WHY INFERTILITY GRIEF IS SO HARD & WHAT YOU CAN DO TO DEAL WITH YOUR GRIEF
If you’re anything like I was when I was going through infertility, you’ve no doubt discovered that the grief associated with infertility is truly unique. Because of this, you may feel ill-equipped with how to deal with it. For me personally, out of all the emotions I struggled with during infertility, grief was the hardest to deal with as it felt all overwhelming and all-consuming.
Whilst standard definitions of grief describe it as a normal emotional response to a major loss such as the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or being diagnosed with a serious illness, these definitions don’t cater to the uniqueness of infertility grief because it largely centres around the loss a woman feels for a baby she has not yet met (though there are many other faces of grief associated with the path of infertility).
WHY INFERTILITY GRIEF IS SO HARD
One thing I hear all the time from women going through infertility is that they feel like a failure because they are not able to cope “better” with the intense heartache associated with what they’re going through. I’m always quick to reflect back to them the uniqueness of infertility and how this uniqueness makes infertility grief so hard for two primary reasons.
Infertility is a disenfranchised form of grief
The truth is, infertility grief is such a misunderstood form of grief as most people can’t comprehend how someone can grieve for a person they’ve never met. This makes infertility grief difficult to be seen, felt, or acknowledged by people around you, making it a disenfranchised form of grief that’s not acknowledged as legitimate by society. The net effect is women struggling with trying to conceive come to lose trust in the capacity of people around them to hold them effectively through infertility grief. This creates a dynamic where infertility grief is either processed behind closed doors or not at all.
A further fallout from society’s inability to recognise the validity and intensity of infertility grief is that many women who experience infertility feel a sense of failure or self-blame for their perceived inability to “cope better”, and some may withdraw socially or struggle with their identity and their self-worth because the unspoken message in the platitudes and toxic comments from people around them is that they should be able to cope better with their situation. This can make it very difficult for women struggling to conceive to reach out for support at a time when they need it more than ever. As a woman’s grief falls into the shadows, depression and anxiety ensue.
The tragedy of this dynamic is that neuroscience research demonstrates that, as humans, we are not wired biologically to grief alone; we need to grieve collectively. So, when a woman going through infertility doesn’t have appropriate support and understanding from the people around it propels her into a pit of grief that is very difficult to climb out of.
There is no single point of grief to move past with infertility grief
The second aspect of infertility grief that makes it so uniquely challenging is that, unlike other forms of grief (e.g., when a loved one dies or a relationship ends), there is no single point of grief that you can move past.
With infertility, there are so many different forms of grief and they just continue to come in waves, so it’s challenging for you to begin the healing process of your grief when you never get the opportunity to create distance between yourself and your grief. Aside from the monthly grief of getting your period every month, there are so many different faces of grief that you need to contend with (a failed cycle, a challenging diagnosis from your doctor, being told you need to turn to an egg donor or even miscarriage), so it can be hard to know what is feeding the intensity of your grief. When all of these different forms of grief collide and continue to roll in like waves in the ocean, it can be challenging to establish a point at which you can begin to move past your grief.
THE POWER OF SEEING GRIEF THROUGH A DIFFERENT LENS THAT DOESN’T INVOLVE PLATITUDES
There is a different way to view your grief and it doesn’t involve any form of toxic positivity. When you can start to view your grief as something that is a natural part of your life, rather than something you need to move past, it can be truly liberating as you can experience your grief as something that can be embraced or leaned into rather than something you need to eliminate. Taking this perspective reduces the struggle with grief and reduces its intensity and hold over you in the process.
The truth is that, as much as we all wish to avoid grief as humans, it eventually finds its way into our lives. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a job, a relationship, our health, or infertility, grief is a part of the human experience. However, it’s also human nature to want to avoid entanglement with grief by seeking to keep it at a distance because of the fear we have of being engulfed by it. But what happens when we cut ourselves off from grief by numbing or distracting ourselves, is we also cut off our life force and our joy in the process and this is what leads us into depression.
So the invitation is to change the lens on how you relate to your grief by befriending and tending to your grief as an inevitable part of your life rather than trying to push past it and get it over with, and this way, you can have your grief working for you rather than against you on your fertility journey. can work with it, not against it.
I believe that coming to this realisation is one of the biggest steps forward a person can take when they’re in the grip of an intense phase of grief. Western society doesn’t have a place for grief, and this is why grief is so often cast into the shadows as people suffer and deal with their grief in private. This is further compounded by the fact that learning how to handle grief is not something we are taught in the West, even though grief is an inevitable part of life.
STRATEGIES FOR COPING WITH INFERTILITY GRIEF
Once you come to this place seeing grief, not as an event you get past but, as an ongoing fixture in your life (whether you’re going through infertility or not), it can be a valuable prompt for you to take action to build the strategies and skills you need to be able to walk your life with grief alongside you. Here are some great strategies to work with.
1. Lean into your grief and make space for it.
Allow yourself to feel your grief completely. Allow the emotion to flow, notice how it feels in your body, and observe what the felt sense is (the ache in your heart, the pit in your stomach, the tightness in your chest, the feeling of exhaustion). Allow yourself to feel all of it and stay with it, even if it might feel overwhelming. The reason that grief is such an intense and visceral experience is that it’s calling for you to be present to it so you can process the loss you’re experiencing. The more present you are to your grief, the less intense it will be and the less of a hold it will have over you.
Whenever grief surfaces for you, take whatever time you need to feel it and just be with it, keeping in mind that grief is non-linear and can surface at any time. Taking time to check in regularly and be present to what’s there will reduce the likelihood that grief will pull the rug out from under you.
2. Create a container for your grief so you can continue to be present to it
A container can be created by your grief in the form of a supportive structure that is both nourishing and contemplative in nature. Whether it’s journaling, mindfulness, yoga, meditation, time alone in nature, or somatic awareness practices, any practice that is soothing and contemplative will strengthen your capacity to stay with your grief and you get to understand it, without it overwhelming you. When I was going through infertility, I used to spend time alone in nature as this is where I felt held as it creates a safe space for me to allow my emotions to flow.
Experiment with what works for you but make it something you enjoy so you feel nourished in the process of tending to your grief. 3. Share your grief with others
As already stated, we are not wired as human beings to go through grief alone, even though this is what so many of us do during infertility which causes us to feel ashamed and alone.
Native cultures understand that grief must be shared and have many rituals and processes for dealing with grief collectively but unfortunately in the West, grief is seen as either a weakness or something that is too confronting for public consumption in a society that has achievement and perfection as its driving force.
To share your grief, try joining either an online or in-person support group, or maybe reach out to someone who is supportive and knows how to hold the space for your grief. Whilst this could be a friend or loved one, it could also be something that you don’t know that well but that understands grief and has the ability to remain present and hold space for you and your grief. The key message here is, however, you can find to share your grief and bring it out of the shadows.
4. Learn new tools and strategies to deal with your grief
Something as big as infertility grief requires the kind of life skills that you’ve never been taught so if you’re going to survive the demands that infertility grief places on you, it can be hugely beneficial to learn the kinds of skills that can support yourself through the grief of infertility. Whether it’s listening to podcasts like this, reading books attending a course, participating in an online program, or even engaging in free practices that you might find on YouTube, learning new skills can shift the needle on the grip that infertility grief has on your ability to function in you’re every day life on your fertility journey.
5. Get professional support.
Whether it’s a psychologist, a counsellor, or a qualified coach who has perhaps walked the path of infertility themselves, getting the right professional support during infertility can be a game-changer for two reasons. Firstly, you’ll have a place to share your grief with someone who is skilled at holding space for it and secondly, you’ll also be provided with the skills you need to be able to support yourself with the grieving process more effectively. Building new skills and habits is hard enough as it is, let alone when you’re going through something like infertility so having that support can be exactly what you need to be able to navigate infertility grief more easily.
No matter what you’re going through on your fertility journey, you're no doubt grappling with a range of challenging experiences around infertility that are feeding into your experience of grief. My hope is that you’ve gained some new ideas and a fresh perspective on how you can form a relationship with your grief that will enable you to be more open to it and in doing so, reduce the hold it has over you in the process.
For more tips on all things navigating infertility, you can follow me on Instagram @opentolife_sarahreece, listen to my NAVIGATING INFERTILITY PODCAST on via this website, Spotify and iTunes AND for a scientifically proven FREE audio practice that will get you feeling calm in minutes, download INSTANT CALM now.