*I had the honor of speaking with two wonderful women during our session on Braving Infertility and Loss Together at MommyCon Chicago 2018. This is my portion of the session, which we all contributed to in various ways.
It is important to note: navigating infertility and coping with loss share a lot of commonalities, so we talked about them together. For those who are struggling with infertility, each failed cycle and failed procedure often feel like a loss.
It’s important to note that even if you follow all the advice that we share, you will continue to have to work at healing for the rest of your life. You will still have moments that make you feel sad, but the power of that sadness and the length of time it envelopes you lessens as time goes on and you continue to heal and find peace. The length of that journey is different for everyone. And post traumatic experiences due to your experience with infertility and or loss are real and very common. Sometimes even when we are supposed to be most joyful, like if we get pregnant with our rainbow baby, we are still always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And that’s hard. That kind of healing takes constant work and helpful support.*
I beat secondary infertility thanks to my fertility specialist, a lot of needles and medications, and the miracle for us that was a successful IUI. The entire pregnancy I was terrified something would go wrong. I would constantly worry that it wouldn’t work out. I was convinced I couldn’t be so lucky, and that even if we got to delivery, I was sure I would never hear his cries. It was exactly what I had been praying for for over two years, and I struggled to enjoy it because of how scared I was…because I had faced loss twice before I carried my IUI success baby.
About six months ago, I faced loss a third time. I had thought that I was having my first postpartum period, but when the bleeding continued, I knew something was wrong. I took a test, and it was positive. I was in shock. I spent two weeks getting blood draws, seeing my HCg levels continue to rise into the thousands as baby continued to try and grow, while I continued to bleed. That pregnancy ended a few days after my final blood draw.
I have watched those brilliant double pink lines disappear three times, and I spent two years begging God to let me see them again. I am strong. I am brave. And these are the things I’ve learned about how to cope with and heal from struggling with infertility and loss.
1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, and 1 in 8 people struggle with infertility.
Those statistics don’t change whether or not other people know of the pregnancy or not or of your struggle with infertility. It is hard to face the ugly truth of dealing with infertility and loss. It is tempting to avoid the pain of dealing with our feelings and our thoughts, but that is exactly what we must do to heal.
You have to recognize and own your emotions.
As Glennon Doyle says, “There is no glory except straight through your story.”
On an average day, someone going through loss or struggling with infertility could feel:
- jealousy (“Why does she get her baby and I don’t?”)
- anger (“This is all your fault! If we would have tried when I wanted to…”)
- fear (“What if I never have a baby?” “Will our marriage last if it’s my fault we can’t have kids?”)
- inadequacy (“There’s something wrong with me. Maybe God thinks I can’t hack it as a mom. I don’t deserve to be a mom.”)
- frustration (“Why did this happen to me? Why isn’t anything helping? How is it that these young kids/seemingly inadequate parents who shouldn’t be getting pregnant are getting pregnant and not me?”)
- failure (“I’m a terrible wife/mother/woman because I’ve failed my spouse/partner.”)
- foolish hopefulness (“I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. How could I have been so stupid?”)
- and the big ones: sadness and confusion (“Why don’t I get to have my baby? Why am I so sad when I barely had anything to lose? Am I overreacting? Why am I not sad enough?”)
It’s a lot to cope with. Here’s what helped me:
1. Recognize the fact that it is NOT your fault. You didn’t deserve for things to happen the way they did. No one deserves that.
2. Take some time to practice recognizing your feelings on a day to day basis: name them, ask yourself what your trigger was, and then step back and deal with them in a rational way.
Initial Emotion: Anger.
Processed Emotion: I’m jealous.
Trigger: Scrolling Facebook, I read that my friend is having ANOTHER baby.
Reality Check: Her ability to have another baby doesn’t take away from my ability to have one. It’s not like there’s some bank of babies in the sky, and she just took the one I’m supposed to get. She didn’t get pregnant to spite me.
Solution: Unfollow her feed for 30 days (at least) so that it’s not in my face right now.
3. Let out your emotions and your struggles somewhere safe and productive, else you risk exploding, imploding, or disappearing altogether in your struggle.
My truth: I disappeared in my struggle. I turned inward and left no time for anything else. I was a very angry and self-centered person during my journey. I was obsessed with finding a way to have another baby and finding the reason that I wasn’t able to (which, by the way, we never did find a reason). And when we were successful, I became obsessed with presenting my joy publicly to hide how much I was struggling inside with anxiety throughout the pregnancy and then again at times during my post-partum period. I am so thankful for the people who stood by me through that time because I was the least fun person to be around, and I was an incredible taker (not a giver) and they stuck by me. (So, thank you to those people.)
I was hurting and anxious and allowed myself to be blind to everyone else’s struggles around me, and I ended up losing people in my life for good because of it. Had I taken more time to be empathetic and see how I was affecting others, that might not have happened. But I didn’t cope well. I see that now, and that immense guilt continues to be something I struggle with.
Find your support in friends and family (hopefully your partner/significant other) who are willing to listen and be present with you during your journey. Talk to someone. Write it down. Just get it out of your head and off of your shoulders every once in a while. Don’t torture yourself out of guilt by refusing to get help.
4. Remind your support system that they don’t need to know how to make you feel better; they just need to stand by you as you find your way through it.
As Glennon Doyle also said, “ We don’t need someone to take our grief away; it’s all we have left. We need someone to be still with us.”
Tell them how they can love you best.
One of the hardest things for your family and friends will be knowing what to say to you. There will be a lot of attempts to make you feel better that may make you feel worse. Let them know how they can love you best as you are struggling, and sometimes, most times, that includes a presence but with silence. Some people need their friend to show up at their door at ten at night with a pint of ice cream and a hug. Others just need a listening ear at the other end of the phone, or a reassuring text message letting them know they’re not alone. Whatever it is that you need, it’s okay to ask for it.
5. Give yourself (and others) grace.
Loss and infertility are frickin’ hard to go through.
Glennon Doyle said, “Grief is the price of love.”
You have been waiting to be a mom to your baby, and you fall in love with your baby long before they exist in your womb. You grieve because of that love. You grieve not just the loss of your pregnancy, but the future you thought you’d have. The birthday parties you’d throw. The bond you thought you’d see between your kids had their sibling survived.
You’re going to have bad days, sometimes bad weeks. Forgive yourself. Give yourself grace.
But you also have to remember that everyone around you who is also holding all of this space and emotion for you (and may have no idea what to do with it) needs grace too. Because they’re going to get frustrated and need space too. It’s hard for them to see someone they love transformed by something they have absolutely zero control over.
Give them grace. Don’t push them away for good when they start showing they need a break.
6. Break the imposed silence.
The hardest part of struggling with infertility for me was feeling silenced– that I couldn’t or shouldn’t tell my story because
A. My struggle wasn’t as bad as someone else’s, or
B. It makes other people uncomfortable.
I was told, “It’s a private topic.” “It makes people sad, and no one goes on Facebook to read about sad things.” And silence breeds shame.
It’s easy to point fingers at society and say, “It’s THEIR fault for silencing us!” but friends, we ARE society. WE are the problem. (Myself included. I’ve judged others for sharing too soon only to have to turn around and share they lost the baby.) And I know there are women reading this right now doing what all human beings do: comparing and measuring my experience to theirs.
We seem to have this belief that if our struggle is greater, our loss was bigger; if our loss happened later into the pregnancy, then we have more of a right to grieve, to feel all those emotions I just talked about.
But the truth is, anyone who has experienced loss deserves to grieve.
And if we want to stop silencing women who are experiencing loss, if we want to be part of the solution: we HAVE to start supporting those who are grieving, rather than try to diminish another’s experience by comparing it to our own.
Because telling a mom who lost her baby at 8 weeks that her loss wasn’t a real loss because you lost your baby at 16 weeks, doesn’t validate how much you’re hurting; it doesn’t make your hurt go away, and it certainly doesn’t make the woman who lost her baby at 8 weeks feel like she’s lucky that it wasn’t later on; it only further hurts her and pushes her further into silence and isolation.
But the silencing doesn’t always come from someone else’s words or actions. Many women self-impose that idea that they cannot be sad about a lost pregnancy because it happened so early.
I was one of those women. I was groomed to believe that I had lost a pregnancy, not a baby, and while that was sad, it wasn’t something to be that upset about because at least it wasn’t a full grown baby yet. At least it happened at the beginning. I hadn’t had an ultrasound yet, so surely it was not a “real loss”.
I wish we could take the phrase “at least” out of our vocabularies when it comes to talking to and about each other.
“At least you have one baby.”
“At least you were only 9 weeks along.”
“At least you know you can get pregnant.”
We would never say these things to a grieving mother who’s lost her son to war. We’d never say these things to a woman whose child died in a car wreck.
“At least he had a great childhood and died an honorable man.”
“At least you got five wonderful years with her.”
We wouldn’t say those things. So why do we say them to or about each other when it comes to miscarriage and loss?!
For those of you who have always struggled to see your experience as valid enough to grieve: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that “approximately 80% of ALL miscarriages occur in the first trimester.”
The vast majority of losses happen before 13 weeks. So to those of you who have lost in the first trimester, your loss is no less something to grieve than those who lost after that point, and you are very much NOT alone.
A loss is a loss is a loss. Every person will feel theirs differently, process differently, and heal differently.
A woman who has struggled with infertility for 3 years who loses her IVF success baby at 10 weeks is going to feel her loss.
A woman who delivers her full term baby stillborn is going to feel her loss.
A woman who has five kids and discovers at 18 weeks that she’s miscarried is going to feel her loss.
A woman who loses her baby at 7 weeks is going to feel her loss.
The circumstances may be different, but the hurt is real. And the hurt is personal, y’all. So, who are we, as a society, to tell women at what point they can grieve a loss?
As individuals we have to make the choice to stop silencing each other through judgment and let each person experience their own emotions of their own journeys so that they can heal.
Right now, we are silenced when we are at our most vulnerable and scared. And if the pregnancy ends unexpectedly or the procedure or medication combination we’re trying in order to conceive fails, we are silenced into coping alone.
Let’s not let that happen anymore.
Jessica Zucker said, “If we share and let other women know they are not alone, it gives them a sense of connectedness and community when they need it most.”
Stop negative talk when you hear it. Break that silence, talk about it, and accept and support others when they do the same.
You can make a difference. Be brave. Speak out.
7. Find a way to break your own silence and grieve in your own way.
This means facing your feelings, owning your story, and letting your emotions out in a healthy way. It doesn’t have to be in a public way if that’s not your thing. For me, speaking up and speaking out was freeing. But for some of you, keeping things more private is what feels most comfortable. You do you.
Writing, focusing on positive moments each day, and getting my motherhood journey tattoo all have helped me greatly in my healing process. Some other ideas: speak to a therapist, a counselor at church, someone you trust to listen without judgement. Write. Record videos or sound clips of yourself talking things out. Draw. Paint. Go for a run. Find a loss group support meeting. Be there for another as he/she goes through his/her journey.
One of my favorite shares during the discussion was when a friend of mine shared that when she was coping with her anxiety during her pregnancies after a loss, she would tell herself or write down on a post it note somewhere, “Today, I am pregnant,” anytime she felt like giving in to the thief of joy that is anxiety. She said sometimes she’d say it a hundred times a day, others only a few, and by the time she was in labor, she finally was able to say to her husband, “I think we get to keep this one.” ❤
Do what feels cathartic in a healthy way. It’s tempting to be destructive: to drink, to numb the pain, but numbing isn’t dealing; it’s hiding. Facing your feelings is hard, but it’s necessary for healing. Feel it. Own it. And walk forward.
8. Find a way to keep moving forward.
It’s one of the hardest things in the world to tell someone who is in so much pain and is feeling so lost that “you need to keep moving forward.” Because it’s hard to move forward. It’s painful. But I know it’s even harder to stay stuck where you are.
I know. You’re thinking, “You don’t understand. I can’t just move on. I will never be the same.”
I know. I’m not asking you to forget. I’m not asking you to pretend it never happened. I’m asking you to feel the pain. Recognize all aspects of it. Accept it as part of the new version of you. Then, take a step forward.
If you stay where you are, you’ll never grow, never change, and you’ll never have a chance to feel any different.
You have to make the choice to want to move forward on your path in life. It’s really hard to not want to just sit there and let the world continue to move on without you; it’s a self-imposed stuck, a numbness.
As Anne Burke says, “No matter what happens, life goes on. You can [either] watch it go by or [you can] walk with it.”
Know that it won’t be easy to heal, but it will be worth it. If you’re still at a point of numbness or feel unable to cope with your feelings, you and/or your partner need to seek outside help; find an infertility/grief support group (like Braving Infertility Together) or a loss support group or a therapist. You do not and should not have to suffer alone.