Trying to conceive without positive results is an emotional roller coaster. For some, it can even lead to mental health issues. In the following interview with therapist Janine Canaday, LPC, LCPC, of Living Wellness, LLC, we will investigate how trying to conceive affects mental health and what you can do if you need extra support.
Is it normal to feel depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, hopeless if getting pregnant takes longer than expected?
Yes, feelings of sadness, anxiety, and anger to name a few are natural to experience and express. These feelings are usually indicators that a situation or experience that we are having requires additional attention to process and work through. For many women, motherhood is a valued and important part of life that is often sought after. When what we value most in life is not present or is difficult to obtain, it is normal to a degree to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, fear and overwhelm.
The CDC reports that about 12% of women aged 15-44 experience challenges with fertility as well as 35% of couples where both men and women play a role in the challenges of conceiving. The messaging that we get from society, social images and the media can sometimes convey that conceiving a baby is easy and can happen quickly. In reality, it is a very intricate process that requires precise factors to be present. It is not as easy as it looks! Through many attempts, doctor visits, tests and procedures, the whole experience of trying to conceive can be emotionally, mentally and physically draining. It can be very devastating to experience and take an emotional toll on the relationship.
How can you tell if you are depressed or just going through a rough time?
Those who experience symptoms of depression will often show some of the following signs: fatigue, loss of interest, loss of appetite, isolation, extreme sadness, poor concentration, fearfulness, lack of energy, irritability, changes in weight, headaches, difficulty sleeping, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness. When these symptoms impact one’s daily routine in a significant way and have been preset for at least 2 weeks or longer, then it may be time to consider professional support.
If you find that managing day to day responsibilities around the house, at work or school and with your family are becoming too overwhelming and unbearable, then it may be more than just a rough period of time. Also, if you are frequently feeling unmotivated, it is becoming too difficult to get out of bed and engaging in daily grooming seems daunting, then please pay attention to these signs. It is important to communicate with trusted individuals whom you find to be supportive about what you are feeling. In addition, it is equally as important to do a regular self-check of your emotions by paying attention to your thoughts, bodily sensations and responses to triggering or stressful situations. This level of self-awareness is vital to knowing when it is time to seek support in order to treat your symptoms early with effective interventions.
How can you find purpose when the one thing you want so desperately, to be a mother, you can't seem to attain?
What is so amazing about life is that even on our hardest days and in our darkest hours there is hope, healing and purpose. Each woman who experiences the challenges of infertility has a unique story. A story of trials, pain, triumph and joy with many chapters and edited revisions that has led her down a journey she least expected. Power and purpose can be found in the journey. It can be very easy and even natural to focus on the pain, the heart break of infertility and the uncertainty of what life may bring next. Allow yourself to feel the full variety of emotions that come to you, but choose to not live in that space. Acknowledge that what you are experiencing is very difficult, yet know it does not have to be the end of your story or what defines you as a woman. You have the power and control to write and create more chapters of healing and victory. Refrain from self-comparison because it discredits your unique story that only you can tell. No one else has experienced what you have been through the way you did. Your desire and purpose for motherhood may show up for you in ways that you may not have possibly anticipated, dreamed of or imagined. Stay encouraged!
What can couples who are feeling distant or fighting, arguing, ignoring, or blowing up about treatment plans and the stresses of getting pregnant do to enhance their relationship?
Going through the challenging journey of infertility can be very stressful for both people. It can be an emotional roller coaster that can cause strain in the relationship if left unchecked. What is most important for couples to do is to engage in effective communication and set/maintain healthy boundaries. Make a decision to speak to each other instead of at each other. Share your feelings, listen with the intent to understand each other and reflect back on what you heard your partner say to show empathy and support. It is important that each partner feels heard. Discuss one issue at a time, take turns talking and express your feelings using “I” statements to show responsibility for your emotions. Keep in mind that constant fighting, arguing and ignoring each other is ineffective, invalidating and minimizes your partners’ feelings.
You are a team. It is vital to work together as a united front. I will often have couples who are experiencing challenges within their relationship complete worksheets that help them remember why they fell in love in the first place and why they decided to do this journey called life together. Take a moment to engage in quality time asking each other “discovery” questions about your hopes, dreams, desires and goals for your family. Reminisce on past shared experiences that were happy and joyful. Look through photo albums, make a collage or a vision board together to bring the passion and laughter back within your relationship. Start dating each other all over again!
How important is self-care for mental health while struggling with illness/reproductive challenges? When is it time to seek mental health help?
Frequent self-care is paramount in managing a healthy balance of what life has to offer. Stress that is improperly managed can have an impact on your health and body. Prolonged and chronic stress can negatively impact your cardiovascular system, endocrine system, nervous system and reproductive system to name a few. It is important to stay informed and gain information from your doctors and specialists about what specifically happens within your body during periods of chronic stress as it relates to fertility.
Self-care may include joining a support group of other women experiencing similar challenges, journaling or writing about your feelings and your journey, spending time with loved ones, doing enjoyable things and engaging in relaxation techniques. Practicing deep breathing, mindfulness skills (being present in the moment), yoga or exercise and healthy eating are excellent ways to bring your mind and body back to a state of homeostasis and calm. Positive self-affirmation statements are also very important in keeping your thoughts focused on what is helpful and productive. Some of my clients have reported that using aroma therapy and Himalayan salt lamps are effective at reducing stress. Set aside at least 15-30 minutes each day to engage in self-care. It is a necessary part of your overall quality of life and health.
If you are finding it too difficult to engage in self-care, are experiencing a lack in motivation and are feeling hopeless and helpless about your situation. Please seek support from a trusted professional.
It’s normal to feel anxious when it comes to trying to conceive. Finding the right coping tools can make all the difference. If you don’t have a plan for getting pregnant, start by talking to a professional. Knowing what your best options to take back control of your fertility will help you feel less overwhelmed. If you or a loved one suspects you are depressed, contact a therapist like Janine. You don’t have to do this alone.
I am licensed in both Virginia and Maryland. My office is located at 2663 Osborne Rd. Suite 7, Chester, VA. 23831. Virtual counseling is available for those who prefer this option and for those who live in Maryland. For additional information about me and my practice, please visit my website at www.iamlivingwellness.com or my profile on the Psychology Today website. I can be reached at 443.272.1429. For more encouragement and support please follow Living Wellness, LLC on Facebook and Instagram. I wish you well!