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Surviving Infertility

What it's normal to feel, even after you adopt and fall in love with your child. By Joni S. Mantell, LCSW



During a years-long struggle with infertility, couples feel intensely isolated and experience a range of emotions. Most of us expect these feelings to disappear after we adopt, and are confounded when shades of grief persist alongside our joy. Read on for a discussion of how feelings about infertility may change over time.

Putting an End to Treatments
Even though the infertility experience is often described as an emotional rollercoaster, it’s hard to know when to get off. Having a biological child is such a basic expectation. Options that involve only one partner, such as donor egg or sperm, may upset the other. And couples may modify their plan, to do a set number of IVF cycles, or to try a certain treatment, when there is any sign of encouragement—or lack of discouragement (as many as 30 percent of couples have “unexplained infertility”). Getting a diagnosis helped Laura, of Florida. She says, “Our lives could resume and we could switch tracks.” Although making this decision takes time, it may be moved along by “Aha!” moments. Diane, of Illinois, recalls, “At a family birthday party, I suddenly realized we would be missing out on a whole relationship, not just pregnancy and birth.”

Allowing Time to Grieve
People fear grief, worrying that they will plunge into a never-ending depression. But many find that facing grief centers them. “We grieved for the children who would look like us, for the pregnancy we had expected to happen, and for the experiences of birth and breastfeeding,” says Gaby, of South Carolina. Cathy, of Wisconsin, says, “There were a lot of tears, a lot of resentment. I hated to look at pregnant women.” Other common reactions include depression, social isolation, guilt, and feeling damaged. (If symptoms of depression last for more than six months, seek professional help.) Couples facing infertility often find baby showers and first-birthday parties painful. If you will be attending one, arrange a signal to let your partner or a close friend know that you need support or want to leave.

Re-connecting
Facing infertility often occurs early in a marriage, before you’ve developed strong communication skills. You may even reach a point when you are not certain your relationship will survive. But, if you’ll be adopting as a couple, it’s important to talk to each other. The reluctant spouse needs to remember that “talking is not doing,” but will help you move toward a decision together. Styles of grieving differ, depending on personality, or even gender. Women tend to talk, emote, and seek validation for their feelings, and men are more likely to withdraw or to fill their time with work, sports, or home projects. Jim, of New Jersey, started a new business during the couple’s infertility treatments. “I needed a place where I felt productive and could be in control,” he says. Remember why you chose each other, and take time to re-connect. You began your pursuit of parenthood because you love each other and wanted to form a family together.

Exploring Adoption
Many people think they need to be fully “resolved” before taking this step, but this isn’t true. When you suffer a profound, role-altering loss, like infertility, grief will ebb and flow, bubbling up at associative moments. When it persists, it remains separate from loving your kids. Kimberly, of Maine, says, “Even six years later, I have moments when I still wonder why. It surprises me, and I feel guilty, because I have two awesome kids.” But, for the most part, exploration of adoption will likely bring relief and excitement. Chris, of New Jersey, said, “I had a hard time dealing with friends’ pregnancies, but the pregnancy of our son’s birthmother offered us hope. During an ultrasound visit, I wished for a moment that I were on the exam table, but I was really much more elated to be getting a glimpse of my son.”

Joni S. Mantell, LCSW, is the director of the Infertility & Adoption Counseling Center (iaccenter.com), in Pennington and Montclair, New Jersey, and New York City.


Secondary Infertility's Challenges 
Though it is almost always unexpected, secondary infertility is quite common. It accounts for nearly a third of all visits to fertility specialists. What do these families have to contend with?

+ LIVING IN THE WORLD OF FAMILIES AND CHILDREN: You don’t want to isolate your child from playgroups and birthday parties, yet you may find it painful to be around pregnant mothers or younger siblings of your child’s friends. Your child may unwittingly add to your despair by asking for a baby brother or sister.

+ INSENSITIVE QUESTIONS, LESS SUPPORT: You may be asked why you’ve “decided to have only one” or face remarks like, “Don’t you think it’s time to have another child?” “Just relax. It happened before, it will happen again,” and even “Be grateful for the child you have.”

+ DIVIDING PERSONAL RESOURCES: Couples need to weigh the outlay of time, money, and energy for medical treatments or adoption against the needs of their existing child.

+ MARITAL STRESS: Partners may feel different about having a second child. It’s more common for men to say they don’t want to “dwell on failure,” and accept being parents to an only child.


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