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Could fertility counselling help?

7 November 2020

I needed support after my second miscarriage, fearing I was on the brink of a deep depression. I’d suffered massive internal bleeding, and surgeons said it was a close call. This added anxiety, night terrors and panic attacks to my already fragile mental health.

A GP referred me for talking therapies, and my first appointment took place months later. The wait felt punishing and I arrived feeling weary. While the practitioner came across as perfectly capable and likeable, it became clear that we weren't in tune.

I’d experienced low mood in the past - typically with a bit of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) thrown in - so she mistook my grief for a more endogenous depression. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but the tangled layers of desolation were more complex than the general joylessness I’d experienced before. On top of my regular blues, I was living with trauma: bereavement, a near-death experience and a looming fertility crisis. That’s a lot to juggle.

"She also seemed alarmed by my bitterness, which wasn’t unreasonable because I was the angriest I’d ever been."

As a person who routinely dodges conflict in the name of harmony, I was disturbed too. I sounded unhinged. I was overcome by this lingering darkness that was troubling to acknowledge but even harder to express. I had no idea what to do with rage, and these sessions weren’t remedying my chaotic state of mind.

I narrowed the search to therapists operating specifically in fertility circles, plumping for a mindfulness-based cognitive therapist who was almost evangelically highly recommended. And she was indeed wonderful: straight-talking, intuitive and occasionally blunt, but in a good way. She was unafraid of my fury, encouraging me to let it all out without shame or judgement. And when I did… crikey. There was a lot going on there.

"Each week, my enormous tirades were unleashed from the safety of her office."

I’d get the train home with tear-soaked cheeks, often crawling into bed utterly drained. I couldn’t accept that my fertility was now in significantly worse shape despite all the teetotaling, kale munching and yogic practice. I fumed at the injustice of what was effectively just very, very bad luck, and at the hoards of women seemingly falling pregnant either effortlessly or by accident. It felt so catastrophically wrong.

"But in time, the constant lump in my throat began to soften. So did my mood. I finally found the strength and words to speak of my enormous sorrow and fear."

Outside of our sessions, I learned to sit with the heartbreak rather than swallow it; simply to listen as it unravelled. The feelings washed over me, even when they were almost too hard to bear. I cried and journalled, A LOT.

We agreed that I needed a ‘thing’: a gesture or outlet for my grief. I decided candle-lighting rituals weren’t for me (although I couldn’t really say why) but I was open to ideas I’d ordinarily dismiss. In the end, I named the baby and wrote her a letter that I squirrelled away in a peaceful place. I like to think that's where I left her, rather than the strip-lined fluorescence of the operating room. It may sound daft, but it brings me comfort even now.

My therapist supported me through several cycles of IVF, meeting each turbulent stage with wisdom and compassion. There was no need to brief her on the intricacies or side effects of treatment because she was clued up already. Initially we focused on coping with defeated expectation and disappointment, then maintaining hope when it felt like there was none. She helped me build the resilience to try again, and later to endure the 12-week wait. I used these techniques to quiet the mind during and after my daughter’s traumatic birth, and still lean on them today when I’m overwhelmed. What was once a mindful practice has become a life skill I couldn’t do without.

Is fertility counselling for me?

Self-care is hugely important when trying for a baby. The comfort and reassurance of family, friends or even journalling and a healthy regime may be enough to pull you through. Specialist counselling offers valuable insight and coping mechanisms if you’re struggling and looking for balance.

Recognise that you might feel worse before you feel better

It’s counterintuitive, but vital in moving towards acceptance. From there, you can look ahead and make decisions with clarity when you’re ready.

Let yourself be vulnerable

Trying to conceive isn’t a time when life ticks along on its regular trajectory. It can feel relentless, as can retaining a sunny and optimistic disposition. Stifling a complex muddle of feelings is unlikely to squash them entirely, but sharing and interrogating those doubts, anxieties and fears might loosen their hold.

Visit NHS for more information on talking therapies, and BICA (British Infertility Counselling Association) to find an accredited counsellor near you.

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