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Monday, March 23, 2009

Barren Advice: Thirty-Six

This is the 36th installment of Barren Advice. You can ask questions that are fertility or non-fertility related.

Barren Advice is posted each Tuesday-ish. If you have your own question for Barren Advice, click here to learn how to submit. Please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section and indicate which question you're addressing if there are multiple questions in the post.

Dear Mel:

I am approaching 39 and have been trying for almost a year to conceive as a single parent (had 7 IUIs, three of which where medicated). Not an easy year would be an understatement, and I do feel I am going downhill.

I have this friend, someone who truly cares deeply about me, who is insisting I should take a long break (maybe a year) to work on myself. She says (and I do agree with her) that as for now, I am in a bad place and would make a very bad parent, but that after working on myself I could be a good or even a very good mother.

The thing is, and this is like your "what ifs" game, if I do take this long break, I fear that though I most certainly would be a better mother, I actually might never be one. On the other hand, I might continue now ttc, have a somewhat better chance at motherhood, but likely be a crummy mum.

So, in your opinion, what should I do?

[I think I should add that this self improvement does involve taking psychiatric pills, which I have started to, and that I do see a therapist, someone I've been seeing from before all this began (and someone who I owe a great deal for even attempting single motherhood)]


The ultimate catch-22: trying to reach parenthood is leading to insanity, but stopping the insanity will possibly mean you never reach parenthood.

Is taking a break when you're emotionally stressed a sound idea in theory? Of course; except it's not a piece of advice that can be considered in a vacuum. Other factors need to be weighed against it. Time is not on your side and while you may be short-tempered and emotionally-fragile right now, this is most likely situational depression. Meaning; you will most likely not feel or behave in the same manner once you are out of the situation. Therefore, your emotional state right now is no indicator of how you'll be once you reach parenthood. I have seen plenty of people who handle the stress of infertility well fall apart once they become parents and I've seen plenty of people tottering on the edge of insanity jump back from the ledge once they are parenting. You just don't know, therefore, making the decision by trying to predict future behaviour isn't the best route.

That said, it also sounds like your friend has set up the concept of improving yourself emotionally and trying to conceive as mutually exclusive. As in, you can't possibly take steps to treat your mental health unless you remove the stressor. And this is true in some situations in life; especially those where there is a destructive behaviour that needs changing. But it's not true in all areas of life.

Here's the analogy: If you constantly entered into abusive relationships, I think it would be good advice to take a break from dating for a bit while you work through to the root of why you enter abusive relationships. It wouldn't be helpful to take a break for years and years unless not dating at all felt best to you (in other words, and this moves back to you, if stopping in your family building pursuits feels best, by all means, you should stop) because you need to test out the new ideas that you learned through therapy. Achieving all this self-knowledge about how you enter relationships isn't necessary to have if you don't actually utilize it (unless, of course, you find the same patterns in other facets of life). Taking a break to address the problem; fine. Jumping back on the horse once the problem is addressed; better. Setting a time period for a break separate from an actual sense of when it would be good to go back; crappy.

But unlike seeking therapy to understand why you enter abusive relationships, family building is not a destructive behaviour. You're not going to approach family building in a different way after therapy; you're simply going to address how you react emotionally to infertility. You will still take the same steps to build your family therefore, it isn't a perfect analogy. Though it sounds like your friend is suggesting the same solution as you would for therapy involving a destructive behaviour.

Her suggestion also has a question that begs asking: what happens if therapy doesn't work? What if, after a year of taking a break, you are worse off than when you started? This therapy isn't a sure thing: you may start it and feel better after a few sessions. Or you may need the full year. Or--and I'm sorry to pee in your Cheerios--you may find that with the stressor still looming before you, that you still feel as exhausted and defeated and depressed as you did when you started the break (or these feelings could return after one cycle).

That said, I don't think that a person should be undergoing stressful family building without emotional outlets. I think undergoing therapy while continuing to try is a fantastic idea and one I wholeheartedly believe is a healthy approach for everyone experiencing situational or biological infertility (I know I sound like a shill for the therapy community with how often I recommend a good therapist, but seriously, do you think I stayed sane the first go-around on my own? No--I went to an RE for my lady parts and I went to a therapist for my emotional parts: I treated the whole person).

So, working with a therapist to put good coping mechanisms into place is a great solution for dealing with stress. Taking a break because someone else is recommending it and not because the impulse is coming internally is not a great solution. While our friends often have our best interests at heart, they make suggestions based on a very limited pool of information. Only you know whether or not you need a break or whether you'd be better off continuing to try while utilizing therapy.

No really, the beauty of a blog advice column is that you get to weigh in with your two cents too. Let the questioner know if you support the advice, add to the response, or dispute it completely.

Leave a comment in the reaction box below--only keep in mind that conflicting advice is embraced and rudeness is not. Want to ask your own question? Click here to see what you need to send in order to be included in a future Tuesday's installment of Barren Advice


one-hit_wonder said...

That's solid advice.

N said...

Thank you for this one today.

Anonymous said...

Excellent advice as always, Mel.

To Anon:

Any decision that you have so much inner turmoil about is one you should shy away from. If you have to really work hard to convince yourself to take a break, it seems clear to me that a break isn't what you want right now. Your sanity is the one in question and if a break will only make you crazier, you shouldn't do it. Mel's advice to seek therapy is a wonderful idea that comes from a place of complete understanding. Figure out what will bring you peace and jump in with both feet.

Mrs. Gamgee said...

Seeking therapy while still moving forward on the road to parenthood is excellent advice.

Anonymous said...


Great advice (per usual), though I admit I may be biased since I am, indeed, a therapist myself.

To Anon,

I think this dillemma would be a great subject to discuss with your therapist. Is the medication you're taking safe for pregnancy? If not, then you definitely need to discuss the benefits/risks of staying on your meds vs. going off of them during treatment cycles.

But my best advice is never have to make a decision that's FOREVER.

Even if you want to take a 'mini' break to gain back you emotional footing, you can always start TTC again if the break seems like a poor choice.


Jennifer said...

I'm racing against the clock here as well.

Talk to someone. "Bad parent" covers lots of ground. Are you going to be such a bad parent that you can't turn around in nine months?

Are you going to be an impossibly bad parent or just a bad parent? I was raised by two "bad parents" who took adequate care of me but had me at a very emotionally fragile point in their lives. If it weren't for their bad parenting, I wouldn't have the infertility-stress fighting tools that I have. Of course I still would have preferred it if they had done therapy instead of having me but I wasn't unfixable.

Or will you be a neglect-while-you-drink-yourself-stupid bad parent?

If you decided to do this alone, I'm guessing you have some sense of stability, functionality, and what not that could help you get into a good place for getting into a good place. It would probably be worth talking with a professional at length to see where you are.

Dora said...

Excellent advice, Mel! Check out my post today about TTC when older.

Re the meds, consult with your RE and psychiatrist about taking something that is safe while TTC. There are many safe options.

As to the "friend," Anonymous already knows what I think of her! Grrrrrrr! Easy for her to say take a break, she already has her children!

Geohde said...

I would add a amall note that if you CAN continue, there is the obvious issue of biology and your age. Fertility, as you know, declines more and more rapidly with time. It's a hard situation, because it would be wonderful to just take as much time off as you need emotionally, but that may reduce your odds of success.

Anonymous said...

The "friend" sounds like a bit of an obnoxious sanctimommy. Anon, therapy sounds like a great idea. FWIWI took Wellbutrin all through pregnancy (it had carried me through infertility treatments and I wasn't about to give it up just because I saw two lines). GL.

Michelle said...

As always that is good advice Mel!

Anonymous said...

Thank-you all!

battynurse said...

Great advice Mel. I agree that the therapy is good. Look into medications that are ok for pregnancy. I know for myself the waiting would make me a bit crazy since I'd hear that biological clock ticking so loudly.
You need to do what is right for you regardless of what "friend" thinks.