A counsellor’s guide to dealing with infertility.

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If you’re looking for advice about options surrounding fertility, pregnancy or counselling, always consult your doctor

Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the most natural and rewarding experiences in a woman’s life. Your mother did it, your grandmothers did it, and everyone around you may seem to be doing it too. And, of course, when you decided to get in on the action and start your own family, you never considered for a second that infertility would be a factor. But now here you are, another month gone by and still empty-handed, wondering what the heck is going on.

Maybe you want to have a baby but it just hasn’t happened yet and you are not sure you are ready to venture down the path of medical investigations. Maybe you are already a mother, but would love to have another child. Or maybe you have been through a few rounds of unsuccessful in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or alternative therapy and now need a new approach to build the resilience and motivation to keep trying. Whatever the reason you find yourself here, I welcome you and invite you to travel this road as a complete and satisfied person no matter what the future holds.

"Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the most natural and rewarding experiences in a woman’s life." (Image: iStock)

There may be specific reasons why you find yourself with a diagnosis of infertility, including:

1. You met your partner later in life.

2. You didn’t meet a partner at all (known as social infertility).

3. Stuff happened such as caring for family or a personal crisis.

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4. Work took priority.

5. You have changed your mind, having thought you didn’t want children.

6. Your partner changed his or her mind and now wants children.

7. Your partner has medical issues.

8. You have medical issues.

9. You thought you had more hours left on the biological clock.

Listen: How do you come to terms with losing a baby? Olympian Libby Trickett shares how she made it through the sadness (post continues after audio...)

Maybe you don’t even know how you got here. Whichever choices you made or were made for you cannot be changed now. Repeating them in your mind like a looping record will only cause spiralling feelings of frustration, guilt, shame, blame or anger. Recognise this as a new starting point and draw an imaginary line in the sand. Leave the past where it is, try not to concentrate too much on the future, and give your undivided attention to now, right here in this moment. Put up the white flags and call a truce with the competing parts of yourself, and focus on making peace with infertility.

This doesn’t mean all the emotions of anger, blame, frustration, shame and plain old feeling sorry for yourself are not going to be with you anymore. But instead of trying to suppress the intensity of these emotions or letting them overwhelm you, try accepting that their presence is a part of your commitment on your quest to motherhood. Recognise the strength of these emotions as a sign of the importance of what you are facing, but allow them to help you validate and transform this crisis into a time of clarity, resilience and compassion.

"It’s not how you feel, it’s how you think about how you feel at any given moment that is important." (Image: iStock)

Unless you have been forced to add infertility to your personal vocabulary it is hard to even begin to understand its capacity to turn life upside down. But for those who have to confront it, infertility can signify a tumultuous emotional roller-coaster of pain and struggle, quietly masked behind the routines and expectations of everyday life.

Women today are able to control most aspects of their lives and make their own decisions around their personal and professional goals. And so, when faced with an infertility crisis, it often comes with an enormous shock and a feeling of your life spiralling out of control. With such a diagnosis comes feelings of anger, confusion and fear and expectations suddenly come crashing down.

I have been a counsellor and lifecoach for several years, working with hundreds of women. It has only been in the past few years that I have started to develop my own approach for IVF clients, using more of a ‘coachelling’ model: a hybrid between coaching and counselling. When I feel a client needs further insight, I offer a deeper perspective, which is more in line with counselling than coaching. This involves a subtle shift in questions from a future focus of ‘how do you want to handle this?’ to a more introspective focus such as ‘what happened in the past that may be affecting your thoughts?’. Once the ‘aha’ moment is achieved, we leap back into the action focus of coaching to bring about and hardwire the change.

It has been my privilege to coach women who have endured fertility treatment. Nothing can really prepare you for facing infertility – you cannot control its ups and downs, but you can learn to manage your reactions to it. It’s not how you feel, it’s how you think about how you feel at any given moment that is important.

Empowered Fertility: A Practical Twelve-Step Guide by Claire Hall and Dr Devora Lieberman ($19.99) published by Hachette Australia.

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