By Meg Sullivan, MS, LMSW
Weighing the pros and cons of further fertility treatments can be a tiring and trying process. You may be asking yourselves: “Is it time to take a break from ART? Should we consider other options? Is there anyone who can help us with our decisions?” This article describes a small step-by-step process that assists your navigation of this complex journey to create or expand your family. All partnerships and joint ventures require decision-making processes. While you and your partner may have seen eye-to-eye on deciding where to live, your furnishings and division of labor – don’t feel alone if you come to an impasse regarding
family building. Many couples hit a bottleneck in this realm because it draws upon serious health, financial, spiritual and psychological issues all at once. This model is a decision tree, containing an obvious metaphor for the situation you are in now.
We’ll begin with the roots of your tree. Step one involves taking a walk in the woods and connecting with nature. It is important to take the first walk by yourself, making it easier to clear thoughts from your head. Consider this a “meditative walk” it should last at least 20 minutes. Reflect upon what being a parent means to you. What have you been focusing on? How is reality different from what you had hoped or from what you feel “should be?”
For your second step, take a walk together allowing equal turns as listener and as speaker. The listening spouse should remain silent and can mirror back, after the speaker has vented, what they heard. Questions such as, “What I heard you say is…” ensures that the listener has the correct understanding and helps to eliminate judgements of the speaker’s feelings. As you walk, and either vent or listen, you are establishing a rhythm connected with all nature. This will slow and calm you both down. The intention of this conversation is to connect with each other and not establish policy or make decisions – yet.
Prepare for your third step with a large paper pad and markers. Draw in large circles the decisions you have already made, and connect them with lines, depicting the decision path you have already forged. Now encircle the possibilities and connect them to a list of pro’s and con’s. These represent the branches of your tree reaching into the future. For example, be clear about your gut reactions to further medical treatment. If it feels too stressful, draw another circle with mind/body treatments such as energy work, Your Decision Tree: acupuncture, or massage to mitigate uncomfortable symptoms, reduce stress and rejuvenate your sense of well-being. If the whole prospect of further treatment or a break seems to produce too much anxiety or depression, consider short-term counseling, either individual or couple, to learn strategies in dealing with mental and emotional symptoms. These exercises all contribute to the “futurability” of your desires to create your family. In some cases, levels of commitment to certain procedures or options can differ between couples. The stress created by unspoken tensions can be brought out on the table in a constructive manner. Issues of guilt by one partner who may have a desire to take a break from treatments can be transformed into the design of your next phase. Frequently, couples feel “under the gun” to get pregnant as soon as possible. It is important to honor where you are each step of the way and to honor thefeelings and thoughts of your partner. Being conscious of the internalized pressures to get pregnant and being in charge of those pressures, rather than having them control you, is a major step in pruning your decision tree.
As you trace and design your path, you are owning your power, in a situation that can feel agonizingly powerless. Ask yourself, “Do I think I should or do I think I have to? Is there burden, guilt and sacrifice that make the ‘shoulds’ bear significance? There is no high or low road, there are just opportunities to focus on. In any large and meaningful process, retreat and re-group, whether for an evening or several months, is a vital and strengthening part of your process.
Now that you have created focus, connect with the energy of growth and change. At this point your role is to utilize your energy. Reach for the best feeling you can feel about your situation. It may not be the “right” feeling or have anything with the “shoulds” you outlined earlier. Once you have a feeling you can live with, you set your energy in motion. Post your sheet of paper with your decision tree in clear sight. Write your positive feeling as an affirmation and post it in several places. Begin with the phrase “I am…” This small
action will energize the process you have created and help you keep your focus.
Once you have established this understanding in your partnership, you are in a good position to explore more options for information and support. You may look to other couples going through this process, the Circle of Hope support group, and fertility-related websites can offer you a wealth of information. Bring this information back into your decision-tree, again being true to your gut feeling about what feels right to you in this moment. In several Native American societies, a tree is planted when a baby is born or adopted into the clan. If this idea appeals to you, what kind of tree will you plant for your new family member? Take time to envision the new sapling in your yard. Picture your youngster growing along with the tree. These images will help you develop a positive outlook which in turn strengthens and inspires you on your journey.