How to cope when everyone else is more fertile than you are.
Earlier this month, the media went into a frenzy with the “unconfirmed” pregnancy announcements of Kylie Jenner and Khloe Kardashian. These ladies now share the unplanned-mom-to-be-spotlight with Kim Kardashian, Julia Styles, and even, Mindy Kaling?
While these celebs await their bundles of joy, the public wastes no time analyzing, questioning, and examining these pregnancies. Listening to the media debate the responsibility of a pregnant 20-year-old deserves to be a parent is triggering a lot of emotions in the fertility community. If you’ve been unsuccessful in your efforts to conceive, this constant discussion can be a heartbreaking reminder of your own infertility. It pokes at painful wounds and, understandably, elicits strong feelings of anger, depression and resentment.
These negative emotions are not helping your fertility, so here’s what you should do to restore your emotional equilibrium and maximize your coping capabilities.
1. Acknowledge and embrace your feelings. As a psychotherapist specializing in infertility, this is the first line of defense I always suggest. Before you can determine the most constructive emotional response, you need to have a clear understanding of what you are actually responding to. In the past few weeks, several patients talked to me about their feelings of resentment and rage around learning that Kylie Jenner, a person for whom they had little respect, was expecting. They believe that she wants a baby for attention, and that makes her unworthy of being a parent. Furthermore, since my patients put so much effort into trying to conceive, they should be pregnant because they deserve it more.
This cognitive distortion, known as the “Shoulds,” can make you feel guilty or like you have already failed. You have to listen to this word in your thinking, call yourself out on this biased thinking, and replace the thoughts with more constructive cognitions. Remind yourself that Jenner’s baby bump is not changing your pregnancy potential. You have to actively work to restore a more realistic perspective. By bolstering your defenses and catching your unhelpful thoughts, you can protect yourself against falling into this trap again.
2. Don't let it get to you. When you are trying to conceive, it can seem like everyone around you is pregnant. This phenomenon, known as the frequency illusion, is a powerful cognitive trick played by your subconscious. It causes you to pay selective attention to a particular concept, and heightens your focus when you are in contact with it. If it feels like you are seeing more pregnant women all around you, the fact is that you actually are noticing more pregnant women. This heightened awareness reinforced by the ongoing celebrity baby chatter in the media can make the most well-adjusted woman believe she is the only one not pregnant.
Now that you have an understanding that your psyche is playing an evil trick on you, you can begin to fight back. You can engage in reality testing techniques to see the situation for what it actually is. For example, ask yourself “is there another angle from which I can view this situation?” Or “am I dedicating too much emotional bandwidth to this issue?” Then use these answers to recognize themes and patterns in your thoughts, and refute any distortions.
3. Pull the Trigger. When it comes to feeling upset, frustrated or inferior, identifying your triggers can be a powerful tool to help you defend yourself. Knowing the people, places and things that will provoke uncomfortable responses can help you avoid the upsetting events until you build up your immunity towards them. For example, it feels like there is no escaping the public scrutiny over these celebrity pregnancies. This suffocating feeling may be heightened when you read the weekly tabloids or watch pretty much any show on E!. Herein lies the problem, what do you do when those activities that used to serve as the foundation for your self-care routine are actually the cause of your distress? In two short words: skip it.
There is no reason to masochistically expose yourself to distressing thoughts and images, so give yourself a break. Instead of picking up Star Magazine this week, opt for something more nurturing. Force yourself to create an inventory of pleasurable activities. Include everything from the basic mundane moments to the most magical activities you can imagine. Keep the list handy so you can easily reference it when you’re feeling vulnerable.
4. Laugh it off. Tuning out on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, doesn’t mean you have to cut the cord with your cable. Instead, invite a buddy over and dive deep into an all-night comedy binge (“Curb Your Enthusiasm” is back, and it’s as hilarious as ever). Research supports that laughing with a friend can enhance the richness of your social support connection. Deep belly laughs actually release opioid peptides, chemicals in the brain like endorphins, which contribute to our feelings of sustained happiness and greater pain tolerance.
Not only will you have more resilience to overcome adversity, but you may feel a deeper connection in your relationships. As you navigate your fertility challenges, you may find that a boosted friendship may provide a healthy distraction. It will give you a necessary reprieve from feeling consumed by your own fertility issues, and help revitalize your spirit.
Lindsay Liben, LCSW, has a private therapy practice near Union Square, focusing on women’s issues including depression, anxiety, and life transitions. She believes that by helping her patients get in touch with their most authentic selves, they can make choices that set them up for personal and professional success. Learn more about Lindsay and her work on her website.