Infertility: Can Counselling Really Help?
Take it from someone who has been there, the answer is YES. It’s hard to imagine how accessing counselling can really help since we tend to view infertility as a battle in our body….and we often fail to recognize how it reeks havoc on our mind. I decided to share my experience in case you or someone you know is struggling with the belief that therapy can genuinely help.
When someone first suggested to me that I talk to a therapist about infertility I responded the only way that I could under the circumstances. My reply went a little something like this: “talking to someone is not going to change the fact that I cannot have a baby! It will not help me get pregnant! I cannot handle listening to ANYONE else talk to me about hope or timing or stress…and if one more person tells me it will happen when I least expect it, I will SCREAM!”
So, I, like most women I have spoken to in this situation, chose to keep my fertility journey very private. I thought: who would want to hear all about the appointments, injections, decisions, and disappointments? No one. That’s who.
I chose to cry in my closet while hosting baby showers.
I went to work everyday, where I happened to work with 150 children.
I attended children’s birthday parties and made cupcakes.
I heard story after story from parents who became “accidentally” pregnant and used words like ‘whoopsie.’
I congratulated them. I supported them. I pretended I was fine.
SPOILER ALERT: I WAS NOT FINE.
After a while, I stopped hosting (and attending) baby showers. I stopped showing up for children’s birthday parties. I made a career move to reduce the amount of time I spent interacting with children and their parents. I became more isolated, and my closet was practically designated as a crying zone.
I still chose privacy. I still believed that talking about it would make me more of a burden….and it would make the whole journey more real somehow.
What I did not know was that accompanying the physical and emotional pain and grief of infertility was also deep and traumatizing shame and guilt. I did not know this because (logically), it is not my fault. I did nothing wrong. I desperately wanted to be a mother. I was healthy and active and did not have any medical reason for infertility. UNEXPLAINED INFERTILITY they call it. This diagnosis (or UNdiagnosis as I like to call it) did not slow me down. I thought if there was not a medical reason, I could just try harder. More bloodwork, more appointments, more injections, more medications, and more disappointment. One day, after running out of work at lunch time and spending the entire afternoon in my makeshift tomb of tears, I decided my journey to pregnancy was over. I had endured my last infertility heartbreak. I decided to get up, make a beautiful dinner and tell my husband that I could not handle another devastating minute of fertility treatments.
Cue the unrelenting ruminating thoughts that would control my life for what felt like forever.
I could not stop thinking that I was a failure, my body had betrayed me, and my husband deserved a wife who could fulfill the promises we made to each other for our future. I knew my husband was struggling too, but I was so consumed with my own feelings of devastation, I did not have the mental capacity to recognize his experience. The experience beyond his wife being unable to bear his children. I failed to understand that supporting me through this journey of isolation, disappointment, and eventually defeat, was heartbreaking for him too. Now I understand that partners feel incredibly helpless, but in the depths of my sadness my own thoughts consumed me. I could not imagine my life without being a mother. I was not ready to grieve a life that I had envisioned since I was a child. I was unable to see that infertility did not mean that I could not have a family. My thoughts spiraled out of control until I felt worthless.
Welcome to the world of infertility, where, in my experience, logic takes the backseat.
Realistically, logic is not even in the vehicle. In the absence of logic, infertility portrays itself as a punishment. Infertility hypes up shame and guilt like the fans at the Superbowl. Infertility amplifies that shame and guilt so self-blame can swoop in and take over. This gives hopelessness a window of opportunity to blanket all your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Then, just when you think it cannot possibly get worse, guilt, shame, self-blame, and hopelessness team up and welcome their trusty leader to the party, DEPRESSION.
THIS is where talking to an experienced therapist can truly help.
THIS is where a circle of support can change the trajectory of your journey.
YOU CAN come out the other side of infertility with your mental and physical health intact.
Once you understand the many different ways your journey has impacted you, and those who care about you, and how shame, guilt and self-blame have influenced your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, you can learn how to change them. Once you have this understanding and are ready to work through your unbearable grief, you give rise to a change in perspective. You will be able to envision a different life, a life full of purpose and promise. For some women it means finding purpose in life without being a parent. For some of us that means becoming a parent through fostering, adoption, or surrogacy.
But first, I encourage you to arm yourself with the knowledge and understanding of the hidden consequences of infertility; the ones that we, as women who have experienced it hardly ever talk about.
It has taken me a long time to feel comfortable sharing my experience with others, as I struggled with the journey of infertility for more than a decade.
But I know that in sharing, we can defeat the isolation that comes from feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame. In talking about our struggles with trusted people and professionals, we can heal and grow from an extremely difficult experience, and hopefully, change the conversation surrounding infertility.