An Open Letter to Fertility Warriors on Mother’s Day
Dear Fertility Warrior,
I am an Infertility Nurse Practitioner and have worked in this field for over 20 years. I have my own nurse education business where I teach nurses how to take care of people or couples who are trying to conceive (TTC), and I am also a health coach for women who are working on becoming the best version of themselves, both mentally and physically, before pregnancy.
I love my career, because most of the time, I get to participate in helping someone’s dream become a reality. In my experience, though, some days are tougher than others and holidays (especially when you are TTC) often fall into the ‘tough day’ bucket. Perhaps there is no holiday more emotionally charged for you than Mother’s Day.
I both love and hate Mother’s Day.
Personally, I am a mother and for that I feel lucky and grateful. But my heart breaks a little bit every time I walk down the aisle in Target that is dedicated to Mother’s Day cards thinking of the 1 in 8 women who are walking down that same aisle wondering if they will ever be the recipient of such a card, or the people who are grieving the loss of their own mother.
I understand. On Mother’s Day, a woman suffering from infertility can feel much like the kid sitting by herself on the playground: invisible yet in plain sight. Holidays like this can reveal a profound sense of inadequacy that is often just under the surface in many women TTC, usually hidden beneath a veneer of feeling ‘fine,’ while she is simultaneously breaking inside.
If I could speak to all women who are TTC this Mother’s Day, here is what I would say:
I am so sorry. I’m sorry that many of us take for granted something that is not easy for you. I’m sorry that you probably feel excluded from many events in life and here comes a holiday that underscores that sense of being left out. As much as you try, you can’t prepare for how you will feel on Sunday. Like an immunization, the knowledge that it’s coming doesn’t make it any less painful to experience. This holiday has the unique power to generate discomfort that is both acute and prolonged.
In my last Letter to Fertility Warriors I emphasized that you are inherently worthy. As is. As you read this today. As a health coach, I try to assist people in accessing the strength that they have inside instead of relying on external factors (like our weight, age or number of eggs that we have) on which to base our self-worth. These numbers are just that: data. They are not character flaws or attributes. Treat them like you would any other piece of information, like you have brown eyes, where you acknowledge but don’t internalize or attach any meaning to it. This takes practice.
Be your own safe place to land. I read this expression once and I think it perfectly captures the need for self-compassion. Why are we so careful and gentle with others who are hurting and so tough on ourselves? We are all guilty of negative self-talk, and it can become a bad habit, but one that is possible to change. Listen to your inner voice. If it’s critical or degrading, rewrite that script. Instead of saying something like “I’m a failure” or “I will never get pregnant” you can think “I’m going through a tough time right now. I’ll pay attention to what I’m feeling and respect myself for being resilient in the midst of a challenge.” Here is an article on self-compassion that I have found helpful. This takes practice.
Give yourself the gift of self-care. No, not flowers or a card, I mean the gift of a regular and robust self-care habit. When I mention self-care, many picture bubble baths and manicures, which are nice but make you feel good for a minute. My definition of self-care is a habit that enhances your physical or mental health and it’s effects are long-lasting, such as engaging in regular exercise or cultivating a mindfulness practice. My favorite component of a self-care practice is learning to make and enforce boundaries. Boundaries teach people how to treat you and you need to use them to protect your emotions and energy during challenging times. There are many great articles on boundaries, feel free to contact me for articles or books on this. Learning these building blocks of a true self-care habit takes practice.
It’s very possible that you might feel disappointed in your friends and family on this holiday. Maybe they haven’t contacted you or are even avoiding you. Maybe you feel that their social media posts are insensitive to your situation. My advice is to assume positive intent in most people, that is that they are doing what they perceive to be the ‘right thing’ in an uncomfortable situation. Most people simply don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. If someone you care about doesn’t reach out to you, it’s not because they don’t care about you, it’s because they do. They think contacting you will make things worse so they tell themselves that they are ‘giving you your space.’ To you, it feels like abandonment. Although well-intended, them distancing themselves is along the same lines that McDonalds offers apple slices in happy meals: it’s a misguided effort to show that they care. I, like you, realize that ignoring someone on an emotionally-charged holiday is not considerate, it’s self-protective. But you will feel better if you can find it in your heart to allow them some grace this day, and be your own source of love and compassion (see my first point above). It takes a lot of energy to maintain resentment and you need to use this energy on yourself. This takes practice.
There is no blueprint for how to handle Mother’s Day while TTC.
Allow yourself to “feel the feels.” Take the space and time that you need for yourself on this day (see boundaries above) and remind yourself that feeling really bad is temporary and forgive yourself for any missteps. Start your self-talk with “Right now, I’m feeling…” or “I don’t like the fact that I ______, but it’s understandable considering the amount of stress I’ve been under” or “I can’t control that I am triggered by certain things/people, but I can control my reaction.” With infertility, you may feel that you can’t trust your body to do what it’s supposed to do. What you can do, though, is to teach your brain that it can be trusted. This (you guessed it) takes practice.
I want to end with a pledge to you. To all of those women who wonder if they will ever conceive, I want you to know that I see you on the playground. I am sitting with you on that bench and will be there until the bell rings, then the next day and the day after that.
About Monica Moore
As a nurse practitioner, Monica received advanced nursing education in addition to being a registered nurse. She is a fully licensed registered nurse and Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioner in the state of Connecticut and is certified by the board of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Monica’s nursing work experience spans nearly two decades in the field of fertility treatment. Monica’s passion lies in taking care of the whole patient. Monica works with patients and stresses the importance of integrating comprehensive care – including yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy and nutrition – with fertility treatment.