Monthly Mood Tracker—The Emotional Journey of TTC
She sat across from me, giving a voice to the sentiments of every woman that has been trying to conceive for more than just a few months.
“I feel like since we have started trying to conceive that I am just on a big rollercoaster and not in a good way,” she lamented. “I used to have an idea about who I was. Now, I’m a woman whose body isn’t working and whose emotions are out of control.”
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have heard these words echoed more times than I would like to count.
As calendar days advance, your body is going through all of its physiological changes to prime your body to create life or to flush out this month’s efforts so that you can try again next month. We know what is going on with our body. We’ve been learning about it since seventh-grade health class when our teacher handed out a false lesson that you have any control over what is going on in your reproductive region.
However, as months of trying add up, we meet new uninvited guests than just our menses. Have you come in contact with sadness? What about shame? Have you experienced excitement juxtaposed with angst?
I used to love roller coasters. That was before my mid-thirties when turning around in a chair made my stomach turn upside down. I, like most, have never had an affinity for emotional rollercoasters.
Let’s take a brief overview of some common emotional experiences in a month.
We were introduced to this feminine curse in junior high. At first, it was awesome because we just became women. In college, it was a welcome sigh of relief that any casual escapades did not turn into a pregnancy. Now, when we’re wanting that pregnancy and your period comes, so do a smattering of negative emotions.
Sadness comes rushing in at the first sight of menses. There is disappointment that it didn’t work out for you two last month. Perhaps shame that your body isn’t doing what you feel like it’s supposed to do. Or worse, what your friends bodies are doing for them. Some report feelings of resentment towards women with cute maternity clothing that highlights their growing baby bumps.
A woman once explained to me the anger she felt during this time of the month: “Anger became my constant companion. It followed me everywhere and became the sense I experienced the world through.”
We hope. We plan. We expect. And all of that seems to come crashing down like an avalanche of grief.
The first wait
Your womb has flushed out everything from last month and it is becoming ready to grow a follicle.
Where sadness, anger and resentment lived before, a new hope starts to bud here. There is hope that this could really be your cycle. Perhaps you calculate when your due date might be if you become pregnant this month. Sometimes there are new doctor appointments in preparation for a medicated cycle.
There is excitement over the prospect of trying again.
Your body is working hard during this window to release the perfect egg in an effort to meet the sperm of its dream. Sex starts off fun, doesn’t it? It’s romantic and exciting and hopeful. Have calculated sex month after month and you are going to slam right into a wall of apathy. Sex undoubtedly becomes a job. Men don’t want to feel used and like a vending machine of sperm. Women typically are more concerned with the sperm than with the act of intimacy.
It is not uncommon for a woman in her fertile days to become all consumed with finding any control she can over her fertility. Obviously, that’s a lost cause despite what seventh-grade health class taught us.
Stress meets hope at the end of this window. The weariness about sex turns into “I think we’ve really done it this time.”
Then comes the hard part. Waiting.
The Two Week Wait
Eternity exists in these few days.
Obsession creeps in. You’re hypervigilant, monitoring every twinge, pinch, discharge or tenderness. Monitoring such real or imagined symptom becomes a full-time job. Women try and will their body into pregnancy symptoms while simultaneously bracing for the impact of another failed cycle.
Anxiety is also highly prevalent during the two-week wait. How early is too early to test? That is the question. Don’t start too early, however. Talk about a rollercoaster! Tests done prematurely can really throw you for a loop.
Sure, we’ve discussed this already. But what about the menses that might be a little bit tardy?
The waiting, hoping awkwardly exists alongside the fear and the worry. There are only two options: menses or pregnancy.
There are plenty more emotions to choose from, however. Anxiety. Fear. Excitement. Hope. Frustration. Joy. Just to name a few.
You can use the Ava Fertility Tracker to calculate what is going on inside of your body. As a companion, I want to offer you a mood chart that I have created. Now, hear me when I say that this is not a tool for diagnostic purposes. Rather, this is a resource for you to examine the intricacies of what you’re emotionally experiencing in a month.
I provided this to a client once who was two years into her journey to baby and really struggling with some intense emotions. After a month of using it, she was shocked to learn that her mood
decreased and her irritability increased on days that she did not move her body. Her mood elevated on days when she had moved her body and had support.
If you are experiencing rather dramatic shifts in your mood or uncomfortably heightened anxiety, let me suggest that you begin charting (as if we don’t already have enough to chart when we’re trying to conceive) what happens in a month and take it to your provider. Then, they can see what you’re doing in a month in addition to your self-report.
There is one more handout for you to use if you would like. This chart looks like a bell curve and identifies the five parts of the month which we have just discussed. For each segment it asks four questions:
1) What do I need?
Allow yourself to have a voice and advocate for your needs.
2) How do I feel?
Not how SHOULD you feel. What are you actually experiencing or what have you experienced in previous months?
3) What boundaries do I need?
4) Who can support me?
The follow-up is asking those people to support you and educating them on what type of support you might need.
Something that can also be helpful is sharing these exercises with your partner. Write down your answers and put them on the fridge so that they may be able to better understand and support you.
A client that I had the privilege of working with years ago, astutely likened all of the negative emotions he was holding onto to rotten fruit in a backpack. He said that the more fruit he accumulated in his backpack, the more burdensome it became. The longer the fruit lingered, the more wretched the aroma became. The backpack easily became awkward, unwieldy, and unmanageable.
Carrying an overstuffed, rancid backpack is no way to navigate any journey, not to mention the emotional weight of trying to conceive. It would be obtuse to believe that someone could walk this road for too many months and not have any rotten fruit accumulate.
Allow yourself time and space to identify what you’re emotionally experiencing every month. Additionally, allow yourself the freedom to discard any of the rotten fruit that you’ve compiled along the way.