When we use the acronym TLC for tender loving care, we generally mean one person to another. However, I believe that it’s also to spend some time and effort on your own behalf. I promote self-care in all areas of an infertile persons life, both for emotional wellbeing and to maximize the chance of conception. Its not as easy as saying we will make changes. It requires a positive attitude, a desire to change and taking action. I have to work at it too. This is part my own ongoing self-development, and being aware of it helps me understand a clients efforts and difficulties. Success requires:
- Motivation; and
The self-awareness that is required in order to improve lifestyle choices is: 1) knowing your own habitual way of operating, and 2) identifying the areas in your life which have a potential to be neglected, as a result. Even if others perceive a decline regarding your health, and tell you, it wont make much difference until you can admit it to yourself. This realization may not be triggered until the connection is made between your choices (healthy sleep, eating, alcohol, exercise, hygiene, nutrition and/or medication) and the delay or absence of conception.
The stress related to infertility can be unhealthy in itself, but in some ways, stress can actually provoke necessary action. If your fertility clinic delays your IVF cycle until you lose weight, stop smoking or bring down your blood pressure, it will force self-awareness, require honesty and provide motivation. Honesty is an admission of the state you are in and your responsibility for it. Its most important to be honest with yourself. However, honesty with someone else about your difficulty in giving up a bad habit can be rewarded with support and helpful suggestions. Choose the person who is likely to support your efforts the most, rather than a person who will express disapproval, criticize you and say I told you so.
Motivation is what propels you forward. If becoming pregnant and having your own baby is the paramount issue in your life, then you have a motivator that is easy to visualize. You have probably thought and talked of little else lately, so its fresh. Write down everything about pregnancy and motherhood that you daydream about, starting with the line on the pregnancy-test stick, to going to the playground with a group of friendly mothers, all with your babies in strollers. Your list may include:
- Joy of telling my husband we are pregnant;
- Feeling the physical signs of pregnancy;
- Having a pregnant belly;
- Picking baby names;
- Shopping for cute baby clothes…and so on.
Next to each point, put a check mark if it is motivational or an X for something that wont motivate you to work a bit harder on self-care. If having a baby is your most important aim right now, use these motivators when reaching for a pint of ice cream, a cigarette, or a gin and tonic.
Just talking about making changes is not enough; it means nothing without follow-through. Its one thing to identify what you need to do, another to honestly assess where you are falling short and still another to finding that which will prompt action on your part. The last piece of the puzzle is taking action, or following through on your commitment. This is where most people begin to feel like its all too much work.
With infertility, you could be on this self-improvement course for months or years without yet achieving your ultimate goal: the baby. Having only a long-term reward in sight, no matter how important, cant always keep you going, especially when you may also be experiencing other challenges in your personal, social and work life. Several short and medium-term rewards will work better to motivate you; so build them in to your scheme every few weeks. Focus on one area for a while, to the point that you are satisfied that you have embedded a new habit. Reap a reward, and then add the next goal.
Ask for help. Do not just nominate a person to support you, putting the responsibility for action elsewhere, rather than on yourself. No one wants to be put in the position of nagging you and earning your resentment. If you feel unable to do it on your own, consider partnering up with another woman who is also trying to conceive. Alternatively, if there is an area of self-care that you and your partner both need to work on; such as weight loss, or giving up caffeine, you could have it easier if you both tackle it at the same time. Agreeing to hold each other accountable for your commitments is a good way of keeping honest.
With the amount of hard work it takes to improve our habits and increase our self-care, it would be a shame not to sustain the positive results. In coaching clients, I have seen people who think that once they have heard something, they are capable of putting it into action. However, hearing and learning are two distinctly different things. You need to understand why you weren’t taking care of yourself before. You must be equipped with the tools to counteract temptation and subconscious habits. You need to develop trust – a belief that you are deserving of TLC. This takes time to embed.
Every once in a while take a stock-check of your emotional and physical health, taking care to note where they may have declined. Go back to the beginning by reflecting on your attitude, behaviour and effort. You will have already learned the methods needed for improvement, so a reminder will set you back on a healthy path. Use positive affirmations such as EFT techniques to embed the new learning. Why? Because you’re worth it.
Lisa Marsh is a fertility coach, working with individuals and couples to enhance their chances of conception, reduce stress and carry a healthy pregnancy among other things. She has a fertility blog http://yourgreatlife.typepad.com, coaches in person in North London, and by phone in the UK and internationally. You can contact Lisa for coaching on firstname.lastname@example.org . You can follow Lisa on Twitter @yourgreatlife to get great Fertility Support and Miscarriage Support tips, as well as links to news, her articles and connect with others in the IF community.