Sometimes I have really bad days. Days where I need to cry and feel very sad. Days where I need to sit on the couch and snuggle my kitties. Days where I intentionally wear a sweatshirt because I’ve found them to be the best for bad days — they are handy for wiping away tears and they are also extremely comfortable. On my rollercoaster of infertility, bad days typically strike after my period arrives, but I’ve found that bad days can really occur at any time. There are a variety of things that might trigger me to have a bad day, and let’s face it, the things I’m putting my body through certainly aren’t helping to moderate my emotions… the medications do quite the opposite. I won’t even get into how much I cried while watching the Olympics this summer. It was madness. Anyway, back to the bad days. After my ectopic pregnancy I was having lots of bad days. At the time I told my therapist that I was spending a lot of time sitting around feeling really sorry for myself. My therapist listened and then kindly corrected me — I wasn’t “sitting around feeling sorry for myself”; I was “sitting with my grief.”
Her correction made me realize that I was feeling negative about my grief. I had been thinking of my grief in terms of feeling sorry for myself for a long time. And telling myself I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself made me feel guilty. Like I shouldn’t be doing that. Like I was selfish. Like I was weak for having bad days, for crying, or ungrateful for the things in my life that are great. But this grief is more than a self-indulgent pity party of feeling sorry for myself because things just aren’t going my way. Infertility and pregnancy losses are real — they may not always be tangible, but that doesn’t make them any less real. This grief is overwhelming and powerful, and experiencing and working through my grief isn’t something I should feel guilty for doing; it’s not something that makes me weak or selfish. Experiencing grief doesn’t mean I’m ungrateful. Her word change was simple, but it made a difference for me.
Don’t get me wrong — from my past experiences with grief and loss, I know how important it is for me to take the time to grieve. To be sad. To remember who and what has been lost. To honor them. But infertility is different. When I’m sad about my inability (thus far…) to bring a child into this world, I’m not able to remember a person. There isn’t a funeral. There are no memories or mementos for me to hold on to. Instead, the loss is one of a future. It’s a loss of hopes and dreams. In the case of my ectopic pregnancy it was the loss of a much wanted and loved baby who I’ll never hold in my arms or rock to sleep or watch graduate from high school… it’s the loss of a whole lifetime. And in our society there is no tradition for recognizing these losses… no comforting ceremonies to hold for saying goodbye and gaining some closure. Some societies do have traditions; for example, in Japan there are temples to visit to say goodbye to and honor their babies. But we don’t have anything. Matt and I had to come up with our own ways to recognize and honor our lost pregnancy and our infertility journey in general. I’m pleased with what we have done, but it would have been nice if there had been some kind of widespread tradition in our society to guide us.
Additionally, society doesn’t understand infertility or pregnancy loss very well, so the support can be minimal at times. These are taboo subjects and they tend to make people very uncomfortable if they are brought up. They are also experiences that not everyone has endured themselves, unlike other kinds of losses that are very common. In our case, not many of our loved ones know what infertility or pregnancy loss is like. This lack of understanding and personal experience makes it hard for people to relate to me. Due to this gap, sometimes I find the words spoken out of love to be far less comforting than they were intended by my loved one, and I end up feeling misunderstood and alone. In an attempt to bridge this gap, here are two links with tips on supporting someone who is experiencing infertility and/or pregnancy loss or stillbirth that may be helpful for anyone who is supporting someone experiencing this type of heartbreak.
For me, infertility is also a different kind of grief than others I’ve experienced because it’s so repetitive — month after month I experience the loss over and over. The wound I’m desperately trying to heal gets torn open again. Just when I’ve built up some hope again for this month’s treatment it seems that my period arrives and I’m drowning again in the waves of grief. And while I’m drowning, reminders of what I’m missing are everywhere I go and everywhere I look. So I have to be patient with myself while I survive my bad days. I cannot seem to escape them, and the only way out seems to be through. I have to let myself feel and accept the losses, the disappointment, the overwhelming heartbreak. I need to sit with my grief.
The simple rephrasing of what I was doing allowed me to to completely reframe how I felt about my grief. It allowed me to let go of any guilt about my grief so that I can better work through it, to experience it, and to carry on. Nothing in my behavior had really changed, yet I felt more free to experience my grief after I started to think about it differently. My grief may not be well understood by society or my loved ones, but that doesn’t mean it’s not appropriate. I have every right to take all the time I need to sit with my grief and heal from it in my own way.