Recently, I have found myself in multiple conversations around managing triggers. I have also gotten into at least two debates about whether a friend had failed to “read the room” in complaining about something that her audience didn’t have the luxury to complain about.
These interactions have been about topics both related and unrelated to TTC, but the juxtaposition has left me wondering where the bulk of the responsibility lies when it comes to infertility triggers, in particular.
While trying to conceive, triggers can come from every direction and without warning. A pregnancy announcement will pop up on social media from the person we least expect or a stranger in line at the grocery store will ask us if we have kids.
Coping With Emotional Triggers While TTC
There is an excellent illustration by the incredible @infertilityillustrated depicting a woman walking down the street looking down at her phone. Hiding behind a corner is another woman wearing a boxing glove, waiting to deliver the first woman a surprise left hook. The boxing gloved woman is a trigger exemplified. It is that sucker punch that knocks the wind out of you when you’re just going about your day, minding your own damn business.
Further, when it comes to triggers, our level of sensitivity may fluctuate from one day to the next. Our ability to bounce back or stay centered when faced with stinging reminders of our pain is constantly changing.
All of this demonstrates that we truly can’t control anything or anyone but ourselves. The one constant in life is our own core being. The work of taking care of ourselves requires daily awareness and ongoing effort. This means paying attention to the noise constantly coming at us, observing how it affects us, and making the necessary adjustments to insulate and protect ourselves from additional hurt and pain.
It may mean muting a pregnant friend on Instagram, removing ourselves from a challenging group text, or directly asking your mother-in-law to refrain from questions about family building. All of these are examples of self-care and healthy boundary-setting.
Taking action to temporarily (or even permanently) remove sources of angst in your day-to-day life will serve you well while dealing with infertility and well beyond. This is a perfect time to start noticing when you are prioritizing others’ needs at the expense of your own well-being. Taking care of #1 during this profound struggle is of the utmost importance.
With all of this said, setting boundaries to mitigate triggers will not account for every potential interaction from people in your life who fall short on the empathy scale. There will always be someone who knows of your struggle to conceive, yet goes on to make insensitive comments anyway. Often, this “someone” is a person close to you which makes it all the worse.
So when does the burden of responsibility fall on that “someone”? In my debate this week about the friend who failed to think of her audience before complaining about her problem (a “problem” the rest of us in that group text would love to have), I was caught up in a narrative about how tone-deaf the comment was. So caught up, in fact, that I couldn’t see that her comment came from a place of real personal pain until someone pointed it out to me. But does that mean she is exempt from accountability?
The answer, I believe, is “both/and.”
We must put the burden on both parties in these situations. It’s one thing to mute a casual acquaintance on social media. It’s another to wrestle with the feeling that a close friend is unable to consider where you’re coming from and adjust how they communicate accordingly. It feels terrible to contemplate that a relationship might not be what we believed, especially during such an extra vulnerable time.
Depending on how close you are to the person, it is worthwhile to address the disconnect and see if it helps. In the case of my example above, I did communicate that the comment landed poorly and why, but my friend was unable to recognize my position. This will undoubtedly impact our friendship going forward and that is a price I am willing to pay in service of speaking my truth. Reevaluating relationships is often an unwelcome but necessary byproduct of an infertility battle.
The reality is, speaking up when someone close hurts you is an important piece of boundary setting. Self-advocacy plays a significant role in surviving infertility, and the more adept we become at staying true to ourselves, the better off we are in all matters of life. For most of us, this is easier said than done and requires practice. Setting smaller boundaries, like unfollowing an account on social media or skipping a zoom baby shower, is a great place to exercise your self-care muscle.
Since holding others accountable for their insensitive behavior is ultimately another means of self-care, the bottom line is actually a circle right back to looking out for #1. Unlike what we’ve been conditioned to believe, this doesn’t make you selfish. It makes you self-aware. And it will eventually make you stronger.
It bears reiterating that infertility is a beast and demands self-preservation in any and all ways possible. You can’t afford to sacrifice any more of your mental health than the hope-and-grief rollercoaster already steals.
For every source of angst that you end up needing to cut out, replace it with a new source of support. Managing and mitigating triggers should never result in further isolation, even though it surely hurts when old sources of support no longer do the trick.
Seek out people, accounts, and experiences (a Fertility Coach, perhaps?!) that help you feel seen, heard, and understood. Once these connections are made, they will be waiting in the wings for those particularly low moments.
Most importantly, make sure you have at least one person to vent to when the obtuse comments roll in. Because if there is one thing we can guarantee when TTC, it’s that they will. And at the very least, visualize that trigger illustration, but now it’s you wearing the boxing glove. Sucker punch away, dearest.
Abbe Feder founded InCircle Fertility after emerging on the other side of her all-consuming struggles with infertility and pregnancy loss. These experiences were life-altering and when the dust settled, it quickly became evident that the only possible next step was supporting others as they navigate this turbulent terrain. Combining professional expertise, industry know-how, and an abundance of empathy and compassion, InCircle Fertility is here to meet you wherever you are in the world and wherever you are in your journey to parenthood to provide the support and guidance needed to find your resolution.