This is the fourth in a series of guest posts written by women who got pregnant after loss or infertility. Each post will focus on a special natural fertility or wellness tool that boosted the author’s health, happiness, and fertility on their journey!
Robyn Birkin struggled with an auto-immune condition, infertility, and miscarriage. She changed her mindset, became calm and confident, and has two miracle children. She is the creator of the Fertility Warriors Podcast and runs the Fertility Warriors Intensive. Her goal is to help type A women find calm, confidence, and happiness in their TTC journey! You can find out more about her and her programs at robynbirkin.com.
Robyn writes in this post about how a mind-set shift changed her entire life, and helped her get pregnant. At the end of this post she shares five fabulous mindset exercises to help you change your mindset today!
IVF, ICSI, Auto-immune condition and a truckload of stress: the story of how I became calm, confident and a mother of two.
Hi, my name is Robyn and I’m a recovering Type A perfectionist, who used to think that hard work equals success, feelings were meant to be buried, and Mee Goreng Instant Noodles were the perfect lunch food.
My story begins like everyone else’s. I climbed the corporate career ladder and worked as the youngest Marketing Manager ever hired at not one, but two large companies. I married my high school sweetheart, and we bought a house in the suburbs.
Next on the checklist was babies.
It. Was. On.
Type A Planning for TTC
Being the perfectionist type I was, I had already spent my nights Googling BEFORE we started trying, and went to see a Naturopath in preparation for our journey and following a strict elimination diet, we were ready to start trying.
50 Shades of Grey was reaching peak popularity at the time our three month detox was over. It was party time! I bought some sexy lingerie and was confident that we’d be the couple who’d blink and fall pregnant.
Unable to contain my excitement, I bought some pregnancy tests, and started testing at around day 20… yes, day 20. Each time they’d come back negative I’d reassure myself that it just wasn’t time for my period.
When my period showed up (after Googling implantation bleeding, of course) I was just left feeling… well… stumped. I was sure we’d done everything right. Hard work = success, right?
The next month… stumped.
The following month…. Trying to remain calm.
The following month… desperation kicked in, along with cheap bulk pregnancy tests from Ebay.
On the outside I was ticking all the boxes, but on the inside I was a hotbed of stress.
For some, even trying to conceive for just a few months can be incredibly stressful.
But, all my friends are getting pregnant!
I remember walking confidently into the supermarket one day, thinking of nothing in particular, but then noticing an acquaintance who had her back turned to me.
The last time I’d seen her was at a baby shower. There were only three of us who didn’t have children or weren’t expecting. We had been unsuccessfully trying to conceive.
At the shower, she had said, “Ugghh, no, babies are NOT on the radar.” This gave me comfort. At least Veronica wouldn’t be having children anytime soon, I’d think.
Back at the supermarket, time felt like time was in slow motion. I started to head toward her, she turned around and I caught sight of a glorious 8 month pregnant belly. It came as a total shock.
Immediately I felt my whole world crumble, yet again. I turned back around before she could see me and raced out of the store, as my eyes went blurry and welled with tears, my heart started pounding and everything became foggy. I raced home, fell in a heap in the wardrobe and sobbed uncontrollably. This journey had taken the best of me.
After a year of trying, my lifestyle was radically different and I felt physically better than I’d ever felt before but inside I was incredibly fragile. The slightest thing would set me off, and with each new month I sank lower and lower.
We found ourselves at a fertility clinic, going through the motions. With no red herring, we graduated from ovulation induction to IUI to IVF. Until that is, I experienced my first pregnancy… followed by a miscarriage at six weeks.
I remember laying in the bed sobbing to Ross, as I recovered from Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) whilst also miscarrying.
“I can cope with IVF. I can cope with OHSS. But I can’t deal with a miscarriage. I can’t cope with this” I said to Ross.
I was now experiencing a new level of low. I thought I’d been at rock bottom before. Now I was even further down the rabbit hole.
Where I’d been an open book about our IVF journey up until that point, this was a pain I didn’t want to share with anyone. I didn’t have the words to express how sad I felt. I’d spent thousands of dollars, months of sorrow and longed for a pregnancy test…. Just to lose it.
And that was the catalyst to the most radical change of all.
I needed to change my mindset
The stress of infertility had been slowly eating away at my soul.
I was a shadow of the person I once was.
And it needed to change.
Out of desperation we booked a last minute flight to Lombok, Indonesia and stayed at an out of the way, all-inclusive surf retreat. My hair was falling out in clumps from the post-IVF hormone crash – one of the hardest visual reminders of the battering my body and mind had just been through.
Yet, for the first time ever, I was on a holiday where I wasn’t constantly on the go. The miscarriage had forced me to slow down and become mindful.
I also got a reality check. We were essentially at the doorstep of poverty. The people in the neighboring village bathed in the gutter, slept on dirt ground, and didn’t even have shoes.
I returned from that trip, still sad, but committed to change. Slowly, but surely, I developed healthy coping strategies that would help me through another failed cycle, a disaster childbirth (that resulted in a hysterectomy) and the challenges of raising two little people who are two and under with a husband who runs his own business…. With grace, calm and happiness.
Infertility does not need to rule our lives and zap our happiness, despite how difficult the journey can be, I promise.
I’m living proof. My next cycle after the miscarriage was a frozen embryo transfer… which failed. Despite that, I felt a sense of peace and clarity about my journey. I knew my story wasn’t over and I felt confident that I was taking all the right steps for success. My growth has only continued.
5 Mind Set Shifts for Fertility and Happiness
Here are five actions and mindset shifts you can employ today, to help you cope with the stress of infertility and beyond:
1. Begin with Gratitude
It sounds like such a simple practice, but just the act of bringing yourself into a place of feeling grateful for what you have, on a regular and consistent basis, can literally change your life.
One study conducted in 2006 by George Mason University looked at Vietnam Vets who had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) vs those who didn’t. They found that those who had PTSD had significantly lower rates of dispositional gratitude (that is, the ability to notice and appreciate positive aspects of their life) in comparison to those who did not have PTSD. Similar research has been conducted with members of the 911 attacks, and other stressful life events.
A multitude of research also shows that regularly practicing gratitude has a positive affect on our sleep, resilience, immune system and overall happiness.
Read this -> Starting a Gratitude Practice for Fertility
I chose to write three things I was grateful for each night in my journal. Before long, I was going about my day searching for little things I could write down at night. The secret is to try not to write down the same things such as my family, my partner etc. Look for the little things that are going right in each day. Alternatively, you could write down little things you’re grateful for in a jar, or go around the dinner table each night and discuss what you were grateful for in the day.
2. Stop sucking the joy out of your life
I bet that around the time you started trying to conceive, you also started to cull the things that you enjoy in life. Holidays, socialising with friends, hobbies – you know the things that provide you with energy? Where have they gone? Many of us hit the temporary pause button to save finances, help our bodies prepare for pregnancy and generally plan for a pregnancy. But it never comes, and instead leaves us lacking in the things that bring us joy.
Instead, when we’re on this hard road of infertility, we often find ourselves left with only things that drain us. The never-ending blood tests, coffees with friends who have children (and talk about them endlessly!), and obsessive Googling. All the rubbish, and none of the rewards. It’s time to add them back!
Write a list of the things that give you a buzz afterwards (your energy gains), followed by the things that drain your energy. Gains might include dinners with friends, yoga classes and a language class you go to each week. Drains might include drinking, social media and some family events.
Try to think about how you can shift this back into balance. Sometimes there are things we also do that we perceive as gains that are actually drains. Think about social media as an example – we never look for five minutes, feel energised and satisfied and good about ourselves, and can then put our phones away and continue with our days. Often it keeps dragging us back and feeling like we haven’t got enough.
Read this -> How to Simplify Your Life for Fertility
3. Set a time for fear and rumination
When we ruminate, we become stuck in the past and looking at how we could have done things differently. When we experience fear and worry, we get stuck on events that have not occurred yet.
Here’s the thing: you can’t change the past, and you have no idea what the future holds. In all likelihood, you might be experiencing the fear that you’ll never become a mother. Or maybe you are stuck in the limiting belief that you’re not worthy of becoming a mother. Know this- the statistics, although not often in our favor for a single cycle, are often overwhelmingly in our favor for multiple cycles (especially if you follow Anna’s diet, nontoxic guidance, and lifestyle recommendations, and get some adequate testing and assistance).
The fears we have are often irrational and untrue…. But here’s the thing: we all have them. Aside from increasing our self-awareness of which fears, thought spirals and stories we have about ourselves aren’t true, we can also help ourselves by giving our uncomfortable thoughts a limited window of time to overcome our mind.
Identifying Limiting Self-Beliefs Exercise
Write down all of the things you’re afraid of and challenge them. Is it really true that your life will be ruined if you never become a mother? Is it really true that you’ll be living on the streets if you spend the money on one more IVF cycle? Is it really true that ONE piece of pizza has ruined absolutely everything for you forever? Probably not. Try to use your rational brain to reassess the likelihood and truth of these thoughts. Then, write down a new, affirming belief that is much more logical and positive.
If you feel like you are constantly stuck in thought spirals, set an alarm on your calendar for 20 minutes each day, when you’ll worry, google like mad and ruminate over whatever you want. Then only do it during those 20 minutes!
4. Be your own biggest cheerleader
I literally coached myself through my journey (and still do) many times. I remember vividly one time I was driving to the hospital and felt incredibly anxious. On the entire trip to the hospital, I repeated to myself, “everything is going to be ok. You are completely safe and this will work out.”
If you think of how long it takes you to get… well… basically anywhere in the car – you’ll see that phrase was repeated a lot of times! Olympic athletes don’t go into a 100m sprint believing that they’ll come last. They trust themselves, believe in themselves and back themselves. You need to do the same.
Quit badmouthing yourself. Start backing yourself.
Every time you get into your car, take a minute before you start the car and repeat to yourself, whilst looking in the mirror, “I am doing an incredible job. I am proud of myself. I admire myself.”
At first your brain will probably tell you this is ridiculous and that you look stupid. Then your brain will ignore it. Then, when you least expect it and feel like nothing is working, you’ll one day look in the mirror and feel like YOU ARE doing an incredible job. You ARE proud of yourself and you DO admire yourself…. And when you think that, your brain will scream back ‘YES!’
5. Don’t believe everything your brain tells you
Comedian Emo Philips once said “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realised who was telling me this.”
As a society we have brought ourselves into the habit of believing everything our brain tells us. So when it feels like everywhere we look we see pregnant women, we believe it must be true.
But… have you ever heard a word (seemingly) for the first time, and then in that same week, keep hearing it again?
Or, have you ever seen the video by psychologist, Ulric Neisser? He filmed a video of two teams passing basketballs back and forth and asked people to count how many times the balls were passed. During that time he had a girl with an umbrella walk through the team. A whopping 79% of people who watched the video were so pre-occupied with counting that they failed to notice the girl.
Our brains trick us in many different ways (not intentionally – your brain is trying to work with your best intentions but it just doesn’t always pan out that way). One of those is through unconscious selective attention.
When our attention is focused on one thing, our brain filters out the other things it believes are not relevant to us.
Every second, our brains process 11 million bits of information, but only 50 of those make it to our conscious mind. Just think about that for a second. 11 million vs 50…. Every second. If our brains were to have us process everything all at once, every second (like the Matrix!), we’d be in complete sensory overload and we wouldn’t be able to function in society. So our brain decides for us what is and isn’t important.
So, when we look for evidence that supports how we are feeling, often, our brain will help us find it (and block out the evidence that doesn’t support it).
Henry Ford once said “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right”
So, when it feels like everyone around you is falling pregnant, your brain will help support that belief.
If you convince yourself you will never fall pregnant, your brain will help support that belief and constantly show you evidence of why you aren’t falling pregnant (or where you’re failing).
If you are convinced your husband isn’t helping you on this journey, again, your brain will only show you evidence that will support that.
So…. we need to help our brain bring different thoughts into our sub-conscious.
Re-Writing Your Beliefs Exercise
Start questioning your brain and the stories your brain is telling you about yourself. When you write in your journal at night and your brain tells you that you aren’t going to fall pregnant, or that you aren’t good enough – have the confidence to try and change your story. Re-write your beliefs and your story. The more you write it, the more you’ll believe it and bring a new story into your conscious mind, which will then change the story your brain is telling you, and the evidence you were once seeing all around you that things wouldn’t work, might just change to evidence that things WILL work.
Understanding our minds is a difficult business. I found the lifestyle stuff easy, but navigating and overcoming my mind and the incredible stress that impacted so many areas of my life on my fertility journey has been not only my biggest challenge, but my biggest reward.
And this is why I have become so passionate about helping women, through my Intensive program and The Fertility Warriors Podcast to rewire their brains and rewrite their stories so that they can overcome the stress of this journey (and the associated inflammation) to bring themselves so much closer to the baby they dream of.
YES infertility is stressful but NO it does not need to overtake your life.
Robyn Birkin is here to help women survive the rocky road of trying to conceive. For some people, having a baby is easy, but for others, like her, it’s a long and tough rollercoaster. Her journey starts off just like most of us, thinking having a baby would take no time at all. A year later, she found herself at the fertility clinic, and several ovulation inductions, IUI’s, IVF cycles, OHSS and a miscarriage later, finally conceived.
Now, she is passionate about helping you not only survive the process, but thrive! Her superpower? Helping type A women find calm, confidence and happiness in their TTC journey and feel like warriors. She is a little woo woo. A lot straight shooter. She has never turned down a bowl of mashed potato and if you love Salt n Pepa, well… you’re soul sisters.
In her podcast, The Fertility Warriors, she interviews other fertility warriors, and shares advice and tips on how to conceive, how to navigate the world of fertility treatments and how to be your best and healthiest self. Robyn Birkin is the author of Screw Infertility, the core educator for The Fertility Warrior Intensive program. You can find her at robynbirkin.com.