When Benita was diagnosed with endometriosis at 26, she anticipated a rocky road to pregnancy. But she wasn’t prepared for the extreme struggle and isolation, which is why she created a community around The Art of Trying.
It was 32 months of trying for Benita and her husband Adam. That’s two and a half years; over three full-term pregnancies, and a lot of expectation. Most couples will be faced with questions of a baby after marriage, but when trying to conceive is complicated, these questions bear extra weight. They can be a reminder of loss, stress and add unnecessary urgency.
“As time went on, I became more selective about what, and who, I shared with. I grew more guarded as our experience became more complex and emotionally-charged. Not because I wanted to hide what we were going through, but purely because it’s a protective mechanism. Fewer people to update and report to, fewer questions, and less of the emotions of others to contend with… it was just simpler that away. However, in doing so, I set myself up to feel more alone,” says Benita.
Infertility is invisible from the outside as there are no outward or obvious physical signs. Things can go unspoken which can create a sense of isolation for those struggling to conceive. This was magnified for Benita, as she and her husband were living and working in rural areas. It was easier for her to keep to herself: “I shared a lot with my Mum, two sisters and a few close friends, and that certainly helped. It was always on my terms though – how much I wished to share, and when. When I reflect on this time, I kept a lot to myself and suffered in silence,” says Benita.
The physical distance made simple things such as driving to appointments or getting the necessary medicines delivered more complex. Fertility clinics were hours of travel away, so timing and logistics had to be carefully considered. Isolation made everything more extreme – including the lows.
At one of the most difficult points, Benita turned to alcohol to console her – which was completely uncharacteristic behaviour. She distinctly remembers how news of another failed IUI cycle made her feel “utterly alone… completely devastated, hopeless and lost”.
A few months beyond the point of her mental health at its lowest, she found the strength to shift her trajectory towards better health. She took a break from treatments, put the focus back on her wellbeing, and started with self-care – resting well, eating well, exercising and spending time with loved ones. Equally as important, Benita also got honest about the state of her mental health. She reset her relationship with her body, her negative self-talk, and reflected on her feelings and frustrations through journaling.
“I’ve journaled off and on for most of my life, so it wasn’t new for me to record what was happening, what I was thinking and how I was feeling. It certainly helped me to cope, and I think I unconsciously knew that one day looking back on my journal would help me, or someone else,” says Benita.
This journal became the basis for Benita’s best-selling book ‘The Art of Trying’ which she created as a resource for women walking the path she once did. “There 100% should be more conversations in the wider community about infertility,” says Benita, “it’s one of the reasons I published my book and continue to talk about these topics through social media and my blog”.
The end of the story is a happy one – Benita and Adam did fall pregnant through IVF, but naturally, the anxiety stayed with her for most of the pregnancy. When she finally held her baby, it was surreal. “Words can hardly describe… I kept asking: ‘Is he Ok?’ and saying ‘I can’t believe he’s here, he’s actually here.’ There is no other feeling in the universe like holding your baby for the first time – I wish we could bottle it!”
What she did bottle was her wisdom and passion for helping those in a similar situation. Benita believes that a supportive community is “critically important” for women experiencing infertility. “Greater awareness and discussion ‘normalises’ infertility so that people who are struggling don’t feel so isolated, and know they have somewhere to go for help. It’s also important that we give people in supporting roles the tools and information they need to effectively support their loved ones,” explains Benita.
She encourages supporters to start by listening. “Seek to understand first,” she says, “it’s about them, not you. Increase your awareness on the topic and be compassionately curious. If they give you an opening to explore the topic, be sure to ask questions, to listen to understand, not listen to reply. Really listen, let them talk.”
Benita encourages women that are trying to conceive to put themselves first. She thinks that a healthy mind-body connection can be a powerful influence, which is why Benita believes that women trying to conceive should continue to live their lives and let go of the ‘just in case’ mentality. “Don’t stop living your life and doing what brings you joy. Invest in your mindset and mental health while on this journey. Get the support you need to help you maintain a positive mindset,” says Benita.
But ultimately, there will be challenges that only someone who has been through it will understand, which is why the ‘Art of Trying’ community and Benita’s newly launched ‘Mindset Mentorship’ program means so much to her. “I’ve created it specifically for women trying to conceive who need support around building and maintaining a positive mindset – to help them cope, and to conceive,” says Benita.
Now a mum of four and at the helm of a growing community, Benita hopes to spread her message of strength and hope to those that need it most. And it resonates with her chosen Powerpants affirmation – “I am powerful”.