with infertility treatment, the fear of getting your hopes up

Infertility requires us to walk the razor-thin edge between hope and fear of disappointment (sometimes bordering on despair). Sometimes the fear of getting our hopes up with infertility treatment threatens to overcome us.

We received the following question in our Creating a Family Facebook Support Group.

We are going to go through ivf with adopted [donated] embryo(s) hopefully soon. I’ve tried to stay positive but still remind myself it may not work. I catch myself thinking positively then I feel guilty about thinking it will work, and immediately decide I need to plan for it not to work. I’m starting to think it will never work and find myself becoming sad and dreadful. I should be excited about this but all I can focus on is it not working. I feel like I’ve convinced myself it won’t work and I’ll be depressed. With all the unknown how do I get myself back to dreaming of the possibility instead of dreading it like a plague? Any advice? Is it possible to get depressed before such an exciting opportunity?~Katrina

Katrina is not alone! At Creating a Family we hear this fear a lot. Cautious optimism may be the best approach with infertility treatment, but that’s a might fine line to walk, especially if you’ve experience failed IUI or IVF cycles. You can and should (assuming your doctor is optimistic about your chances) allow space for hope, but you also have to guard your heart.

I read a great blog addressing this exact topic by Helen Adrienne a LCSW general psychotherapist, clinical hypnotherapist, and practitioner of mind/body therapy specializing in infertility in New York City. She captured perfectly the difficulty of walking this balance.

Fear of Getting Your Hopes Up

“A game you can’t win.” So said an attendee at a recent stress reduction class that I run for women in the fertility quest. It captures the experience of every cycle – every month that goes by without a conception. This is not to say that you’ll never conceive. No, most aspiring parents stay fixed on their hopes and dreams by hook or by crook. A game you can’t win pertains to two mental positions that vie for attention, especially during the two-week wait.

Should I let myself get excited? Maybe this month will be the charm. The twinges I feel are different. Could it be? Dare I think? Can I control my mood to encourage implantation?

Or maybe this month it’s more like, why bother? I’m not going to imagine I can “win.” I’ll put a hex on my head if I allow positive thoughts. Why should this month be different?

Before you know it you’re in superstition land. The old version from childhood was: If I don’t step on any cracks in the sidewalk then I won’t … fill in the blank. There’s so much more at stake when the machinations of your mind drag you from it will happen to it won’t happen and back again. So there you are, trapped between the effort to take charge and the futility in the face of the seeming whimsy of the universe.

It would be normal for your mind to jump like a monkey between excitement and despair. The key quality that one needs at challenging times is resilience. Hence, I offer you this:

Resilience: The “Seed” of Possibility for the Infertile Patient

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from trauma and is integral to mental health. Some would call it the definition of mental health. But resilience is not a fixed commodity. It can be lost as physical and mental challenges rise beyond a person’s accrued coping skills and regained as people do their darndest to build coping skills that match the magnitude of the challenge.

The loss of resilience is virtually universal for those who find themselves in a fertility quest. Tossed out of the family building mainstream, infertility patients find themselves in an existential, bio-psycho-socio-spiritual crisis that may take years to resolve. No area of life is untouched. Levels of stress have been measured on par with the life-threatening diagnoses of cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS. Medical interventions (and thank God for them) feel like science fiction and are mentally and physically demanding.

Mind/Body interventions humanize the technology and teach people who are faced with this adversity to ride the crest of what feels like a tsunami without being swamped—while awaiting their miracle.

Mind/Body techniques can be cognitive, problem-solving or meditative. There are many ways to deal with, distract from, utilize and grow from this challenge. A comprehensive mind/body protocol returns the locus of control to the patient and with it, resiliency. No technique is one-stop shopping nor can the most effective technique be counted upon to work each time. Therefore, the more approaches to stress-reduction a person knows, the less likely (s)he is to get swamped in the face of this adversity. And just as important, a person must be willing to choose a coping technique when (s)he is least likely to be in the mood to do so. So a need for mental muscle (resiliency) is what builds resiliency itself! While this is difficult, it is entirely possible – with motivation. And what could be more motivating than wanting a child?

Other Resources to Help

  • Helen wrote a wonderful book for those who are struggling with infertility: On Fertile Ground: Healing Infertility. At the end of each chapter, she offers easy-to-learn mind/body techniques to help cope with the mixture of hope and fear found in infertility.
  • We have interviewed several times on the Creating a Family Radio Show/Podcast, including a show on Finding the Blessing in Infertility: Surviving and Thriving with a Diagnosis of Infertility.
  • FertiCalm is an app for apple and android phones developed by reproductive psychologists Dr. Alice Domar and Dr. Elizabeth Grill that suggests specific coping techniques to help you cope with balancing hope and disappointment in infertility treatment.

How have you been able to balance fear of getting your hopes up with optimism in infertility treatment? Are have you?