I was reading an article last week about doctor’s experiencing high numbers of burnout in a US News web article, which made a lot of sense to me. I always feel stressed going to my doctor. It’s a lot of hurry up and wait and once the doctor arrives I seem to forget all of my questions (now I write them down). I can feel her energy of needing to see the next person and at times my story is blended with someone else’s medical history. “No, that hasn’t been my experience,” I find myself saying to correct her confusion of my symptoms with that of another patient. I can’t imagine how hard and exhausting it must be to pack so many patients into one day.
It got me thinking about how trying for a family can have a similar effect. If you’ve been trying for some time, whether through infertility or adoption or like many on the adoption path… first fertility than adoption, it can feel like a forever process at times. I certainly recall feeling pretty darn cynical the longer I tried and then the longer I waited for a baby. It seemed like it was never going to be my turn and I felt more and more helpless. Even as I helped so many women to their pregnancies and adoptions, I felt for some reason it wouldn’t happen for me. (As many of you know, it did happen and that’s another story of surprise and disbelief.) For some reason, it was always easier for me to be optimistic for others than for my own journey to motherhood. This didn’t stop me from walking my talk and using my mindful tools, but there were many days that I felt lost in the dark. I wrote this post in the middle of my fertility efforts, which sums up my feelings at the time quite well.
Most of my clients find me at a stage when they feel lost in the dark too. They make a breakthrough session after feeling so beaten down and hopeless. I have been there and I understand. At times I recall feeling, on my own fertility journey, that I was in a rat maze where I kept running into dead ends over and over again. On occasion a prospective client has a breakthrough session with me and she is just starting her journey, this is super rare but when it happens it is often easier for her to trust me and to follow my recommendations. She still has some excitement and feels the potential nearby. But most find me after years of failed IVF’s or even after their fertility treatments are completed. For some, they didn’t know a fertility/adoption coach even existed, but many have told me that they sat on my card for a year before they reached out to me. Perhaps as each month passed they were hoping they would not need me, because this month would be “it”. Or maybe one’s mental, emotional or spiritual health isn’t seen as effective as working with a fertility doctor who works only on a physical level. Whatever the reason after 12 months or more of it not happening, they call.
Unlike the newbies to infertility, it takes a lot more prodding to try some of my ideas (some of which are not so mainstream) and time to build a trusting relationship (see Margaret’s testimonial). These women have been promised a lot and have experienced a lot of loss by the time I usually enter and they feel a lot of resistance to making any more changes... they’ve done and tried a lot by this time. Of course, I wish I had met them earlier in their journey so we could have started to build our connection and they didn’t feel so alone along the way. But it is what it is and I jump in wherever they are at and we take it from there. In a way, these women’s victories are more rewarding for me as a coach. To see the absolute disbelief on a woman’s face when she shares with me that she is now pregnant or is holding her newborn adopted baby in her arms, is beyond description. Of course it’s fun to hear that after 7 months of trying and a couple of sessions with me a client learns that she is expecting …but to witness a woman’s success after all she has seen is failure and loss is why I keep doing this work. The connection we experience is in some ways deeper and richer. At times, I have experienced loss alongside her or I have learned about her journey and on some level I understand the pain she has felt.
What can be done about the burn out? How can one recover hope after so much pain? The number one thing that I learned, about something called compassion fatigue (A fancy term for burnout) as a social worker, is the importance of taking time for self-care. As I help others I need to be sure to care for myself first. It has become a priority in my life. I recommend this same protocol initially for clients who are so warn out by their efforts. So often, when I start working with a client, who has tried just about everything, she initially becomes angry, resistant, and irritated by my suggestions of slowing down and scheduling a massage. It can feel like the last thing she wants to do when she’s trying to make a family. She’s used to pushing herself towards success and trying even harder, not slowing down. Yet, slowing down and caring for yourself helps you to get to where you want to be, sometimes faster than checking off things on your family building “to do “ list. Believe me with a little self-care your sense of self will return along with your sense of humor, energy, and vitality. You will trust in the flow of life rather than resist its gifts to you, especially when that gift is your child.