Surviving Infertility

After struggling for years to have a child, many couples may be caught up in their negative feelings about their infertility. It's important to work through these feelings together.

Feelings about infertility can return even after adopting.

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 birth mother 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.”

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