For those of you that read my blog regularly, you will know I’m a huge advocate of asking for help and seeking out support. I have talked in some of my posts about the role that counselling has played in my more recent journey. I never expected it to become part of my life. Up until a few years ago, I thought that seeing a counsellor meant I would never be a mum and we would be trying to move on from not having a family. It was always something I would do when we had run out of options and it was just going to be the two of us. I probably hoped we would never reach that point and therefore I would never have to go and bare my soul to a counsellor. I used to see counselling as the thing that other people did, it was also something that I associated with ‘failure’. I have seen others around me struggle, as I did, with the question of whether they should see a counsellor. Given my own positive experience, I would always encourage others to try it.
We found out in 2008 that we would ‘just need a little help getting pregnant’. In 2010 we embarked on our first IVF cycle. Two IVF cycles with two stays in hospital due to OHSS, 12 embryos replaced with not even a hint of a second line, an IVF cycle abroad, more tests that I can recall, 2 major house renovations and 4 house moves and a stressful job…finally in 2015 I hit rock bottom. I knew it had been building for about 18 months, hubby tried to encourage me to go and talk to someone, I refused. Surely that meant I had failed. When I went to see the GP because I just couldn’t cope with life anymore, he said I needed 2 weeks off work and offered to add me to a 6 month waiting list for counselling. I refused. Two days later as I sat at home like a zombie, I knew I wasn’t getting through this, I knew I needed help. This wasn’t something that my on-line IVF buddies could help me get through. This wasn’t something family and friends could help me with. In fact, they had slowly watched me deteriorate into a huge black hole and not one of them could do or say anything to get me out of it. This was something I had to do. The realisation hit me that I needed someone who knew what they were dealing with to help me help myself.
The impact of infertility on mental health isn’t often talked about. It seems like many of us who go through tests, treatments and ultimately grief and loss, expect that we can just ‘get over it’, ‘move on’ or just ‘deal with it’. I thought that too. I thought the feelings of emptiness, sadness and loneliness would disappear as soon as we got a positive test. We never got a positive. The feelings didn’t disappear. I don’t think they ever will, but I now know when they are coming and I know they will go again. Before I sought help, they were just there. All of the time. Nothing made any sense. I hated myself, I hated life. I didn’t feel like I had a purpose. I had no future, nothing to look forward to and nothing to work for. I asked myself often ‘why me’. Truth is, there is no answer to that question.
I used to be active on a couple of fertility forums. I would post on the cycle buddies threads as I went through cycle after cycle with others. In the first few cycles, I celebrated the positive outcomes of others with them. As time went on, I felt left behind. I never got a positive and there I was, now cycling with IVF newbies who then also seemed to get their positives. Forums provided me with some of the most useful information, its how I found out about NK cells, immune testing and opened my eyes to the possibility of IVF abroad. After transfer 5 I came off the forums. The reality was, they had become another source of making me feel like a failure. I did everything that everyone else was doing, they seemed to get a positive, all I got was an emoji virtual hug. For me, they were great in the early days, but as I became more experienced and endured more loss, they became a space that was unhealthy for my mental health. Stepping away was the only thing I could do. Don’t be afraid to move away from something that is having an negative impact on you.
When I was looking for a counsellor, I had no idea what I was looking for or where to find it. My trusted friend, Google provided lots of information. I knew I needed someone that knew something about infertility. A few searches later and I had found someone that I thought ‘may’ be able to help me. A couple of days later I experienced my first counselling session. I’m not going to say that I instantly knew it was going to help me. It took me a few sessions to start to see how counselling might help me help myself. It took a bit longer for me to start to truly open up and trust the person sat opposite me. But with time and care, it happened. Once that happened, I started to really experience the positive impact that it was having on my life. Little things started to shift, but even with the small shifts I started to feel better. I started to feel in some control again. I even started to think about things other than infertility and treatment. My life had been utterly consumed for years and here I now was talking and thinking about a life that may or may not include children. I never thought that would be possible for me, so deep rooted was the desire to have a family.
Talking to someone who had not known anything about us felt strange at first but even after the first session I felt a huge sense of relief that I finally had an outlet. More importantly, the person sat opposite me seemed to ‘get’ me. For the first time in a long time I felt like someone was not only listening, but was actually hearing what I was saying. No inappropriate comments, no ‘relax and it will happen’ rubbish, finally an acknowledgment of our infertility and the impact that it had on our lives. I could say what I wanted, no judgement, just empathy and understanding.
I started to see that it was no wonder I was in the throws of depression and struggling to function, I had come to expect that I could just get on with life even though I hadn’t really dealt with the impact that infertility was having on me. I was staring back at the last few years and I had to start to acknowledge it and then try to deal with it in order to move forward. And that is what I did. I talked and talked and talked. Some times I didn’t talk so much. Moments of silence sometimes say a lot.
When we embarked on our first IVF cycle, no one said that we would still be trying 8 years later and that it would send me into the darkest depths of depression. Of course, it doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happened to me and it probably didn’t have to. Counsellors seemed to be hidden in the depths of dark corridors in clinics. I viewed them as the person that was offered when IVF doesn’t work and the nurse on the end of the phone doesn’t really know what to say, which only fed the belief that counselling equals failure.
I look back on all of those times I was offered a counsellor, I should have said yes. Consumed by grief that I didn’t want to deal with in that moment, of course I always said no. Perhaps if I had dealt with the aftermath of a cycle immediately I would not have reached the point of a deep depression.
I can see those around me watching for signs that it happening again following our recent loss. It isn’t. It isn’t because I now ask for help, I seek out support and I talk. Counselling is one of those outlets and I wouldn’t ever go through a treatment cycle without it.
If you are reading this and wondering if you should try counselling because you are struggling, please don’t be afraid to try it. I am lucky that I found a counsellor that was the right fit for me, but if I hadn’t then I would have sought out another one. I now view life differently, I have times of sadness but they pass, I have someone who walks with me as I keep going through whatever comes next, supporting me and helping me to find my own way forward.
Finding a good counsellor who has an understanding of the impact of infertility can help you change your life. That is exactly what it did for me. Never be afraid to seek out support or ask for help. Infertility is difficult to navigate, it brings feelings of loss, grief, sadness, anger, emptiness and loneliness. Who wouldn’t need help to deal with all of those feelings? Be kind to yourself, always. Most of all, know that seeing a counsellor doesn’t mean that you have failed, it means that you know you need someone to be your person for a while as you move forward through the maze of infertility. Without support it can be a lonely place.