How can gratitude help you on your infertility journey?
“If I could have waved a fairy wand at your birth and wished upon you just one gift it would not have been beauty or riches or a long life: it would have been the gift of wonder.” Kate Gross, Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life)
Gratitude is a key tool for anybody struggling with infertility. Sometimes, the sky can feel so grey, the tunnel so long, that it just feels like life is not worth living. 2016 was probably the worse year in terms of medical outcomes for us, 5 failed IUIs, I failed IVF, 1 chemical pregnancy, 0 baby. But I took on a friend’s advice a project to every day take a picture of one thing that I was grateful for. It did make me realize that even during this time, there was still bits of joys and happiness in every day life.
This is a well known technique to rewire your brain, gearing your mind to pick out the nice things and forget the unpleasant ones. One of my friends who had a rough pass (unrelated to infertility) told me that her psychologist had asked her to do a very similar task. List 3 positive things that happened to her each day in a notebook, with the date, and for each the percentage of control that she had over them. For some, the % would be low, good weather, a gift received from a friend; for others it might be halfway split (say, a nice conversation with a family member), and for others, she might have full control (e.g. cooking a nice meal for her significant other). There was no ideal percentage — just a realization that good does happen in life, both that we can control and that we can’t.
In the midst of negative results, it can feel tough to identify things to be grateful. Here are a few ideas, inspired by some world-famous authors:
- For your friends and good times spent together. All your friends, and especially those who are standing by your side — even if perhaps in a clumsy way — during this struggle.“My friends are my estate” wrote the American poet Emily Dickinson
- For positive human interactions, at work or in daily life. “When you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, remember that your defining characteristic — what defines a human being — is to work with others”, remarked Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations
- For good food. “Around the dining hall, you can feel the rejuvenating effect that a good meal can bring on. The way it can make people kinder, funnier, more optimistic, and remind them it’s not a mistake to go on living. It’s better than any medicine”, explains Katniss (!) in Mockingjay
- For the beauty of nature (or the cities created out of it) around you. A flower, a cloud, a pretty building. “The definition of humanness is the opportunity to marvel at the majesty of creation or whatever”, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- For your couch / a comfortable home. Bill Bryson explains in his book “Home” that this is a modern privilege: “Until the eighteenth century, the idea of having comfort at home was so unfamiliar that there wasn’t even a word for the condition. ‘Comfortable’ meant merely ‘capable of being consoled’”
- For good times in the past. This may seem contradictory if the past is hurtful, but its not. “The only really transitory aspects of life are the potentialities; but as soon as they are actualized, they are rendered realities at that very moment; they are saved and delivered into the past, wherein they are rescued and preserved from transitoriness. For, in the past, nothing is irretrievably lost but everything irrevocably stored.” testified Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist who lost his pregnant wife in a Nazi concentration camp
- For having been relatively spared by the World’s troubles until now. Infertility is unfair. But if you feel this unfairness acutely (like I did), its probably that you have been used to be better treated by life previously. “Fairness is for happy people, for people who have been lucky enough to have lived a life defined more by certainties than by ambiguities” — Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
- For the opportunity to find out what makes you happy. Dashwood’s advice in Sense and Sensibility’s is to “Know your own happiness”. Kate Gross in her book Late Fragments quoted above asks: “Is it possible that a small child can be closer to the holy grail of Maslovian self-actualisation than an adult? I think it is. The ten-year-old Kate knew what she liked. First, words. Second, swimming, and being outdoors. Third, playing”. She decides to take more time out of her work day to do all of the above, and becomes more joyful about life.
Psychologists make the distinction between two types of happiness: satisfaction and joy:
- Satisfaction is determined by overall factors in your life: whether you have a job, a spouse, children, and what you had pictured for yourself — and infertility really eats into that, before you either conceive or stop treatments and pass into the acceptance phase.
- Joy however is what really drives people feeling “happy” on a day to day basis. Joy is determined by how you spend the time in your day. While infertility-related diagnoses and treatment do consume a lot of time, you can do your best to put the remainder of your time into activities that make you feel good. Seeing friends, practicing a hobby, being creative.
Adopting a grateful attitude — using the “gift of wonder” as Kate Gross wrote in the quote which heads this post — can really re-frame your experiences. She herself exclaimed, as she was dying from cancer at the age of 36 : “How incredible that Ruskin’s duty to delight in the world around has grown stronger in me as I have grown weaker!” Conversely, the writer Khaled Hosseini described one of his characters in the following way: “He lived in a mansion, but in a shrunken world.” An easy choice to make.