Change your mindset to change your outcome.
I’m highly critical of support groups that allow patients to stay in suffering mode, in my mind, support groups should help patients move forward, beyond their suffering. I have a low tolerance for bullshit. I have visited and participated in two support groups. Here is how to spot a good one vs. a bad one.
Experience Support group one: December 2016
We sit in a circle in the clinic under florescent lights. Each woman staring at their phone and playing with it. There is no eye contact, not even a laugh, occasionally someone takes out a kleenex and daps away the tears from their eyes. It’s silent and incredibly awkward. We are gathered here today to spill our guts out and sit in the stillness and the emptiness of sadness and suffering.
I’m here because I’m curious as to what other women have gone through and hope to find a group as well as a facilitator that doesn’t allow me to sit in my bullshit and suffering as well as the stories my mind has created but to help me move me forward.
The facilitator checks the clock for the fifteenth time waiting for the hand to strike 5:30 pm to get the session started. She tries small talk, the weather, the rain, the what movie have you seen lately, all to get one-word answers from women that seem they would rather be everywhere but there.
Finally, the clock strikes the magical number of 5:30 pm, the facilitator clears her throat and opens the floor with a booming cracked voice, “how is everyone doing today”. Panic arises, the women dart their eyes to the floor, all hoping they won’t be picked first, all hoping the person next to them will just blurt something out.
A wee voice speaks out, “I’ll go first”, says Daria (not her real name) a wave of relief hits the women thanking their lucky stars that for that brief moment, they don’t need to talk or share, even though eventually they know they will need to. After all, isn’t that why they came to the group, for support and to find compassion for their suffering?
Daria talks, her face looks incredibly stressed and her whole body looks like it’s about to crumble. Daria tells us her story and at the end she says, “I’m so proud of myself, I declared that I won’t go to family gatherings anymore, I won’t go to baby showers anymore and that I most certainly won’t step into a Babys’R’Us anymore”. She has lost three pregnancies to miscarriages and is waiting to find out if her final embryo would take.
The women turn to look at Daria, nod their heads and silently compare their own story to hers. You can see in their eyes, either relief that they are better off than her, or feel worse because of being more down the rabbit hole of fertility.
The facilitator says nothing, encouraging Daria to just to keep going and be “in the moment”, in my mind, encouraging her suffering. No one moves when Daria starts sobbing uncontrollably, the eyes of the women just darting towards the lights. Perhaps they are looking for God up there? The kleenex box is thrown towards her direction and she picks out one tissue at a time.
This continues, the same thing, “copy and paste” for six other women sitting on those Tiffany blue couches. I’m getting more drained by the second of it, my soul fighting to not get sucked into their stories. The empath in me, seeing there is more to their fertility journey than they are aware of.
How to spot a bad support group? When the facilitator allows participants to wallow.
What I’m trying to get across here is that this group was all about wallowing in their pain and being a victim in this journey. Trust me I’ve been here. I have been here and have had to allow myself to grieve, but at some point, I needed a kick in the ass to move forward. I need someone to get me out of the mud puddle so I can see that that the pavement right next to me is dry and that it’s really not that bad.
A good support group, take two
The room is silent as I enter, but you can sense the anticipation. We are all new and fresh to the group. Amira is sitting at the top of the table and I find my way to my friend who I met because we were going through the same fertility journey at the same time. We’ve kept in touch with since Sept. 2016, since I started publicly declaring about my fertility challenges. I can feel this support group will be different. I can feel we will be moving forward.
Amira, sits at the head of the brown square table, with that old trusty Kleenex box at the end. She intros herself and lets everyone know, that this group is different, this group is about changing our mindset because with infertility 50% of the journey is a mindset and the other 50% is the medicine and science.
Who are we in this group? It’s an all women’s group of educated professionals with fertility challenges. All on different stages of the journey through fertility. All of them seem to be in their mid-thirties – early forties. We all seem to have come to this group because we were looking for answers and needed a reset or a mind shift. Amira let everyone speak as long as they needed, but immediately gave them something that would help move them forward in their journey, saying, “find joy in the things that brought you joy”, or “Change your mindset and then change your outcome.
The goal of the group is to have us leave with our tanks full by the end of the 6 weeks rather than empty. To give us tools so the next time we hit a block, we can cope better. She has said that the people who follow the support group program often go on to get pregnant. Amira says she has many examples of this happening.
I believe her, even though it’s hard to hear without blaming myself that I haven’t done better….that inner judge, always ready to shoot me down faster than I can get up.
Amira says she has countless of stories that support her theory that by practicing mindfulness our mind releases. When we take care of ourselves first, the fertility comes naturally.
What makes a good support group?
First of all, they have a description of what they are trying to achieve, usually, it should be a set of skills that you get at the end of the group. When I asked my medical team to send me a support group that has less BS and more of moving forward, they all scratched their heads and had a hard time coming up with one that would fit me. They even tried to create one because really, there is only one good support group for infertility in ALL OF TORONTO!
Amira’s group which runs for 6 weeks (I’m in the second week) actually had a schedule and a set of outcomes and skills that someone can achieve when following her program. She doesn’t allow people to wallow in their pain but moves them gently along through their puddle of mud, helping them see that if we just stepped to the right or left of the puddle, we would be out of the mud. She challenges us to look at other alternatives and being mindful of our thoughts and words.
We still check-in at the beginning, but there are processes and a reason for each time we meet with each other. As soon as there is a ‘breakdown’, the facilitator, with empathy, lifts that person up and moves them forward.
Our words that we say, are a reflection of our thoughts. Our thoughts have the power to change what the outcome is.
Because I have really not thought “fertility” since the end of March, my mind is totally not in victim mode. I’m so glad I took this break, as I’m ready for the next step. I’m so glad I listened to my intuition to have taken that break, otherwise I think would have been completely broken by now. It’s even clearer to me now how much everything was about fertility. Every thought, action, word – everything.
This week with Amira, we did mindfulness and meditation. Our homework was to observe ourselves and do a meditation everyday.
Being present and watching my thoughts.
Noticing how my thoughts affect my body
When I started noticing my thoughts, I found that when I had thoughts that were centred around fear (and uncertainty), my body shut down. My throat started constricting and I started to choke.
My Mindful moments and not “mindfull”.
This week I drove my car completely in the present moment. Every time a thought came into my mind, I let it go and watched it float away. I remember every minute of that car ride.
I did a mindful meditation and felt the front of the brain become activated. My whole body just relaxed. Meditation alters your brain’s neuro network and I felt when it was happening.
I used Gabrielle Bernstein’s’ technique, of breathing in for 3, holding for 5, and releasing for three.
I noticed how grateful I actually am with my fertility journey because all the issues and challenges that are coming up are helping me find myself – who I am as a person and what is my purpose.
My means goal is going to be to do 10 minutes of meditation from now till I get till June.
If I’m going to go for 10 days to silent retreat that is 8 hours of mediating a day, I need to start practicing!
If you need more convincing that meditation isn’t just funky science, Amira came across this article by CNN, “Can you train your brain to make better decisions?” I hope this article would some more incentive to spend at least 5 minutes a day to practice meditation. Actually, the benefits of practicing mindfulness have been confirmed by brain images using MRI.
Signing up to Amira’s support group
The desire to have a child could be a physically and emotionally challenging journey for those who are experiencing fertility issues. This 6-week Mind-Body Fertility Program is specifically designed to compliment and support fertility treatment for those who are trying to conceive.
The program will focus on mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques and emotional coping strategies to optimize the physiological and mental well-being of participants. Emphasis will be placed on learning mindfulness-based techniques as well as mutual support within the group through shared experiences in a safe environment. The group is co-facilitated by Amira Posner, MSW, RSW from Healing Infertility (www.healinginfertility.ca)
I used to use the app, “Headspace”, but this time I used meditations by www.tarabrach.com