Bravery, Courage, Practicing Empathy and Rising Strong After We Fall

Cheers, dear readers,

I recently had the opportunity to watch a live presentation by Dr. Brené Brown whose work on empathy I have lightly referenced here at SS&FE. She is an American scholar, author, public speaker, and is currently a research professor in Houston, Texas. She also has two New York Times Bestsellers under her belt: The Gifts of Imperfection (2010) and Daring Greatly (2012). It was an absolute honor to see her speak live at a very small venue in downtown Washington, DC, and I was so fortunate to be in attendance. Her ground breaking work is highly relevant for those dealing with the struggles and aftermath of infertility. I would love to delve a bit deeper into her work sharing some of her nuggets of wisdom that I feel can benefit the patients of Conceive Hospital.

I have mentioned here before that listening is an act of love. Truly and effectively “being there” emotionally for each other in times of stress helps us feel connected, loved, cared for and supported. Yet many times we often shrink away from someone else’s emotional pain as it makes us feel uncomfortable – we’d rather talk about something more pleasant and palatable. Sadly there is a lot of shame that is felt by those who suffer from an infertility diagnosis and subsequent treatment. And often, couples suffer in silence because they feel that no one will understand, or support their decisions, or share in the burden of their struggles (even if just by simply listening with an open heart). All of that negative overwhelm and disconnection does NOT help the treatment process at all unfortunately.

Through her extensive research and personal insights, Brené reminds us that “Empathy is connection – it’s the ladder out of the shame hole.” And empathy supports connection between loved ones – whereas sympathy actually fosters disconnection. I would like to share a lovely video with you about this very concept. Here’s a brief description: “What is the best way to ease someone’s pain and suffering? In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr. Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.”

There is a so much uncertainty that surrounds an infertility diagnosis and the daily impact of going through subsequent treatment. There are absolutely no guarantees about the outcome of each IVF attempt. Brené spoke in her presentation about how we are all first and foremost wired for survival in terms of safety and preservation. Therefore our brains do not like uncertainty and like to find patterns (or creating a story) that limits the feeling of uncertainty. Thoughts such as “This next IVF attempt will work!” or “This pregnancy will go to term to create our healthy son or daughter!” help us try to ease our own pain. But what about the ensuing (and often overwhelming) feelings of grief, shame and vulnerability that ensue when it doesn’t work… again?

Brené reminds us that often as humans, we will intentionally “numb out” to take the edge off of emotion – emotions that we don’t want to feel as they are uncomfortable or so very sad. She points out that often “emotion drives the car” and rational thinking is “locked in the trunk” – versus “playing shotgun in the passenger seat” alongside emotion (I loved that metaphor! Very insightful and easy to remember!). She urges us to practice mindfulness – or the act of really “paying attention” to ourselves and our emotions – to help us recognize (reckon with) our emotions. Then use rational thought to help us challenge our thinking that is not serving us (rumble with emotion). Then we can create our own revolution to learn how to walk ourselves through the tunnel of challenging emotions that we struggle with.

In her new book Rising Strong, Brené gives us tools like the above to help recognize and manage our emotions. It takes much bravery and courage to walk down the path of infertility treatment. And I applaud all of the readers here for being brave enough to take that step towards family creation! Brené went on to point out that “if we are brave enough often enough, we will fall. This is a book about what it takes to get back up.” She points out that when we OWN our story, we get to write our own ending. And also that when we are the most overwhelmed, THAT is when we are least likely to ask for help – but that is precisely when we probably need outside help the most! Remember that here at SS&FE, we are more than happy to help support you on your journey. Reach out at any time to us.

Lastly, Brené pointed out the simple fact that if you love someone (and that includes your unborn children in the case of infertility), your heart IS going to get broken. Be brave. Be strong. Remember how to get back up when you fall down. Find supporters (including us) to help you along your journey – people who will cheer you on as you rise strong again!

Please join us next week to hear more about our personal journey down the infertility path. I look forward to speaking with you. And I wish you the best on your journey.

Warm regards,

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