When You May Feel Grief and How to Cope
Grief is the strong emotion you feel at a profound loss. It may be overwhelming sadness. Often you feel numb or unable to carry on as if life were normal. Most people think of grief as something you feel when you lose someone or something you love, but many people feel grief for other important losses or even a loss that hasn’t happened yet. Loss of a job, death of a beloved pet, a diagnosis of terminal illness, or loss of anything that’s important to you in your life may cause you to grieve.
It’s completely normal to experience grief during infertility, whether you have not yet begun fertility treatment, you are having treatment, or you’ve decided to stop. Knowing that this is normal does not make grieving hurt any less, but it may help you to know you are not alone. Grieving is almost inevitable if you are having fertility problems. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings and try to find positive ways to express them. It’s okay to feel your feelings, and there are ways to move forward.
Grieving for a Lost Family
Grieving may happen throughout the process of coping with infertility. You may grieve for the fact that you haven’t been able to have a baby yet, while other people don’t seem to have problems getting pregnant. Once you start fertility treatment, every IVF cycle is a time of both hope and potential loss.
Grieving for a failed cycle is very common. A miscarriage is a profound loss. Failed cycles and miscarriages can be intensely painful because society often doesn’t recognize the grief of these losses, so people hide their pain and mourning.
Elisabeth Kubler Ross defined five stages of grief in her classic book, “On Death and Dying.” Over the years, grief specialists have learned that these same stages describe people’s feelings during and after any significant loss. These are the stages:
- Denial—You may have been diagnosed as infertile and feel there is an error, or deny that the problem exists.
- Anger—Your diagnosis may make you feel angry. Having a failed IVF cycle or a miscarriage can also cause anger. You may feel, “Why is this happening to me?”
- Bargaining—People will research infertility and try every piece of good or bad advice. “If I do everything right, I will get pregnant” or “If I am a good person/change my lifestyle/work hard enough I will get pregnant” are common thoughts.
- Depression—You may feel sad and isolated, and spend time crying. You may not enjoy activities you used to enjoy and want to be alone.
- Acceptance—This is when you feel you can move on with your life. Whether that means trying or continuing fertility treatments, or exploring other means to build your family, you are emotionally ready.
You may not go through the stages in this order. You may cycle back and forth between them. Just remember, it’s okay to feel what you feel, and it’s okay to ask for help.
Coping with Grief and Infertility
Don’t blame yourself for your fertility problems. In an article on babycenter.com, Yakov M. Epstein, a psychologist at Rutgers University and co-author of Getting Pregnant When You Thought You Couldn’t, comments that people often get caught in negative thinking patterns. He advises focusing on how you and your partner are going to manage the situation.
Realize that your partner may also have feelings of grief and loss but may not experience them at the same time you do. Try to keep the lines of communication open and be kind to each other. You’re in this together with the same goal.
Beth Jaeger-Skigen, LCSW has written about her own infertility experience and her counseling practice for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. Among the ways to cope that she recommends are keeping a journal of your emotions and experiences, writing a letter to the baby you hope to have or the one you feel you’ve lost, and other creative activities you enjoy can help you express the pain and come to acceptance. She also suggests planting a garden and watching it grow, which can be healing, or creating your own private ritual, whether it’s lighting a candle and meditating quietly. All these coping strategies help you acknowledge your feelings and feel ready to reach out to family or friends for their support.
It’s also important to be kind to yourself. It’s okay to avoid situations that are painful to you, such as baby showers. Do other activities with your partner instead, that don’t involve children. Enjoy having a little adults-only time.
If you’re feeling depressed or find your emotions are isolating you from your partner or your friends, you may want to seek counseling. Talking to a professional may really help relieve your feelings. If you are in fertility treatment, your fertility clinic may have a counselor on staff who can help you. There may also be support groups at your fertility center that you can join. You can find additional support groups through RESOLVE. Joining a support group lets you talk with other people who are struggling with the same situation and understand your pain. If you look for a therapist or counselor on your own, make sure the person has experience in helping patients with fertility problems.
Remember, you are not alone on this journey. You don’t have to grieve alone. And the next steps you decide to take may lead to a happier life.