Healthy Mind

What are your triggers? 4 strategies to cope, from an amazing team

Jessie Day  |  29 Apr 2023


The baby shower invite. An Insta pregnancy announcement. Scan photos in your WhatsApps. Walking past the playground. If you’ve been through a fertility struggle, things which seem so positive to others can sting (at best) and trigger an endless negative thought spiral leading to anxiety, and even a more specific form of infertility depression.

We call them ‘triggers’, and they can make you feel unable to attend social events and maintain relationships. Accepting that they are part of the crisis that infertility is, is important. But there are tools that can help you cope in order for them not to control your life entirely.

Anna and Jenny Ann founded the Tilly Community and Tilly App to make such tools and support more accessible. Going through fertility issues themselves, they missed mental wellness-resources that were adapted for infertility and loss, and someone to confide in.

So we were delighted to find out about Tilly’s course, Coping with infertility & loss, which provides a structured, supportive 8-week outline for bubble-wrapping your mental health, across your fertility journey. 

This is a sorely-needed resource, and we’re huge fans of what Anna and Jenny Ann are doing, to normalise emotional response, protect mental wellbeing and shine a light on this often silent, taboo-filled corner of the family-building journey.

Feeling like infertility or loss has turned your life into a minefield of triggers? Read on to learn more about Anna and Jenny Ann’s fertility stories, their triggers, and best tips on coping strategies. Plus, download the Tilly App for specialist tools and community support. 

Over to Anna and Jenny Ann –

Knowing your triggers (and that you’re not alone) can be empowering

Sometimes, seeing ‘trigger warning’ can be triggering in itself. 

Infertility can be traumatic. From loss of your naivety – the blissful unawareness that something ‘so natural’ could be so hard – to loss of a pregnancy or baby, the process and experience may be brutal. Even if you’re coping – and no judgement here, if you’re not – triggers are everywhere. 

Unfortunately the psychological effect of infertility has not been talked about much, and many feel alone and misunderstood. It can therefore be reassuring to turn to research to normalise your emotions.

Time and again research shows that infertility can be a huge driver of depression and anxiety. And yet, it’s so often a hidden, silent struggle. One recent major study revealed that 76% of women and 61% of men undergoing infertility treatment reported significant symptoms of anxiety. 

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Infertility depression is a very real struggle

Another large Danish study of 42,000 women undergoing ART (assisted reproductive treatment) showed that 35% screened positive for depression. Depression and anxiety are different things, but there’s one absolute certainty – infertility can trigger significant mental health struggles.  

Stress is normal and unavoidable, but there are ways to manage it. A big part of getting through infertility is knowing your boundaries, your safe people and spaces, and above all, your triggers. Knowing and calling them out makes them more manageable, in the moment.

Our stories, and our triggers

Anna

Infertility definitely hijacked my life, and affected so many more dimensions than I could ever have imagined. It’s easy to explain that a failed IVF attempt or miscarriage has made you sad. It’s a lot harder to explain how small comments, interactions and places can give you so much anxiety, that you shut down completely.

I’ve been through failed IVF cycles, several miscarriages, second trimester losses and the decision to give up my own genes. My son, Lev, is here and that is amazing. But triggers are still everywhere, and mostly, I’ve come to expect them. 

Bringing this into real time, we’ve just gone through our first failed transfer while trying to have a sibling for Lev. And I’m realising that secondary infertility brings a whole new bunch of triggers which, despite my journey, I’ve not yet encountered. 

Throughout my journey, these are some of the triggers I’ve struggled (and still struggle) with:

Fertility Help

Pregnancy announcements

This started very early in my fertility journey. Right at the beginning, when I still had no idea how long we’d struggle, a friend texted to tell me she was pregnant. I had to lock myself in the bathroom at my office. 

It surprised me, and I felt ashamed. Why couldn’t I be happy for her?  

The truth is, it has less to do with other people’s pregnancies, and more to do with the fact that I’m reminded I feel like a failure. It makes me feel less-than, and not-good-enough. Basically, it immediately triggers a scarcity mindset.

By the way, when I found out that same woman was pregnant with her second child a few years later, I threw a desk across the room. I call it externalising, read more about it in our specially-designed course.

Toxic positivity

A lot of people around me told me to “stay positive”, that they were “sure it’s all going to work out”, and so on. And although I could, at times, choose to have an optimistic mindset myself, hearing this from others just made me feel like my emotions weren’t valid – like I wasn’t allowed to feel sad.

It made me feel really alone and often angry with people around me, who couldn’t just acknowledge I was going through something tough. I ended up not talking to most people at all because it just made me upset.

Now, trying to have a second child, this is happening all over again. People expect me to think it’s much easier now that I have a child and keep reminding me to be thankful for what I have. Trust me, I may be the most thankful mother on earth, but I must still be allowed to feel that it’s unfair I can’t take having another one for granted, like so many people around me.

Comments about genetics

There seems to be an almost automatic need to talk about who the baby looks like, or ‘takes after’, as if it’s the most important thing. 

Honestly, I’ve very much come to terms with our decision to use an egg donor, and I’m proud of it. I’m proud of our unique story. But throwaway comments about appearance or likeness remind me that seeing my looks in my child isn’t something I’ll ever get to experience. 

The rational side of me doesn’t think it’s important at all, but it still feels unfair. And, I guess, it continually reminds me of the trauma we’ve been through, to get to where we are. 

Jenny Ann

My fertility journey has taken me through multiple miscarriages – five in total – with an immunology diagnosis at the root of my struggle. I have three sons, and I still experience triggering in certain situations. 

For me, triggering is about so many things. I think one of the hardest aspects is that it affects relationships you’ve built to be strong, and can lead to avoiding certain people, and/or settings. But I also know that being triggered is natural and normal – it’s not your fault, and it can be almost impossible to avoid. 

What’s important is breaking the thought loops. If I can distract myself, or reframe the trigger – for example, reminding myself that this is about someone else’s ignorance, rather than my own story – it can stop the circular thoughts which come with triggering.

In our specifically-designed, 8-week Coping with infertility & loss course we practice techniques helping you to question your mind.

My triggers were and still are: 

my tilly triggers

Photos of friends, with their children

Did I want to be at that soft play, with a gazillion other kids? No. But infertility meant I wasn’t even invited to the party. 

A real loneliness can come from staring at pictures, or scrolling social media. And because you weren’t there in person, you lack the context. So you don’t see the ‘warts and all’ reality of how that photo came about – the tantrum right beforehand, for example, or the scraped knee that came after – you just see the idyllic family life.

For me, this could trigger some really difficult thought loops. 

Minimising my loss

“You should be happy it didn’t happen later.” 

I mean, yes. If I had to make the choice I’d rather lose a baby at eight weeks than 29. But what kind of choice is that? I know people say it because they hope it’ll make me feel better, but it just makes me feel like my feelings aren’t valid. 

It touches on what Anna says above about toxic positivity. Often people say things because they don’t know what else to say. But actually, this can be incredibly triggering.

Just saying you’re sorry for what’s happening is almost always enough – I think solutionising someone’s pain or grieving process is bound to trigger some really strong emotions. Mainly because, they’re at risk of being stifled. 

Fruit comparisons (& other naivety)

Those fruit comparisons. I can’t bear them, even now. And this is mainly because I went all-in on them with my pregnancy, only to be left without my baby. I did this less with every miscarriage we went through. 

I think the trigger for me on this one is the naivety itself, of people who share their pregnancy news super-early, on social media or wherever, without a care in the world. The fact that they get permission to have that happy naivety, peppering their posts and messages with fruit emojis and so on – it really got to me. 

Bubble-wrapping against your triggers – Tilly top tips

Triggers are incredibly personal. But they’re also a really normal part of a fertility struggle, and you are not alone in experiencing them, or finding them hard to deal with. 

Tilly’s course Coping with infertility & loss course provides research-based tools and exercises to help you train your mind to cope with the stress and anxiety that this journey can create. You’re also able to share insights with other participants, who understand the struggle you’re caught in.

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One module focuses specifically on managing triggers and breaking negative thought loops. There are no quick fixes and lots more detail in the course material, but here are some concrete tools that have helped us manage our triggers:

  • Journaling – writing down our thoughts has helped so much. It’s a proven tool to get emotions out of your system and to gain perspective, without having to worry about anyone’s reaction. The Tilly App provides guided journaling for specific triggers like for example pregnancy announcements.
  • Externalise feelings – from ice crushing to screaming into a pillow, get it out! The more we internalise, the deeper the pain and the bigger the risk we act out without control, which may just create further anxiety. The app’s SOS tools can help you with this.
  • Mindfulness – learning to not listen to everything your mind tells you and to let emotions come and go without reacting to them. This is key to breaking thought loops, and in the Coping with infertility & loss course you practice a range of techniques which can be integrated into your daily life.
  • Meditation and breathwork – these are efficient tools to check out and regain emotional control. It doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes, and we’ve filled the Tilly App with several sessions for when you feel anxiety creeping in, or to help you prepare for a specific event.

Ready to start Tilly’s 8-week course? Get all the info here (& we wish everyone all of the support, on your journey). 

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