Society has unspoken rules about the losses you are “allowed” to openly grieve, such as the death of a loved one, a breakup, even when the home team loses the big game. And then there are the losses that you grieve in private, silently devastated and unsure of the correct grieving etiquette. You wonder if you’re allowed to express your pain and sorrow to the world. You feel guarded and afraid that someone is going to try to help and inevitably make you feel worse. You question your right to grieve infertility because so many people can’t understand the deep, gut wrenching, sorrow that you feel.
The Right to Grief
Some people may not understand your struggle and those people will probably say or do things that hurt. I’m sorry that this has or will happen to you. People can be ignorant and cruel and there is often no cure for that. What you can do is be selective. Surround yourself with people who empathize with your struggle and/or have walked in your shoes. It is imperative that you and your spouse do not walk this journey alone. You will both need support and there will be times when it will be too difficult to be each other’s only support. For those times when you have to be around people who just don’t get it – put on your armor and prepare yourselves beforehand.
Despite what others may think, you are allowed to grieve your loss of fertility and you are allowed to do it in any way you need. While your experience of grief is unique and different from the more traditional experience of loss, the five stages of grief
still apply. Understanding these stages can help you and your spouse gain insight and acceptance as you mourn the loss of a child that will never be, the loss of sex as a spontaneous and bonding experience, the loss of genuinely celebrating new pregnancies and kid’s birthdays, and the list goes on and on.
As you work through your feelings of grief remember to keep moving forward through the five stages. You have the right to be angry or sad, feel those feelings, just don’t get stuck in that stage.
Stages of Grief Through the Words of Hurting Couples
- “There must be a mistake, of course I’m able to have children.”
- “There must be something wrong with this test.”
- “We just miscalculated our timing this month, and last month, it will work for sure next month”
- “Why is everyone pregnant but us and why is it so easy for them?”
- “The doctors need to get their crap together and figure this out.”
- “Why aren’t you doing your part, this is your fault.”
- “I will do anything to have a baby, just name it.”
- “Please God, help me and I will go to church every week for the rest of my life.”
- “If we start to explore adoption, it should trigger our bodies to make a baby.”
- “Why should I get out of bed? Without a baby there is no point.”
- “I’m nothing if not a parent, it’s not fair.”
- “I feel alone and broken.”
- “I don’t know what it is, but God has a plan.”
- “There are other ways to become a parent and other children that need a safe home.”
- “We will be ok without a child. We will have more freedom to travel.”
Grief in general is not a linear path through these stages and grieving infertility is even more circular. Expect that you will cycle through these stages throughout the process and that they will intensify with every compounding unsuccessful cycle of infertility treatments. Don’t be embarrassed by your pain, share your feelings. The feelings associated with infertility are like being on a hope and grief roller coaster where the highs are so high and the lows are earth shattering.
How to Cope and Grow
Having an understanding of the stages of grief will hopefully normalize your experience, letting you and your spouse know you are not alone. There are many outlets for grief that can bring peace and comfort. Below are a few suggestions for you to make your own. This is your grief experience and you get to choose how to cope.
- Journal and Letter Writing: Writing your experiences, thoughts, and feelings can be incredibly cathartic. It can be helpful to write a letter to the child you didn’t get to meet or the one you are still hoping to meet.
- Drawing/Painting: Drawing and painting are alternatives to writing and provide a similar benefit of a cathartic release of thoughts and feelings.
- Gardening: Nurturing a garden can provide a place for that intense need to nurture, while memorializing your experience of loss in the same way a tombstone or urn would.
- Counseling: Seeking professional help through your grief can add direction and a specific skill set to your grieving experience.
- Support Groups: Support groups are an excellent source of emotional support as everyone in the group is going through a similar experience and can offer wisdom and true understanding.
Again, it is important to cope with grief in a way that you choose, and while the grief experience involves you and your partner, what works for you may not work for your partner. Do not judge your partner’s coping styles and don’t pressure your partner to cope in the same way you do. Offer support, love, and grace to your partner and keep the lines of communication open. The best thing you can do for your marriage during this trying time is openly communicate what you are experiencing through every step of the infertility process – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
About the Author
Amber Groves is a marriage and family counselor and infertility specialist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. She helps couples, families and children to have the calm and peaceful life they want in their relationship and family. In her spare time, she is the mother of one busy toddler and a sweet little baby.