How my fertility journey led to me, Anna Sane, co-found Tilly, a mental wellness resource for people with infertility
Throughout my years with infertility, taking injections was definitely the easy part. Well, none of it is easy, but the physical treatment didn’t impact me as much as the social and psychological challenges, which was a huge surprise because that wasn’t the story about infertility that I’d been told.
I co-founded Tilly when I was in the middle of losses and treatments.
Amidst all the hopelessness, pain and isolation I was feeling, working with Tilly helped me find meaning. Facing infertility felt so unfair, but helping others meant I could at least use what I learnt to make a change. Today, Tilly is the resource I needed the most when I was struggling. Therapy helped me a lot, but I also felt that I needed tools on a daily basis when anxiety hit, or to cope with difficult situations. And talking to others on the same journey was crucial.
Tilly provides tools for mental and social well-being, which many infertility patients feel they aren’t getting elsewhere
I’m sharing my story with infertility and pregnancy loss to help us all feel a little less alone, and to change the conversation around infertility. I think it’s important that we start including the psychological impact in the narrative, because it’s such a huge part of the journey that others need to understand to be able to support us.
The emotional struggles with infertility Over the three years that I did IVF, had two miscarriages, lost two babies halfway through pregnancy, and had a healthy baby boy, I think what shocked me the most was how much the experiences impacted my self-worth and my relationships.
Feeling like a failure
Although the rational side of me could see it was not my fault, I still felt like I was somehow failing. I compared myself to other women quite obsessively and simply didn’t feel good about myself and my life in spite of having lots of other things going for me. A few months ago we started trying for a sibling, and I’ve had two failed transfers since. I thought that I had worked through these feelings, but it turns out I hadn’t.
I used to manically google at what age random women had their first child. Now I find myself doing the same, but focusing on the age gap between people’s kids. The rational side of me hates myself for doing this, but there are bigger forces at play. The only difference compared to the beginning of my journey is that I now have better tools to break toxic behaviours like this one. Relationships with friends and family during infertility I can’t say that my friends and family didn’t try. They probably did. But someone once said that the trauma of infertility is not only what happened to you, but also how it’s (or isn’t) acknowledged by others, and it is clear that the emotional impact of infertility is both misunderstood and underestimated. I
know I’m not alone in feeling that most people in my life didn’t know how to support me
There was this one girls’ dinner with my friends when my friends started joking about all the “weird supplements” that my husband and I were taking. I felt so lonely and angry. How could they not see that I would really love not to spend a huge amount of money on supplements and questionable “experts,” and that to me, none of this was funny? I guess it’s because infertility has been a stigmatised topic and because it’s a “grief of fantasies and ideas around how things should be.”
When I lost my son Malcolm halfway through pregnancy, I got a lot of: “I’m sure it will work out next time,” and “At least you weren’t further along.” Comments like this really invalidated my grief, and made me feel that I was overreacting. But in online forums I met other women who’d been through the same things; it was the only place we dared to share the pictures of our babies that no one else asked to see, and to mourn the way we needed to.
After a while it honestly became easier not to let many of my friends into the process – it was less triggering to just keep things to myself. But social isolation is not helpful when we’re struggling, so if you find yourself in the same position – do try to find some kind of support system and remember that it doesn’t have to look exactly like your normal one.
Tools for coping with infertility
I found that journaling has been super helpful to get my emotions out and gain perspective. It helps me to handle one thing at a time, instead of feeling overwhelmed by all of the decisions and potential outcomes.
Working with a therapist who specialized in infertility was also incredibly helpful. She taught me a lot of the techniques that are now available in Tilly’s app; not only a variety of guided journaling exercises, but also tools that help you separate yourself from your mind when it’s spinning, and how to prepare for social events that feel scary.
Creating Tilly, a mental health app for infertility
With Tilly, we want to make evidence-based support more accessible. The app contains a range of tools that can help you on the infertility journey
- Self-care exercises created by psychologists that help you cope with difficult emotions, e.g. feeling like a failure, struggling to communicate with your partner or friends and family, and being triggered by pregnancy announcements. You can use these whenever you need.
- Meditations, breathing exercises and yoga, helping you to relax your mind and body.
- A safe community that you can turn to with questions or if you feel alone. We know that the people in your life don’t always know how to support you; talking to people on the same journey can be helpful.
- Contact info for licensed therapists should you need further support.
- The ability to keep track of medications, treatment schedules, etc.
It’s impossible to take away all the difficult emotions and experiences we have with infertility, but our hope is that the app can help you cope with them better so they don’t take over your life completely. The ultimate vision is that each and every fertility clinic offers the app (and additional mental health support, like therapy) as an integrated part of their care.
It is time for reproductive care not to be confined to the physical body
My closing words to those who are struggling is that it’s okay to not feel like yourself. Infertility is a life crisis, even if society doesn’t necessarily recognise it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!