When you’re experiencing infertility, the stress, anxiety and loneliness that often accompany it can be difficult to manage. And once fertility treatments begin, those feelings can magnify.
We talked with Dr. Suleena Kansal Kalra, MSCE, a fertility specialist at Penn Fertility Care, and Pam Kelberg, LCSW, a psychotherapist specializing in helping women and couples cope with infertility, about practicing self-care to boost your physical and emotional wellbeing during fertility treatments.
This is part one in a series on caring for yourself or a partner during fertility treatments. In part two, Clinical Psychologist Lindsay Sortor, PsyD, of the Penn Center for Women's Behavioral Wellness, explains how partners can support each other. In part three, we take an in-depth look at the Penn Fertility Wellness Program.
“The first thing to remember, is to be kind to yourself,” Dr. Kalra said. “A lot of times people feel very isolated and put a lot of pressure on themselves. The one thing to continually try to focus on is that patients are doing everything right.”
“Sometimes it seems like every time they turn around a friend or family member is celebrating a pregnancy,” she said, noting that she assures patients they aren’t alone – about 15 percent of couples experience infertility. “They think, ‘Wow, this is happening for everyone else but me.’”
Kelberg agreed that practicing self-kindness is imperative.
“It’s always important to be compassionate and gentle with oneself,” she said. “Don’t use language that’s judgmental or comparing yourself with another.”
Find Happiness in Small Things
To help ease the stress of fertility treatments, Dr. Kalra suggests doing one thing every day that makes you happy, but that one thing isn’t one-size-fits-all.
“I don’t like to offer anything too prescriptive,” she said. “Some people might say ‘I hate yoga!’ So I don’t want them to do something that they despise.
“A walk, a talk with a confidant or a family member, taking some time out to get yourself a massage, acupuncture … anything to help with your sense of wellbeing.”
Take a Break
But, Dr. Kalra said, don’t feel like you always have to be doing something.
“I often tell patients that if it’s going to create more stress in your already overscheduled life, then just lie in bed and mediate at the end of the day,” she said. “Anything that keeps your tank full, makes you feel less depleted, and makes you feel that you aren’t alone.”
Kelberg suggests also taking a break from fertility talk and even from some commitments, if possible.
“I remind people to take an emotional break from talking about fertility,” Kelberg said. “And if couples feel like they need to scale back, they should allow themselves to scale back.”
Scaling back could involve talking with a boss about the stress you are experiencing outside of the workplace. You don’t have to go into specifics — the amount of information you give your supervisor depends upon your comfort level. Perhaps he or she can help you arrange your schedule to attend medical appointments using time off, flex time or work from home opportunities to help alleviate your stress.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
“I would definitely recommend to talk to your partner,” Kelberg said. “To talk about what it’s like, what you’re going through, what you’re feeling, what your worries might be … that may provide some relief.”
And while frustration, anxiety, stress and sadness is normal during fertility treatments, it is recommended that you seek help if at any time those feelings become overwhelming.
“Let your nurse know, let your physician know,” Dr. Kalra said. “We are always here to refer you if you think it’s helpful to speak to a psychologist or psychiatrist.”
And, if you think your sadness is affecting your fertility treatments, Dr. Kalra says self-kindness is even more important.
“I don’t ever want women to blame themselves or think that their stress or anxiety has contributed to or caused their negative outcomes,” Dr. Kalra said. “Be kind to yourself – where you are is enough.”
Fertility Wellness Program
Penn Fertility Care, in collaboration with The Healing Arts Center, offers a quarterly Fertility Wellness Program to help patients feel less anxious, less isolated and better able to cope along their fertility journey.
The eight-week group program is led by the Penn Fertility Wellness Team and provides emotional support, behavioral wellness, tools for stress management, acupuncture, yoga and mindfulness.
Cost is $495, and the program is open only to Penn Fertility Care patients. For more information or to enroll, call 215-627-3782 or email PennWellness@healingphilly.com.