If you are coping with infertility, it doesn’t help when people tell you to ‘just relax’ – or pacify you with platitudes and advice that fails to acknowledge the reality of your circumstances.
Priyanka Bhatia-Mahendru gets it. She offers couples coping tools to deal with potential stresses and strains of conceiving via assisted reproductive techniques at Bourn Hall Fertility Centre in Dubai.
Who exactly is a Fertility Journey Coach and why does anyone need coaching?
Coping with infertility is a journey because [it’s not sure] the treatment will work the first, second or third try. A Fertility Journey Coach is a trained professional who can help equip both women and couples with coping tools to deal with the stress and prepare for all outcomes.
For a lot of couples, it could be the first try or several tries in when the cracks start to be felt. The effects of infertility affect your whole life. You go from deciding not to take that vacation so you can budget for treatments, to staying away from family get-togethers because of the aunt who will always ask that question. Then come difficult decisions, like not going to baby showers, which leads to more pain, loneliness and isolation. The purpose of a coach is to help manage all this.
What kind of training did you undergo?
I have a Master’s in Counselling Psychology and am a certified personal and professional life coach. I’ve also trained in the US specifically to work with people going through infertility.
What happens in a session?
I try to see every patient within a week of starting treatment, which is part of the two free sessions Bourn Hall Fertility Centre provides. Most patients come in as a couple, which is great. We talk about their history and about anything they foresee where they might struggle. For some it might be the injections; for most it’s the fear of the treatment not working. Then we talk about the kind of perspective they would need to help them get through this.
I talk about the kind of support the woman needs and the kind of support the man needs, and help them bridge that gap. There’s a sense of relief for patients when we discuss the differences in how men and women see or do things because it normalises their experience. It shifts from ‘something is wrong with me or my relationship’ to ‘actually, this is what infertility creates in marriages’. This helps work on issues without a sense of blame.
We talk about how to manage the waiting, as well as the challenges around difficult questions and how to respond. A big purpose of the session is to help them tap into the strength that lies within.
How did you come to do this job?
I’ve had my own journey of infertility and have had tremendous support. I had my mum, mum-in-law, husband and brother for support and guidance. But even with all this support, I missed having someone completely ‘get’ what I was saying – someone who had been or is on the journey, too. I really wanted women on this journey to have someone who [would understand exactly how they feel].
What kind of cases do you get?
Every journey has its own set of challenges. For example, a patient on an IVF cycle who’d had several miscarriages came to me for support to help cope with the fear of another miscarriage. Another couple came in to learn how to manage their relationship during this time. I’ve coached a patient who had had several failed cycles and wanted to be in the optimum physical and emotional state to start another. I also deal with men facing infertility. It’s significantly harder for a man to talk about how he feels and how this affects him.
What’s the best part about your job?
I feel honoured to witness the changes in people as we work together. There’s a sort of magic that happens within them that helps them shift to become more confident and more accepting, to be able to deal with the challenge or manage it in a different way.
What’s the worst part?
My vision is to make sure that no woman is alone through this and that women going through this are supported and held. I am still far from making that happen.
What’s been a major coping challenge in your journey?
What was missing during my journey was just being able to tell someone who really ‘gets it’. There weren’t any support groups in Dubai during these years. It would have helped to be able to tell someone that the treatment didn’t work and know they are feeling my devastation with me, because they’ve had those moments, too. While I was on many support groups online, there’s far greater comfort in someone reaching out to you in person and just giving you a hug.
Priyanka runs a free, no-obligation support group that meets on the last Saturday of every month from 3pm at Bourn Hall Fertility Centre in Dubai. Write to her at email@example.com.