Infertility can be one of the most painful experiences a woman and/or a couple experience. Anger, sadness, and resentment towards others who have achieved pregnancy is a common emotion. Kim goes into detail about how you can manage your emotions and the additional help that exists should those emotions become too much.
Staying Sane in the Face of Infertility
By: Kim Openo, LAPC, NCC
In a recent Washington Post column a woman having trouble with conception finds herself jealous of a friend’s pregnancy announcement. The advice given in the column sounds simple, but is there a tried and true way to stay positive in the face of infertility? The simple answer is “no”. However, there are many ways to stay sane in this life crisis. By acknowledging and processing the emotions and developing coping skills while also getting adequate help you can keep the rest of your life from getting swallowed by the abyss of infertility.
First of all, it is possible to have intense sadness for yourself while being truly happy for a pregnant friend. These two emotions can exist together but be extremely confusing. After congratulations are given, in a non-public arena be honest with your friend about your torn feelings. If you just start avoiding or isolating yourself with no explanation, your friendship is sure to suffer. Simple and private is best, such as “While I am really happy for you and your family, I am sad for myself for not having conceived.” Then let the conversation go from there while emphasizing that you ARE truly happy for her pregnancy, but it is hard not to feel your own sense of loss. Explaining that taking care of yourself in the face of grief will be helpful for both you and your friendship so there is not a sadness overshadowing her joyous occasion.
Next, having coping skills is necessary for avoiding being blind-sided by pregnancy announcements. A smile with a short cordial response is often best and make a quick exit to regroup your emotions, if need be. In the case of the well-meaning, but hurtful, comments regarding lack of children a quick reply is best. Make sure that is not a personal attack but gives information such as “We are part of that 1 in 6 couples experiencing difficulty conceiving. It is our hope to join you in the joy of parenthood very soon.”
If these options seem practically impossible because the feelings are too intense, perhaps it is time for a support group. Luckily, Resolve: The National Infertility Organization has hundreds of peer-led and therapist-led support groups around the country and online. Group support helps with coping skills because it is easier to handle an unfair life situation when you feel unity with others. Often Resolve groups and events can be the safe haven that is needed to really let go with honest feelings, so that returning to the “real world” is less traumatic. Therefore the announcements and comments from others are easier to brush off as simply bad-timing rather than a personal affront.
Infertility is a profound crisis that is a threat to personal identity, relationship, sexuality, and the continuity of life. Even when a person has the best support team, it can deplete emotional resources and coping skills while putting the future on hold for many couples. Women, especially, can feel a huge sense of inadequacy and shame for the sense of failure by not having children. If not acknowledged and processed, this shame can become toxic and shadow every part of an individual’s life morphing chronic anxiety and/or severe clinical depression (The Family Institute at Northwestern University, 2013). Acknowledging that infertility is a roller coaster of emotions that is constant is essential to long-term emotional wellbeing. When infertility becomes longer than 12-18 months, this is often much easier said than done; therefore, it is often advisable to consider seeing a therapist to handle the heavy and very real emotions weighing on you and your partner.
The Family Institute at Northwestern University. (2013). Toxic shame. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.family-institute.org/about-us/tip-of-the-month/couples-tip-of-the-month/404-toxic-shame-may-2013