What I Learned, What I Wish I Was Told, and What This Infertility Therapist Wants You to Know
I started to write this blog with great ideas around the New Year, New You and Reflecting on our past. Make resolutions! Or maybe don’t make resolutions! Who even came up with resolutions?! It wasn’t going well. I was having the hardest time actually writing it because it felt very inauthentic, and I realized, I had my own reflecting to do. So I spent some time thinking about the last six years of my life. I considered my journey through infertility, I wrote out my Infertility Timeline, I felt my losses and was sad for a bit, and then I thought about what was meaningful for me to share.
So this blog is some of my journey, what I learned, what I would have liked to hear, and what I want to share with you. I hope it helps to give you perspective on your experience and remind you that you are not alone. I encourage you to do your own reflecting on your Infertility Journey and to think about what you want to take into the New Year/New Decade and what you are ready to leave behind. New Year, New You!
This is what I learned from infertility.
It is awful. Truly awful. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. And, while it is the first thing I think about when I think about this last decade, it isn’t the only thing. I traveled, I saw cool concerts, I laughed with my family, I looked into my partner’s eyes and felt more seen that I ever had before. I learned not to sweat the small stuff. So I guess you can say I learned perspective.
I also kept going. I don’t know how, sometimes I thought I was the biggest dummy on earth to get knocked down so many times and have the hope and the strength to put myself right back in the same situation. But, I did. Over and over and over again. And it paid off. I am stronger and more resilient than I ever knew I could be. I am more hopeful than what my cynical nature always led me to believe about myself.
I was angry for a long time that people weren’t more sympathetic to what I was going through. Then I figured out that they don’t know what I’m going through if I don’t tell them. So I learned how to communicate and be vulnerable. It’s still hard to put into practice but it’s worth it; my relationships with my family are now more satisfying than ever before.
My relationship with my partner is also stronger than ever before. When your relationship is being tested it suuuuuuucks, and there were some really difficult moments between us. But, surviving the test has led to a deeper love, trust and faith in my partner and in our relationship. We also learned how to grieve, both together and separately. Sounds strange to say, but we can communicate about loss in a healthier way and we support each other better.
My capacity for empathy is higher. And while I never particularly thought of myself as a Grinch, my heart has definitely grown.
When I stare into my son’s eyes I am overcome with feelings of love, tenderness and responsibility. I knew I would feel different when I became a parent, though I couldn’t imagine the intensity of love that I feel for him. I did not know the love that I would have for my son’s birth mother. I didn’t know how deep my well of gratitude would go, or that I could hold such conflicting emotions of being ecstatic to become a parent and heartbroken knowing the loss that she feels on a daily basis. She is my role model for selfless love, sacrifice and strength.
Here’s what I wish someone would have told me:
“You are not your infertility, and this is not the end of your journey.'' It’s quite possible that someone did tell me that and I couldn’t hear it because of the tumultuous desperation, fear, and sorrow that was churning within me. But I will say it to you and I hope you hear it. “You are not your infertility, and this is not the end of your journey.''
Here's what I want you to know:
Don’t lose yourself
I have heard people say in the midst of fertility struggles (and I said it myself) “I don’t even know who I am anymore”. Then, find yourself. Take a break and reconnect with you. Do something you used to love. Go travel. Laugh. Connect with your partner. Be creative. Play. Ask yourself what feeds your soul and then go binge on soul food! After all, you will need to be nourished for the next leg of your infertility journey.
Don’t lose sight of what’s around you.
When things are traumatic we associate everything else in our lives around that event. “You graduated the year after Uncle Bob died”. “That picture was taken right before the cancer diagnosis.” “This is the third birthday I’ve had since trying to have kids and still no kids”. To paraphrase the great Christina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy “Infertility is not the sun. You are”. AKA, pull some things out of the Infertility Orbit back into the Orbit of You. A little distance and separation can be good.
Don’t lose sight of who you want to be
You are a kind and caring person. You are a good friend and family member. And when terrible things happen we get a pass (temporarily) to retreat into ourselves and forget that life continues to happen for the people around us. But, at some point, if you are going to still be the kind and caring person that you are deep down, you need to ask others how they are doing and care about what is going on in their life. (Even if deep down you would trade places with them in a heartbeat because what they are complaining about is idiotic and they should suck it up). Pain is not a competition. There is no prize for “winning”. We have the capacity for many emotions at once, and you can hold your pain and your empathy for others at the same time.
Avoid the “Next Year will be Better” Trap
Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. But the concrete “this is good, and this is bad” thinking about our life take away from all the complicated feelings and the mosaic of experiences that we have. Our lives are much more nuanced than that. And to be real, just because you have had Bad doesn’t mean life owes you Good. In my worldview, it just means that you will continue to receive both. So work to recognize the good when it comes your way.
Look for meaning
You will not have this right away. It might take awhile to find and it might bring little relief, at first. But we constantly grow and evolve and this experience is shaping you in ways that you may be noticing and in other ways that you will recognize later. Be open, aware and curious to ALL that this experience is bringing your way.
Set a resolution for the New Year
Pick one that you have control over. While we all want this next year to lead you to your beautiful baby, we ultimately don’t have control over that. So, what can you control? Maybe you want to explore fertility treatments or adoption. Maybe you want to take a break from fertility. Maybe you want to plan a vacation or more date nights. Pick a realistic resolution.
And think about what you want to leave behind in 2019. Maybe you want to leave your fear behind. Maybe you want to stop listening to other people’s judgments about your family planning. Maybe you want to leave your resentments in the past. While this blog took a turn from it’s initial concept, it is still about New Year, New You!
Thanks for your time and allowing me to share with you. I hope something connects with you, and I really hope that you allow yourself some time and space for your own reflection. As always, please reach out to a mental health professional if you need to talk to someone. You can connect with me through the Contact form on my website.
Wishing you a very Happy New Year!