Infertility is an emotional roller coaster. One minute you are completely content shopping for your tomato sauce and the next thing you know your heart is left on isle five with the pregnant women who passed by. One day you feel lucky to enjoy a good movie with your husband and the next day you cannot escape the jaws of pinks, blues, babies, and mothers. Yes, you truly are happy for your friend who got pregnant on her first try but at the same time you want to scream (maybe even rip a pillow open or break something expensive your mother gave you).
For the first time in your life you are scared you are losing a part of yourself, the part you always thought you would have available to you when you were ready. I am guessing many readers took all the proper measures to avoid getting pregnant until both spouses were economically and emotionally ready (there should be some type of reward for that right?).
The psychological struggles with infertility are all the more complicated when you think back to a time long before you started trying to have kids. During the raging hormones of “my parents are soo not cool” teenage years, girls receive signals from society to be sexy yet modest, alluring yet pure, and intelligent yet reserved all at the same time. No wonder thousands of women struggle with the transition from abstinence or birth control to baby making. Your mind and body are doing a complete 180 degree shift from sex is bad to sex is good and I will do x not to get pregnant to I have read every book on how to get pregnant!
It also doesn’t help that the majority of us get what we want when we want it. We live in a society that constantly tells us if we try hard enough, work hard enough, dig deep enough, we will be rewarded. This fast pace, fast purchase, and fast results lifestyle invites a false sense of security when the reality is the average couple takes half a year or more to get pregnant. Don’t forget to cake on a few extra months or years if you have complications.
The pain is so complex because many of us want to build something greater than ourselves. I have always told my husband, even before we ever started trying to have kids, that I wanted to one day see my children’s children grow up. This longing is not a result of cultural exposures or personal experiences. I believe this desire to be fruitful and multiply and create something bigger than myself is beyond my ability to explain. It’s divine. And that makes the emptiness that much greater, the lost months that much harder, the unknown that much scarier.
Infertility is hard, really freaking hard. Harvard Medical School released a letter in 2009 stating, “Women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or recovering from a heart attack.” The Massachusetts General Hospital Center states, “Anxiety has also been shown to be significantly higher in infertile couples when compared to the general population, with 8%-28% of infertile couples reporting clinically significant anxiety.” I think it is clear infertility can take a toll on any woman and the relationships she has. So what do you do when everyone’s pregnant but you?
TALK TO SOMEONE
I am no therapist or psychologist but I will be the first to admit I visited a Lay Counselor at my church for support. It was so helpful to share with a stranger how painful it was to lose two pregnancies, how angry it made me feel when other women easily got pregnant, how scary it was to wonder if my cancer would affect my ability to have kids, and how lonely I felt when my husband didn’t understand. The support and information I received helped me find peace in my situation. I noticed a significant difference in my ability to handle unexpected baby talk with friends, a deeper joy for others who were expecting, and a stronger connection with my husband.
NURTURE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR HUSBAND
The challenges I faced this past year taught me to be a better communicator with my husband. If I need a hug my husband cannot read my mind and it’s ok to ask him for one. If I want him to say he understands me I ask him before I start sharing my thoughts to simply listen and not solve my problem (men love to solve problems). I will never forget the New York trip my husband took me on for our four-year anniversary. It was two months after our first miscarriage and I was struggling to feel like myself again. He planned ice skating, shopping, and Broadway shows to keep us busy the entire weekend. Getting out of D.C. to spend time enjoying each other was the best remedy to get us back on track. It reminded me we have always been a team and we are in this together.
Some of you may not have the luxury of taking a weekend trip. Infertility treatments can drain your bank account and leave you feeling even more stressed about your situation. Remember that you don’t need a fancy dinner, a fancy theatre, or a ticket out-of-town to nurture your relationship. Be creative and find something local (and free). Spend a morning at the farmers market or pack a lunch and bring the dog to the park for an afternoon.
FIND AN OUTLET THAT HELPS YOU HEAL
One thing that helped me heal was music. To start my day on the right foot I created a list of songs I would listen to on my car ride to work. Yes, sometimes the songs made me cry but it was better than letting anger or bitterness get the best of me. Of all the songs that helped me in the mornings Oceans, by Hillsong United, was my favorite:
Another outlet that helped me heal was reading. When I found a story that touched my heart it made my day easier. In 1 Samuel Hannah pours out her heart to God after years of infertility. Even a woman from ancient Israel who lived 1100 years before Christ could understand what so many women go through today. Another resource I found was a TED talk. When I was in graduate school I would listen to a variety of short lectures just to learn something new or have extra material for class. To my surprise I found a TED talk I think many women can relate to:
GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
I don’t know about you but I can be my own worst critic sometimes. I can’t help but make checklists and goals in order to get the most out of my day. But when complications arise it can be hard to have the same energy level or drive. Don’t be discouraged when the house gets dirty and your checklist is far from complete. Take a break and be honest with yourself. If you’re invited to an event that will put you in a difficult situation (pregnant women will be giggling about their stories) don’t feel obligated to go. If you need solitude it’s ok to take that walk and leave the dishes in the sink.
All seasons of life have a purpose and even the darkest times can produce beautiful things. Don’t forget there is a community of women out there cheering for you, praying for you, and encouraging you all along the way. Stay strong.