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A popular pregnancy test brand recently posted its first photo of a negative pregnancy test result on Instagram and infertility awareness advocates within the TTC community celebrated it as a significant gesture. Sharing this simple picture on their social media account was viewed as a nod towards the community of women whose fertility story doesn’t look anything like the images of joyful smiles and ‘big fat pinks’ that usually fill their advertising campaigns, the subfertile women who make up a notable demographic of the company’s clientele and have been overlooked until now. It’s a small bit of acknowledgment that has allowed this community of women to exhale, feel seen and say “Yes, I am here. I exist, and there are other women like me who go through this same disappointment month after month.”
Many of us know all too well from first hand experience that getting a ‘big fat no’ (BFN) on a pregnancy test is no easy fate. It’s difficult not to agonise over the profound sense of loss or failure that it triggers. It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like your body is working against you. You pour all your hope and energy into it – a fertility friendly diet and lifestyle, supplements, medications, injections, endless doctors appointments and cycles per fertility treatment – expecting a positive outcome. You’re convinced that you’ve been noticing signs of early pregnancy, only to be completely let down. Your world shattered and you’re heartbroken to be led right back to square one. You’re left feeling confused and even foolish for having allowed yourself to believe that a positive pregnancy test was ever a possibility for you.
I’ve had my fair share of BFNs. The endless disappointment is one of the hardest things about my fertility journey. Each unsuccessful cycle has had a way of drawing all my negative emotions and self-limiting thoughts about myself to the surface. As with so many tough experiences in the context of my path to parenthood, it took a year or two before I understood that I needed to reframe my thinking around it. I needed to learn to see things differently in order to help not just keep a balanced perspective, but ease the emotional distress I experienced from month to month as well. At the end of the day a new approach was very necessary to preserve my mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Things that helped process the disappointment of BFNs
I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do that, but I was open to any idea that would be helpful. I felt that it was important to focus on acceptance. One approach has been through learning to give myself the space to honour my feelings and mourn the sense of loss or disappointment, but at the same time trying not to spend too long a time wallowing in what could have been as it is so easy to get stuck in that heavy depressive emotional space. In addition, I came across something in the book, The Baby Making Bible by Emma Cannon that stood out to me. Cannon offered a suggestion on how to approach the end of one unsuccessful cycle and the beginning of a new one. She says: “[Cycle] Day One heralds the beginning of the next cycle,” and she encourages women to “Think of it as a fresh start: another month in which to get healthy.” Something about these words resonated, so I decided to incorporate the idea into my monthly affirmations.
The Role of Self-Care
During a period when I was having a really rough time, unsure of what else to do, I sat down and made a list of all the things that I could do to lift my spirit and care for myself. I created a sort of self-care list of things to restore my soul and wellbeing. The list included simple things that felt like soul medicine to me: Have a relaxing bath, soothing tea meditation, sit and read uplifting poetry in the garden for 10 minutes, do calming yoga stretches, make a green smoothie, spend some time in nature, do art therapy, read the love note you wrote to yourself, etc. Then each day for the next while, I turned to the list to select one or two things to do for myself. It turned out to be such a healing exercise and opened my eyes to the value of nurturing oneself. Showing up for yourself when you’re in a place of vulnerability has a profound ripple effect. And when your self-care is a regular practice, then you begin to offset the effects of prolonged stress and distress that could otherwise become overwhelming.
In a small way, the self-care list lessened my mental load and gave me permission to carve out more space to tend to and restore my sense of inner peace. And it inspired me to keep cultivating a daily practice of self-love. It was a very big lesson for me, a reminder not to underestimate the far reaching impact that taking little steps to be there for yourself can have. Although it still isn’t easy to face up to the BFNs, I do feel better equipped to tackle the fallout that comes with the territory.
How do you care for yourself when the BFNs and disappointments in your fertility journey hit you hard? What kinds of self-care practices would nurture your soul? Whatever they are, reach to them when you need some extra nurturing. Although it’s hard to accept the negatives, you deserve to feel loved, supported and cared for as much as and as often as possible.