Caught up in a fertility struggle? Losing sight of who you want to be?
A powerful method to reconnect with yourself and recreate meaning
“I don’t like who I’ve become” Anna says quietly, looking down and twisting a tissue in her hands. Beside her, her husband shrugs, defeated. “This isn’t the woman I married. She used to…” he begins. And like the air coming out of a balloon he sighs, listing the things they used to do together: the crazy dates she would plan, how she’d laugh for hours with her friends, the things that drew him to her, her spontaneity, her funny quirks… all the reasons he chose her as his life partner.
All these seem to have tumbled down a chasm between them. A chasm created by the difference between what they want and what they have.
What they want is a baby.
What they have is unexplained infertility, doctor’s appointments, tests, wait times, injections, IUI, IVF.
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) this is called a reality gap.
As the ground beneath their feet rips apart, aftershocks reverberate, rendering more of these gaps across their landscape. Anna is staring down into the fissure between how she is now and who she wants to be. She does not talk to her Mum, who is so desperate to have grandchildren. She doesn’t go out and see her friends; she worries she might eat or drink something ‘wrong’. She tells herself the time is better spent resting and researching what she should be doing to maximise her chances of getting pregnant. People tell her she should relax and stay positive. She spends hours trying to meditate even though she finds it impossible to ‘still’ her mind (and really the teacher’s voice irritates the hell out of her). She has put on hold planning their next holiday, researching a job move, signing up for a new art course.
She wants to:
- lift her head
- see what’s on the other side and
- build a bridge across.
How can we do this? By helping her reconnect with her values. Values represent the person we want to be deep in our hearts. What kind of wife, daughter, friend, work colleague, fellow human does Anna want to be? What does she want to stand for in the light of the challenges life has dumped at her feet?
We start by throwing a few words around. “Loving” and “adventurous” stick. Anna is beginning to look across the gap and see what’s there, but we need to make it clearer for her. So, we get out the mind reading machine. We imagine putting this magic machine on a loved one 5 years from now. Anna chooses a close friend, Sarah. We imagine that Anna has been the best version of herself that she can be through this current challenge. Then we find out what Sarah thought and what Sarah saw during this time. The mind reading machine tells us Anna was humourous, open, always there for her friends, and creative.
Anna’s shoulders relax as she says this. Her eyes begin to sparkle and her cheeks soften into a smile. Her husband reaches for her hand. She can see again who she desires to be. She describes this sensation as a lightness both psychologically and physically.
So we spend the remainder of our session setting small goals that can help build the bridge reconnecting her with who she wants to be. Rather than spending Friday evening googling IVF success stories she will sign up for the online course in photography, reconnecting with her creativity. Every morning she will kiss her husband goodbye, reconnecting with her value of loving. Tomorrow she will email her friend who has just lost her father and find out how she is doing, reconnecting with her value of always being there for her friends.
The following week she comes back and tells me she has written down her core values and has stuck them to her bathroom mirror.
The pain and uncertainty of infertility has not gone away. But Anna feels stronger, living a life that is meaningful to her, as she knows who she wants to be and how she can keep moving towards that, whatever challenges lie ahead.
If some of the emotions here resonate, try the mind reading machine exercise above and list out your values. What small actions can you take today that can keep you connected with those?
I have often found this effective in therapy sessions. I hope it can work for you. Let me know how it goes.
Contributor: Pru Jones works closely with Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore in managing patients’ emotional well-being before and throughout their fertility journey with the centre. She works with couples and individuals using a range of therapeutic techniques to realise, free and strengthen each person’s internal resources. Her special interests include anxiety, depression and PTSD. Pru has a master’s degree in counselling and certifications in Gottman Couples’ Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and The Treatment of Trauma, PTSD, Grief and Loss.
For more information: Fertility coaching | Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore blog