For most, Mother’s Day is the one Sunday a year where mothers from all walks of life are especially honoured for their dedication, love and sacrifice. At the same time, the celebration can be a painful experience for those coping with infertility.
According to the Malaysian statistics department, 2021 saw the lowest birth rate in the past decade, with only 439,744 births – a 6.7% drop as compared to 2020. Worldwide, about 48 million couples and 186 million individuals suffer from infertility, with one in six couples facing problems with fertility.
“Infertility is a very sensitive topic for some women living with it, as it affects them mentally, physically and emotionally,” said Dr Liza Ling Ping, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Fertility Specialist at TMC Fertility. “Even people who suffer from infertility do not always share the same journey and experiences as others — it can feel like a very lonely, emotional rollercoaster ride that no other person will be able to relate to. We should be more sensitive to people we know who are facing infertility, especially during Mother’s Day.”
Dr Liza added that most couples suffering from infertility may also see it as a taboo subject and refrain from confiding in others. “Sometimes, talking about it to other mothers can also feel like a cruel reminder of what they have been longing for,” she said.
If you are struggling with infertility and the idea of Mother’s Day feels like a minefield of grief and loss, here are a few self-care suggestions to help you cope.
1. Start with self-compassion
Self-compassion means directing kindness and care to yourself, just as you would to others. Increasingly, research has shown that self-compassion can help reduce anxiety and increase resilience. Here, it pays to remember that infertility is a medical condition — it does not represent your worth as a human being. By practising empathy towards yourself, while avoiding harsh self-criticism, you can make room for coping with infertility as best as you can.
2. Seek out support
As the statistics above show, it is important to realise that you are not alone in your journey. While it can be hard to speak out about infertility, talking to others who are in a similar situation, or even supportive friends and family, can be helpful in processing your feelings. “We have a support group at our clinic for those considering or undergoing fertility treatments,” said Dr Liza. “From what I’ve seen, exchanging experiences with others going through the same thing can lessen the loneliness.”
3. Acknowledge your feelings and plan ahead
Think about how you truly feel about Mother’s Day and how you’d like to spend it. Don’t feel guilty for saying no to family events or large celebrations of motherhood if you feel that these might be triggering for you. You may instead choose to spend the day with your partner or friends — or even alone — to do something you personally enjoy to take your mind off things.
4. Have a digital detox
Similarly, social media can be also triggering with the endless posts on mothers and their children. Make use of temporary internet blocking apps, most of which allow you to choose which websites or platforms you’d like to avoid. While completely shutting off the online world may not be feasible for all, even a partial digital detox can help create a safe space for yourself.
5. Celebrate the mothers in your life
Some women may find greater comfort in embracing the celebrations and redirecting their energy towards their loved ones — after all, you can recognise your own pain while simultaneously appreciating others. By focusing on honouring other mothers who enriched your life, including your own, you can encourage more positive associations with the day instead of negative feelings alone.
For those who know a family member or friend who’s facing infertility, here are a few ways you can help them get through Mother’s Day.
6. Be present, and let them take the lead
“Every woman has their own experience of infertility, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to talking about it,” Dr Liza reiterated. “Some may want to express their hurt and pain over the condition, while others might prefer a distraction from their thoughts.” As such, if you want to support someone with their infertility, you can reach out and simply let them know you’re there for them. At the same time, follow their cue as to how they’d like to spend the day — be it just sitting with their grief, or a fun and distracting day out.
7. Be an active listener
Active listening goes beyond simply listening to another person’s words to truly empathise with what they are saying. This includes paying attention to non-verbal cues, showing a genuine interest in what is being said, and avoiding judgement or unsolicited advice. These are particularly important when talking about infertility, as it can be a very personal and painful issue — your friend or family member will appreciate simply having space to share and feel heard.
8. Acknowledge their experience
Acknowledging everything they have been through is a very important step as it helps them process their loss and move on. Don’t minimise their feelings, or offer empty platitudes about the future no matter how well-intentioned. Even if you have no idea what infertility feels like, sometimes the best thing you do is simply recognise their hurt and pain.
9. Be mindful and sensitive
As excited as you are over your own pregnancy or spending this special day with your children, be sensitive and not share that excitement with someone you know who is suffering from infertility. If they are a close family member or friend, respect their wishes if they prefer to be home rather than attend a Mother’s Day dinner. If you want to share news of your pregnancy with them, try to do so in a gentle and honest manner — it’s best that they hear it directly from you rather than through a social media announcement.
This Mother’s Day, take time to celebrate motherhood in all its forms — from those living from infertility, to those grieving the loss of a child, to those who have played a parental role to others without being parents themselves.
For more details about fertility and fertility treatments at TMC Fertility and Women’s Specialist Centre, visit www.tmcfertility.com.