I recently watched an interview where they talked about research that showed that the grief of a fertility journey was comparable to that of a terminal illness. This sounds pretty shocking, yet makes a lot of sense to me having spoken to countless couples over the years.
This got me thinking about the role of the mind in navigating the emotional rollercoaster of infertility.
If we turn to the eastern philosophy of Zen for its wisdom, we can see that most of our struggles in life come from being too tightly attached to a particular outcome. When we’re worried, we are tightly attached to how we want things to be i.e: have a baby by the time we turn 40 years old.
So if we can accept that being too attached or clinging too tightly to an idea or an outcome are the cause of our struggles… then the answer is simple, right? Loosen the attachment and let go.
Easier said than done though, especially if it’s something you so desperately want!!
When our minds are clinging tightly, we don’t want to let go. We really want things our way, and when they don’t we feel lots of negative emotions.
So what’s the answer? Establishing some letting go practices.
Meditation is simply sitting still and trying to pay attention to the present moment – whether that’s the breath, your body, or what’s going on around you right now. What you’ll find is that your mind runs away from the present moment, attaching to worries about the future, planning or remembering things in the past. In meditation, you practice letting go of these mini distractions, by noticing what your mind is doing and letting go and returning to the present moment. This happens again and again, and with practice, you get good at it. It’s like muscle memory. After doing it hundreds and thousands of times, you learn that whatever you were attached to is simply a story, a narrative, a dream. It’s not so heavy, just a bit of a cloud that can be blown away in the breeze.
Now I would never want to trivialise your desire to have a child, far from it. Yet I would just like to help you to see a way of being more philosophical about what is going on in your life at any given moment.
When meditating, try wishing for an end to your suffering, or an end to the suffering of others. This wish transforms you from being stuck in your attachment, to finding a warm heart to melt the attachment and find a way to ease it. You become bigger than your story when you wish for your suffering to end. And when you wish for other’s suffering to end, you connect yourself to them, seeing that your suffering is the same as theirs, understanding that you’re in this together. What happens then is that your attachments and story become less important, not such a big deal, as you connect with others in this way.
Try meditating not only on the wish for the suffering of others (and yourself) to end, but for others to be happy. All others, whether you like them or not. Again, through doing this, you start to see that you’re all connected in your suffering and in your desire to be happy. You are not separate from them. This connection with others helps you to be less attached and more at ease with your life as it is.
At the heart of things, attachment is about not wanting things to be the way they are. You want something different. That’s because there’s something about the present moment, about the person in front of you, about yourself, that you don’t like. By meditating, practising compassion and interdependence, you can start to trust that things are OK just as they are. They might not be ‘ideal’ but they are just fine. Beautiful even. And you start to become more aware of your continual rejection of the present moment and open up to the actuality of this moment instead. Over and over, this is the practice, opening and investigating the moment with curiosity, accepting it as it is.
These practices result in a more expansive mind that is not so narrowly focused on its little story of how things ‘should be’. The mind can hold these little desires, and so much more. It’s a wide-open space, like a deep blue ocean or a dreamy blue sky, and the little attachments are just a part of it, but it can also see the suffering of others and their attachments. It can see the present moment in all its flawed, glorious beauty and be present with all of this at once.
Dealing with attachment isn’t easy. If you can, I recommend that you meditate daily, focusing on the breath. As you meditate, aim to see your suffering and your story and attachments. Then when you feel down about your fertility situation or are disappointed because your periods just arrived, see your attachment to having a baby and expand your mind beyond it, giving yourself compassion while seeing that you are bigger than this. Let it be there like a cloud, floating around in the wide expanse of your mind, and then lightly let it float away, rather than sinking yourself into it. With practice, this method can result in more contentment with the present moment as it is.
My grandmother always said; if it’s meant to be it will be. If you could truly be accepting of this statement as fact, then you’d feel much less stressed because you wouldn’t ever need to worry.
My caveat to all of the above, is if you are sad and overwhelmed with grief, anger, frustration because another year has passed and you still don’t have the baby you so desperately long for, it’s important to acknowledge those feelings.
I’m not suggesting by writing this blog post that you can meditate those feelings away. Far from it and that’s pretty dangerous because that is likely to result in suppressing all those difficult emotions and that’s not a healthy thing to do. What I am suggesting though, is getting those feelings out of your system. You could perhaps go and scream them out in the woods or take a baseball bat and bash some cushions to facilitate the release of all that emotion.
Incorporating both the release of difficult emotions and using meditation to be present is important. So the next time something comes along to upset you, releasing the emotion first is the best cause of action to avoid any emotional suppression, then using meditation as a tool to stay present.
None of this is easy, but hopefully it an help you find some ease as you navigate this journey.