The Grief of Infertility
The road to have a child looks different for everyone. However for those that didn’t get pregnant in their first six to twelve months of trying, it can look more different than you ever imagined. As with any road trip, you need pit stops. There are so many times along the journey that you need to stop, collect yourself, grieve, and consciously move into the next phase of trying to conceive.
When I was younger my family and I would take a five hour road trip to see my grandparents a few times a year. My father, like a lot of fathers I think, always wanted to “make good time.” That meant taking as few rest stops as possible. Inevitably I always needed to stop, but I was too afraid to request the stop, often until it was too late. It turned out that cleaning a wet car seat and changing clothes took A LOT longer than just pulling over when I had to go to the bathroom in the first place. All in a desperate effort to “make good time,” but at what cost?
People usually begin trying to conceive with a sense of levity and excitement. In the first few attempts you may even still be trying to get used to the idea that it could happen at any time. But once you realize you’re on an entirely different kind of journey, it’s important to take your time. This means acknowledging the various types of grief you’re experiencing along the way.
Infertility is not just one type of grief. If you want to be a parent, you will become a parent, but it may come about in a way you hadn’t expected at first. First there is the grief that you haven’t been able to get pregnant on your own after six to twelve months of trying. Acknowledging that you are “different” in some way, having to go to a specialist. You and your partner undergo testing and may find out about physical abnormalities keeping you from getting pregnant. There is grief in pinpointing a partner who has the abnormality, and there is grief in not being able to identify a reason for your infertility. You may go through blaming yourself or your partner which is a process of grieving too. Through your specialist you try some “assisted reproductive technologies” (ART) such as IUI or IVF. At this time you may need to grieve parting with a significant amount of money to pay for these technologies, and begin to feel isolated because you don’t know anyone else who has had to “resort” to these measures. You must grieve the loss of “getting pregnant naturally” to confidently continue with ART. There maybe circumstances which require you to use donor sperm, donor eggs, a surrogate, or adopt. In this case you and your partner must grieve the loss of a 100% biological child if that is what you had originally desired. Once you begin any of these paths, know there are still more necessary pit stops ahead.
The path to parenthood is not one where we can prioritize “making good time.” We need to slow down, consciously attending to ourselves, our partners, and our emotions with each turn in the road. Learning to grieve is a life skill. Taking the time to be with yourself and your needs will give you the strength to keeping going, no matter what lies ahead.
Allison Ramsey is a licensed professional counselor specializing in helping people thrive through infertility. She’s a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and completed their certificate training in mental health counseling for infertility. Contact her and start feeling better.