In the last few weeks, things have changed in ways beyond our wildest imagination. It feels shocking, unsettling and disruptive to all of us, but some may be feeling it worse than others based on financial, work and health conditions now outside their control.
In particular I want to acknowledge a significant group of New Zealanders that may be feeling particularly anxious – those going through fertility treatment who have had to put their dreams of a family on hold, for now.
Fertility treatment is tough at the best of times and it’s often a race against time. Being forced to wait even longer while the country is in lockdown isn’t an easy pill to swallow.
Much of fertility treatment is concerned with times and dates; what day of the month will be Day One, what time you have to do your injections, what days you have to have blood tests on. Time is marked right from the beginning when your GP or specialist asks “How long have you been trying to get pregnant?”
As a nation we are now in uncertain times, none of us know when the Level 4 alert status will change and when we can get back to a usual routine; when plans can be made or reactivated. There is a sense of unpredictability over many aspects of life, including time.
Anxiety and grief, associated with fertility uncertainty, may be heightened by the current circumstances we find ourselves in. Some may be struggling with feelings of sadness, disappointment, anger, jealousy or loneliness. I want to share personally with everyone going through fertility treatment that has now been delayed by Covid-19 restrictions, that all these feelings are valid and are not surprising in the context of the speed of the “stay at home” shutdown.
They are, however, difficult feelings to manage. If you are already experiencing fatigue, a shorter attention span, or feeling less tolerant of others due to managing all the changes to life the pandemic requires, then now is the not the time to expect too much of yourself. While you are staying at home, let some of the expectations you may have of yourself take a holiday for a bit, and just focus on what needs to be done in the now.
Like grief, anxiety needs looking after and you need to manage it carefully. Be kind to yourself, don’t judge yourself for the feelings you are having, acknowledge them and the context they sit in, slowly breathe. Focus on small tasks and commit yourself fully to them. Make them meaningful to you.
Most people who are on a journey to get pregnant know a lot about managing uncertainty and have developed some strategies to deal with it.
There are times when additional coping strategies need to be added to their personal “coping basket” or “toolkit”. Usually, the need for this is when the going gets tough and the strategies we normally rely on to help us through, need to be supplemented. For many, now could be one of those times, as grief or anxiety about delays to treatment which is out of our control, combines with all the other uncertainties this pandemic brings.
As psychologist Margie Donlon says, a toolkit can look different for everyone but if you’re looking for things to add, then think about what sensory component you might want to address.
There are seven senses; touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell, vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (comforting pressure). Ideas for things that match each sense could include a soft blanket (touch), hot chocolate (taste), photos of holidays (sight), soothing or comforting music (hearing), lavender or eucalyptus oil (smell), a rocking chair (movement) and an eye bag for relaxation or a wheat bag on your lap (proprioceptive); even better if it has a delicious aroma. It’s a big basket!
To ensure you weave an act of self-kindness or self-care into your day, it may be useful to sit down and draw or write a list of all the coping tools that you love and work them through your calendar.
Keep in mind you may find that some days where you feel wobbly and overwhelmed there’s a need to use everything in your basket and that’s okay. As we keep hearing; “stay connected”, particularly if you are on your own.
You don’t necessarily need a big group of people to know everything you are thinking or feeling but having two or three trusted people you can talk to can help relieve anxiety and loneliness. Talk about your fertility-related worries with others and then talk about other things together.
Finally, please know that you may feel alone, but believe us when we say that there is a whole community in this upsetting position. We can only work with what is in our control and for now it is taking each day as it comes and tapping into the resources we have available and wait this out. We are in a state of rahui – changing our behaviour to protect our people and taonga. It is not easy, you are not alone.
Helen Nicholson is a Social Worker Counsellor at Repromed providing counselling support, education and information service to clients. Repromed is a Remuera-based fertility clinic in Auckland.