I can vividly remember the exact day and moment when that beast, infertility, started chipping away at my self-love.

I was sitting in a room in a hospital, scrolling through my phone. My eyes were flitting over cribs, car seats, and strollers. I looked at the best of each because my baby would only have the best. I was pregnant.

A couple of days before, I had taken an at-home pregnancy test. There were two dark pink lines. I hadn’t even had to hold it up to the light, at different angles, squinting to catch even a glimpse of a line. The lines were dark. Solid. Honest. Even so, I struggled to believe it was real and went and did a blood test to confirm. It was real. I had done one round of Clomid after almost a year of trying, and I was pregnant.

I was sitting in a hospital because I was having cramping and some light spotting, which Dr. Google had assured me was normal in early pregnancy. Still, being the control freak that I am, I wanted to make double sure that everything was okay.

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so proficient at reading people, because when the doctor walked in the room, I knew immediately. She didn’t have to say a word.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, “Your numbers have dropped significantly. You’re having a miscarriage.”

I could barely hear her. I felt far away. Out of my body.

Over the next couple of weeks, I experienced thoughts and feelings that I had never had before. I was critical of myself. I was harsh. I blamed myself.

This became a pattern over the next several years. I was diagnosed with PCOS, and I felt more self-love slip away. Treatment after treatment ending in failure led to more self-deprecating thoughts replacing my self-love.

It was when my self-love was at an all-time low, that I knew something needed to change. I had been living in a dark cloud for too long. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to feel peace. I wanted to enjoy my life again.

Understand that I am blessed with the best husband on this Earth, and he shows me endless love and support. I have wonderful family and friends. I have love. I have support. Looking from the outside, one would wonder why I struggled so much with the feelings I was having.

That’s the kicker, though. Infertility looks different for everyone. PCOS, Endometriosis, Unexplained Infertility, Secondary Infertility, and so many other diagnoses that cause infertility and invisible suffering. Though I had all the love and support I could ever want or need, it was the love for myself that was lacking.

I had to completely change my mindset. It’s like on an airplane when they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on during a crash before you can help anyone else. I knew I wasn’t putting myself first. My own mental health was taking a back burner to the constant feelings of stress and anxiety that came with infertility and treatments.

From that point forward, self-care became my mantra. I started simply, by allowing myself to take “days off” from thinking about my infertility. This was very difficult for me in the beginning. I had let my battle with infertility consume so much of my life for so long; it was a huge adjustment to actively prevent my mind from thinking about it.

These “days off” were not for work, thinking about fertility treatments, or being self-critical. Instead, I did things that brought me joy, things that forced my anxiety levels down. I would get my haircut, take a bath, read a book, go to a movie. I repeated positive affirmations. I am a religious person, and I believe that I am a child of God. I prayed fervently to find the peace that I was looking for.

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I had been denying myself calm, and I had been denying myself happiness. I had been allowing myself to feel lonely, sad, and afraid day in and day out for far too long.

Slowly, gradually my perspective on my life changed. I began to feel hope and excitement for the future instead of focusing on what I didn’t have. I allowed myself to feel and accept the love and support my loved ones had been offering me. I accepted that there are many different paths my life could take, and I can be happy no matter what the future brings.

I started to feel love for myself again. I acknowledged my own strength, and talents.

I still have moments of doubt and sadness, but they come far less often. In the process of learning to love myself again, I have developed tools to get me through the hard times that infertility inevitably still brings.

My husband and I have been trying to have a baby for almost 7 years. Many of those early years I spent in darkness. We have done several fertility treatments over the years. My husband, who is enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, is often away and we have to make the most of the time we have. We just completed our 3rd IUI which was unsuccessful. Four years ago, I would have taken that negative outcome and wallowed in it. I would have blamed myself and had a hard time moving forward.

If I have any advice to give, it’s this: be kind to yourself. Infertility is one of the hardest trials one can go through. It can be hard for others to understand the complexity of what we go through, and that can foster loneliness. Don’t cut yourself off. Find a tribe. There are so many wonderful people and organizations on social media that offer empathy and support.

Above all, know you’re not alone. You are strong. You are brave. 

Audra Richards is an infertility & pregnancy loss warrior. She and her husband have been trying to conceive for 7 years and are now pursuing IVF to grow their family. You can follow Audra on Instagram at @audrajanae.