The Multiple Losses While Trying to Conceive (No Wonder You're so Tired)
I just attended a workshop last week called, The Experience of Loss in Infertility and Reproductive Trauma by Dr. Fox and Dr. Stein. The talk began with a focus on the multiple losses a woman experiences when she’s trying to conceive. I think that anyone who is in the middle of trying or has tried will relate to these losses, but you may not have thought of them in such an organized way. The first loss that was mentioned was a loss of identity; a woman’s feeling of her body being damaged, incomplete or malfunctioning. Also, women may feel stuck, incomplete and less of a woman or childlike. Certainly, the medical community hasn’t helped this identity with names such as “incompetent cervix”. In the past, a pregnant woman over 35 was referred to as having a “geriatric pregnancy” now rebranded as “advanced maternal age.” Not sure it’s that much better, but at least geriatric took a hike.
For many career women there are losses associated with their jobs. For instance, the ability to maintain a balance between the part time job, known as infertility, of attending lab and doctor appointments and sometimes travel, while maintaining a part or full time job. Or a woman’s inability to travel for work, because of the constant monitoring that happens before an IVF cycle. A woman often needs to decide whether to tell her HR department or boss about why she’s running late in the morning or taking so much time off. For some women, deciding to stay or leave a job is based on their infertility insurance coverage, so they me feel stuck at a job. On top of all of this, a woman has baby showers to attend of co-workers and sees pregnant women all around her from her morning commute to lunchtime break to walking around her office. Her ability to focus at work can be affected by extra hormones she is taking, or her anxiety or sadness due to starting a cycle, waiting for results, or learning whether all her effort, time and money resulted in a positive test or not.
A woman who is trying to conceive also has social losses. Outside of work there may be sisters, other family members, and friends who are pregnant. Women who are trying to build their family feel so alone, but when they reach out they are often met with others who don’t have the sensitivity or knowledge on what to say so they remain further isolated. Every woman I have worked with has experienced unwanted questions and insensitive remarks from friends and family. Even if she joins a fertility support group, some of the women will get pregnant and she may feel left out and betrayed by her own tribe of women where she normally feels safe and understood.
There are spiritual losses as well; such as the loss of control, loss of justice in life, anger at leaders of their chosen faith, and feelings of anger and betrayal at God. Women may be praying and saying the rosary and month after month yet she’s still not pregnant. She may feel betrayed or forgotten by the people who are meant to carry her through her darkest days. Especially, when such institutions celebrate and support new families with childcare so parents can attend services and flowers to all the Moms on Mother’s Day, but not the fertility challenged. Many women feel angry and take it out on themselves, their spiritual leaders, their partners, their doctors or healing practioners.
There are losses in relationships with friends who have no trouble building their family or partners who seem so detached from the whole experience that some women decide to keep their situation totally private. Not telling others can result in feeling further isolated and stressed. Infertility is often the biggest crisis in a marriage and with men and women handling their stress differently it can lead to a lot of misunderstandings. Along with these differences within a marriage, there are sexual losses. Receiving fertility treatments is such an invasive process which can disturb a loving, sensual, and intimate relationship within a couple. Many men and women have reported feeling shame or guilt over their body’s inability to create or sustain life, so they lose a loving relationship with themselves. Women who have experienced past sexual trauma or eating disorders are particularly negatively affected by fertility treatments and may be re-traumatized by the constant poking and prodding of her body and women with past eating disorders may revisit old feelings of a poor body image.
If you’ve been wondering why you have been feeling so tired, sad, angry, or guilty…it’s no wonder! Look at all these losses! We didn’t even get into the loss every month of it not working, miscarriages, stillbirths, complications at delivery, or a diagnosis of a genetic or congenital syndrome which, they did cover on the second half of the workshop. (I plan on writing a blog on reproductive trauma in a future post. In the meantime if you have experienced a loss, like the aforementioned, the second presenter suggested EMDR as something that helps women tremendously to recover from her trauma.) No matter what your story is, you have been through a lot and deserve gentleness and compassion. Taking time for self-care, whether joining a support group or talking with a coach, or both will help you to slow down enough to feel and heal. Know that you are not alone and that you will not always be in this situation…you will be onto a new chapter of your life’s story.