How to deal with the grief of infertility
If there is any one emotion that can be associated with infertility, it’s grief. Whether it’s the loss of a pregnancy, a failed IVF attempt, the inability to get an answer to what’s underlying your situation or perhaps the need to relinquish your genetic connection to your child or your ability to carry and birth your own baby.
Irrespective of your specific circumstances, grief in the context of infertility is unique due to the sense of loss being associated not so much with what was, but rather, the rupturing of the hopes and desires of what could be. This makes it the kind of grief that is very different to get past, as there is no end in sight until either the desired outcome is achieved (something women have no control over) or a woman makes the heart wrenching decision to walk away from her dream of motherhood altogether.
Due to the unique face of the grief of infertility, it is also a very disenfranchised form of grief, as very few people understand the intensity of grief and loss associated with something that a person has never had or experienced. One of the most common shared experiences of women experiencing infertility is that of suffering in silence.
Add to this the primal longing for motherhood (biologically, psychologically and sociologically driven) that is innate to so many women and the self-imposed shame that comes from being a woman who is unable to do what their body was supposedly ‘designed to do’, it’s clear to see how the grief of infertility bears such a stinging potency.
A further challenge is that most women who experience infertility are thrust into a life initiation that they have never been taught to deal with. If you find yourself to be one of these women, here are four strategies to consider that can enable you to navigate your grief with a little more ease.
1. Turn towards your grief
An important first step is to change your perspective on grief. Grief is not something that we should aim to ‘get past’. Instead, it’s something that we need to form an intimate relationship with. This is in such stark contrast to what most of us have been taught (focus on the positive, find something to distract yourself, find the gift, do whatever you can to move past your grief).
In Frances Weller’s groundbreaking book on grief “The Wild Edge of Sorrow”, he poses the notion that grief is something we need to integrate into our life on a regular basis; that processing our grief regularly is just as important as setting our goals each day or forming a regular meditation practice.
Often when we’re overwhelmed by grief, we seek ways to move away from it in order to find relief. But true relief can only come from facing grief and processing it.
“The cure for the pain is the pain.” ~ Rumi
To foster a practice of connecting with your grief, find a quiet place, and settle into your body and start noticing how you are feeling. Observe the physical sensations associated with grief and notice where they are in your body; breathe into them. Your intention is not to try and fix these physical sensations or try to change them or get rid of them - the first step is simply notice them. This in itself can reduce the hold that grief has over you. As emotions start to arise, allow them to surface, remembering that they are just energy that is ready to leave you. Be prepared to set this energy free, no matter the impulse to contract or self protect. Continue to breath deeply, to cry, to expand and to let go. Avoid going into your head with stories and analysis. Stay with your body and breath and release.
Committing to a practice of noticing how grief is showing up in your body and releasing it regularly (rather than suppressing it and allowing it to build up) will not only help you to connect to your grief in a more conscious way, but it will also reduce the fear of engulfment that grief triggers which is what often causes us to want to avoid grief in the first place.
Journal about your grief daily to build more intimacy with it – particularly in times of intense grief. Grief can be our greatest teacher if we give it the space and reverence that it deserves. A great journal prompt is “What am I grieving today + what am I grateful for today?” By exploring both ends of the spectrum of your life experience, not only do you strengthen your relationship with your grief, you also build a place for both experiences in your life so they can come to live alongside one another. Remember to continue releasing your emotions as you journal.
2. Seek out a community.
Grief needs a container in order for people to feel safe to fully release emotionally. Community provides this container, as grief is simply too big to go it alone. As humans, we are wired for social connection and were never meant to grieve alone. The ‘privitisation’ of grief that we see in today’s society amplifies grief and leads to a sense of estrangement from the world around us. Do whatever you can to seek out an infertility support group or an online community where you can feel safe to grieve collectively. If some form of grief ritual is part of these groups, even better.
You could even consider forming your own group of people who are willing to explore grief, whether it’s friends or acquaintances. Maybe it’s about getting together once a week or once a month to talk about and process your grief with others, even if they don’t share your experience of infertility. I had a couple of women who had encountered intense grief in their lives, though they didn’t share the experience of infertility. But we did share the experience of intense grief and it was my connections and conversations with them over wine, tea and tears that brought so much healing to my path and helped me move out of the experience of shame and worthlessness that grieving in isolation can fuel.
3. Find something that nourishes you and do it regularly
During my deepest periods of grief, nature was my most constant companion. Every day, I would carve out time to sit quietly in nature, despite living in a busy inner city suburb. It may have only been 20-mintues a day, but it came to be the most nourishing and important aspect of my life at these times.
Find what nourishes you and prioritise it. Don’t be surprised if what has nourished you in the past is not what you need now. In the clutches of grief, a previously loved form of artistic expression may feel out of reach or inaccessible. Start with something very simple, and find what feels good. Create a ritual out of it and commit to it. It could be getting a regular massage, spending time alone in nature, journaling each evening before bed or catching up with a trusted friend once a week. Make it something simple and keep it short so you can integrate it into your life easily. Notice how it sustains you.
4. Get support
Grief can be a wild and visceral experience. This is the wisdom of grief – it demands your attention in order that it is seen and dealt with. But when we have been taught to suppress and distract ourselves from grief (as is the way of modern society) instead of being given the tools to process it, it can be overwhelming and difficult to integrate, preventing you from being able to function effectively in daily life.
Whether it be a psychologist, a counsellor or a coach who is experienced in dealing with the grief of infertility, getting the support from someone who has the skills and expertise to support you with managing your grief can be vitally important. Reaching out for support in this way is not a weakness. In truth, it’s the most courageous of souls who are willing to heed the call of grief.
“Embrace your grief, for there your soul will grow.” ~ Carl Jung.