For some, the pandemic has been a chance to maintain a social life virtually, without the pressure of dealing with inquisitive loved ones sparking sensitive conversations or the pain of attending social gatherings surrounded by babies and children. For others, it’s only meant isolation from much-needed support and caused the delay of fertility treatment. Whether the pandemic’s social restrictions have been a blessing or a hindrance for you, recent UK government announcements detailing a ‘new normal’ from June mean our lives are likely to become more sociable again.
Here at Fertility Help Hub, we understand that coping with an invitation to a baby shower – virtual or in person – or seeing a social media post announcing a pregnancy with an ultrasound scan can hit a sensitive nerve. If maintaining a social life whilst struggling with infertility is something you’re worried about, our tips may provide some help.
Words by Beth Tupper
Pros of Lockdown when TTC
Aside from being able to wear pyjama bottoms on work calls and benefiting from a 30-second commute to the kitchen table, the social constraints of the numerous lockdowns and restrictions have presented a few extra positives for those TTC. Do any of these sound familiar?
The restrictions have led to social gatherings either being hosted online or not at all – although admitting this to be a positive, may produce feelings of guilt for some, it’s okay to feel relieved about avoiding circumstances you know will trigger you emotionally.
Situations where you find yourself fumbling over a response, crying quietly in the loo or trying to make a quick exit, are less in your face – for example, parents questioning when they’ll become grandparents and friends giving you advice on why you might not be getting pregnant and ‘what you should do or try’.
Due to having more time at home, those trying to conceive have more space to allow those emotions to run free, rather than bottling it up.
Hello stretchy waistbands! Regular fertility treatments and IVF injections can mean you’d rather give the jeans a miss. If there’s one positive outcome that we can all agree on, it’s that the elasticated comfort clothes we turn to when we’re handling hormonal bloating have suddenly become a fashion trend. Sometimes it is reassuring to not have to wake up and put on a full face of makeup.
On the other hand, we’ve all had that longing to give a loved one a lengthy hug, or for an excuse to get dressed up and see something other than the same four walls. Do any of these resonate with you?
With friends and family behind a screen or two metres away at best, getting the support you need can be difficult. You might want to unload to a friend, and knowing you can’t do that in person can lead to feeling isolated. We’ve seen this a lot in our Fertility Squad community app, where those who have experienced bad fertility treatment outcomes or baby loss have really missed physical contact.
Fertility clinics had to close temporarily a year ago, causing some fertility treatments to be postponed or cancelled, some even mid-cycle. When you already feel like time isn’t on your side, a postponement can trigger anxiety and a fear of your conception dreams being taken away.
For many, with less to keep themselves occupied this has led to more time on social media. When your newsfeed is full of proud parents, references to ‘a lockdown baby boom’ and parents complaining about the struggles of home-schooling, it can be a reminder of your infertility journey.
Even if you’re lucky enough to have a garden or a spare room to escape to, we all feel confined to the same surroundings. With less to distract us, we’re left alone with our own thoughts which can be difficult to deal with.
For most, the whispers of a ‘new normal’ promise the chance to reconnect with friends and family. For those dealing with infertility, the gamut of emotions involved in the return of their social life is much greater. Pandemic or not, juggling the demands of a social life whilst trying to conceive can be hard.
As anxious as you may feel about the thought of attending face-to-face social events again, it can help to focus on the benefits of the ‘new normal’.
Social media has been both a blessing for entertaining us during lockdown and a curse for showing us what others have and emphasising struggles. Though we can hope that the gradual return to normality means we’ll spend less time fixating on our news feeds and more time being distracted by the things we’ve missed, you might want to review your relationship with social media prior to the ‘new normal’. If you find yourself scrolling through videos of your friends’ tiny tots reaching milestones and posts from #infertility, put your phone down and take a break. Distract yourself with a walk, baking or a fertility yoga session to get out of your head.
Face-to-face social events are understandably something that most people on the TTC journey struggle with because it can require handling unexpected questions or emotions and often result, forced smiles. Remember, it is okay to decline an invitation and explain why you can’t go or send someone else with the gift. If you think you might end up trying to hold back tears at your friend’s baby shower, don’t feel the pressure to put yourself in that situation.
On the other hand, know that whilst you might be avoiding some of these conversations or events, your friends and family may want to understand your pain. Chances are they see the hurt behind your eyes or your text and they want to support you; they just might not know how to if they haven’t experienced infertility first-hand.. If you can, let your friends and family in when they try to socialise with you.
If you’re already running through social scenarios in your head with trepidation, now might be the ideal time to consider joining a support group. Katie Morton – a licensed therapist and advocate for mental health support whilst TTC – recommends joining infertility support groups to help deal with the struggles and emotions. Whilst many support groups have gone online – a ‘new normal’ may mean face-to-face groups can reconvene and provide you with a deeper level of support and connection in the future. Speaking to a group or even a fertility coach may seem daunting but, as Katie reminds us, they are a non-judgemental safe zone where you can be heard. If you are uncomfortable with sharing your story, you might still find comfort in hearing someone else’s. Plus, it’s a chance to socialise with like-minded people sensitive to the fact that you’re all going through the TTC process or fertility treatment.
Have you found yourself in an uncomfortable situation where a relative, a friend or even a co-worker has sparked a conversation about your plans for children, your sex life, or your fertility journey? Your great aunt Mildred said, ‘you’re not getting any younger, don’t leave it too long’. Your best friend’s family is growing to be the size of a football team and they feel the need to share how they got pregnant so easily every time. Your co-worker notices you haven’t been having your morning coffees and assumes you’re pregnant. We hear you; it hurts.
Whether you’ve faced the ‘maybe it’s not meant to be’ and the ‘just relax and it’ll happen’ or another insensitive comment, you have a multitude of choices when it comes to your response. Swallowing what you’d like to say and holding your emotions back may seem like the easiest option, but sometimes it does
more damage than good. Instead, consider preparing for the questions and comments you could expect with some loosely scripted responses. You can decide the level of detail or emotion you want to include. Entering an uncomfortable situation knowing you’re prepared will put you at ease.
Of course, you may feel like some situations don’t warrant a reply, or you may want to put your mental health first by removing yourself from the conversation; and that is okay. In these instances, if you’re with your partner, you could consider preparing a subtle signal to indicate ‘save me from this conversation’ or ‘get me out of here’. If a sly tug on your earlobe isn’t your style, you feel close enough to the person you’re talking to, consider letting that person know that you have a lot on your emotional plate right now and that you would like to set some boundaries around what you are and aren’t comfortable with. For instance, you could ask your great aunt Mildred to trust in knowing that you are TTC but you want to keep it between you and your partner. Likewise, if you suspect a friend might be trying too, you could ask them to deliver their pregnancy announcement over a text or email and give you the space to let it sink in. Your friend may be excited to tell you their news in person and not realise that your forced smile is masking an avalanche of feelings; don’t worry, if they’re a true friend they’ll understand.
No matter what your relation is to the person or the social situation you’re in, sometimes you won’t be able to avoid the conversations or settings that you find to be a trigger. In those circumstances, it is important to put yourself first by understanding and accepting that some of those around you can’t comprehend what you’re going through. Try to recognise that your emotional journey is their blind spot and don’t allow yourself to spend another minute on it.
When you’re not socialising, allow yourself to feel your emotions in a place you feel safe. It’s okay to grieve the conception you hoped for or pregnancies that didn’t reach full term. Through processing your feelings rather than keeping them under lock and key, you’ll find the psychological space to remain hopeful and handle socialising without the risk of emotionally collapsing.