I recently had the opportunity to write an article for MindBodyGreen on my experience with infertility. I was as honest and as open as I could be and after its publication felt a huge weight lift off my heart – almost as if declaring my pain to the world and publicly grieving my (our) loss catapulted me into an area of healing I haven’t yet experienced. Coming through the dark storm of infertility changes who you are as a person and who you are in your relationships. You need to relearn who you are as an individual. Here is what I have found helpful thus far.
Take a vacation
No, I don’t mean this in a “take a vacation, maybe you’ll get pregnant” sort of way, I mean it in a “take a vacation, you deserve it” way. When my husband and I were trying to get pregnant every extra cent we made went to treatments, doctors and insurance premiums. The first thing we did when we made the decision to no longer pursue having children was to book a week’s vacation in the Dominican Republic. It was just what we needed to unwind and get back in touch with each other as a couple. This is a very important step.
Avoid reading overly cheerful anecdotes
Nothing angers me more than reading an article of a women’s experience with infertility that is fraught with a nauseating abundance of positivity. It’s easy to be positive when you are experiencing your infertility in hindsight or after you’ve achieved a healthy pregnancy, but reading stories like that only made me feel marginalized. It made me feel like I wasn’t healing the “right” way because I couldn’t put a positive spin on my experience. We all go through pain and grief in our own way and while yes, it is important to keep your head above the fray, it is also important to honor your process. This brings me to my next point.
Honor your pain
Much like how we grieve when we lose a loved one we must also grieve our fertility. During the first year of living child-free I spent a lot of energy pushing feelings of sadness away: we were moving forward and I just wanted to be happy. That only made things worse. I soon recognized that emotions about my infertility were going to come up once in a while and I needed to let myself feel them. Infertility is a loss, a wound you will always carry, and it is vitally important to honor your feelings when they arise.
Be grateful for your body
Being grateful for my body was extremely difficult. Through our baby-making years I learned to hate my body. I was so angry with it. Why couldn’t it do what it was supposed to? The only thoughts I had about my body were negative and I needed to change that, I needed to find love and appreciation for it again. I began to keep a notebook on my nightstand and each night before bed I would write three things about my body I was grateful for. Over time, this shifted my perspective from all the things my body can’t do to all of the amazing things it can do.
I still struggle with this. I am learning to work through an enormous amount of guilt for not being able to give my husband a child. In his love for me he has chosen to be infertile-by-proxy. I can’t imagine a bigger show of love for someone and that makes me feel incredibly guilty. But through my grief I began to recognize that I tried. I tried everything I was willing to do to get pregnant and it is not my fault it didn’t work. I did everything I could and that was all I could do.
Learn to accept it
This is easily the hardest thing to do but I feel it is an important step. There are a lot of messages out there for women experiencing infertility to “never give up hope” but sometimes you need to accept the reality of your situation and move on. Infertility is a purgatory of despair and I don’t recommend lingering there. Some women have more resolve than me and can do it for years but I couldn’t handle it anymore. It takes a long time to accept the reality that you may never have children, but once you have the strength to face the sadness of your truth you can finally make room for the good again.
Redefine your situation
We had to learn to call ourselves child-free instead of child-less. It gave us back the control and made our situation easier to talk about. Calling ourselves child-free made it our choice, we were no longer the victims of circumstance. It also made me more comfortable giving people a straight answer when they ask if I have children. I used to stutter through a general explanation of what we were experiencing while at the same time trying not to make the person feel bad for asking. Now I can just give a plain “no, we don’t have children”. It takes the tension away.
I am slowly beginning to understand that these are the first steps of many. I also want to acknowledge that each and every woman who has or is experiencing infertility will heal in her own way and in her own time. This list is merely my expression of what has helped me deal with my pain and in no way do I mean it as a way to tell women this is what they should do. Much love to you on your journey.