Coronavirus and Infertility: A Ritual for Grieving Your Cancelled IVF Cycle
There is already so much grief in the struggle of infertility. It takes so much for a couple to get to the place where they decide they're ready for in vitro fertilization (IVF). In my experience counseling women with infertility, they are usually already struggling with trying to conceive for at least a year before going the IVF route. It's long, painful, expensive, and not guaranteed. Many women endure multiple egg retrievals and embryo transfers, and there are so many chances along the way for the process to fail.
As of March 17, 2020 the American Society of Reproductive Medicine recommends the suspension of all non-urgent treatment. You may have a different opinion of what "urgent" means, but for now, no infertility treatments for anyone. This is such a punch in the gut for if you've been saving the money, making the decisions, taking the medicine, enduring hope and failure, psyching themselves up to take on this endeavor, and to have it taken from you.
There is a lot of information about how to spend this time in quarantine, and isolation. You will get to the long walks, online yoga, and book reading. But first, you must mourn your loss.
The act of mourning is to turn the feelings of grief into action. The pain is difficult to bear, in fact the word suffering comes from the latin word fere which means to carry (like a ferry boat carries people) "to carry underneath". That pain is also energy, and it needs to go somewhere. There are any number of actions that can feel validating for your pain, and as a place for your pain to go. Below I will give you a rough outline of a ritual you can do to help turn your grief into action.
Rituals are made of up words, symbols, gestures, repeated actions and whole-hearted participation. Your ritual is something you must spend a little time preparing for, in fact the preparation is a part of the benefit of the ritual itself.
1. Search for poems or quotes that people have written that helps you express what you're feeling. One of my favorite sites for poetry is poetryfoundation.org. The process of reading the poems, searching for something that matches your emotion is helpful too. You can google quotes on loss, disappointment, cancellation, frustration and see what comes up for you. If you have any special books at home with guidance about loss or grief, open it randomly and see what you find. One of my favorites is When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron.
2. Spend some time writing a letter to yourself, to your failed or cancelled cycle, to the baby you didn't get to meet this time around. While you're writing you can also write a permission slip to yourself to feel this pain, to mourn.
3. Think of something in nature that helps you feel connected to this pain or frustration. This will be your symbol. It could be a rock, a crow, a ladybug, a weed. Draw a picture of it, or if it's inanimate, find one for your ritual.
4. Find a token from your cycle or attempted cycle. It could be anything that reminds you of your plans. It could even be the business card from your reproductive endocrinologist's office. It shouldn't be a super meaningful item, because you're going to bury it.
5. Find at least one candle for your ritual.
6. Check the weather and find a day where it will be pleasant to be outside. You could also choose a day that corresponds to the new moon, a full moon, sunrise, or sunset.
Performing the Ritual (you are free to change the order of this ritual as it best meets your needs).
1. Go for a walk. It could be to a particular natural setting you love, or just around the block. Bring with you the symbol from your cycle. Look for the symbol as you walk, in order to find connection outside of yourself. Also bring the token from the cycle. It allows you to physically carry your suffering. Walk slowly.
2. Upon your return, read the poem or quote you found out loud. Read the letter your wrote out loud.
3. Find an inconspicuous place to bury the token from your cycle. You may also bury the letter if you like.
4. When you feel ready to go inside, light your candle. This is a way to let it be known that your desire for a child has not stopped. Your fire will continue to burn. You are saying you're willing to wait (note - willingness is different than wanting to wait, it's choosing to wait without the struggle).
We mourn to let what is meaningful take up the space that it deserves, without trying to push it away. Your sadness, disappointment, and loss is important. When you can truly attend to it, there will then be room for the self-care that needs to follow, in order to prepare to you take on what is next.
Allison Ramsey is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and fertility counseling specialist in the Asheville area. She’s a member of Resolve, The Infertility Association and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.Contact her to start feeling better.