Grieving Through Infertility: The Unspoken Grief of Infertility in Men and Women
By Chelsea Skaggs, Founder of Postpartum Together
It feels like you’re the only one going through it. It feels like no one could understand because you do not hear anyone else talking about it. It feels isolating and sometimes you might feel broken.
Infertility is an unspoken grief that actually impacts approximately 12% of women ages 15-44, according to the CDC. Infertility is not just something that impacts women. Per the CDC, around 35% of couples struggling with infertility include a male infertility factor, and, in 8%, a male factor is the only identifiable cause. Although infertility is not as uncommon as many people believe, it’s still not widely understood or openly discussed, and so can feel taboo. When certain issues feel unacceptable to discuss, that makes it difficult to deal with appropriate and acceptable grief. You deserve to have the space and resources to grieve through infertility in the ways that you need.
Grief Is Not Just for Death
When we think of grief, we often think of death. However, grief is actually a response to a loss. For couples and individuals facing infertility, there is a loss to be grieved. If you are living with infertility, you may be grieving the picture and idea you have had in your head for years about your future family. You may be grieving the loss of a memory you longed to create or a connection you envisioned having. Grieving your dream, goals and longings is a healthy part of life. When it comes to infertility, it’s important – and healthy – to allow yourself the space to do so.
You may have mental, emotional and even physical reactions to your grief. It’s essential during your time of grieving to prioritize your personal needs and find ways to engage in meaningful self-care.
Ways to Care for Yourself in Grieving
Mental and Emotional Care
It’s important for you to protect your mental and emotional wellness when you’re grieving through infertility. This means identifying safe, nurturing spaces and creating necessary boundaries. You likely need an outlet to get repetitive, distressing thoughts out of your mind. This might be helped by turning to a trusted friend, a support group and/or a therapist. When we have “permission” to get our thoughts, fears, and frustrations out of our minds, we are then able to hold authentic conversations, connect more deeply, and release the heaviness weighing us down.
Another part of mental and emotional care is acknowledging what boundaries you need so that you can avoid situations that will be too upsetting. This could mean stepping away from a friend or family member who is not being respectful or honoring this difficult season in your life, or limiting TV shows, social media and movies that could trigger comparison or sadness.
Find an outlet where your feelings and thoughts can be validated and heard without judgment. Practice honoring your own needs. Pick up journaling or a stress reliever like yoga or kickboxing to help you more effectively channel the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing.
During times of grief, especially grief related to how your body is functioning, you may feel frustrated and dejected, and neglect yourself and your physical needs. During this time, self-care can look like watching the signals your body is giving you and responding as needed. Rest. Eat well. Move your body. Do not do these things to punish yourself in any way, but rather to stay in tune with the care you need and deserve. Another way to connect with your physical self during grief is learning more about your infertility journey, rather than detaching from it. Use your body to relieve stress and release energy. For some, the use of medication may be a crucial and entirely acceptable part of physical care.
If you are facing infertility with a partner, it can cause strains in the relationship between you as you work through the challenging emotions and feelings of disappointment. Relationships need extra care during difficult times, but they can be an opportunity to go deeper into your partnership and to focus on teamwork. Revisit your love languages. Recreate one of your favorite dates. Experience intimacy for the sake of fun and connection instead of focusing exclusively on fertility. Make space for the authentic conversations you want to have with one another.
Though it may feel like it at times, you are not defined by your infertility journey. Let go of the self-blame. Take time to remember all of the talent and passion you have to offer in various areas of your life. Connect to the purposes you serve as a leader, a friend, a partner, and an individual that are not related to reproduction. Celebrate a new milestone at work or take pride in a hobby you’re pursuing. Continue to honor the YOU inside.
No one signs up for infertility, and the conversation is still taboo in many ways. However, we can work together to honor grief, normalize the conversation, and ensure that no one feels isolated and alone in the struggle.