This is Jean’s (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) third round of IVF, and she and her husband are financially strained. They are under a tremendous amount of stress—physically, emotionally, and financially.
This week, Jean was in a rage. As one of her close friends whom she has shared her fertility challenges story with had just announced on social media that she was expecting. Jean started crying. She was enraged that this friend was being insensitive to her feelings by announcing that she was expecting when Jean was struggling on the road of fertility.
Jean unfriended this friend on social media so that she didn’t have to see any news that upsets her again. The truth is, many things can trigger Jean’s feelings—the sight of other children playing in the mall, the invitation to her friend’s birthday party, pictures of a family on social media, and many more.
Struggling with infertility brings about complicated feelings. You are on a constant emotional roller-coaster ride. In fact, before you could see a doctor for diagnosis, you have to have been trying a year (or 6 months if the woman is over 35 years old) and fail to conceive. In this period of time, you had your hopes up every month, only to be met with disappointment each time. Furthermore, you might have experienced miscarriages within that period. These are such painful experiences.
Blaming themselves for the infertility
Women blame themselves for infertility most of the time. Research suggests that it is because women are the ones carrying the baby, they feel that they are in charge of its care. However, even doctors do not have the answers most of the time. Her inner critique searched high and low for everything possible to blame herself for not being able to conceive a baby, from having had too much of certain food (as others told her that women who are trying to get pregnant should avoid certain food group—which isn’t backed by sicence ) to an abortion that happened when she was in university when she was not ready or prepared to be a mother. Jean blamed herself, and thought maybe this was her punishment for having the abortion then.
The losses that couples experience greatly affects their emotional health. In fact, it is a trauma to the mind, body, and soul. It shatters one core beliefs and assumptions about life. The idea of a family they once had or didn’t even know that they had, shattered.
These are difficult topics that we seldom talk about, and couples who suffer infertility often suffer alone and are in great pain. I’m not suggesting that people should announce to the world about their struggles, but keeping it under wraps can bring harmful effects to your emotional health and even put a strain on the couple’s relationship.
Why do couples choose to suffer in silence?
One of the reasons that couples suffer in silence is probably because others simply can’t understand what they are going through. They can’t comprehend how real the loss was to you. They don’t see how real the baby was to you, how attached you were to the baby that had yet to be born. When you do try to share your pain, someone interjects, saying that it’s not as bad as… This is ‘disenchanted grief’— “Trying to prove that any loss is of fewer importance discounts the emotional pain of the griever who has been dealing with that particular grief generating event.”(1)
Couples who lose a baby early in the pregnancy stage receive little attention. Even in the medical industry, the baby that was lost through miscarriage is called ‘product of conception’ and not a baby(2). The lack of recognition from professionals may have led to the lack of emotional support from your friends and family. Through no fault of their own, friends and family may even make hurtful remarks unintentionally as they do not know what to say in order to comfort your pain. They may say things like ‘the couples are lucky that they didn’t lose the baby after it was born since they are not as attached to the baby yet.’
But for the couples, they have formed a strong bond with the unborn baby ever since they knew they were pregnant. Losing a baby before or after it’s born is both devastating.
In fact, the loss of the idea of a baby is just as devastating. Couples who have been trying to conceive but were faced with disappointment months after months. What you lose is the idea of a would-be baby, the idea of the formation of a family. They are just as devastating. Perhaps in a different way, but that doesn’t discount its devastation. Do not let others tell you how you should or should not feel. You have every right to feel the way you do.
What can you do?
Give yourself time and space
Take time to acknowledge and recognise the feelings that you have. It is a much bigger deal than what we, the society, have painted thus far. You suffered a loss or multiple losses. You may be feeling angry, guilty, lonely, or unmotivated. Talk to someone who can be supportive. Or tell them what you need from them, such as you don’t need them to give you any advice, they just need to lend an ear and be supportive, or you just need to be held and cry for a while.
Search for a support group that shares a similar experience with you. They can offer support that your friends and family can’t. Meeting others who share similar challenges makes you feel less lonely on this challenging journey. They may even provide insights as to how they have been coping on this journey.
Speaking to a therapist/counsellor helps to sort your emotions, and together we search the underlying core beliefs that led to the feelings that you have. And we process those feelings together in a safe space without feeling judged.
As for Jean, over the next few months, we worked on processing her emotions and learning how to manage her inner critic, and then find ways to create new narratives for her fertility story as it evolves. Also recognize that her core beliefs about family, pregnancy, herself, couples, and the future are changing.
Feel free to contact me if you share a similar story to Jean’s and want to talk to someone about it.
Disclaimer: You are encouraged to use the content from this site to improve your mental health. However, this is not a substitute for professional help (be it medical and/or mental health care, treatment and/or diagnosis).