Grief

My infertility is profound grief.

My infertility is constantly grieving for the family I desire to have with Matt, for the children I long to hold in my arms and share my life with. It is constantly grieving the loss of what has not happened yet, what could have been each and every cycle, and what may never be. It is grieving the loss of hopes and dreams for my family and my future.

My pregnancy loss is forevermore grieving the loss of our child who we never met, but wanted and love still with all of our hearts. It is grieving a life cut way too short. It is grieving what was and what should have been.

My infertility is grieving the loss of what I once expected for my life — what I thought this part of my life would be like; what I thought conceiving would be like; what I thought pregnancy would be like; what I thought the timeline of my family’s growth would be like. It is grieving the loss of the certainty I used to have about my future, and the innocence I once had.

My infertility is grieving every day, every month, every year. It is grieving every failed cycle and every failed treatment, and all of the time, money, energy, hope, and love that went into each and every cycle. It is grieving the months passed waiting for the next treatment to begin. It is grieving at every step as we’ve moved on to more and more advanced treatments.

My infertility is grief that builds over time. Every month that goes by is harder than the last for me. Perhaps when our infertility is resolved in some way and we have been able to move forward in our lives, the grief will stop increasing… but until then, it accumulates despite our best efforts to work through it.

The grief of my infertility is very complex and layered… in addition to the losses of our hopes and dreams for our family, infertility brings an enormous load of secondary losses that are not always obvious or apparent to an outsider. Infertility has caused the losses of my sense of sense, friendships, control, privacy, normality, and the perception of myself as “healthy”.

My infertility is grieving the loss of my sense of self. As I struggle through treatment side effects and the powerful waves of grief following each and every failure, sometimes I hardly feel like I know who I am anymore. The surreal experience of infertility and all of the emotions that come with it leave me questioning who I am and what’s happening.

My infertility is grieving broken relationships that have not withstood my infertility. Losing relationships during my infertility is pretty much the last thing I expected, but it’s happened and it’s heartbreaking. Unfortunately not everyone is able to sit in the darkness of grief with someone else.

My infertility is grieving the loss of control. We live in a day and age where our fertility is usually under our control… most people decide when to have children, are able to conceive within a reasonable time frame, and carry their baby to term. But infertility means that we have lost the ability to decide when and how to bring children into our family — regardless of treatments or other options we might pursue, the outcome is out of our hands.

My infertility is grieving the loss of the freedom to plan and live as we please. Our treatments, appointments, and medications are scheduled around the calendar at the doctor’s office, and as a result, our work schedules and lives in general are dictated by our treatments. I’ve even been put on birth control pills at times to align my cycles to their ideal dates. Infertility is also grieving the inability to plan anything beyond the next treatment — we don’t know if and when I’ll be pregnant, or if and when we’ll need to have appointments, or when I might be experiencing miserable side effects from medications. All of this makes planning anything from a night out to a holiday away difficult.

My infertility is grieving an extreme loss of privacy — of my body and of trying to conceive in general. Usually making a baby is a very private and intimate event, but treating our infertility and sharing about our experience has eliminated any and all privacy we once had. Infertility treatments have brought me to the exam table stirrups more times than I can count, and I have been poked, prodded, and ultrasound-wanded over and over. There’s no privacy anymore in our efforts to conceive; we’ve literally been examined under a microscope. Additionally, even though it has been important, sharing with others about my infertility has led to a loss of privacy too — people know many, many more details about our efforts to conceive than they would if I were fertile.

My infertility is grieving the loss of normality. “Normal” people conceive without trouble and carry their babies to term, but infertility, pregnancy loss, and treatments for infertility have thrown us into a surreal world — these experiences are not normal. It’s not normal to have an ectopic pregnancy. It’s not normal to be try to conceive for three years and not have a baby. It’s not normal to go through 14 cycles of treatment without success. It’s not normal to have injections every day, or have embryos created in a lab and stored in a freezer. It’s not normal for my friends and family to know intimate details about my cycles or doctor’s appointments. Grieving this loss of normality is so huge that one major benefit of going to our infertility support group is hearing others discuss their infertility — it helps to normalize our own experience and makes us feel not so alone.

My infertility is grieving the loss of a perceived healthy body. I am in perfect health in seemingly every other way… but infertility means something is in fact, medically wrong with us, even if there’s not a clear answer about what it is. Grieving the loss of my perceived health has been a frustrating, confusing experience… I feel healthy, but I’m an infertility patient with a calendar full of appointments and procedures and a closet full of medications. Aside from treatment side effects, I don’t feel sick physically, yet our failure to conceive over and over continues to prove that my body isn’t as “healthy” as it might appear to be.

My infertility is processing all of this grief — both the primary losses of our pregnancy and our family, and also the secondary losses that hit from every direction. My infertility is sitting with grief, time and time again. It’s letting grief overwhelm me when necessary. It’s crying until my eyes hurt, my head hurts. It’s asking Matt to sit with me and letting him wipe my tears. It’s telling Matt to please let me sit alone, quietly in the dark. It’s writing and writing and writing. It’s distracting myself with a book, movie or TV show, because sometimes I need to take an intentional break from grieving. It’s making myself get up, get dressed, go outside, text a friend, get back out there. It’s feeling exhausted because grieving is hard work. It’s wanting to feel happier, wanting to feel hopeful, wanting to feel optimistic, but knowing deep down that those feelings will only come once I work through some of my grief.

It’s been said that grief only exists where love lived first… While this may or may not be true for all kinds of grief, I do think it is true for the profound grief of infertility. Matt and I want to build a family together because of the love we share, and the love we want to share with children. We’re full of grief for the pregnancy we lost, the family we’re hoping for, and the unknown direction of our future. While we hope, and wait, and try again, we grieve the absence of our children with great love.

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Isolation

I was looking for an infertility book at my local big box bookstore the other day and came up empty handed… again.  Over the course of my infertility journey, I have repeatedly visited this store in person or looked online for local availability searching for specific books and I have been unable to find a single one locally. As I left the store feeling annoyed and alone yet again, various thoughts crossed my mind… “Of course they wouldn’t want to taint their perfect pregnancy section with books about infertility or loss” and “I should know better by now” and “Am I really the only one in this town who might want to read books about infertility or loss?”

The answer to that question is definitely NO — one in eight couples have trouble conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy — but after another failed attempt at finding support in my bookstore, I was still left with the feeling that I am very alone. It also makes me feel like our society values, validates, and supports only the topics I find on the bookshelves — pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting, and grieving losses of parents, siblings or a job; but not infertility or pregnancy or baby loss. I know that it may seem like a minor problem, but it’s more than just not being able to find a book — it’s actually a symptom of a huge problem of infertility: isolation. Not being able to buy my books at the store where everyone else can buy their books makes me feel like I don’t belong, and it is just one of the ways in which infertility makes me feel alone and different.

Infertility is isolating because it feels like I’m *the only one* without kids, and as a result, it feels like we do not belong anywhere. Families with children are everywhere. I look around at my community, my neighborhood, and my friends and family, and everywhere I see children… everywhere but here.

Infertility is isolating when I’m around my loved ones and their children — I feel so left out. I’m not in their exclusive mom club, and it hurts of profound sadness, despair, and jealousy. Our children aren’t playing together. We’re not trading clothes and baby toys or signing up for the same swim class. While they move on with their growing families, I’m left behind with my infertility, alone with a broken heart.

Infertility is isolating when people make small talk about family or how my [bad] day is going. In a previous post about isolation, I wrote about how this makes me feel alone and like my experience isn’t acceptable or valid.

Infertility is isolating when people avoid me, do not acknowledge my experience, or do not make space for my grief. My reality is hard for people to accept, and it frequently makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes people avoid me or they avoid acknowledging what is happening to me and focus the conversation on anything else instead. Often people try to fix my infertility or change my feelings instead of accepting my situation and sitting with me while I grieve.

Infertility is isolating because it feels like nobody understands. I feel like no one understands all of the complicated emotions and the extent of my heartache. I feel like no one understands how awful it is to be disappointed month after month, year after year, treatment after treatment, or how devastating it is to lose a pregnancy or to be failed by IVF. I feel like I end up on the defensive too often, trying to defend why I’m still sad, or why something upset me, or why we’re making certain treatment choices. I feel like no one understands how broken I feel.

I have shared a lot about my experience and have provided many resources to try to help my loved ones understand… but I still feel alone, different, and disconnected. No matter what I do or how hard I try, I still feel like no one gets it, no one is comfortable with me, and no one knows what to say (for a refresher on what to do or say, please visit my post on support). The fact that it’s even necessary or important for me to blog about this topic should clearly show just how isolating infertility is — under normal circumstances I would have absolutely no interest in so openly sharing such personal thoughts and feelings, and I wish I did not need to.

Infertility is isolating when I need to give myself a break from social activities. I have written before about how I might decline invitations to social engagements or leave early. Sometimes I’m unwell due to treatment. Sometimes I’m just not up for socializing. Sometimes there is too much focus on children in social situations — I cannot bear watching children for very long or listening to too much conversation about children because it fills me with grief and makes me feel alone.

Infertility is isolating when I need to give myself space from communicating with others. Sometimes I’m not ready to handle follow up questions or unsolicited advice. Sometimes I do not think I can handle rehashing my current situation again — it can be difficult for me to relive my pain over and over. Sometimes I’m not ready to talk or share my feelings. Sometimes I have nothing to say. Regardless of the reason, part of caring for myself sometimes means intentionally creating some distance from others.

On the other hand, sometimes socializing is just what I need, and many of my loved ones are very eager to connect with me. That said, infertility can still be isolating even when I do want to engage socially, so I have found that it is helpful for me to spread out my social engagements and communications. Spreading things out gives me time and space in between connecting with loved ones to be alone with my grief if necessary, to recover if the experience was draining, and to prepare for my next engagement or conversation.

The best things I’ve found for reducing the isolation of infertility are going to support group and reading about infertility. Reading, listening to and sharing with others has helped to validate my feelings and normalize my reactions and experience. Hearing others’ stories reminds me again and again that I am not the only one going through this, and it has been so helpful to feel connected to people who truly get it. Having a safe place for understanding and acceptance has been so meaningful to me. However, I will also admit that the remedy of connecting with others still has its limits — support group has greatly reduced my feelings of isolation, but it has not eliminated them.

I think infertility is so isolating because the grief is very personal. My dreams are not coming true; my family with Matt is not growing; my heart is breaking. My heartache and loss is so deep and intense, and the powerful grief hits me at my core. I feel like no one can truly understand… not even Matt. But I know that is not fair — just as he doesn’t know what my experience is like, I don’t know what his is like. Our experiences are unique and personal, and so is our grief. Over time we have learned that our grieving styles are different and that we often need to grieve and process alone. So even though Matt and I are in this together, sometimes I still feel alone because infertility grief is personal.

On so many levels, infertility is extremely isolating. I constantly feel like the odd one out, the different one, the only one without a child, even though I know that I’m not alone. I know there are many others out there who know the pain of infertility and loss. I know we have loved ones hoping and and despairing along side us. I know that the best ways to reduce my isolation are to stay connected with people who understand and with people who can accept me. But sometimes I still feel alone… alone in the bookstore; alone in my quiet home; alone in this fertile world without children; alone in my heartache, confusion, and disappointment; alone in my grief.

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Infertility is…

It was hard to first admit to myself that we were experiencing infertility… By the time I did, we’d already found out I wasn’t ovulating on my own, and as a result I’d been through three cycles of clomid. Even though I had already started fertility treatments, I didn’t consider myself “infertile” because we hadn’t been trying for a whole year yet. Sure, my first diagnosis and those first few treatments were hard, but I told myself that we were just delayed, that everything was going to be fine because they had found a correctable problem.

But when those treatments failed and we hit our year mark of trying, it was time to admit that we were struggling with infertility. At that time we took a few months off treatments to give my body a rest and to give ourselves a break, and I started researching infertility — some things about treatments, of course, but mostly I researched coping with infertility. Because with infertility (at least for me!) there’s a lot more to consider than just the physical problems preventing a healthy pregnancy… Admitting to myself that I was experiencing infertility meant that I was struggling with not only my body and its inability to conceive, but also all of the ways infertility impacted my well being.

The technical description of infertility might only include the failure to conceive or carry a baby to term in a 12 month period, but “infertility” means so much more than that to me. The one line definition I find in the dictionary doesn’t cut it for me. Infertility has wreaked havoc all over my life, and as the months go by, my experience with infertility has packed more and more meaning into the word “infertility”. It has become so compounded in my mind, it means so many things, that I’ve decided to write a series of posts on what my infertility is, what it is like, and what it feels like for me. My posts will by no means be a complete list of what infertility is, nor will they be representative of all infertility experiences; rather, my posts will be about my own experience with infertility. I’m just hoping to shed some light on what my infertility is to help my loved ones understand and to help others who are experiencing infertility feel understood.

So if infertility is more than the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term, what is it? What is my infertility like?

Infertility is living with constant disappointment and uncertainty, in a surreal world where I constantly can’t believe what’s happening to me. It is having to face my own anger and jealousy, and feeling isolated. Infertility is waiting. It is grieving. It is trying to remain hopeful despite months and months of heartache and disappointment. Infertility is being brave enough to face my reality, one day at a time, and decide what to do with this unexpected and unwanted direction.

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One day at a time

I wish I knew the secret to fixing a broken heart… But I don’t. Instead, I’m here with my heart shattered all over, trying to collect all of the pieces and put them back together; trying to make sense of this mess around me and the uncertainty of my future; trying to keep functioning, despite feeling broken, confused, and lost.

The embryo transfer after our IVF cycle did not result in a pregnancy. The grief resulting from this disappointment has been overwhelming, and I have had some really, really hard days since my negative pregnancy test last week. I knew going into IVF that I wasn’t guaranteed a pregnancy, but our odds were good and I was so hopeful… so ending up not pregnant has been a major blow.

IVF is such a huge undertaking. It’s an enormous and risky investment — emotionally and financially — and it’s very physically demanding. And standing on the other side of IVF, not pregnant, is… well… devastating.

In between episodes of intense grief, I feel numb. I go through the motions of my day, without real awareness or any enthusiasm I might normally have. I make jokes with my clients and try to smile… then I come home and stare at the wall. Friends offer to talk, and I decline. At this point in time, I simply have nothing to say and making small talk is unbearable. (Bear with me, loved ones; I won’t feel like this forever.) Matt does his best to accommodate me, asking what I need and how he can help. I’m so lost in my own grief, I rarely even think to ask how I might help him.

It’s almost easy to forget how hard bad days can be once they are over… I’ve had a lot of ups and downs during infertility (and in life…), and now that I’m having really, really hard days again I’m amazed that I’ve made it through days like this before. I look back at previous dark days and I wonder how the hell I got through them?

The only answer I can come up with is: one day at a time.

I don’t know the secret to getting through bad days. I don’t know the secret to fixing a broken heart. I don’t know the secret for surviving grief. But I know that all of these are experiences I must work through. There’s no detour for getting around this stuff. There are things I can do to help myself along the way… but in the end, the only way out of a hard experience is through it — one day at a time.

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Due Date

After shrieking with joy and sharing the news with Matt, one of the first things I did after finding out I was pregnant last summer was calculate the due date for our baby: February 6, 2017. This date has been imprinted on my heart from that day. And after months of waiting, it’s finally here.  

But our months of waiting didn’t unfold the way we expected. After finding out that my pregnancy was ectopic, the dreams of our future child were crushed and our hearts were shattered. Our months of waiting for a baby’s due date turned into months of grief, recovery, more fertility treatments, and waiting for another pregnancy.

Back in June when I first imagined February 6th, I pictured meeting my child today. But that’s not happening; I’m not holding our child in my arms, listening to her cry, or watching her open her eyes. I’m not going to be awake all night tending to her or memorizing her every feature while she sleeps.

Instead, today I’m reflecting on life, loss, and love. I’m grieving our loss and feeling the emptiness in my arms and my quiet home. Tonight we lit a candle in memory of our pregnancy, of a child we never had the chance to meet. I’m remembering the joy I felt and dreams I had when I was pregnant. And I’m feeling love. I feel my love for Matt and the love that urged us to want to become parents together. I feel my love for the child I carry in my heart instead of my arms, and love for a future child I hope to still bring into our family.

We begin the egg stimulation phase of IVF soon, and today (of all days) I had my final check-up and lab work before the injections begin. When I first saw the date for the appointment I was a little freaked out, but I’ve decided to take it as a sign of love and good luck that we were given the green light to proceed today, on my due date. We’re moving forward with love and science in the hope that soon we’ll have a new due date to look forward to, one that will turn into a birthdate of a living child.

Today we’re honoring our due date with memories of my pregnancy, hope for the future, and love for each other and our family — family who live among us and family who live in our hearts.

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Coping This Christmas

christmas2016Well. It’s officially that time of year — the “most wonderful” time of year. Christmas.

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I’ve always loved it. It is such a special time for families — being together, sharing meals and gifts. Baking cookies. Watching Christmas movies. Making snowmen. Driving around looking at lights. Going to the candlelight Christmas Eve service and singing carols. Drinking hot chocolate and playing games. It’s such a happy time of year.

At least for most people.

Not for me this year. Or last year. Or the year before. Christmas has become a sad time for us because it emphasizes family and traditions, and it marks another year gone without having children. Matt and I want so badly to have our own family to share traditions with, to make new memories with, and instead of being a joyous time, Christmas reminds us of what we are missing. Our hearts have been ready for children for years now, but instead of growing our family, our heartbreak grows. With each passing year of involuntary childlessness, the holiday season becomes more difficult.

The past two years I tried hard to stay joyful at Christmas, despite heartache. In 2014 and 2015 my family suffered some significant losses, and those in combination with our infertility made my holidays hard. But I pulled myself together and did my best to celebrate. I decorated my house, sent cards, and made cookies. We hosted parties, and visited with friends and family. I did my best to be happy, even though I was feeling more and more broken as the days passed.

Now for a third year I am still struggling with infertility. I have no baby to introduce to my family and no happy announcement to share. Instead, I have a pregnancy loss added to my list of losses, and I have the hard job of accepting that again my life is not where I’d hoped it would be a year ago.

I think back to a conversation I had in early June with my mom about how I’d be close enough to my due date by Christmas that I shouldn’t be traveling… But as it turns out I’m not lucky enough to still be pregnant, and we’re not staying here for the holidays. Instead of welcoming a baby into our home soon, we’re preparing for IVF. This month we’re having procedures done, having blood drawn and genetics tested, and waiting for financial estimates. And in the meantime, I’ve been searching for the right ornament to add to my collection to memorialize our lost baby. No surprise, there’s no good ornament for “lost baby 2016”.

So I’m having a hard time with Christmas this year, and I’ve decided that to make it more bearable, I’m going to make some changes. To start, I’m not going to pretend this year. Because things aren’t great right now for me. I’m not happy and there’s no point pretending otherwise. I’m distraught at what 2016 brought us and I’m so disappointed to be facing yet another holiday season feeling broken and lost. So instead of going through the motions of things we usually do and pretending that things are ok, I’m going to focus on what brings us joy. I’m trying to leave myself open to whatever strikes me as fun or meaningful. I’m not interested in doing things that we feel like we should do just because we’ve always done them or because someone expects it. I want to do what I can to find some happiness for us. For example, Matt and I have planned dates for the month to make sure that at least twice a week we’re doing something fun together. In addition to those planned dates, I’m going to make sure we watch the best of our favorite Christmas movies. And I’m only going to send out Christmas cards if I think it would make me happy. I’m only going to put out Christmas decorations that really bring me joy in that moment. I’m only going to put up a tree if I feel it would bring me more joy than pain…

image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/148689225171132468/
image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/148689225171132468/

In addition to focusing on activities that bring me joy, as I said in my fall post, I’m going to make sure I continue to practice self care. I have been doing that as best I can and I will keep it up. I’ve been outside walking and hiking, and going to the gym. I’ve treated myself to massages and manicures. I’ve been reading and writing. I’ve been saying “no” to social events when I need to,  and saying “yes” when I want to. I practice gratitude to find something good in everyday. I’m doing what I can to take care of myself — mind, body, and spirit.

And I’m going to make sure I give myself space to feel sad. Because not all things are going to bring me joy, and some Christmas traditions now make me really sad. I’m not going to pretend that I’m ok, because I’m not — I’m hurting. I will need to take time to check in with myself and give myself breaks and quiet time. I ask in advance that my family accept that I’m in a sad place. Holidays during infertility and after loss are painful, and I’m carrying a lot of pain right now. You don’t have to feel sad too, but please respect where I am with my grief.

Another thing we’re doing this year is rewarding ourselves — after visiting our families we’re going to take a trip with some friends to a city we’ve never visited and ring in the new year with them. We will see the sights, eat good food, and we will toast to our survival of this miserable year and hope together that 2017 will be better.

After writing all of these things down it seems like maybe I’m being a little bit selfish this Christmas season, but I really don’t think I am…. Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s necessary. And besides, if we can’t care for ourselves or show love to ourselves, then how can we possibly care for or love others? If our vessel is empty, how do we expect to pour from it? I believe that by focusing on myself and Matt, we will better be able to survive this tough time; that we will be able to create some joy together, share some happiness with others, and find more things for which to be grateful.

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There Are No Quick Fixes for Infertility

no_quick_fixesSo many times when someone we love is upset, we try to make them feel better. We don’t like it when someone is hurting or sad, and we try to fix it. So we might suggest ways for them to look on the bright side, or give them tips on what we have done in that situation to make things better. I think we all do this at times, myself included. And I think for the most part that this is ok. It seems natural to want to help and many times we are very capable of helping a loved one feel better about something or working with them to solve a problem.

However, there are some situations where there isn’t a way to fix the situation, where there isn’t a way to make someone feel better. Infertility and loss are two of these situations… there are no quick fixes that will heal my broken heart or resolve my infertility.

But even though Matt and I know that there are no quick fixes for infertility, it feels as though the rest of the (fertile) world doesn’t really realize this. The practice of “fixing” seems to be so ingrained in our culture that people with good intentions try to fix us even though they know so little about infertility. Many of the quick fixes we hear over and over are actually much more complicated than they seem on the surface. Suggestions, advice, and minimizations roll off tongues without a second thought as to their actual meanings or implications.

Our culture also doesn’t handle grief or other uncomfortable feelings well, so when a “fix” is suggested, I feel like the person is trying to get me to move on and *just* be happy again. It feels like they don’t understand my experience or think of my emotions as valid. But infertility and pregnancy losses are serious and painful, and it takes time to work through and heal from these situations.

Even though I know that most “quick fixes” come from a place of love (while others come from a place of discomfort…), they are problematic. They are unintentionally hurtful. And it would be easier to walk my path if I didn’t have to shield myself from quick fixes all the time, regardless of how well intentioned they were. So in this post I’m hoping to shed some light on some common quick fixes and suggest what might be a better thing to say instead.

“Just relax”

This quick fix is probably the most common one I’ve heard during infertility. It’s also one of the most frustrating ones because it’s so wrong — stress doesn’t cause infertility and relaxing doesn’t cause conception. Infertility and pregnancy loss are medical conditions and they cannot be cured by relaxation. If that were the case, all we would need is a day at the spa and a cup of tea instead of medications, surgeries, and other procedures… Trust me, I’d very much rather go to the spa instead of the doctor’s office, the lab, the pharmacy, and the surgery center, but the fact is that relaxing will not bring me a baby.

When I am told that I *just need to relax*, I like to point out that I *was* relaxed until I failed to get pregnant after months of trying; I was relaxed until my doctor confirmed there was a problem. That’s when I started feeling stressed about conceiving.

For my own mental health I do things to stay calm and relaxed, but *being relaxed* is not going to cure my infertility. We have medical problems that are preventing our conception and if we want to have good odds of conception we’re going to have to treat them. Some people who have experienced infertility do surprisingly conceive after years of trying, but it’s not because they relaxed; it’s because over time, the unlikely event of conception managed to take place.  

Additionally, being told that I *just need to relax* makes me feel like I have done something wrong. Believe me, I second guess my every move every month after I fail to conceive, and I won’t even get into how much guilt I feel over my ectopic pregnancy. But I know deep down that I have not caused my infertility and I did not cause my ectopic pregnancy. But when I’m told that I just need to relax, it incorrectly places the blame on me, and that’s not ok. This is not my fault.

Instead of saying, “Just relax”, I suggest asking how you can help. Assuming relaxation is the only thing I need isn’t ok — it’s better to ask to find out what I need. Sometimes I do need to relax for my own mental health, and sometimes that relaxation is better with a friend by my side; but other times I need to rant or cry, or go on a walk, etc. There are lots of things I need to do to care for myself and treat our medical problem during this time, but *just relaxing* isn’t going to fix this.

For more thoughts on the quick fix “just relax”, please visit this post.

“You can always do IVF”

This is another quick fix I’ve heard over and over, and although I know IVF gives many couples their best chance for success, IVF is not an option for everyone and it is so much more complicated and intense than most people realize — IVF is not a quick or easy fix. I also want to note that the people who have told me, “you can always do IVF” did not go through IVF treatment themselves; rather, they conceived easily and naturally; some even conceived accidentally.

Don’t get me wrong here — IVF is a wonderful opportunity for a chance at conception and pregnancy for some people, and Matt and I are currently preparing for IVF treatment. And I am thankful that we have this option. However, it has taken us a lot of time and consideration to get to the point of being ready for IVF. Coming to the conclusion that IVF should be our next step was a hard one. It was not a quick or easy decision for us to make and we’re still in the process of coming to terms with it.

What most people don’t realize about IVF is that it’s very intense. It’s extremely physically demanding and risky. It’s emotional. It’s expensive. And really I can’t even say too much about it because I have yet to experience it myself… but I do have the medication and appointment calendar in my hand, as well as the preparation check list, and financial estimate; and what I’ll say is this: IVF is intense. So for anyone to suggest that it’s an easy fix for infertility means that they really have no clue what IVF entails.

Additionally, IVF is not always such a miracle. It is not 100% successful — not everyone who undergoes IVF treatment will deliver a baby. And not everyone experiencing infertility is able to undergo IVF treatment — different medical conditions or financial restrictions can prohibit some people from undergoing IVF. IVF is not a quick fix for infertility.

Instead of saying, “You can always do IVF”, it might be better to ask what treatment options the doctor is offering at this point and what we might consider. I had people pushing me into IVF way before (months and months) the words crossed the lips of my doctor, and it was so upsetting to me. And when my doctor did suggest IVF it wasn’t, “You can always do IVF now that everything else has failed you.” No. It was nothing like that. Instead, he asked, “Would you be open to considering IVF as the next step?” His gentle approach was unassuming and respectful, and it would be nice if everyone could speak to us in a similar way.

Note: For those wanting to learn more about IVF, check out this clinical overview of IVF and this post on 10 things about IVF from someone who has experienced it.

“Just adopt”

This quick fix implies that adoption is an easy, painless, risk free process that will end and cure my infertility. It’s not. Adoption only cures childlessness, not infertility. That said, adoption can a wonderful family building option, but like any major decision during infertility, it is not easy or quick. Adoption takes time, it can be very expensive, and it is risky — it may not be physically risky, but it’s emotionally and financially risky. There are no guarantees with adoption, and I know several couples who had their hearts broken during the adoption process before a successful adoption went through.

“Just adopt” also has a partner that I’ve heard: “Just adopt and you’ll get pregnant.” This quick fix is a huge disservice to adoption and adopted children. It implies that adoption only serves as a way to achieve pregnancy, and this is terrible. Someone adopting a child is doing so in order to build their family, not in order to later achieve pregnancy. Sure, a small number of people do later conceive, but just like “relaxing”, adoption is not a cure.  

“Just adopt” also assumes that everyone experiencing infertility wants to, or should, adopt children; but not everyone wants to adopt — and that’s ok. Another frustrating thing about “just adopt” is that, like “you can always do IVF”, the people suggesting this to me have not adopted; they have biological children. And what I’d like to point out here, is that adoption isn’t an option only for infertile people — fertile people can adopt too.

I’d also like to note that when I’m told to “just adopt” I get frustrated because it’s not like this is a new idea or something — I’m well aware of adoption already. I have friends and family who are adopted, and who have adopted. Adoption can be wonderful. But it’s not a quick fix for infertility. So if you feel that adoption is something I should be considering, rest assured knowing that I already know it’s an option for family building and that Matt and I are carefully weighing all of our options at every step.

“At least…”

Pretty much anything that begins with “at least” is a quick fix for my sadness or disappointment that leaves me feeling like my pain has been ignored or minimized. I’ve heard all varieties of “at least…” but here are a few examples:

“At least you can sleep through the night without kids waking you up.”
“At least you can leave the house or leave town when you want.”
“At least you have a great marriage.”
“At least you can afford treatment.”
“At least you got pregnant.”

I’m not going to break these down one by one, because it’s not worth it. I know and understand that when someone tells me one of these things they are intending to help me find the silver lining. They are trying to bring me out of my sadness to be happy again. But it’s not that easy. I can’t *just* forget about what I’m going through. I need to sit with my emotions and work through them.

When I hear “at least…” I feel like my pain is being minimized. Like the person doesn’t think my pain is real, or like I’m overreacting. Sometimes it makes me doubt my own emotions, and other times it makes me feel like the person *just doesn’t understand me*. And I hate feeling like that, because I’m not a teenager; I’m an adult who’s experiencing heartbreak, and my emotions are valid and they are real, and it’s not okay for my experience to be minimized.

When I hear “at least…” it also makes me feel like the person thinks I’m ungrateful for the good things in my life. But I’m not — I’m very grateful for the good things happening in my life. I practice gratitude. I say thank you and I write thank you notes. But doing those things doesn’t cure my broken heart, and they don’t fix my infertility. They are good for my mental health and my perspective on life, but they aren’t a cure-all.

It’s okay to occasionally remind me that there’s light in my life, but there’s a difference between reminding me of happiness and hope, and minimizing my pain. Anything that begins with “at least” sets me up for feeling minimized, so I suggest avoiding that phrase entirely. A better way to remind me of the good things in my life could me to ask me about them and let me find the light… but if you do this, please also follow my lead — if I’m not receptive, let it go for the time being; sometimes I need be with my grief.

“Don’t worry, the sun will come out tomorrow.”

This and other such promises for the future are quick fixes that do not give me as much hope the speaker intended. Promises such as, “You’ll end up with kids, don’t worry” or, “This is going to work! I can feel it!” or, “Everything will work out” end up making me feel like my pain and fear are being minimized.

Infertility causes lots of fear about the future. No one knows what the future holds for me in regards to parenthood. The end result with infertility is completely out of our hands — no one can fix my situation. Not me. Not Matt. Not my loved ones. Not even my doctor. We are working with our medical team closely to select treatments that will give us our best chance for success, but there are no guarantees.

So when someone tells me that I’m going to be okay or that they *just* know it’s going to work out, it’s frustrating because no one can promise me that, and it dismisses my very real fear and pain about my situation. At the end of the day, *all* of our futures are unknown, so it’s not okay to pretend that we know how someone else’s story is going to turn out. It’s better to sit with someone in their moments of pain, and acknowledge that right now things aren’t okay.

Healing is a process that takes time

I know that many of these quick fixes are said with love and with the intention of making me feel better, giving me hope, or reassuring me… and while on the surface they may seem like they should do just that, they don’t. Quick fixes dismiss fears and minimize pain. Quick fixes sometimes assume things that may not be correct, they might pass judgement, or place blame. And overall, quick fixes for infertility do not exist — there is absolutely no quick fix out there for my infertility and loss. The birth of my own living child, or adoption may end up curing my childlessness, but the wounds caused by my infertility and loss will remain. Healing these wounds will take place over time, probably for the rest of my life. Healing will require acceptance, reflection, great love, understanding, and support. But it will not be quick or easy, and it would be wonderful if people would understand this and be willing to sit with me while I grieve and try to heal.

NotePlease also see my support post, which is closely related to this one.

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Sitting With Grief

sitting_with_griefSometimes 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.”

Wow.

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.

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