So much in our lives is defined by the idea of an end goal or reaching a specific destination. In the workplace, in our social lives, and even in our hobbies it can be easy to think of life in terms of success or failure. So it’s no surprise that many women approach fertility and motherhood the same way. Culturally we are encouraged to think only of specific outcomes and not to consider how we may learn, grow, and transform as we move toward our dreams. While there is likely significant personal and social pressure to focus on results to make us happy, thinking this way can easily make the experience more stressful. A perspective that really helps my patients is this: awareness that we don’t have to perceive our bodies, our fertility, or parenthood this way. Instead, like everything else that is worthwhile, we can start to value our lives in this moment and embrace the experience as a journey.
The fertility path offers a broad, multi-faceted opportunity for love and self-exploration. But the key to finding this is surrendering to the experience. This way of being is catching on: women around the world are connecting by sharing their stories, supporting one another, and acknowledging that the fertility process is more than reaching a finish line - it’s about growing as a person.
When a woman commits to motherhood with a rigid mindset, she is creating increased stress and struggle. As many women can attest, staying open to what may be a longer, unexpected path helps ease that stress. Often, the more a woman accepts her own fertility, the more she offers herself a roadmap to start to heal.
In addition, defining one’s worthiness based on a specific outcome sets up a very narrow view and often grueling road toward conception. This makes a woman’s time in actual treatment much more painful; constantly focused on the possibility of success or failure, she misses opportunities to be kind to herself along the way. Peace, fulfillment, happiness, and surrender - are all essential life experiences that women can discover during their treatment. Part of surrendering to the journey means accepting the path you are on as an opportunity to heal and grow.
With this openness comes something even bigger. It’s crucial for any woman experiencing infertility to know that it can lead to wonderful transformations in her life. While a baby brings immediate, massive transformation, a woman faced with infertility can also make major changes in her life and in her heart during her journey. We all see examples of a baby changing a woman’s life, but transformation without a child isn’t well role-modeled in our culture. Having helped many women through the process, I know for a fact that this journey can create a whole, happy, and resilient life. Some women even call this giving birth to their own life.
A former patient of mine, Mara Kofoed, writes often about her personal and unexpected discoveries she made during her own experience with infertility. Mara shares her experience openly on her personal blog in order to encourage other women to see a bigger point of view. One of her interviews on A Cup of Jo, resonated with women around the world. Hundreds of women called us after her story was published, hoping to find the same perspective on fertility that Mara had found. What resonated with so many others was the transformation she attained by finally letting go.
What I connected with most about Mara’s story is the joy she found in her life. Specifically, how she redefined motherhood as a state of kindness, compassion, and love. Here is one of my favorite moving excerpts from her A Cup of Jo interview:
“With infertility, at first, I would think, oh my gosh, if I could just get pregnant, life will be so amazing, and I’ll be so happy, and this child will just make my world. For years, my worth and identity was wrapped up in having a spouse and children. But then, I realized that I was putting pressure on this child to fulfill me, when in reality, it’s my job to find fulfillment, not anyone else’s.
If you’re seeking wholeness from another person—looking to your child or spouse or job—then when you encounter challenges in that relationship, you’re going to feel threatened. Your worth and identity as a wife/mother/business owner will be sucked into every bad mood, tone of voice, stressful moment, etc. That’s huge pressure on the other person. There’s no getting away from it until you decide to cut the cord and say, my wholeness is intact. It’s the most loving thing you can offer someone, because it allows you to absolutely love others and to stay stable, no matter what the circumstances are.
I know—with every ounce of my being—that joy in life is possible regardless of your circumstances, regardless of whatever hand you’re dealt. Now I live my life by cultivating joy and happiness myself and not relying on anyone else for it.”
Any woman working through the process of infertility can give birth to a new chapter in her own life. Birthing your own life means taking that longing to love and refocusing it channeling it inward. Women who experience infertility often deny themselves self-love and kindness, believing that only one outcome will bring joyful transformation to their lives. But birthing your own life means finding the grace to show motherly love to all aspects of yourself. Changing your perspective on infertility and motherhood gives you the opportunity to care for yourself they way a mother would, nurturing your soul and your dreams as well as caring for your health and well-being. Caring for yourself with all the love you would show to a child can radically change everything in your life for the better.
This is the first part of a series of posts focused embracing the fertility journey. We welcome your comments or questions as we continue to explore this topic.