Nothing gives me more satisfaction than when I can help other infertile couples. By supporting them , I am supporting myself; by helping them I am helping myself ! I get a feeling of self-worth and I am proud to be a patient ! My self-esteem grows daily because I get so many comforting words and emotional support from my virtual friends. So if you think you need help, learn to help others first. Infertile couples often feel that they are alone – that no one understands them , and they crave for comfort. In such a situation , the best way to get support is to support others who are in a similar situation as you are. Online infertility communities and forums are the best way to reach out to someone who is going through what you have gone through. Helping them and supporting them can bring a sense of goodness in your life. Having an online journal can help you emotionally and help others too !There are always people around you who need help , and you can help them in many different ways - providing monetary help; sharing your knowledge; supporting them with your kind words and deeds - anything which you do is fine, when it’s done without any vested interest ! Spending your precious time and resources for others will help you to have a positive attitude.When you taste the happiness which is inherent in the help you extend to others, you will never feel tired or sorry for yourself. It is not only about the appreciation you receive, it is about the genuine intrinsic spiritual happiness inherent in such activities which keeps you strong and resilient. Helping others provides enormous emotional gratification and protection and I will always be thankful to Dr. Malpani for teaching me this valuable lesson – thank you very much Dr !
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls !
Kahlil Gibran said “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”The more suffering you face the stronger you become. When I had my last IVF failure and was struggling with depression Dr.Malpani quoted Nietzsche “ What doesn't kill you makes you stronger ! Grappling with infertility can help to make you more empathetic and emotionally much more resilient, so you can deal with all the hard knocks life can (and will) deliver in the future as well !” So, never look at your suffering as punishment – it is a blessing in disguise. It helps you appreciate how strong you really are !It will prepare you to face other difficult situations in your life with a strong heart and a clear mind. Once you have successfully weathered the storm of infertility, anything else life chooses to throw at you will be child’s play to deal with. Infertile couples suffer for what we deeply crave for – a baby – can there be a sweeter pleasure than such suffering ? The way you react to struggles determines who you are. A person who is in his comfort zone may be good – but only one who is pushed by challenges can grow to his true potential. If you grow better every day without becoming bitter amidst your struggles , that is the greatest achievement you can aim for in your life. Accept your sufferings gracefully and allow it to shape you into a beautiful human being. Suffering is a brutal teacher , yet it teaches you the best lessons in life ! Make sure you learn the lessons without yielding to self-pity and depression !
Life is a succession of lessons – learn from them!
Life is a continuous learning process - when you stop learning, you stop growing too ! Many infertile couples avoid social gatherings because they are afraid of facing awkward situations and unkind thoughtless comments. They try hard to isolate themselves , and as a result they stop learning the valuable lessons life was designed to teach them ! There are many unreasonable people around , and they might hurt you with their words or deeds. But remember that no one can hurt you without your permission – and their unkindness reflects on them , rather than on you. By meeting them , you can learn how not to behave ! Tackling hurtful situations and comments helps you to grow spiritually and emotionally. We all build resilience by tackling difficulties in life. Remember, life is a learning experience and it’s the experiences you need to struggle with which will teach you the most precious lessons. If you refuse to tackle your pain, you will never grow emotionally. Stunted emotional growth makes you vulnerable to pain and depression. If you want to be emotionally hardy , treat life as a continuous learning experience and be willing to learn from it !
“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.”
- Henry Ford
Keep yourself occupied !
The best antidote for depression is being occupied with something you like doing. Anything you are good at will bring you happiness. An idle brain is the devil’s workshop and being idle exposes you to all sorts of unreasonable thoughts and fears. So always engage yourself in some work which keeps you busy. If that work becomes your passion you will naturally excel in it. If you are a working woman who is trying hard to have a baby, please do not quit your job for the sake of a baby. The stress you experience in your job will not prevent you from conceiving – this is just an old wife’s tale ! In fact, being busy will help your emotional well-being ! If you are mentally unoccupied you will find lots of time to obX, and the more you obsess, the more likely you will sink into depression. The best way to cope with infertility is to engage yourself in activities you like– be it a hobby, your job, some charity work and so on. If the work you do gives you a sense of satisfaction and self-worth , you will be able to cope better with the times when you feel sorry for yourself, and you’ll be able to snap out of the infertility blues more quickly.
Turn a deaf ear to hurtful opinions and comments
Many women say “I try hard to be strong and happy amidst my infertility struggle , but the people around me hurt me with their words and deeds. This turns me into a coward , and I am unable to face them . How do I cope with this? “ One of my friends told me “I got a call from one of my relatives who recently had a baby, and she went on and on about how good it feels to be a mother ! To add insult to injury, she also gave me her opinion on how infertility treatments can actually prevent one from conceiving ! “ One of my friend’s in-laws made the cruel comment - “What use is a fertilizer if the soil itself is inherently bad ? “ How is possible to remain strong when such unreasonable people are around ?
I agree it hurts to have to deal with these emotional assaults all the time. It can make us weak and fearful. But if you observe people who get happiness by poking their nose into other’s misfortunes, you will find that they are unhappy themselves. Rather than get angry, you should feel sorry for them. If someone hurts me unreasonably, my first thought is “ What has this person gone through which has made him this bitter “. Remember, a happy human will not hurt others. Only people who lead a miserable life filled with anger, hatred, guilt and suspicion will have the time and energy to find happiness in other’s troubles. So the best thing you can do to safeguard your peace of mind is to pity these nosey-parkers - being compassionate will give you a sense of superiority, and will allow you to forgive them more easily ! You cannot control someone else’s actions – but you can control your response to them ! Just turn a deaf ear to their hurtful opinions and comments , and ignore them. When you give undue importance to such comments and worry about them, you unconsciously give them power over you. Your brain starts believing that what they said is right - and this can actually make you more emotionally susceptible. Remember that what they say and how they behave shows who they are - and not what we are . Anyone who deliberately chooses to hurt you deserves your pity !
Seek therapy !
Last , but not the least, please seek psychotherapy if you find it hard to deal with infertility. Infertility can play havoc with your emotional-wellbeing. If you are someone who is constantly tearful and fearful; if you are overwhelmed with negative thoughts all the time; if you cannot take your mind off the thought of infertility; if you cannot sleep well; and if your work and personal life are affected because of the crisis of infertility, please seek medical attention. Not everyone is blessed with the ability to be strong and resilient during all major life crises. We all can benefit from professional help during a crisis in our life – and a good therapist will teach you tools to tackle stressful situations in a more constructive fashion. Seeking medical help doesn’t mean you are weak. Actually,reaching out for help shows that you are wise enough to understand something is wrong and can take bold steps to overcome it. There are many different forms of psychotherapy available , which will help you to bounce back !
This is an excerpt from our forthcoming, book, The Expert Patient's Guide to IVF. This being authored by our expert patient, Manju and me.
You can email Manju at firstname.lastname@example.org
Her blog is at www.myselfishgenes.blogspot.com