Repeated reminders of the emptiness in my womb as I pass by the pregnant woman in the supermarket or receive a baby shower invitation. Repeated disappointment of mother nature arriving that month and a failed pregnancy test. The countless nights crying and praying with anguish: “Why God?” My husband and I were both diagnosed with infertility and our doctor telling us there is no chance we would be able to conceive unless we used medical assistance.
My husband’s pride crushed and my dreams of motherhood shattered.
Statistics report 1 in 8 couples (or 12% of married women) have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. Even with this known prevalence in society, the majority of women suffering with infertility still do not share their story with family or friends, thus increasing the psychological vulnerability to such invisible wounds. Going your whole life consumed with the obsession of getting pregnant or fear you never will be. It dictates your life and can be weary. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to feel a wide array of mental and emotional turmoil in a day to a week to a month.
Everyone’s journey with infertility is not universal. It manifests differently for everyone, but we can all connect to the same pain.
Grief and Loss
Multiple rounds of failed treatment attempts and negative pregnancy tests can be a death in itself. A death of dreams and hopes every month creating a gradual loss of sight in having a family of your own one day. Many women grieve the expectations of what they imagined starting a family and parenthood would look like for them cultivated as a young girl.
Last but not least, we are also grieving the death of confidence and trust in our bodies. To hear the news our bodies are barren is a traumatic loss that can create shame and disregard towards our bodies. After all, our bodies are symbols to society of what makes us a woman and now we are having to grieve the perceived loss of womanhood on top of all this.
From the pricking, prodding, and invasiveness of treatments to the intrusive questions from professionals about your sex life. Anxiety is a familiar acquaintance to us all on the journey of infertility. I remember having anxiety about if I was even having sex the right way, leaving me disconnected to the intimacy with my husband.
Anxiety manifests in many ways. This can include worrying if you miss the perfect window of having sex at the right time when you are ovulating, fear of if you eat those donuts or skip the gym that day will it affect your chance of conception tomorrow, worry about if you can really trust your body to handle the hormone injection and trigger shot that month, worry and pressure from family members and friends when they ask, “when are you going to have children already?”
Catastrophizing the future and fear about if you are holding on to false hope and should just give in to the idea of adoption already, and so much more. I think we can all relate when I say anxiety is paralyzing and can cause us to live a life full of fear. Fear that “If I am not pregnant this month again, is it because I didn’t do enough?”
Darkness, an old friend I took comfort in during my infertility. Days not wanting to wake up or even go to work wondering how I can even smile with such defeat in my heart. Depression is a wound many women experience due to the sense of hopelessness as the months and years go by with no sight of your unborn child yet. There are multiple layers of depression that develop including a sense of loss of identity as a woman that is difficult to overcome leading to isolation from the world.
That layer of Isolation leads to shame and sense of worthlessness as you compare yourself to other women when you see others become pregnant or receive yet another baby announcement and you ask yourself, “Why not me?” We are left with the feeling of defectiveness and incompetence leading to a layer of helplessness.
Then comes the impact infertility has on the soul. Spirituality is one of the biggest areas that becomes either completely shattered or it is the lifeline; sometimes even experiencing both depending on the day. I remember at times feeling completely abandoned by God and other times He was the anchor of my season giving me comfort in unexpected ways. I know for others they have had thoughts that their infertility is a form of punishment for their past or develop a cynical or persecutory view of the world developing a hardened heart and heavy soul.
Grappling with your faith is human and I believe part of the journey: There is no shame to it!
So, I write this letter to say I see you and your invisible wounds. You are not alone. None of these are out of the ordinary to experience and it is perfectly natural to encounter such heaviness. The impact infertility has on a person’s mental health is a battle of its own that no one should fight alone. We valiantly prepare for battle when we accept the physical repercussions fertility treatments will have on our bodies, but we need to do the same with our mental health.
Shame thrives in the darkness, but shame’s lies are exposed in the light. If no one has told you today, I will: KEEP FIGHTING! Infertility is worth the fight for your soul, my friend. Let us not let one word, define our worth. Although today we may not understand why we were given this fight, we can hold on to the joy that one day we will reap the harvest and look back at how this fight has refined us. We will one day stop asking the question of, “Why her?” but instead smile and be thankful it is her.
Practical ways to work through infertility:
Explore Your Options
“If there’s a will there’s a way.” Do all the research you possibly can and leave no option off the table. What can help not falling deep into these invisible wounds is knowing you have choices; you are not trapped. Get more than one opinion! In my experience I had one doctor told me immediately IVF was my best choice and another doctor told me diet and exercise can increase my chances of conception. Do not take one person’s recommendation and run with it; you know your body best.
Exploring and evaluating our options help to not only reduce anxiety but also remind us we are not completely helpless and we still have some control.
Talk about it! As mentioned before, shame thrives in isolation and darkness. When we get in community, we are less alone and have people help us expose the lies of shame. Talking about our journey with safe people also provides the opportunity to share the grief rather than you carrying it all by yourself. We were never created to live and deal with life alone. Woven Social is a perfect example of this philosophy and there are many in-person or online support groups near you.
Diet, vitamins, exercise, acupuncture, etc. Taking on a holistic approach to your health can have an exponential impact on not only your physical health but mental health as well. Invest in your body even though you may be angry with it. It’s amazing how quickly the body can restore itself and how the dark fog of depression and anxiety can be lifted just by making a healthier food choice or taking a walk that day. Studies also show incorporating healthy diet, exercise, and non-conventional methods can provide assistance in the success of fertility treatment.
Having a professional bring in an unbiased and rational view of our situations is always needed. Counseling (and even Christian counseling) is not only a great form of self-care but it can help us process through the turmoil of emotions that we at times don’t know how to communicate to our loved ones. Counseling also helps to build effective coping skills and learn how to restructure our thinking or reframe our perspective to be more balanced and healthier which is vital when walking through infertility or any life traumas. Studies have also proven utilizing psychological interventions to decrease mental health symptoms can lead to significantly higher rates of success in fertility journey
Work Out Your Faith
Read the Bible, find a mentor, ask the hard questions, and seek answers. Pray with honesty and rawness, God can handle it. Don’t let the difficulty of life run you off from your faith, but instead lean into it. Pain puts purpose into perspective, and I promise you no season is wasted. Faith can help reveal meaning from our pain and grief if we are just still and listen. Even if you just have the faith the size of a mustard seed, it can be enough to build your endurance and hope in this fight. Research also shows faith/spirituality is utilized as a successful supportive tool to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.