The day we walked through our dream home in the summer of 2015, I sobbed in the master bathroom.
The realtor thought I was a lunatic.
The reason for my tears? I don’t know if it was a premonition or a dream or what, but as I stood staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, I imagined a little dark-haired girl at the door saying “Mom,” as she tugged on the hem of my bathrobe. It was just a flash…not a long, elaborate fantasy but it did the trick. I knew we needed to buy this house and I knew I wanted to fill it with kiddos.
By this point, my husband and I had already been trying to conceive for almost a year. And while it was clear that our fertility journey would take longer than expected, I was still optimistic we’d conceive naturally. I viewed the experience as a sort of test from the universe – things couldn’t come too easily after all…anyone who’s seen a movie knows there needs to be a dramatic climax before the happy ending.
But then of course, came another two years of infertility, frustration, IVF…
For me, the hardest part wasn’t the shots or bills or marital disputes or diagnoses or waiting…it was saying goodbye to the fantasy…of getting pregnant in our bed, in our dream home. Of being surprised by the positive pregnancy test. Of me sharing the news with my husband. Of crib shopping and registry building and baby shower attending all sans anxiety. Just pure, simple, untainted joy.
When you struggle with infertility or recurrent child loss, the trauma of these experiences can rob you of that joy. Of the fantasy. Of all your plans. You can no longer walk into pregnancy or parenthood with a calm naïveté – you know bad things can happen.
So how do you mourn the loss of what your life was supposed to look like? How do you make peace with your own story and not hold onto resentments? It’s not easy. It’s not fast. And it doesn’t always go away, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you try to heal from the trauma of infertility.
Adjust Your Expectations: Step one in the whole infertility mess is to adjust your expectations. Things might take longer, be more expensive or more physically invasive than you thought, so it’s important to stay flexible and open-minded. Try not to give yourself arbitrary deadlines. Stay educated about your options and be true to what you want while understanding that your family might look differently than you planned. Just keep checking in with yourself and your partner and constantly shifting your expectations to align to the current situation.
Eliminate the “Shoulds:” We should have conceived by now. That last IUI should have worked. I shouldn’t have miscarried. I should have lost 10 pounds before starting IVF. Does this sound like your internal monologue? If so, it’s time to knock it off. Shoulds are NO GOOD; try to eliminate them from your vocabulary altogether. They tie us to expectations and make us feel even worse. Remember that comparison is the thief of joy and try not to measure your journey against your cousin’s or your friend’s. It’s hard to do. Really hard. But you have to let go of the pressure, stress and shame that “shoulds” create. It’s just not healthy or productive.
Understand the Grief Doesn’t Always Go Away: I was bitter about my infertility journey for a really long time…even after we had a successful frozen embryo transfer (FET) and also after my daughter was born. I was still angry at people who got pregnant quickly and without drama. I was pissed that the universe “robbed me” of a chill, peaceful, “normal” pregnancy filled with prenatal yoga. I will say that (for me) each day gets better and better. I suppose I’m numb to the pregnancy announcements now (something I never thought I’d be ok with). But if you’re not? Totally fine. Just know that being angry at the world or God or the universe is a normal feeling – and it’s ok. Go easy on yourself. You didn’t do anything to deserve this and it’s certainly not fair at all.
How did infertility affect your expectations around pregnancy and family building? What helped you stay grounded and positive despite feeling out of control at times? How did you say goodbye to a “normal” fertility experience?