When there is an unspoken expectation of intimacy – especially around key calendar events such as Valentine’s Day or your birthdays – the romance and affection of intimacy can be masked and become uncomfortable pressure for those of us riding the waves of the TTC voyage. At Fertility Help Hub, we understand that what is supposed to be a private matter between partners is suddenly shared with what can feel like an audience of fertility specialists. With the clinical aspect, as well as the yearning to see those two tiny pink lines on the pregnancy test, love-making can often switch from being fun to being a requirement, and our physical, emotional, and mental connections with our partners can suffer. Consequently, so can our connection with ourselves.
So, how do you find the joy of being present in the moment and able to connect with your partner without being distracted by pressure? You start with you and your self-care and the practice of taking the time to nurture your own mind, body, and soul. Here are Fertility Help Hub’s top tips for introducing a little self-care amid those times when you feel an expectation to show how you care for someone else.
Words by Beth Tupper
‘Me Time’ is Just as Important as ‘We Time’
The notion of spending some time to yourself when you feel the pressure to be spending that time with your partner can seem like a head-scratcher. Nonetheless, engaging in individual self-care activities together can not only reduce stress-induced brain fog, but also unknowingly bring you closer together. Whilst indulging in the latest Netflix craze that you can’t persuade your partner to show an interest in – we’ve all been there – or reaching for the pamper products might seem like the obvious individual self-care activities, there’s more choice on the menu than you might think.
Meditation, for example, can be an experience you share with your partner, and yet it stills provides you with the space to focus on you. You can choose to concentrate on your breathing or mindfulness techniques such as being aware of your senses and surroundings, or it can give your mind the chance to let go. When trying to conceive, it can be easy to restrict our thoughts to protect ourselves from mentally and emotionally spiralling, and sometimes the act of ‘letting go’ can be a method of self-soothing.
If you find yourself focusing more on the sound of the fly buzzing round the room instead of your headspace while trying to meditate, loosely committing instead to writing in a journal can be an excellent solution. Allow yourself to pour your thoughts, fears, seemingly far-fetched scenarios and emotions onto a page and you might just find that soothing emotional release you could unknowingly need.
Through carving time out of your day for yourself – whether that be a journal, a bubble bath, personal sexual intimacy, or a glass of wine and a good book – we are connecting with our bodies; and, by giving ourselves the room to soothe and recharge we can create the mental and emotional space to give to our partner.
You’re harbouring a medley of hormones, you’re trying to balance your work life, social life and family life, you’re physically exhausted and quite frankly, when faced with the decision to make love or have eight hours sleep, the sleep wins. Does this sound familiar? If it does you are not alone. And naturally, when it comes to that romantic evening that you’re both anticipating will have an intimate finale, you feel pressured. This is the moment to take a step back, breathe and acknowledge that your physical wellbeing needs some TLC too, to get you in the right state of mind to feel comfortable with off-the-fertility-clock intimacy.
Many couples going through the TTC journey will be all too familiar with the smorgasbord of fertility advice around living a healthy lifestyle and whilst it is important to take those healthy steps for your chance of conception, it is equally as important to take those steps for your self-love too. Tending to your physical self-love does not have to be as concrete as sticking to the advised list of food that helps fertility or watching the number on the scales to be in optimal health for a pregnancy. You can connect with your body by choosing to embrace your natural beauty, topping up your Vitamin D levels by returning to nature, or feeling empowered by your body’s abilities through exercise. As fitness guru, Joe Wicks, often tells the nation, exercise stimulates positive endorphins which are a natural mood booster. Why not build emotional and spiritual intimacy with your partner whilst enjoying a physical self-care activity such as couple’s yoga or a garden picnic? Nothing says romance like the promise of a loaded scone, the feeling of fresh air against your skin and flirty conversation.
There is a difference between being physically intimate because the ovulation calendar says you should be and being physically intimate because your connection led to it in the moment. Though it may seem like a contradiction, spontaneity is something that every couple plans to work on at some point. Being spontaneous may seem like a forgotten fantasy when you are caught in the storm of ‘timing is the key’ but let’s face it, timed sex can be a bit of a buzz kill. Physician’s approval permitting, try to give yourselves a break from the fertility calendar and remind yourselves of what it was like to enjoy the moment without the pressure.
It may seem obvious to most that communication is another essential ingredient for creating intimacy and for tending to our mental and emotional wellbeing, but it’s often easier said – how ironic – than done. In the words of Fertility Help Hub’s Eloise ‘long before becoming an IVF warrior, I was a chronic worrier’ and, through communicating about that worry with a partner, you can find the ability to self-soothe whilst building an emotional connection. The TTC journey can conjure up a cocktail of emotions: frustration, sadness, guilt and hope, to name a few; so, leaning on each other during this time is crucial. You wouldn’t let your kettle boil over, so don’t let your emotions do it either – metaphorically (or literally) make a cuppa from the boiling kettle before one or both parties emotionally explode.
Whilst you’re opening up to your partner about your infertility fears and feelings, why not try to broach the subject of the bubbling pressure you are feeling to be intimate around events when it is usually expected? The likelihood is that, if you’re feeling anxious about the expectation of intimacy, then your partner is too, and it could give you the opportunity to explore avenues of intimacy that you’re both comfortable with.
Creating your Zen Environment: a Tidy Space Means a Tidy Mind
Don’t worry, we’re not going to pretend to be masters of Feng Shui. In fact, I’m fairly certain that Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen would be horrified at the hodgepodge collection of mugs on display in my kitchen. Flair and finesse aside, I think we can all agree that there is some truth behind ‘tidy house, tidy mind’. If a clearer environment offers the possibility of clearing some of the brain fog that unfortunately can come hand-in-hand with infertility, isn’t it worth giving it a go?
Sometimes the roadblocks to intimacy when trying to conceive can be so subtle and yet fundamental to our everyday lives that they become easily overlooked. The likes of ovulation kits, fertility calendars, injections, note-pads, and medications can be sly reminders of the process you are going through. Whether you’re trying to set the scene for intimacy or trying to schedule some self-care time, the last thing you need is an area of your bedroom becoming a reminder of infertility.
Rehome these vital props of your TTC journey to an area of the house that is less likely to interfere with your mood, your self-esteem, and your desire to be intimate. It can be a way to lift some of that pressure off both your shoulders, and you never know, you might even get the sudden urge to dabble in Feng Shui after all.
Complement your Physical Self-love with Emotional and Spiritual Care
When faced with infertility, it can be easy to lose sight of whom you love, your partner and yourself, and who you were before infertility. Mental self-care can often act as the warm, comforting hug that your self-esteem
needs. After all, the conveyor belt of appointments and medications can influence our self-esteem and subsequently, how sexy we feel. How can we expect to feel comfortable with intimacy in times of celebration if we’re not comfortable with ourselves first? Acknowledging your emotions about your journey – the good and the bad – and compartmentalising them to a degree is an important process in learning to self-soothe and self-care.
Remember, if you take all the tips on board and you’re still feeling uneasy about being intimate, that is okay. You and your partner are on your own journey, a journey that you can be guided on by fertility specialists and online advice; but only you can understand how you feel. If the unspoken expectation to be intimate makes your anxiety flame flicker, review what intimacy means to you and your partner. Emotional and spiritual intimacy in the form of smiling, flirting, complimenting, foreplay, and eye contact can be just as pleasurable.