Anyone traversing the terrain of infertility inevitably bumps up against a sea of “whys?” “Why am I not pregnant?” “Why is this happening to me?” “Why don’t I feel hopeful about my fertility journey?”
It’s human nature to ask “Why?” — especially when faced with feelings of deep uncertainty and feeling out of control.
Our minds are powerful, and often trick us into believing that if we uncover the answers to all of our “whys,” we will somehow alleviate our pain, creating a buffer against the waters of grief that so often surge during this vulnerable time.
Such was the case for Renee. After having a baby in her 20s, she assumed expanding her family would not be a problem. She was surprised and shocked when her body did not cooperate. After years of trying to conceive, she sought the advice of medical doctors and reproductive endocrinologists only to be told that her infertility was “unexplained.” Hearing this news, she felt her body was broken, and that this was somehow her fault. Even more upsetting, no one could tell her “why.”
Like Renee, for so many women, fertility challenges are a health crisis, not only of the body, but also of the soul. For many of us, we think of starting a family as our birthright, a natural event in the course of our lives. When this belief is challenged, we may be overwhelmed by feelings of confusion, disappointment, and failure. These powerful feelings often lead to automatic, judgmental thoughts about ourselves, fracturing the connection between our heads and our hearts.
There’s good news: Just as our minds play an active role in our suffering, they can also play an active role in our healing. We can cultivate this process through learning and practicing the life skills of mindfulness. Mindfulness means moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness. It is cultivated by refining our capacity to pay attention, intentionally, in the present moment, and then sustaining that attention over time as best we can. Through this process we become more in touch with our life as it is unfolding. Clinically proven to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, mindfulness is being used to help individuals and couples struggling with fertility challenges.
Mindfulness brings to infertility a powerful framework for noticing whatever we are doing in each moment. It allows us to see past the veil of our automatic thoughts and feelings. By observing the whole field of our experience, we become more aware, and this leads to a deeper actuality. We can cultivate this awareness by turning inward and focusing on the breath. Starting where we are, we can breathe in through the heart and out through the belly. If our minds wander (which they may), we can notice what comes up, and then return to the breath.
Through sustained practice, mindfulness becomes a great ally, and combats the myopic thinking often caused by a diagnosis of infertility. Instead of seeing things in such bimodal terms of “all good, or “all bad,” we learn to appreciate the space in between by paying attention to whatever emerges moment to moment.
When we slow down and really pay attention, we birth the stories that map onto our experiences, one after the other. We learn about our own attachments, longings, losses, and disappointments. Regardless of what we have attached to in the past, mindfulness offers the opportunity to begin anew. Through sustained practice, it retrains the mind, laying down the fertile ground for compassion, a natural antidote for suffering.
Sometimes we attach an intergenerational narrative around our fertility. Perhaps our great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother became pregnant with ease, and having repeatedly heard these stories, we are certain this too, will be our path. When the fertility narrative does not unfold as we historically have been told, judgment erupts. Too often we beat ourselves up, convinced that we must be doing something wrong, and that we are somehow inadequate or broken.
One form of mindfulness is Metta meditation. Metta means loving-kindness. Repeating words and phrases, Metta meditation offers loving and kind actions to ourselves, other beings in our lives, as well as to the universe. Metta meditation can calm the deepest of worries and fears, offering a renewed sense of well-being. We can start with four simple phrases:
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be free.
May you love yourself unconditionally, just the way you are.
Through Metta meditation, we can turn inward, reconnecting with a sense of kindness for ourselves. Compassion births generosity and acceptance, and offers a wider lens through which to view our experiences. Metta meditation allows us to “be” with ourselves, just as we are. It’s the music that quiets the critical voices that spiral through our minds.
When we honor our experiences, moment-to-moment, what was once inconceivable often becomes tolerable. We realize that everything is temporary, including our suffering. And by simply noticing, our fears shrink, our hearts expand, and empathy grows. Through this practice, time and again, we connect with a new sense of ourselves. Embodying kindness and wholeheartedness, we realize that our stories are just our stories, ever-evolving narratives, being created one word and one moment at a time.