TTC: We’ve all felt fear at some point as we TTC, but how to manage this intense emotion? In Tara Mohr’s wonderful book Playing Big, she writes about how the Rabbi and spiritual teacher Rabbi Alan Lew made her think about fear in a totally new way. In his book, Be Still and Get Going, he explains how the Hebrew Bible has two different words for fear: Pachad and Yirah, and how understanding these two states allows us to shift from fear towards being more grounded and in control.
Pachad is “projected or imagined fear.” In terms of our TTC journey, this is the “it’s never gonna happen” fear that grips your heart in it’s fist and makes it hard to breathe. The fear that others will get their day in the sun, but not you. It’s the voice of your inner critic who asks you, “Who do you think you are so want to be a mother?” And this inner voice speaks in absolutes, you’re a success or a failure, happy or sad, not trying hard enough or powering through. There is no middle ground, and certainly no kindness. And the voice that you hear is played over and over in your head, churning around and preying on your insecurities. When you’re in Pachad your breath feels tight, your shoulders tense and you have a sense of dread within you all of the time. Your focus is on the past and the future. It’s exhausting and destructive.
My student Gemma recalled, “I found it so hard to focus on anything that wasn’t baby-making related. My work suffered, my friendships deteriorated, my partner and I were constantly at odds because I couldn’t talk about anything else apart from trying to conceive. I kept thinking, ‘What is my life going to be like if I’m not a mother?’ When I started going down that rabbit hole, I would say to myself, ‘He should leave me so he can have a baby with someone else’ or ‘Maybe I should leave him. I could give up my job, travel the world and have no commitments’. I would ping-pong from one state to the next. It felt like I was constantly gripped by the most paralysing fear and I didn’t know how to shift it.”
Rabbi Lew describes Yirah as “the fear that overcomes us when we suddenly find ourselves in possession of considerably more energy than we are used to, inhabiting a larger space than we are used to inhabiting.” This is an inner voice that doesn’t manically push or strive to make things happen. This is ‘good’ fear, which takes us out of our comfort zone because we know that is where we need to be. It’s the feeling of possibility. There is no tension or tightness. Instead we feel grounded, spacious and balanced. Our breath is steady, our voice, slow and calm. Yirah is being in the present moment, of knowing what you want and trusting it, despite how frightening it can be. When you feel Yirah you know you’re on the right path.
My coaching client Hannah who told me, ‘We had been trying naturally to conceive for six years. I did herbs, acupuncture, tracked my ovulation and pee’ed on a stick every day, but we still weren’t pregnant. I get on really well with my GP and she sent me to see a fertility specialist who she rated. When we met we just clicked. He listened to our history, talked around the best options for us and we decided together that IVF was our best chance of success. When we went in for our first round of IVF I made a commitment to myself to not overthink it and try and stay present at every stage. To my surprise I found that giving myself injections didn’t hurt. I did get some get cramps from the hormones, but it wasn’t too bad. When we went into the egg pick-up they got 6 eggs. I was worried that we didn’t have enough but kept reminding myself to just go with it, trust the process. It was very odd. I was going through the scariest, craziest process of my life, but I felt that I was meant to be there. Each time I started to freak out I’d say to myself, ‘It’s going to be OK. You are meant to do this’. Amazingly from this first cycle we conceived our little girl Stella. I’m not sure what made it happen – luck and chance definitely played their part, but I also believe that when I finally let go and trusted that I was in good hands, it just worked. I think I had go through all those terrible years to get to the stage where I could surrender into it and let go. It was a hard but important lesson for me to learn.”
Shifting from Pachad to Yirah as you TTC
So how do we move from one state to the other? Here are some suggestions:
- Notice when Pachad turns up. When you start to feel frightened see if you can catch it. Say to yourself, “Let it be” and come back into the present moment.
- Use sound and movement to release tension and tightness. Sigh out loudly 3 times. Flick your wrists as if you’re flicking tension from your body. Now include the whole of the arm and the shoulder. Take 5 breaths as you do this.
- Reframe negative thinking. Instead of saying, “I’m too old, I’ve left it too late,” can you say instead, “I am healthy and fertile,” or, “I’m doing everything in my power to conceive a healthy baby.” What affirmation could you create that is true for you?
- Notice what you have in your life right now, rather than what you don’t. When you start to become frightened, can notice it and consciously think about something good? It could be something as simple as the conversation you had with your husband this morning, your cat being silly and making you laugh, the sunny day outside, your favourite song on the radio. I know these sound cliched, but when we focus on the small, everyday things that we normally take for granted, we feel happier because we see what we do have, not what we don’t.
- Rather than pushing fear based thoughts away, can you draw them closer to you? I know this sounds crazy, but how often when you push away difficult thoughts does it work? Sometimes? Never? It may work for a while, but not processing what you’ve been through can make these difficulties seem ten times worse. Even though it sounds counter intuitive, can you allow yourself to feel your fear, sadness, anger, guilt? Bring the feeling to you, soften your breath, place your hands on your heart and consciously breathe these feelings from the body. Say, “I am doing the best that I can.” When you soften and speak kindly to yourself you are able to move towards freedom and healing.
We can’t stop the fear that comes up in our lives, but we can control how we respond to it. If you’re having a tough week, notice that this is how it is. Sigh out softly. Name how you feel eg. ‘I’m having a really rough week. I’m struggling.’ Know you are not alone in how you are feeling. This journey is tough, and you are doing so beautifully. Remember this and say something kind to yourself. This is self-compassion. This is you.
*TTC Trying to Conceive