Dealing with Loss: Navigating Fertility Challenges with Compassion and Understanding

Family planning isn’t easy for all parents. Many struggle with a range of fertility and pregnancy challenges, including unsuccessful attempts at IVF, miscarriages, secondary infertility, or navigating surrogacy or adoption. For many, these situations and processes are associated with strong feelings of frustration, grief, and maybe even shame. The most important thing to remember is that caregivers do not need to go through this journey alone. At Upshur Bren Psychology Group, we are committed to providing caregivers with support and resources as they parent through loss. 

Navigating fertility challenges

What Sorts of Feelings do People Have When Dealing with Fertility Challenges?

There is no clear template for feelings in the face of fertility challenges. That is, caregivers may experience a range of feelings. Feelings can come and go, and often range in intensity throughout the day (almost like hunger, we can experience “pangs” of intense emotions like sadness or grief). Fertility challenges may alter your sense of identity, or how you view the world. And these changes may cause more feelings: isolation, confusion, or regret. 

It can be hard to heal in the face of a loss (and yes, we consider fertility challenges to be a kind of a loss). This experience is even more difficult if you are already parenting another child, are surrounded by what seems like a deluge of newly pregnant friends, or don’t have the support or understanding from loved ones. Further, others’ responses to fertility challenges (even if well-intentioned) can be counterproductive. Statements like “you were so early in the pregnancy, it isn’t such a big deal” or “this is only your first try of IVF. I had to go through it 7 times so don’t be upset yet” can intensify already strong feelings.

The most important thing is to allow yourself permission to grieve. This means acknowledging the gravity of what happened to you and your family. Whether you can’t get pregnant, had an unproductive IVF cycle, or lost an embryo in the first weeks, you have a right to your feelings– try not to minimize them.

It can also be helpful to accept the grief instead of fighting against it. Grief actually serves a purpose in that it motivates us to connect with others and seek out support. For some, it can actually be relieving to recognize that there will likely always be some grief–otherwise, we can feel frustrated if our grief doesn’t have a clear end point. And while grief doesn’t just go away, it does change in intensity. Further, we grow around the grief– as we integrate new experiences and process our feelings, there is less pain. 

How to Process Your Grief

How do you process your grief? As we noted, the first step is acknowledging the magnitude of what happened. It can be helpful to create some structure to the grieving process. For example, consider writing in a journal or organizing some type of memorialization activity. Try making a reproductive narrative or story–what were some of the fantasies and wishes you had, what were good moments and harder moments? As hard as it may be, consider how you may make some meaning out of the loss. Perhaps you were able to help a friend going through a similar journey, or the experience brought you closer to your partner. The more that we face our feelings, the more effectively we can process them.

It can also be helpful to incorporate some cognitive techniques to manage unhelpful or inaccurate thoughts related to the loss. We love dialectical thinking– acknowledging that two things can be true at the same time– as a way to cope. For example, you can be sad that your transfer didn’t take and be grateful for the beautiful 2-year-old you have at home. Or you can feel devastated about a miscarriage and committed to trying again. Processing our thoughts in this way allows us permission to think and feel lots of things at once, essential to the grieving and healing process. 

Discover ways to cope with fertility challenges, grief, and loss

How Can I Talk About Fertility Challenges with Friends and Family?

It can be hard to share our challenges and related feelings with others. We may worry about our feelings not being valid, or concerned about minimizing or overwhelming responses. 

You have the power to decide what you want to share. While it is helpful to have someone to talk to, this person doesn’t need to be your best friend. Perhaps you have a co-worker who is particularly empathic, or a neighbor who recently went through something similar. Some find that speaking with a mental health professional is most helpful. Whoever and however you choose to tell, remember that doing so is on your own terms.

Many ask if (and how) to discuss such experiences with other children.  When we talk about loss with kids, we want to deliver information in a safe and developmentally appropriate way. One way to do this is providing books with relevant information– for example, consider We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead to address issues your child may be experiencing over the loss of an unborn child. Or read What Makes a Baby, which provides inclusive information about conception, gestation, and birth. Follow your child’s lead– if they don’t want to talk about it, that is okay, but we still want to send the message that they can ask questions. Try avoiding secrecy and shame by modeling that these things can be talked about.

It can also be difficult for some to discuss their internal experiences with their partner, who may be processing feelings in a different way. For some, this can create conflict or strain in the relationship. Consider how you can integrate your experiences while honoring your own unique grief process. Sharing reproductive stories, for example, can be a productive way of understanding and empathizing with your partner’s journey.

Support Options for Those Looking for Help Processing Fertility Struggles

Going through fertility challenges is painful. You are not alone in your grief. If you are struggling, consider checking out Postpartum Support International or Resolve. Further, consider seeking the help of a mental health professional. Click here to schedule a free consultation call to learn more about how the clinicians at Upshur Bren Psychology Group can support you in your journey.

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