The Chinese New Year festive season is a time of celebration surrounded by loved ones and wishing for prosperity: to have a rich and full life for the year ahead. For some, this means having children of their own.
In Singapore, an estimated one in every six couples faces fertility problems and what should be a joyous occasion can bring added stress. With several social and family gatherings in store, these couples may feel like they are being pulled in all directions – longing for that picture-perfect family time of their own while trying to put on a happy face even as they are hurting emotionally. In fact, women experiencing fertility problems are found to have emotional stress levels similar to those experienced by cancer and cardiac rehabilitation patients.
For those facing fertility problems, increased support in the form of new and enhanced subsidies for treatments as well as the lifting of the IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) age limit has been introduced by the Government from Jan 2020. While this is very encouraging, there remains a stigma on infertility issues in a conservative Asian society like Singapore. We can still do a lot to encourage open conversations about fertility problems and supporting those undergoing treatment or struggling with conceiving.
As a fertility coach and counsellor, here are my top tips on how to gracefully survive the Chinese New Year festive season for those who are having difficulties conceiving.
Be prepared In the coming weeks, you may have to deal with curiosity from family members or have to cope with insensitive comments. For this, it pays to practice ahead of time, so you’re not caught off guard. At home, rehearse a few lines you can say if someone enquires on this sensitive topic. Discuss and agree with your partner what your main message will be to such enquiries and who may potentially deal with it. Be polite, somewhat vague and friendly. Take control of the situation, be warm and then change the subject.
Communicate healthy boundaries Unfortunately, you may have to deal with people who are pushy, rude or insensitive. If someone makes a hurtful comment, prepare for this too. People usually don’t know how hurtful it is if they suggest a wonder diet or that you simply need to relax. Remember, most of the time, they are just trying to help. Be patient with them. Politely and firmly reinforce your boundaries – you do not have to discuss anything you are not comfortable with, and you can make this known.
Practice self-care Since the festive period is so often a period of overindulgence, set yourself some goals when it comes to eating and drinking, your sleep routine and even your spending habits, so as not overextend yourself or put yourself into overly stressful situations.
Acknowledge your relationship While you’re dedicating some “me” time, spend some time on your relationship as well. Sometimes, it may feel to you that your partner is not equally interested in fertility-related topics. Make a conscious decision to acknowledge your partners’ feelings. A simple question like “What can I do for you?”, “How can I help you?” or “I’m here for you” can help to strengthen your relationship.
Remember to be grateful Constantly realign to all the ways that your life is full and meaningful, by writing down three things you’re grateful for every day.
Find your own well-being in the present So often, our suffering is caused in most part by our own thoughts and interpretations of reality, rather than reality itself. Try to reclaim your own presence of mind and power in the coming months and remember – nobody can make you feel anything, at least, not without your permission.
When you get carried away in your own thoughts about the world around you, one thing always happens – you are no longer in the world. Sometimes, we cannot predict the shape our happiness will come in. Try and find happiness and well-being within you, right now and not worrying about what you cannot control.
Challenge negative thinking If your thoughts manifest in a negative form, it might be time to learn to challenge this negative thinking. Watch your inner monologue and be careful of one-dimensional, “black or white” thinking. The more you tell yourself something, the more you’ll think it’s true, so it pays to be watchful – is it really true that you cannot enjoy the festive period because you don’t have children?
When you tell yourself something like, “Everything will be OK, just as soon as…,” you’re brushing away the wonder of the present moment, and all the ways that your life is already okay, right now.
Take a breather All the above can be achieved if you can take a moment every day to reflect on our experiences. By incorporating a breathing exercise into your daily routine, you train yourself to relax, which loosens your muscles and lowers your cortisol levels. This brings you back to focused awareness on the present.
There are a number of helpful breathing exercises. You can try a 4/7 technique: wherever you are, close your eyes and find your breathing. Breathe slowly in for a count of four, pause for a moment, and then breathe slowly out again for a count of seven. Placing your hands on your lower ribs or diaphragm can focus your attention on the way your lungs fill and empty as you breathe. Simply let go and clear your mind, even if it’s just for a short while.
Need some additional support?
The festive season can be a difficult time as you navigate your journey to parenthood but try to see the many ways that it can remind you of the joys you already have in your life. Be compassionate with your process, whatever it is, so you can find joy in wherever your journey takes you.
Research shows that emotional and mental stability can have a positive impact on fertility treatment procedures. A psychologist or counsellor can be present as you work out all the above and more. They can show you how to use hypnotherapy, visualisation, inner child work or even couple’s therapy to get to the root of your unique experience. Infertility is a medical issue, but it’s also a powerful opportunity to work on personal development.
Tanja Faessler-Moro is a fertility coach and counsellor at Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore.