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If you’re someone who is on the path of trying to have a baby through fertility treatments (whether it be IUI, ICSI, IVF, egg donation, or even surrogacy), then having a strategy that you can turn to for support if you experience a failed fertility treatment cycle is so important.

When you consider everything that’s required of you during a fertility cycle, as well as the challenging juxtaposition of hope during the cycle which is then met with grief if a cycle fails, it’s not hard to see why this situation can wreak havoc with you mentally, emotionally and physically.

Add this this all of the time, energy, and focus that gets poured into navigating a fertility cycle. This includes selecting your medical team, meeting with your doctor, making decisions around treatment protocols, attending early morning fertility appointments, adhering to the hormone protocol for the cycle, attending practitioner appointments (such as acupuncture or naturopathy), and rearranging your life commitments (including work) around everything that the cycle involves. Not to mention the considerable financial investment associated with fertility treatments. This culminates in an incredible amount of mental and emotional investment, causing you to hold on to your dream of having a baby more tightly resulting in a roller coaster of emotions when you receive the news of a negative outcome.

So here are 7 strategies that can be of huge support should you have to face the agony of a failed fertility treatment again.

1. Start by regulating your nervous system

It’s hard to overstate the importance of bringing regulation to your nervous system to process the shock and trauma that a failed cycle can cause. It’s actually the most important starting point for recovering after a failed cycle for several reasons.

  • It’s much harder to metabolise challenging emotions with a dysregulated nervous system. Deep healing and relief only come from a regulated nervous system.

  • Self-care practices that focus on relaxation and nurturing are not as easily absorbed by the body when you’re still in fight or flight.

  • It’s also very challenging to shift perspectives mentally and see your situation more clearly (both activities associated with the pre-frontal cortex in your brain) when you’re still operating from your primitive brain and you’re in a state of ‘fight or flight’.

  • Another reason is that I see a lot of women taking a lot of the stress and shock from their failed cycle into the next step on their fertility journey, which makes navigating their journey a lot more challenging than it needs to be.

There are so many wonderful tools that support nervous system regulation. In my experience as both a yoga and meditation teacher, conscious breathing practices are one of the most effective and instantaneous way of cultivating regulation, but there’s also gentle movement of the body which helps to push the anxious energy through your body as well as self-care practices that soothe, such as massage or acupuncture or doing things like taking care of your physical health by getting extra rest and eating well.

There is also a range of wonderful exercises that target the vagus nerve, which is a cranial nerve that acts like the brake and accelerator for your nervous system and assists with down-regulation into the parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. Some of these practices can be applied within minutes and there are plenty to choose from on YouTube if you’d like to explore in more detail.

2. Tend to your difficult thoughts and emotions

If you don’t make space for emotions, your pain can amplify and reach a point that it feels too daunting to face. If you don’t tend to your thoughts, they not only feed into and fuel your challenging emotions, but they can also have a hold on you that can keep you stuck in a really bad place.

So making the space to deal with your pain rather than distracting yourself or pushing your pain down after a failed cycle is another important part of the self-support strategy.

Whilst doing something to decompress and distract you from the initial sting after receiving the bad news is perfectly normal (whether it’s wine and ice cream or a night out on the town to blow off some steam), it’s important to start to make space for the pain shortly afterward. Not only will this provide you with relief, but it will also enable you to move forward on your journey from a place of clarity and calm, rather than dragging a dark shadow around with you. Once you make space for difficult thoughts and emotions, you change your relationship to them and reduce the hold they have over you. Whether it’s mindfulness-based strategies, journaling, or other popular techniques such as Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, focus on approaches that are not trying to get rid of painful thoughts and emotions, but that change your relationship to them by making space for them and diffusing the hold they have over you in the process.

Central to this process is the technique of noticing and labelling emotions as they’re happening and also, noting the felt sensation within your body. This has the effect of reducing stress & anxiety in the brain and the body, and when you can sit in the seat of the observer, you remember that you are not the emotion, you are experiencing the emotions (and there’s a big difference between the 2). It’s a very similar process with thoughts. You notice the thought, you label it and then engage strategies to reduce the intensity of the thought.

In addition to in-the-moment relief, over time, these practices also strengthen your capacity to stay with your pain when it arises, without getting swept up in it. The outcome is an increase in tolerance to the emotional stressors on your fertility journey.

3. Dial up the self-care

Increasing the level of self-care you provide for yourself is another great strategy. Whilst self-care will look slightly different for different women, it could include things like carving out time for extra rest, spending time outside in nature, practicing good sleep hygiene, moving your body, increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, and spending time doing things that bring you joy. Find works for you, just make sure it’s gentle and nourishing and doesn’t add pressure to your schedule.

The benefits of applying self-care after a failed fertility cycle extend beyond physical well-being. Self-care activities not only help to calm the nervous system, but they also send a message to your inner-self that you are loved and cared for.

4. Connect with people who make you feel safe

Any time a human is in emotional pain, one of the most powerful antidotes is human connection. We are not wired to grieve alone.

This is why it’s so important that, if you’re struggling emotionally after a failed cycle, you find a way to share your grief and your feelings with someone else. It could be your partner, it could be close friends or family (making sure that it’s only people you feel safe with and who are not going to judge you or make insensitive comments), or it could be other women going through the same thing whom you’ve connected with in a support group that might be face-to-face or online.

Just make sure that you’re connecting with others in a way that is intentional and selective so you’re getting the right kind of connection that’s going to feel supportive, rather than taxing and distressing.

5. Practice self-compassion

It’s so common for women to feel like a failure when they are going through infertility, leading to a lot of negative self-talk that can have a detrimental impact on the way they relate to themselves.

Showing up for yourself with kindness and compassion, the same way you would if anyone you loved was going through the same journey, is the perfect antidote to this because it drops all the unrealistic expectations you might have of yourself at the same time as you increase the sense of support you feel by showing up for yourself.

A great way to enhance self-compassion is to contemplate how you would see a friend who was going through what you’re going through, and consider how you would show compassion to them (what you would say, what you would do) and do this for yourself. You can do this exercise through meditation, journaling or just doing some gentle reflection can be enough. Just know that whatever you come up with can be a guide for how you relate to yourself, even if it’s a little list of what you’ll say and do for yourself. You can combine this with some affirmations that validate how hard your journey is right now and how well you’re doing.

The main thing here is to intercept any self-criticism that may spring from a sense of failure and to change the lens on your situation from one of self-blame to one of self-compassion and self-kindness.

6. Seek professional support

Research has shown that getting the right professional support during infertility can be one of the most significant factors in transforming a woman’s experience on her fertility journey.

Professional support provides a safe space for you to share your thoughts and feelings and if you choose the right practitioner, you’ll learn new skills to be able to deal with the pain of a failed cycle and gain the benefit of having a supportive container as you start to apply those new skills.

Finding someone who has the appropriate qualifications and expertise is important, and someone with first-hand experience with infertility is a bonus.

But please make sure that if you feel that you are experiencing significant anxiety or depression, please see your GP or seek out a qualified psychologist to ensure you get the appropriate level of support.

7. Taking time out on your fertility journey

Whilst the desire to keep pushing forward on your fertility journey after a failed cycle can be tempting, it could mean that you don’t have the physical, mental, and emotional resilience to withstand whatever your next step is.

It could also mean that you decide what that next step actually is from a place of fear and desperation rather than clarity and calm. I fell into this trap several times on my 10-year journey of infertility and it cost me dearly (not only financially but mentally and emotionally as well).

So attend the follow-up appointment with your doctor after a failed cycle, but give yourself some space to allow the dust to settle before you rush into deciding what your next move is going to be and focus your energy on applying some of these strategies to ensure you do some healing and bring some more balance to your being before you move forward on your journey to motherhood.

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