As a counsellor who specialises in providing support for women and couples experiencing pregnancy loss and infertility, I often find it can resonate for my clients when I suggest that it must feel like life is on hold in so many ways. Whether it is the grief of pregnancy loss or the overwhelming process of IVF treatment, normal enjoyment and involvement in daily life can become so compromised.
COVID-19 has complicated this even further in many ways – the inability to interact with our normal face-to-face sources of support, the limited ways in which we can look after ourselves and perhaps most importantly, the suspension of IVF treatment. Thankfully this latest restriction has been lifted as of today (27th April), but many couples have still experienced unwanted delays to their long-held dreams to start a family in recent months.
The impact of Infertility
As women, we are born with an innate desire to nurture and create our own family. Infertility brings about so many feelings and emotions, among them being a sense of failure as a woman, isolation, sadness and grief that natural conception hasn’t happened, as well as anger and frustration when confronted by the happy baby news of others. One of the hardest things about infertility is the lack of control; the fact that nobody has the crystal ball to be able to tell a woman when they will fall pregnant. COVID-19 has only made this harder by prolonging what was already a great unknown.
IVF and COVID-19
So often, the point at which a couple begins IVF treatment comes after a long and often devastating journey to try to conceive a baby. They may have experienced pregnancy loss, and will have almost definitely gone through a range of investigative tests and potentially surgery. They will have watched as friends, family members, work colleagues around them have had successful pregnancies and welcomed babies.
For many women who were feeling relief that their years of trying to conceive naturally would end by starting an IVF cycle, the suspension of IVF treatment due to COVID-19 brought huge disappointment. I have had to support many such women through what became an unknown time delay before they could start treatment. I wish I had a magic wand to bring everyone of them the happiness they deserve to have success in their IVF journey and a baby in their arms.
The Importance of Self-Compassion
In the absence of that magic wand or crystal ball, I sit with these women or couples and firstly make sure they feel heard. I encourage them not to suppress all their emotions, but to find – in therapy – a safe environment in which to vent. This helps enormously.
Emotional support is crucial during IVF, and COVID-19 has meant face to face support is limited for many to their partner. A partner will often struggle to find the words of comfort a woman seeks. In those triggering moments where the emotions are overwhelming, I encourage women to write them down. I believe writing down how you are feeling – or journalling – helps you to process and validate those emotions.
COVID-19 has also compromised many of the ways people look after themselves – no longer can you have a cup of tea with a friend, attend a yoga class, go to a movie, to the gym, have acupuncture. So many self-care activities I have often suggested to clients aren’t possible for the moment, so it’s about finding new ways to allow yourself time to be kind to yourself both physically and emotionally. Walking remains one of the best ways to both burn nervous energy and provide yourself with a circuit-break. Listen to a podcast, walk near the ocean, play your favourite music. It will help your mental health hugely. Take a long bath, binge on a Netflix series, reach out to a friend who will listen.
Above all, please allow yourself to listen to your humanistic and emotional voice. Quieten the inner critic. Moments of what some call self-pity are often just the opportunity to process what are the understandably tough feelings that infertility brings. There is greater relief in allowing yourself those thoughts than in trying to censor them.
Be kind to yourself.
Lucy Kemp, Infertility & Pregnancy Loss Counsellor