Believing the best: How thoughts can affect the fertility journey
Anya Sizer, patient support co-ordinator at the LWC who specialises in infertility support and stress management, explains how to challenge your negative beliefs to help you through your fertility treatment.
Beliefs appear like tiny inconsequential seeds, casually planted in the soil. However, the potential is for those seeds to grow beyond recognition and dominate the landscape.
But where do our negative beliefs come from? Maybe a single passing comment made by a teacher 20 years ago is now deeply embedded in the subconscious and decided upon as a ‘truth’. This is then reinforced further by the individual looking for evidence of this truth - other subjective proofs that the first belief is indeed right.
And herein lies one of the key points. Because, from a coaching point of view, the real question is not ‘is this belief right?’ but rather, ‘Is this belief working for you?’ What paths might such a belief have closed off for you? What experiences never ventured?
This subjective truth then has the ability to shut down a whole side to a person’s personality. To limit, rather than enable. This is also true in the realm of infertility.
Challenging the ‘truth’
Over time, one of my clients had begun to see her body as faulty as she was unable to conceive. This thought was then reinforced when the clinics referred to her as being a ‘poor responder’. In simple terms this meant she would take longer and need more drugs to produce eggs than an average patient. But, given the extra time and additional drugs, she would still be able to produce eggs.
After two cycles of IVF and limited feedback from her clinic, she came to me believing her only option was adoption, as she thought there was very little chance that she would become pregnant.
The Three-Question Challenge
I then used a very simple technique that is used to challenge beliefs that can lead to restricted behaviours:
1. Is the belief true?
2. Is it helpful to me?
3. Is it helpful to anyone else?
With such emotive belief systems it is often worth taking a step back and challenging such presuppositions. So, in this case, the belief statement was, ‘my body is faulty and keeps letting me down’.
Is the belief true?
We looked at the facts, rather than the emotions of the statement:
- This was only her second attempt at IVF, and although her FSH levels were high, they were not at panic level.
- Although she had a low egg yield, eggs were present and of a high enough quality to fertilise and create embryos.
- There was definitely potential. The clinic’s lack of feedback did not necessarily indicate a negative overall prognosis.
- Her body had done the best it could in challenging situations.
Is the belief helpful to me?
- The belief was limiting and certainly wasn’t helpful to her.
- It was moving her away from the facts of the situation and setting her on a limited and disenabling path.
- She was left with a limited outcome and the perpetuation of the myth that her body was faulty.
Is the belief helpful to anyone else?
How did the belief affect those around her?
- To her partner it also limited their next steps, not just hers.
- Ultimately, it pushed them both down a route based on a deeply held belief rather than the objective facts.
Determining a truthful self-statement
After asking the three questions it’s not enough to simply realise the truth, but to challenge and replace those previous thoughts. What might be a more truthful and helpful self-statement? For example, “My body is faulty and has let me down”, could be replaced with, “My body worked really hard with me on this cycle, who knows what may happen next?”
As with the old belief, the new one will almost certainly need time to take shape and grow. It will need constant reinforcing as well as supporting evidence that the statement is true - her body does works well, and is stronger than she thought. But, it’s important to realise that as before, this belief is a learned behaviour too.
Why is this so important? Well, for many people we are told that we will always think and therefore act in a certain way. For instance, we are all familiar with the idiom, ‘A leopard cannot change its spots’.
But take a few moments and think back on your own opinions that have changed as you’ve grown older and wiser. They prove that you are not fixed in your beliefs and you are able to adapt and progress. Beliefs can be changeable.
How to improve your perceptions during infertility treatment
So, when you next feel that something isn’t possible, have a rethink and consider whether it’s an unfounded belief that is holding you back.
Here’s a reminder of how to challenge those beliefs:
- Challenge your thinking and self perceptions during the fertility process
- Be aware that thoughts can enable or hinder
- Be excited that you can, over time, change
- Be willing to try
- Use the three-question technique
- Play around with replacing statements to find one that works better for you
- Actively look for the evidence to support your new belief
- Persevere and commit to helping yourself
Making fertility choices based on objective beliefs
To return then to the session, what was the outcome for my client?
Well, rather than go down a fixed ‘ought to’ route, she continued with what she wanted to do and opted for another IVF cycle. And in terms of challenging the old belief she chose to talk to the clinic rather than assume their response. Through this she found out that, although she was described as a poor responder, her prognosis was still good for achieving a pregnancy.
Whether or not she ends up with a baby, she is now free to choose what paths to take and for how long, without her old beliefs holding her back.
Perhaps, even more importantly, she can give herself the credit she so richly deserves, for being someone able to cope with the demands of IVF. In her words: to see herself not as a failure, but a success.
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