Question From Reader: How can I learn to trust my body after having in vitro fertilization? How am I supposed to be confident in my body’s ability to give birth when it feels like it failed to get pregnant?
There’s an interesting phenomenon happening in the world of pregnancy and birth. Women want to trust their bodies to give birth. Unfortunately, there is a plethora of information in the media that causes us to doubt our bodies and to fear the process of birth. It’s a conundrum to be sure, and it’s one that I am passionate about helping women resolve.
When it comes to not trusting our bodies to give birth, it helps to recognize that the problem comes from our minds, not our bodies. Women’s bodies are magnificently designed to perform a perfectly orchestrated series of events to birth their babies. The dance of birth is different for every woman, but regardless of how the dance looks, when the mind supports the body, beautiful things will happen.
It takes two (or more) people to make a baby. As women, we need help making babies, whether that help comes when we’re in bed or in a lab, it’s all good. It’s just different for every woman, and different does not mean bad. Be open to realizing that everyone needs help in some area of their life; this is part of what makes us unique individuals. Some women need help getting pregnant, some women need help getting in shape, and some women need help getting rid of a cold. Just because our bodies need help does not mean that there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. All of us need help every once in a while, and that does not make us any less capable of the other things in our lives. All women need a supportive environment during pregnancy and birth, and what that support looks like is different for every woman. Some women need a team of support to help them conceive, and some women need a team of support during birth. Give yourself permission to have a team that supports you through the entire process, if that is what you need.
Trust Your Body
Trusting your body is not about everything working perfectly all of the time. It’s about listening to your body, connecting to your intuition, and having faith in yourself. No matter what happens, you will be the best you can be in each and every moment of your life. Put your hand on your belly to feel the sensations of life living within you. As your baby grows, allow your trust in yourself, in your body, and in your baby to grow as well. Trust that your body has the ability to birth the baby it is growing. Your body is doing amazing and miraculous things in this moment regardless of how it all got started. A friend of mine who is a doula says, “If you can grow it, you can birth it.”
Fall In Love
Fall in love with your body. What are the things that you love about your body? Draw attention to them, write about them, and honor them. Chances are pretty good that – even if your body didn’t conceive the way you hoped it would – it’s done a lot of other amazing things. Your lungs are breathing, your heart is beating, your stomach is digesting, and your liver is filtering your blood. Notice how beautifully your body moves; notice how effortlessly your placenta supports life. Your body has not failed. In fact, if anything, your body is enormously successful at sustaining life.
Find Your Truth
Think of fertility treatment like feeding a baby. Some women bottle feed, some women breastfeed, and some women do a little of both. Whether we do it all naturally or whether we have some help along the way, as mothers, we are always doing the best we can for ourselves, our babies, and our families. Pregnancy and birth are all about finding your own truth and embracing the fact that it will be different than everyone else’s truth.
Challenge the Thought
Our minds can trick us into believing things that are not true. Try challenging the thought: “My body failed to get pregnant.” If you challenge the thought, you might begin to see that your body didn’t fail because you are pregnant. Another thought that might be creating fear is: “My body failed to get pregnant, and so it will fail to give birth.” Just because it took more effort than usual to get the baby in your body does not mean that it will take more effort than usual to get it out.
Focus on What’s Right
Sometimes our minds can trick us into focusing on what has gone wrong, causing us to forget about what is going right. I worked with a client who was unable to become pregnant naturally. She received IVF, and after she became pregnant, she expressed tremendous fear and apprehension. We worked on changing the way that she interpreted IVF. Instead of the thought, “What if it doesn’t work?” she focused on, “It did work!” After processing through the fear, she was able to feel empowered, as though her body could do anything. She ended up giving birth naturally, and she successfully breastfed for 21 months. Remember, not only has your body been successful at becoming pregnant, but it is also successful at growing a beautiful baby and at preparing to give birth.
Welcome the Fear
I find that resisting fear is one of the greatest ways to make fear grow. One of the best ways to dissolve fear is to face it, so here is a process to help you face and dissolve your fear. First, identify your fear by writing it down. Next, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and connect with the fear. Notice what it feels like in your body. Now, see if you can open to the fear, welcoming the fear in a friendly way and allowing the fear to be as it is. Welcome all of the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that are associated with the fear. Welcome the fact that you want to fix it, control it, or change the fear. Welcome the feeling that the fear is connected to you, and welcome all sensations that come with the fear. Now, focus on welcoming the fear with your heart instead of your mind. As you welcome everything associated with the fear, notice what’s beyond it. Go a little deeper within and notice what is down there. What exists beyond the fear? Ask yourself, in this moment, does the fear need to be here with me? Would I like to keep the fear? Would I like to let it go? When would I like to let it go? Could I let it go? Would I be willing to let it go? When? As you welcome the fear, you may notice how the stickiness of it dissolves, and it can flow through you and can be released.
Another client I worked with was a midwife who used IVF to become pregnant. She had an amazing sense of humor, so we decided to use that to help her release her fears about birth as well as her doubts about her body. Humor is a great tool for releasing fear because the part of your brain that fosters fear is completely different than the part that processes humor. So, shifting your thinking from fear-based to humor-based is a powerful strategy for overriding fear. Here’s what worked for her. Anytime she felt fear about birth, she would joke to herself, “If I can become pregnant with my husband across town, I can do anything!” The lighthearted approach seemed to work for her. When labour began, she maintained her sense of humor and trusted in her body. She ended up having a beautiful birth experience.
Reframe The Situation
You can also re-frame the work that you’ve done to become pregnant as preparation for the work that you will need to do in order to birth and parent your child. If you think of conception, pregnancy, birth, and parenting as a continuum, you can view IVF as a way to prepare you for the work ahead. It’s not always (or ever!) easy, but it’s always worth it.
There are many different reasons for IVF. A friend of mine once said, “Just because a jump start was needed doesn’t mean the car is un-drivable.” I love this analogy because what causes challenges in conception will often have no influence over how labour and birth unfold. How you become pregnant and how you give birth are physiologically different. Just because your body needed some help to get pregnant does not mean that it doesn’t know how to give birth. Also, it might be helpful to remember that one body function (conception) does not necessarily limit the other (birth). For example, there are many women who cannot walk but who can give birth.
Tell the Love-Story
Some women who used IVF to become pregnant have a feeling of shame or embarrassment that their body didn’t do what it was “supposed” to do. This is a powerful story that comes from fear. I like to encourage women to tell the story of love rather than the story of fear. When I work with women who experienced challenges getting pregnant, I am reminded of the investment of time, money, and energy that IVF requires. This can be seen as a powerful demonstration of your love and commitment to your child. I am thrilled for the children whose mothers worked so hard to bring them into the world. What story of love can you tell yourself, and how would it go?
Last but not least, contemporary media about birth is often fear-based and can cause all types of fear to flourish. Try to avoid this media as much as possible by surrounding yourself with positive people, positive media, and positive resources. There are some positive and supportive books about birth that I love. Birthing From Within is a great resource for learning how to trust your body and to allow the birth process to unfold as it naturally does. Any books by Ina May Gaskin or Barbara Harper are also wonderful sources of empowering knowledge about birth.
Being aware of your fears gives you the power to express them, process them, and release them. This may be something that you can do on your own with a few of these tools, or you may benefit from having a trusted friend or professional support you through the process. Give yourself permission to reach out for more help if you need it. Remember to give yourself credit for taking the first, and most important, step – self-reflection – all on your own.
About The Author
Gemma Stone is a mom, psychologist, speaker, and writer who is passionate about birth. She focuses on empowering women to have peaceful and positive birth experiences (no matter how the birth process unfolds). Visit her at http://www.birthingfromlove.com and sign up for the free guide to Birthing without Fear.
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