The Shame, Sadness and Isolation of Infertility

Shame and Amygdala
April 20, 2021
Back to School Rules!
August 27, 2021

The Lonely Road of Infertility- Navigating the Shame, Secrecy and Isolation

For those of you reading and connecting with this blog - first note - You Are Not Alone - I see you and feel with you.

Infertility and pregnancy struggles can be a long and lonely journey for many. The stigma associated with infertility can also make the grief and loss that much harder, and the wide range of emotions can make it hard to process. Coupled with the fact that not many talk about it, the secrecy, shame and isolation that goes with infertility struggles can affect your mental health.

My infertility struggles followed the same path as many. The hope, excitement and dreams of starting a family, and the slow drip of anxiety, frustration and grief as each month of disappointment builds to a deep despair. Then the same patterns of emotions build and end after miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies.

No one talks much either about how infertility struggles can wreak havoc on your relationship. Sex isn’t intimate anymore - it is a chore or a science experiment that is led by temperature check, ovulation sticks and positions that may help with fertility. You and your partner both share in the loss and disappointment but grieve differently, which can also contribute to feelings of disconnection and isolation.

Many couples whom I have talked to don’t discuss the concept of infertility before marriage or long-term commitment. Many of us talk about each other’s desire to have children, but not many of us go further in discussing views on infertility treatments and/or adoption, so when the time comes to make these decisions, couples have different views that can affect decision making and, in the end, the relationship.

Two of the strongest emotions I felt during my infertility journey were jealousy and envy. Sitting around at dinner parties and listening to my friends share their pregnancy news and wanting to feel and share in their joy was such an uncomfortable feeling that I began to isolate myself during that time period. Jealousy and envy would turn to guilt at not feeling more happiness for them, as well as anger at them for not being more mindful of my feelings and experiences.

Also, the doctors appointments, the poking, prodding, testing, consultations, the infertility shots, the diet changes, the acupuncture, herbal supplements, the soreness, the irritability, and finally the financial costs of trying to get pregnant can take a toll on couples, families and individuals. Ultimately you worry whether your mental health becomes a contributing factor to your long- standing struggle with getting pregnant - the mind-body connection, and you begin to beat yourself up for feeling negative emotions.

Ideas to Cope with Your Grief

  • While everyone’s fertility journey is different, sharing your story with a trusted friend, family member or therapist can be helpful in processing your feelings. Having someone bear witness to your sadness can make you feel less alone.
  • Joining an Infertility Support Group can also be helpful in connecting with others who may be experiencing the same emotions. The National Infertility Association offers a list of groups and resources in your area.
  • Establish intimacy with your partner separate from trying to get pregnant. Go on date nights, cuddle, start a new hobby together to build a new connection.
  • Identify self-care opportunities including exercise, massage, journaling or reading a book.
  • Allow yourself to grieve and feel all the emotions. You have to “feel it to heal it.” There is also no timeline for grief.

How to be there for Someone who is Struggling with Fertility Issues

  • Ask them what they need or if they want to talk about it. While it’s an uncomfortable conversation, those of us who are struggling many times just want someone to ask us about it.
  • Don’t give unsolicited advice. We just want to “feel felt” and aren’t looking for opinions, advice or suggestions.
  • Use Empathy Vs. Sympathy. Empathy is “I feel with you” vs. Sympathy - “I feel for you.” Brene’ Brown has a great video illustration on the difference between Empathy Vs. Sympathy.
  • Avoid toxic positivity with comments such as “well, at least you can get pregnant” if someone suffered a miscarriage or “I know it will happen, just think positively.”

Erin Swinson, LMHC
Mental Health Therapist
Clarity Clinic

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