Riding the emotional rollercoaster
By Russell Davis, Fertility Cognitive Hypnotherapist
My wife and I had a 10 year journey of infertility, involving both female and male infertility. I wouldn’t wish a 10 year infertility experience on anyone, however, I can look back and be so thankful for some of the things I learned about myself, life and relationships that have made a huge positive difference to my life (and my fertility).
One of the biggest things that has changed, and was probably the catalyst to us conceiving naturally against all odds, was the change in my relationship with emotions.
Infertility is known as an emotional rollercoaster. A Harvard University study demonstrated that the stress levels of women experiencing infertility can be equivalent to those with AIDS, cancer and heart disease. And no one tells them just to relax! The study didn’t test the stress levels of men, but I imagine they would be similar albeit more hidden.
Before our infertility journey, and during the majority of it, I had a very distant relationship with emotions. Subconsciously I avoided strong emotions. I avoided conflict and negative emotions because I thought they were unhelpful and destructive. During our fertility journey I also tried to be the strong one. I didn’t want to burden my wife with my stuff, she had enough to deal with as it was. Little did I know all of this was both impacting my own fertility, but also pushing our relationship to breaking point.
As boys and men we are bombarded with messages about what it means to be a man. This can come both unconsciously and consciously from our fathers, but also media and society as a whole. The typical male idols of kids are deemed to be strong, powerful and rarely express real deep emotion. In the school playground it is survival of the fittest and you daren’t show any weakness. So, we learn then that expressing emotions can be a weakness.
I grew up in an environment where there was a lot of conflict. I learnt to keep my head down. To retreat into my head as it was safer there. I couldn’t get emotionally hurt, disappointed or let down.
THINKING VS FEELING
The thinking we learn about ourselves and life as we grow up can create thought habits that unconsciously shape our perception and experience of life as an adult. I wasn’t aware of this until our infertility journey. It is very unconscious.
In the past, my wife had complained that she found me being in my head so hard, but I didn’t realise how much of a problem it was creating. Eight years into our infertility journey, at our lowest point, my wife told me she felt alone on the journey. I was shocked. I went to every appointment. We talked about things. So I thought. She told me she had no idea how I felt about things. At the same time she was going through the grieving process. Grieving the possibility of not having children. I would say I was angry, but found it hard to actually feel it. This highlighted to me my unconscious distant relationship with emotions.
Completely out of character, I took myself on a silent retreat. Time staying in a retreat centre with no WIFI, jobs, things to do – just a beautiful and simple place to be. It was week of just being, with no need to talk to anyone apart from engaging in conversation with others over meals. I had an urge just to be. To be without any distraction of work, the internet, life. I realised I kept myself busy physically and mentally to avoid feeling. This was time to just be and feel whatever came up. It was a powerful experience. I cried. I got angry. I felt sad. I found sense of peace. But ultimately what I learnt was feelings were not scary and I didn’t have to avoid them.
WHAT IS AN EMOTION?
Since then my exploration of feelings has helped me understand the true nature of emotions. We think we are feeling life and circumstances. We think we are angry because someone just let us down or once again the traffic made us late for an important meeting. The thing is, nothing has the power to make us feel anything. 100% of our human experience comes from thought. We live and experience our perception of reality.
If it was the circumstances that made us feel something we would feel the same feeling until the circumstances changed. But it doesn’t work like that. Some days are better than others even though the circumstances have not changed. If it was the circumstances that caused our experience then everyone who had the same circumstances would have the same experience of it. But again, it doesn’t work like that. Everyone has their own unique experience created by thought, their own perception of the situation.
The more we understand that everything we experience comes from thought in this moment the more we realise we don’t need to be scared of it. The more we resist our emotions or try and change them, they don’t move on. They either hang around, get stronger or worse we bury them and internalise them. Little did I know the damage I was doing to my relationship and my fertility in doing that.
LIFE BEYOND FEAR
When I stopped trying to bury my emotions, when I was no longer scared of feeling them, I felt less of a victim in life. A few months after this realisation and experience, my wife got pregnant naturally against all odds. My fertility had improved dramatically without me trying to improve it. In fact, I’d given up trying to improve it because everything I was doing to try and improve it actually made it worse. This was because my buried fear and anger was doing more damage than anything I was doing to improve my fertility. This was the thing that made the difference in our fertility journey.
When I began to understand the true nature of feelings, two things happened that transformed our relationship. Firstly, I felt more able to understand how I felt in any given moment and thus express that to my wife. Instead of genuinely not knowing how I felt and saying my usual “I don’t know” when she asked how I felt or telling what I thought instead of how I felt (there’s a big difference). Women like to connect with others on an emotional level. To understand how they are feeling. And to be understood emotionally as well. They feel united, loved and understood when that happens.
Secondly, I was able to help her feel more understood. Men communicate information as and when required. They share a problem because they are looking for a solution. Women communicate to be understood. Women want to be seen, felt and heard. Women communicate a problem or a feeling to be understood in it. This difference can come to the fore at times of stress, such as infertility.
Habitually when my wife was upset I would try and make her feel better, or provide a solution. This seemed to make things worse! I got to the stage where I just didn’t know what to do. Part of me felt scared of her emotion. This left her feeling unloved, lonely and misunderstood. This creates a distance in a relationship.
I began to realise what she wanted was for me to hold a space for her to express her emotion without any judgment or evaluation. Without trying to fix or change it. The more I understood emotion wasn’t coming from the circumstances, that she may think it’s my fault she’s angry, but knowing it’s 100% thought, I no longer became scared of it. I could see it for what it is, her experience in this moment, it will probably be different in a few moments time. Don’t get me wrong, there are times I still make the mistake and think it’s personal, that she is having a go at me. In those times it’s easy to get defensive and the exchange can become less than loving.
GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH FEELING UNCOMFORTABLE
Starting to be more aware of your emotions, allowing them and even expressing them can feel unfamiliar or even uncomfortable. The more you understand the true nature of an emotion, that it’s thought in the moment, the less scared of it you become. Also, you become more able to express how you feel. The emotion doesn’t get stuck, it flows from you. The sense of flow comes to your life (and your body), as well as a deeper sense of connection with your partner even in the toughest of times. Because it’s in those times we need to feel loved and understood more than anything.
• 1. Domar AD, et al. The Psychological Impact of Infertility: A Comparison with Patients with Other Medical Conditions. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynaecology 14 Suppl.: pp45-52, 1993
FOR FURTHER ADVICE, CONTACT:
Russell Davis, Fertility Cognitive Hypnotherapist, Coach, Author & Speaker, www.thefertilemind.net