By Dr. Jessica Liu, ND
For many of my clients dealing with fertility challenges, “loss” is a word that stands out. It permeates their every day, in each missed cycle, in being seemingly surrounded by a world of pregnant women and families with babies; in the lonely place that a couple can find themselves when the one thing they want with all of their hearts seems at times beyond reach.
Many couples who are undergoing fertility treatments face even more stress in dealing with often times invasive techniques, constant monitoring, and the medicalization of what was once to them a simpler, more sacred intimate process. There can be a feeling of trauma around the process of fertility care and some couples can be faced with enduring stress, even post-traumatic stress, even long after they have successfully conceived.
What I have found in practice most helpful in supporting my patients at any stage of fertility care is to teach them to practice mindfulness in the form of loving kindness. Sound a bit too ‘out there’? It might be interesting to note that mindfulness based cognitive behavioural therapy has been well studied as an effective form of therapy to help with conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which can occur in the process of trying to conceive, especially as the methods used to support fertility become more invasive and financially more burdensome.
What then does mindfulness practice based in loving kindness entail? There are no real hard and fast rules when it comes to this type of work, but there are two general guiding principles that I find are very helpful:
- Being able to have an awareness in the present moment of any feelings of “dis-ease” you are holding in your mind or body, whether that is sadness, inadequacy, worry, fear, guilt, or resentment.
- Having the ability to treat yourself in a more compassionate way in that same moment to be able to feel those feelings without self-judgement but instead with kindness.
When I introduce these concepts to my patients, oftentimes the first response, is “Much easier said than done”. Agreed! Shifting one’s mindset takes time and practice, as with learning any new skill. The key to all of it is that in each moment, there is a brand new opportunity to find the space to create a more positive, healthful thought or one that allows us to take the edge off of our sometimes constant self-criticism.
If you are facing fertility challenges, this type of mindfulness might involve letting go of self-judgement when it comes to feeling a certain way around hearing a friend share their news of becoming newly pregnant, and to refocus that feeling on trusting that your own fertility is strong within you and that you are doing all the right things to bring it to light.
Being compassionate with yourself can also bring about so many positive physiological changes – decreased cortisol, improved serotonin and endorphins, healthy ovulatory function. Once you can tune into what your mind and body needs to stay joyful is when your body becomes ‘primed’ for optimal fertility.
Finally, loving kindness can also come in the form of other actions; it doesn’t necessarily have to involve deep breathing or meditation! Cuddling with your partner, taking in a yoga class, treating yourself to some much needed ‘me time’ are all ways to manifest self-compassion.
In practicing mindfulness based loving kindness, healing can occur in all spheres of health – body, mind and spirit – and with it, vibrant fertility may be achieved.