Infertility is Miserable: How to Dis Disenfranchise Your Grief

If you clicked on this article because you are struggling with infertility, I am here to assure you that it's ok to be sad and pissed.  It's ok to have any miserable feeling you want because what you are going through is truly miserable.  Let yourself be sad, mad and even bitter if that's what is coming up for you.  It's ok.

There is something in psychology called disenfranchised grief.  Disenfranchised grief arises in any circumstance in which society denies our “need, right, role, or capacity to grieve” (Doka, 1989).  This happens with infertility.

With regard to infertility and grief, the loss isn't recognized because it isn't a death and it's something many people do not speak about.  Those trudging through infertility understand this all to well.  When we mention our struggles we are all too often dismissed by (hopefully) well-intentioned people who, dismissive of our grief, say things like.  "Oh it will happen, just relax." Or, "oh I have a friend who struggled to get pregnant and - finally when they stopped trying they had a baby naturally!"  Suggesting if you too stopped trying, you would finally have your miracle.  

Unfortunately, those of us who have real physical issues cannot get pregnant unless we try, try hard, and don't give up.  And, there are some women who are never able to have children. 

For people who are truly infertile, this new reality, the embarrassing one where your body has failed you and your dreams are shattered month after month with the sight of literal blood seeping from your body is devastating.  It's a nightmare.  Our hopes fade as time passes.  Our hopes of having the family we not only have a biological imperative to desire but also we want because we just know it will be so wonderful, turn into fears of never having a child.  The pain from this experience is real.  Research has shown that infertile women's anxiety and depression equaled those of women with conditions such as cancer, HIV and chronic pain. The Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology (Vol. 14, Suppl., 45-52). And when our pain is dismissed it makes this hard time even harder.

This dismissiveness from society can deny our right to grieve.  And can make the grieving process much harder.  

And when we miscarry or in some cases women have stillbirths, this all is just amplified exponentially.  Our hearts are so broken.  For me, I was hardly able to move.  But our angels have no funerals.  Our family and friends don't surround us. There are no rituals, no gatherings and no ceremonies to say goodbye and share our greif.  But we must somehow process that our child who we want so dearly has died inside of us and we have to endure that child physically leaving our body and us forever.  We also have to experience the disappointment of our partners.  The sadness in their eyes can crush your already broken heart.  There is no doubt grief and I experienced how confusing it is when our community does not recognize our loss and our struggle.  Something along my journey helped me with this.

For me, there was a real turning point in my grieving journey that gave me an understanding of disenfranchised grief before I had ever heard the term.  A friend of mine was a true silver lining.  She had two failed IVFs and tried for a couple of years before having her children and completing her family. She was a support to me in my struggle to have children and I am so grateful.

She explained to me how difficult her infertility journey was.  She explained that her infertility journey was even more difficult for her emotionally for her than when her dad, whom she loved dearly and was close to, died in her 20's.  This doesn't diminish how difficult her loss of her father was.  But, it is a testament to how difficult infertility can be.  She said that when her father died there was a funeral and support from so many people.  It was a finite event that she was able to grieve and move on from.  Her infertility journey, however, was a dark time that was riddled with uncertainty.  The emotional support is scarce and it dragged on for years.  Additionally, the financial drain is painful. So, it was much more difficult for her.

When she told me this, she gave me permission to release what I was feeling.  And until she told me this I didn't even know what I was feeling.  It was intense sadness.  And sometimes bitterness towards others who were having babies so easily.  What she told me though was so powerful because it allowed me to express what I was feeling so I wouldn't get stuck in those emotions.

I stopped feeling weird or guilty for my feelings and just owned them.  Because I was a queen warrior goddess battling through the depths of hell and I had to take care of myself.  Once I could recognize my feelings, I could start to heal myself or at least ease the pain.

So, I surrounded myself with people who were capable of being empathetic towards what I was feeling and could show me support. And, some people are beautifully empathetic and supportive, I am so blessed to have experienced that and learned from them.  In some cases, I even paid people like my therapist and acupuncturist for that support. I also learned what I liked so I could cheer myself up. And, I took the time and made the financial investment to do these things. 

Among many other things, during that time, I learned that I like to take photographs, eat fancy lunches (and photograph those fancy lunches), have a spa days, watch funny movies, spend time with supportive, kind empathetic people, watch sunsets, laugh and cuddle with my husband, and cook and eat healthy AND delicious food and so on... so I did those things because I needed to to survive.  And I didn't feel guilty because they were not "productive" enough.  And, what I learned is that I always want to be taking the time and making the investment to do these little things that I love that bring me joy.  I want to always be learning about myself and what makes me happy so I can have a more joyous life. 

One of the things I learned about myself while I was struggling to have my first child was that I enjoyed was taking photos.  This is what happens when you take photography classes while struggling with recurrent pregnancy loss.

One of the things I learned about myself while I was struggling to have my first child was that I enjoyed was taking photos.  This is what happens when you take photography classes while struggling with recurrent pregnancy loss.

So, once again, this journey, helped me to be a better mother.  To be the best mother I can be, it is important that I "put my oxygen mask on first" so that I not only can be present, happy, patient and available for my son.  But also, so that I can show him an example of a joyous adult so he can grow up to be one too.

And even though I did all this at the time.  It was still unbearably hard struggling to have a child.  And the only thing that made it not hard anymore was the birth of my son.  That was a heart-expanding, body-floating cheeks-sore-from-smiling kind of day. 

So to the soon to be mothers struggling. If I could give you one tip, it is to let yourself be low and experience your negative emotions.  This IS a painful journey and the pain you are experiencing is totally understandable.  The battle to have a child is a miserable and dark time.  Take amazing care of yourself to recharge and put on that warrior gear.  Lots of love to all women and mothers no matter how your journey ends, I hope you'll find joy and peace.