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How To Stop Blaming Yourself When Trying To Conceive Isn’t Working
This whole thing is hard enough as it is.
“What am I doing wrong?” “There has to be something more I could do.” “I’m supposed to be able to do this; what is wrong with my body?” When you’re trying to conceive and it’s just not happening, it’s so easy to slip into feeling shame and guilt. Difficulty conceiving or infertility can often make people blame themselves, but it’s important to be kind to yourself (and to ask your support group to be vocal about their love for you right now too). As for how you can help yourself cope with your thoughts about blame and fertility, mental health experts have some ideas.
Depression is more common in people dealing with fertility trouble.
If you’re constantly having negative thoughts about your fertility — and how you might be responsible for it — chances are you may also be dealing with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and more. Those sound a lot like the symptoms of depression, which experts say is more likely to impact people struggling to conceive.
“We know that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) occur in around 1-in-5 to 1-in-7 women. When you add in loss and fertility challenges, we can see that number increase,” says Dr. Jill Garrett, PsyD, PMH-C, psychologist and program director of maternal mental health program The Motherhood Space. “In fact, we know that after loss, subsequent pregnancies are marked by an increase in anxiety in about 80% to 90% of women. At this point too, families are struggling with that loss of innocence that those who have not endured fertility struggles or loss do not tend to carry.”
Blaming yourself for what’s happening (or not happening) in your body is a common reaction, says Monika Friedman, certified mind-body fertility specialist and member of The Body Agency’s Body Board. “The female body is ‘supposed’ to reproduce, to perform, to ‘work’. As a woman, not being able to conceive is something that goes to the very core of our belief system. It goes against everything that we thought we were able to do. I think there are various factors, but it’s very, very common.”
How to not blame yourself if you have fertility concerns
If you’re dealing with self-blame and just want to feel better, Garrett and Friedman agree that you should connect with a mental health provider and find vetted resources for support.
“Start with connecting yourself to reputable organizations that can offer you accurate information on your physical health, but can also offer opportunities to engage with others who are on this journey,” says Garrett. “The National Fertility Association’s website and it has a lot of options around educating oneself and accessing support groups. Postpartum Support International’s (PSI) website also offers virtual groups for those who are enduring fertility challenges, have suffered early pregnancy loss, pregnancy and infant loss, and a lot of other topics, including perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.”
If you need help finding a provider who specializes in perinatal loss and fertility, you can also search for one near you through both the National Fertility Association and PSI’s provider directories. But there are plenty of steps you can take right now to support your own mental health while trying to conceive. Garrett and Friedman recommend:
- Get enough sleep. “We know that if you don’t sleep well, if you sleep less than seven hours, there’s research that this will most definitely deteriorate your mental health. Above all, I would say sleep trumps everything,” Friedman says.
- Try mindfulness exercises (even if it sounds woo woo). “Mindfulness can mean many things. That can mean a daily meditation practice sitting on your cushion and meditating for 30 minutes but that’s usually very tough. Easier ways to do that are simple breathing techniques or simple mindfulness techniques where I just observe what I eat, or I observe my breath for three inhales and exhales,” Friedman says.
- Download relaxation apps. “A couple of apps that can be really helpful are Expectful and Calm,” says Friedman.
- Think about your body’s basic needs. “My favorite self-care reminder is NURSE. Each of the letters stands for an important component of self-care that can help people through any adjustment period. N is for nutrition, U is for understanding your triggers, R is for rest and relaxation, S is for supports, E is for exercise or movement,” Garrett says.
As Friedman puts it, practicing self-care during this time basically means asking yourself, “How can I take care of my nervous system today?” The answer will be different for everyone; just focus on what makes you feel good.
“Those who are able to practice these healthy self-care skills are going to find that it really makes for a smoother ride,” says Garrett. “Those who have good, healthy supports, those who are willing to access support, and those who are proactively practicing healthy self-care are going to be helpful qualities on a fertility journey.”
Garrett adds that fertility challenges and loss can feel particularly isolating, but that in reality, you’re absolutely not alone.
“We know that 10% to 15% of pregnancies end in loss, and we know that about 10% of women of childbearing age have difficulty with fertility. That’s about 6 million people, and we know that there are disparities in infertility rates in women of color, so numbers in women of color are going to be even higher,” she says.
Finally, Garrett notes that the risk of developing a PMAD is higher after dealing with fertility challenges. She encourages anyone in that boat to work with their provider and create a proactive plan to care for your mental health. And remember: it’s not your fault.
Dr. Jill Garrett, PsyD, PMH-C, psychologist at Baptist Health Jacksonville, and founder and program director of maternal mental health program The Motherhood Space
Monika Friedman, certified mind-body fertility specialist and member of The Body Agency’s Body Board
As part of our Shameless initiative, BDG has partnered with The Body Agency health platform and its non-profit TBA Collective to aid in their mission of empowering women and people of all genders with health resources, products, and education. You can support their non-profit work by donating Dignity Kits to those in underserved communities across the world here.