Creating a life beyond childlessness

Habits that help me keep my sh*t together during IVF

Going through IVF treatment(s) is a stressful process. For 5+ years I’m juggling fertility treatments with my nomadic lifestyle. In this article, I like to share with you the 5 habits that keep me sane during this infertility journey.

‘Just relax!’ she said. Really? Well, if only I had time to relax between the countless appointments, juggling work next to it, trying to not look at the bills floating in, the miscommunication with people around me, the effects of the medications, and all the concerns during the treatment(s).

I find going through IVF treatments a very lonely journey. The people around me don’t seem to understand the process that I’m going through and the crazy rollercoaster ride of emotions that is involved. And then I’m not even talking about the unrecognized grief after another failed attempt, while you try to get back on your feet again for the next round.

I was looking for support from the outside, but I learned very quickly that the support I needed the most was coming from the inside. For the past 5 years, I’ve been redesigning my routines and these are the 5 habits that have been (and still are) the most helpful in dealing with fertility treatments. I truly hope that somehow they can benefit you in your journey.

Habit 1: Journaling

When I turned 12 years old, my mother gave me a journal for my birthday. She told me how writing for years has helped her process her feelings and emotions. I started writing immediately, but my motivation disappeared within a couple of months. A couple of years later I came across my journals and I started writing again, but also this time it didn’t take long before the journal was in a forgotten corner of my desk.

When I started infertility treatments, five years ago, I felt completely misunderstood by my surroundings. That was the moment I remembered my mother’s words and I decided to start journaling again. I bought a cute little notebook, with a beautiful cover that said: ’The power is within you’ and started that same day.

This habit of journaling has been my life hack while going through fertility treatments. To me, journaling is a safe way of putting words to my thoughts, feelings, and experiences, without any judgment whatsoever. The writing helps me understand my worries, fears, and desires and has led to some wonderful insights throughout the years.

For myself, I have created the habit to journal before going to bed. Sometimes I write about an experience or a situation, sometimes I write positive ‘I am..’ statements and sometimes I just write some random words. I write every day, especially on the days that I’m not in the mood.

There is just one thing that I don’t do, ever. I never look back at my notes. I’m very future-focused and due to the many emotional highs and lows, I see no point in reading back my previous thoughts. For me, the benefit of the process comes during the writing itself. The habit of journaling is to me a healthy way to get rid of my thoughts, emotions, and experiences, without hurting or saying the wrong thing to the people that deeply care for me.

Habit 2: Exercise

During the first couple of fertility treatments, I stopped exercising completely. I thought that it would interfere with the process and didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. After the 4th negative outcome, something in me snapped.

I felt completely disconnected from my body. The doctors treated it as a thing that needed to be fixed, my husband was bruising my belly with all the injections and all the medication made me look like 4 months pregnant. I didn’t feel good at all.

Rianna Hijlkema going back to the gym, creating her new habit of going back to the gym and slowly loving her body again.

So, I started lifting weights again. Doing some boxing and being surrounded by motivated people, made me feel in an instance so much stronger and more powerful again. That was something I hadn’t felt in the previous months, and slowly I learned to love my body again; inside and out.

There lies so much power in moving your body. Which obviously doesn’t have to be lifting weights. Just some intentional movement throughout the day, you know those things like parking your car at the last parking spot and taking the stairs instead of the escalator can make you feel a little bit more alive again in this crazy madness. And sometimes it’s just crawling out of bed to the couch and that was it. I know you do the best you can, know that it’s all okay.

Habit 3: Greens

It’s well known that highly refined carbohydrates, such as cookies, chips, fries, pizza, etc are affecting your blood sugar. After a rise in blood sugar, it crashes and you’re stuck with low blood sugar which makes you feel cranky, irritable, and sometimes even a bit depressed.

Ever since I went through the 90-day WildFit challenge, I understand the effect that different types of food have on my body and mind. I have experienced for myself how carbs are affecting my mood and making my fertility treatments even more challenging. For that reason, I now eat in cycles, where I have periods in which I’m not eating any carbs, and other periods where I do. 

Another important lesson was the fact that it’s more important to add the good stuff (fruits and vegetables) to your diet than to remove the bad stuff (think of junk food). For a good start to the day, I start every morning with a fresh green smoothie. This benefits my health immediately and helps me make healthy food choices throughout the day.

Next to this healthy start of the day, we’ve created a lifestyle in which we’re able to cook ourselves. This way we can control the quality of the food we’re eating and get as much as possible our greens and veggies in.

Habit 4: Gratitude

Apparently experiences the average person 60-80% of their time a bunch of negative thoughts. Put on top of that the stress and anxiety created by fertility treatments and I think you get my point. 

Appreciating what you have, rather than what you don’t have is not easy at all, especially going through these difficult situations. But I can tell you that once I started writing down my gratitude it made a huge shift in my perception of the world around me. The problem was still there, but the world looked a little bit less dark and evil. 

Now every morning, before I start my day, I write down 9 things that I’m grateful for. Three things about my body, three things about my personality, and three things about the people around me. I make sure that they are positive and that I not only think of these things but also really feel the emotions they give me in my body.

On the days that I find it hard to be grateful for anything I look back at my previous days and keep in mind that there is always a situation worse than the one I am currently in.

Habit 5: Personal Growth

We all know that our thoughts become our words, and our words become our actions. But what kind of thoughts are going around in your mind? When mine started to become very unhelpful during fertility treatments I decided to work on it. 

I talked to several therapists but couldn’t find what I needed. It wasn’t until I started working with a coach that I started to bloom again (which inspired me to become a coach myself). I also started reading multiple personal development books and followed several courses through Mindvalley (highly recommended).

Continuously working on my personal growth has been the best investment I could have ever made.

Conclusion

All of these habits have been proven to be very effective and have been for me very helpful in dealing with my current situation. Obviously, I didn’t start all of them at the same time, instead, I’ve built those habits in my routine over the past couple of years.

I hope these habit(s) are inspiring you to take back control over your life. If you’re thinking about implementing one or more of the above-mentioned habit(s), decide which one you’re willing to commit to for a period of a minimum of 3 weeks, and then just give it a shot. Might help, can’t hurt!

And if you want to talk, please reach out. Nobody should go through this sh#t alone!

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