Breaking the Cycle: Overcoming Self-Blame in the IVF Journey

break free from self-blame in ivf and infertility
photo credit: Mohamed Nohassi

One of the most challenging hurdles to overcome in infertility and IVF is the pervasive feeling of self-blame.

Whether you’re grappling with infertility, failed cycles, losses/miscarriages or other setbacks along the way, if you’re going through IVF you may find yourself consumed by feelings of guilt, shame, and self-doubt.

Following are some possible explanations for why you feel this way, its impact on your mental health and mind-body strategies to implement so you can begin to break free from the iron grip of self-blame:

Understanding Self-Blame in IVF

  1. Internalized Expectations: Society often perpetuates the myth of parenthood as a natural and effortless journey. When faced with fertility challenges, you may internalize these expectations and blame yourself or your body for not conforming to societal norms.
  2. Attribution of Fault: In the absence of clear answers or explanations for infertility or IVF failures, you may engage in self-blame as a way to make sense of your circumstances. The tendency to attribute fault to yourself can exacerbate feelings of guilt.
  3. Coping Mechanism: Self-blame can serve as a coping mechanism for dealing with the uncertainties and disappointments of the IVF journey. By placing blame on yourself, you may feel a sense of control or agency over your situation, albeit misguided.
  4. Cultural and Social Influences: Cultural beliefs, social pressures, and familial expectations can contribute to feelings of self-blame in the context of infertility and IVF. Messages of fertility as a measure of worth or fulfillment may further fuel your feelings of inadequacy and self-reproach.

The Toll of Self-Blame

  1. Emotional Distress: Self-blame can take a significant toll on emotional well-being, leading to heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. The constant cycle of self-criticism and self-doubt can erode your self-esteem and undermine your resilience.
  2. Impact on Relationships: Self-blame can strain relationships with your partner, your family members, and friends, as you may withdraw or isolate due to feelings of shame or unworthiness. This isolation can further exacerbate feelings of loneliness and despair.
  3. Distortion of Power: Self-blame may also impact the decisions you make during the IVF journey. If you blame yourself  for infertility or treatment outcomes, you are taking responsibility for aspects of the process that you in actuality have zero agency over leading to a snowball effect of feeling powerlessness and helplessness.

Breaking Free from Self-Blame

  1. Cultivate Self-Compassion: Practice mindfulness techniques such as the loving-kindness meditation to cultivate self-compassion. Bring awareness to your inner dialogue and gently redirect any self-critical thoughts towards kindness and understanding. Continue to remind yourself that struggles with infertility and IVF do not define your worth.
  2. Challenge Negative Thoughts: Incorporate somatic approaches like body scanning to identify physical sensations associated with negative thoughts. By bringing awareness to these sensations, you can interrupt the automatic cycle of negative thinking and replace it with more balanced perspectives.
  3. Seek Support: Practice mindful communication when seeking support from others. Pay attention to your body’s cues during conversations, noticing any tension or discomfort. Breathe into those areas of your body. Name for yourself what feelings are there, without trying to change the feelings. Respond with compassion towards yourself and others. Mindfully listen to the support offered by loved ones and your therapist, allowing yourself to receive their validation and understanding.
  4. Focus on Self-Care: Engage in somatic self-care practices such as gentle yoga to nurture your physical and emotional well-being. Tune into the sensations in your body as you move through these activities, allowing them to ground you in the present moment and alleviate stress. Practice mindfulness during self-care rituals, savoring each moment and fully immersing yourself in the experience.
  5. Normalize the Experience: Use mindfulness to observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment as you navigate feelings of self-blame. Recognize that these thoughts are a natural response to the challenges of infertility and IVF, but they are not the truth and they do not define your worth or identity. By normalizing your experience through mindfulness, you can cultivate greater self-compassion and resilience in the face of adversity.

Self-blame is a pervasive and insidious aspect of the IVF journey, but it is not insurmountable. By understanding the roots of self-blame, recognizing its toll on well-being, and implementing strategies for self-compassion and support – you can break free from its grip and reclaim your sense of acceptance, resilience and self-worth.

Remember, you are not defined by your fertility journey, and you are deserving of love, compassion, and understanding, both from others and from yourself!

Rachel Shanken, Somatic Fertility Therapist in New York City