The psychological, biological, social and cultural expectations to have children are quite strong in most people and, for many it is a question of “when” and “how many” rather than “whether”. When faced with the painful reality that they may not be able to conceive, it is a crisis of paramount proportions and most people feel devastated. I often talk with people who are bewildered by the intensity of their feelings.
I find it helpful to frame infertility as a continuous experience woven of medical, psychological and social threads as a way of better understanding all the intense feelings and cultivate a greater compassion towards one’s intense mental experience.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would be infertile. The question around children had always been “when” not “if”. So when I discovered I was infertile, I felt damaged. Why can’t I accomplish something as “natural” as conceiving a baby? Suddenly my self-worth was shaken. I felt defective and a failure. My career accomplishments faded, it felt fake and non-important. -Sarah
Infertility is often an unfolding process, initially presenting itself as only a threat and gradually transformed into a multi-dimensional loss: loss of control over one’s body, loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, loss of previously experienced safety, loss of certain status, loss of dreams and hopes of having a child. Not far from the surface, there is also a loss of security about the fairness and predictability of life, in general. No wonder that many experience infertility as an overwhelming “tsunami”.
My infertility is a blow to my self-esteem, a violation of my privacy, an assault on my sexuality, a final exam on my ability to cope, an affront to me sense of justice, a painful reminder that nothing can be taken for granted. It is above all, a wound to my body, to my psyche, to my soul. -Anonymous via internet chat
For most people I’ve worked with, there seems to be no single aspect of their lives that is left untouched by the fertility challenges and subsequent treatment.
My life is on hold. Making decisions about my immediate and long-term future seems to be impossible. I can’t decide about my education, career, pursuing a hobby, getting a pet, vacations, business trips. The struggle has no timetable. The treatment has no guarantees. Infertility ultimately makes me feel like I have no say about my future. I feel so out of control! -Jane
The well-meaning physicians and medical interventions could be experienced as a third party in the couple’s bed. Couples often feel they lost control over their privacy and sexuality.
My life-plan is suddenly is behind schedule. I wait for medical appointments, wait for tests, wait for treatments, wait for other treatments, wait for my period to come and hoping it would not. It feels so out of control. My life revolves around tests, medications, and scheduled sex… I hoped it would be a minor difficulty with a simple solution. It’s not.”- Sharon
Over time, after some setbacks and more disappointments infertility also brings with it waves of anger that could be overwhelming and its intensity foreign. There is anger at all that is suddenly so “unknown”:
My infertility makes me feel angry. Everything makes me angry. I’m angry at my body for it betrayed me though I’ve always taken care of it. I’m angry at my husband because we don’t seem to feel quite the same about it. I’m angry because everybody around me seems to be pregnant and happy. I’m angry with my medical professionals who seem to have the controls and I don’t. I’m angry with myself for being so angry and yet I can’t help it. -Rose
As humans beings, we do not do well with feeling vulnerable, exposed, being out of control or unable to have a say on what matters most to us. Feeling different or “not-where-I’m-suppose-to be” are all ingredients that exacerbate our anxieties and can overwhelm our built-in capacities to cope with anxiety. Facing fertility challenges is a perfect storm that brings all of these mental ingredients and typically significantly raises one’s levels of anxiety.
Infertility is full of unknowns, and I’m frightened because I need some definite answers. How long will this last? What if I’m never a parent? Why can’t my body do the things that my mind wants to do? What else can go wrong? It’s all so unpredictable and I am anxious about my future. -Julie
Where there is a discrepancy between our desire and expectations and reality, we all are prone to feelings of loss, sadness, confusion and anger. It can be difficult to bear some feelings but bottling them up is quite painful as well. Grieving infertility is a very private and often lonely experience. Each grieving person feels deeply that which was lost and the unique meaning of that loss. It is important we allow for these feelings without prejudging them though the natural inclination is often to deny, minimize and attempt to brush them away. It is through sharing and expressing your feelings and finding meaning in your experiences that helps with the healing, regaining hope and thinking about your next step.