Simone Ayers Dip.Couns, Registered Member MBACP Online Counselling, based in Tring & Aylesbury

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The Trying Game-The Psychological pressures of trying to conceive

The Honeymoon is over

The decision to try for a baby usually marks a turning point in the lives of many couples. It can be exciting, thrilling, nerve-wracking and anxiety inducing but often that first flurry of (bedtime) activity that comes with the onset of trying to get pregnant is full of joyful promise. It has it’s own honeymoon period of more sex and couple time and the relief of finally doing away with contraceptives after possibly a whole adult life of trying NOT to get pregnant. But when the universe decides to put an indefinite time delay on when the miracle of life happens, we can find ourselves enduring a whole different kind of ‘Trying’. It becomes physical, emotional work with no set baby payday and this can begin to grind us down.

Are we there yet?

After a few months of trying to conceive we may see a cloud looming in our consciousness with the fear that perhaps it is not going to happen for us. The point at which this is acknowledged varies greatly but this fear can gradually begin to encroach on our lives and relationships creating tension and anxiety.

Monthly mourning

Big dreams rarely die easily and in the trying game there’s literally a cyclical rotation of second chances. ‘’Maybe this time’’, ‘’fingers crossed’’, ‘’I have a good feeling this time’’ etc become Mantras of optimism as we hope to finally win the big prize. When it doesn’t happen, and we find ourselves holding another negative test or retrieving another tampon from the bathroom cupboard behind the stash of pregnancy tests, we can experience a strong and powerful sense of loss and emptiness. It can be an exhausting process for which we may struggle to find comfort or distraction.

Whose fault is it anyway?

What didn’t I do? What didn’t you do? What didn’t we do? Or what did we do wrong? When nature grants us gifts it often feels like a natural blessing but when it doesn’t we often look for the blame in ourselves. Surely it is something we have or haven’t done? How can something of such magnitude in our lives be out of our control and merely up to fate? Past pregnancies, lifestyle choices, previous relationships, terminations and past traumas can all become part of the case we build against ourselves as we grasp for control over our circumstances through self blame or the blame of our partner. If there is no obvious reason for why we aren’t getting pregnant we will often search for our own reasoning and logic, sometimes exhausting ourselves to the point that our physical and emotional tiredness becomes yet another thing to deride ourselves for-especially if we are hearing messages like ‘’ just relax and it will happen’’ or ‘’you’re thinking too much so your body is stressed’’. Women often experience a burden of guilt centred around what their body is or isn’t doing and this can increase to an overbearing sense of responsibility that they are failing the other person.

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A bump on every corner

When we are consumed with the desire for wanting to carry a child within us our senses become heightened to every picture and headline involving pregnancy and children. What’s more it can start to seem as though every other woman we pass on the street is heavily pregnant. Pregnant people seem to multiply and magnify before our eyes and we can feel as if we are the only ones on Earth not procreating. This can feel as though there is nowhere to turn to escape our sorrow. Going for a relaxing walk takes us into the paths of a procession of oncoming prams and a solitary seat on a park bench to reflect is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a breastfeeding mum with a double buggy of toddler twins for good measure. They are EVERYWHERE , or at least it feels that way, and we are left feeling all kinds of ‘other’, different, afraid and failing.

When is it my turn?

It’s not just random women in front of us in the queue at Costa rubbing their bumps that hits the message home that we are as yet without child. Every colleague, friend, sibling, neighbour and 18th cousin thrice removed seems to be getting pregnant at what feels like our expense. We may be happy for them, we may be not so much-and either way it hurts. Resentment and envy may creep in, unwillingly feeding our frustration and anger. We may not want to feel anything but happiness for a loved ones happy news but that doesn’t remove the pain of jealousy or the sting of feeling that our BFF jumped the queue with their happy surprise. ‘’Honestly we weren’t even trying! It was such a shock!’’ they exclaim in their understandable ecstasy and swallowing the sharp pill of jealousy as we smile, hug and congratulate can feel like a draining facade even if we know that deep down we are happy for them.

Everybody's business

There’s something about the assumed universality of pregnancy that tends to make people forget their manners. Boundaries of appropriateness are easily discarded and just as expectant mothers sometimes complain that everyone assumes touching rights to their body because it’s bumpy, if we’re not pregnant many a do gooder often feels the need to enquire why. ‘’Are you trying yet?’’ ‘’when are you having kids then?’’ ‘’you’ll be next’’ ‘’I can’t wait to have grandchildren’’, the list of ill thought interrogations goes on and on. And lord forbid you dare to gain a pound-‘’TUMthing to tell us sweetie ?’’ asks great Aunt Shirley at our brothers wedding as she grins eerily and rubs our abdomen a little more vigorously then one would expect considering she assumes it contains a foetus. A glass of champagne doesn’t make the ordeal any easier as another helpful relative frowningly enquires whether the bubbles are helpful if we’re trying to get pregnant. The frustration, the anger, the unfairness and the insensitivity can make us want to scream and sometimes we do.

The Every Aunt

The parenting equivalent of always the bridesmaid, never the bride- what can hurt as much as people assuming that we are or should be pregnant is when they decide that we are never going to be and that this is our choice. Of course for some it is their choice but the assumption that this is the reason when it isn’t can be extremely hurtful. Whether labelled as career obsessed or frivolous or worse even selfish or somehow naive of our biological clock, many a thoughtless comment about what we ‘wouldn’t understand if we haven’t had children’ or how ‘lucky ‘ we are to still have our freedom can be thrown our away. Apparently endlessly available for babysitting it’s never considered that we may be busy checking our ovulation calendars or propping our legs up post coitus to give us every possible imagined chance of starting our own much wanted family.

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Helping Hands

If our difficulties in conceiving are ongoing, we may find that fertility treatment becomes part our journey. The emotional and psychological experience of fertility treatments are incredibly personal to each individual and or couple and it can be a torturous emotional journey containing many setbacks and fallen hopes. The physical stresses of medical intrusion and altered hormonal activity and possible financial burdens can push us and our relationships to breaking point. It can become all consuming and exhausting affecting our work, sleep appetite and many other areas of our lives. Compounding these feelings is sometimes another layer of disappointment that this is the experience we are having go through in order to achieve something that many others take for granted. With or without the experience of assisted fertility, struggling to fall pregnant can present feelings of shame, inadequacy and failure and we may even question our entire sense of self worth and value.

Too good to be true

If we have had difficultly conceiving then that journey often doesn’t end when and if we do finally fall pregnant. It can be difficult to shake off the anxiety we have been carrying so far and this is particularly true if we have previously experienced the losses of miscarriage or stillbirth. The expected glow and bloom can instead be lost to fear of complications or loss and can compound the likelihood of experiencing perinatal depression.

Bundle of joy?

Many people assume that once a long awaited and much wanted child or children are born, the pain of a difficult road to conception can be put behind us. But reports indicate that rates of postpartum depression are higher for those who have undergone fertility treatment.

‘’For women who undergo IVF treatment, being blessed with a baby is all that matters. But a recent study defies all logic and emotions behind motherhood. In fact, it states that women who give birth after receiving fertility treatment are five times more likely to develop depression compared to women ending up not having a child following fertility treatment.’’

As well as the physical, emotional, hormonal, financial and lifestyle adjustments that can make the experience of new parenthood difficult, there can be an overwhelmingly powerful surge of frustration and anger that can be difficult to understand. What’s more these feelings become difficult to share with others as we may feel ashamed and guilty that after all this hard work we are not more positive, happy or grateful. There can even be experiences of questioning our decision to start a family at all as the pressure may make us feel unfit for purpose of parenthood.

The Rules are there are no rules

The Trying game does not have a Universal rulebook and we may feel alternately cheated and unduly punished no matter what we do. It is vital to offer self care and seek support during what can be a long and arduous journey with no definitive destination.




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