The emotional toll


When you are ready to start a family and you are told it is not possible, you begin an emotional roller coaster that is unlike any other.  Research has found a person diagnosed with infertility goes through emotions very similar to someone getting a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  You think about all the hopes, dreams and possibilities that you won’t experience.  With infertility, you wonder things like, “What is wrong with me?  Don’t I have enough to offer a child?  How can I be such a failure at something most people can do so easily (so much so that most people go to great lengths to avoid it!)?”  

Unless someone has experienced it themselves, I think it is very difficult to understand what someone dealing with infertility is going through.  I know people try to understand and offer support.  They can’t help that they say things they think are supportive but tend to hurt.  I mean, imagine saying these things to a cancer patient: “Just be patient, it will get better” or “When you stop thinking about it, it will take care of itself,” or “Open a bottle of wine, light some candles, and let nature take its course.”  You can’t cure Cancer by drinking some wine, and you can’t cure infertility that way either.  Believe me.  I tried.  I just ended up with a headache!

I suppose I can’t write about this topic without talking about “intimacy,” so I’ll get that over with right away.  I’ll spare everyone the details, but when you want so desperately to be pregnant, the excitement and enthusiasm about that particular activity tends to be lost.  The focus becomes, “Is this the right day…hour…position?”  I felt guilty if I wasn’t in the mood, especially if I thought it was the right time of the month.  Of course, with the insemination appointments, there were certain days when we weren’t supposed to do anything.  Of course, typical me, those were usually the days I was in the mood.  Then there were days I felt we had to because it was the right time, but we couldn’t for various reasons, and then I’d be hurt or angry.  The issues surrounding this topic alone could have driven both Jim and I crazy during our infertility journey.   

Another subject no one really wants to hear about, but I’ll talk about it anyway… my period.  Now, I’ve never been one of those women who celebrates their period as a sign of the wonder of femaleness.  It’s pretty much been a real pain since I was in the 5th grade.  However, the pressure associated with monthly cycles when you are going through infertility treatments is unreal.  Every month I would hope and pray it wouldn’t come.  Even when I knew I wasn’t pregnant (they did a pregnancy test after each insemination and each time it was negative), I still had unrealistic, crazy hope.  When my period started I would cry.  Sometimes sob.  Sometimes I couldn’t bring myself to leave the bathroom for a long time.  I saw it as a big red sign saying, “FAIL! FAIL!! FAIL!!!”  For someone who feels successful in many things, being a failure at the one thing a woman is supposed to be able to do was a crushing blow.  And I was reminded of this failure each and every month.

Besides these very intimate stresses, there were emotional downs associated with public things too.  Things that should be joyous – a coworker announcing a pregnancy, a baby shower for a friend, a niece or nephew’s birthday, seeing children sitting on Santa’s lap – brought sadness.  Even though I was truly happy for others who had great things going on in their lives, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of depression.   When you are facing infertility, you think about these as things you long to experience with your own child.  Perhaps I had a little bit easier time because I, after all, did have Jim’s girls to love and parent.  However, their Mom has some serious issues with my role as a parent (a topic for an entirely different blog!) and it was constantly being thrown in my face that I was not a real parent and I have no place in their lives.  I was even told, “Why don’t you have kids of your own so you can leave mine alone!?!”  I wanted so badly to say, “Hey, I’d love to have my own kids, but even if I did I wouldn’t leave your kids alone!,” but of course I never said anything like that.  I just kept a smile on.  However, dealing with those issues made my struggle that much more difficult.

One of the most difficult things for me to come to terms with was not understanding the reasons why we were going through infertility.  Being a high school teacher, I see a lot in my classroom and in the halls.  One thing I seemed to see an overabundance of during our journey was pregnant teens.  It seemed there was an outbreak of fertility among our students.  At one point, I had 2 girls in the same class who were pregnant.  One was pregnant with her second child!  This happened to be the point at which our treatment cycles were coming to an end.  I had a hard time some days just making it through class.  How could this 16 year old girl support 2 kids?  What were Jim and I missing?  What couldn’t we offer that she could?  Why couldn’t we even have one?  These were thoughts that entered one side of my mind while the other side was discussing weather, climate and ecology with my students.  I swear, infertility made me have a split personality disorder for a few months. 

For me, the hardest part of my infertility journey was the isolation I felt from friends and even from Jim sometimes.  Jim and I were there for each other, and he was an amazing support.  However, I know he felt guilty at times because he already had children.  I felt guilty at times because I was the one who was keeping us from adding to our family.  Somehow we managed to work out these feelings and not let them get the best of us.  It was hard to stay connected with friends.  I had moved away from the community in which I’d lived for 11 years when I married Jim.  All my closest friends were 250 miles away.  The time and energy that went into treatments didn’t leave much left for keeping in touch.  In addition, I didn’t have many friends who had gone through infertility (at least that I knew of).  It has always been hard for me to share my feelings with others and I had no idea how to bring up such a private topic for discussion especially over a long-distance call or with people I’d just met.  As a result, I cut myself off from most of my friends.  Unfortunately, I have lost touch with many of the friends I had in my previous community because of this.

Through our journey and dealing with all of these emotions, I have learned a lot.  I may never fully understand why Jim and I had to go through all of this, but I think I know some reasons.  Our marriage is very strong because of our shared experience of infertility.  Some couples get ripped apart by it, and I am so glad we pulled together because of it.  I am so grateful and appreciative of family.  We have been so fortunate and so blessed in many ways.  I have more empathy and compassion for others after going through all of this.  I take nothing for granted.  I realize nothing is promised or certain, and every gift is to be treasured.  I never expected to go through infertility, and certainly never expected to be grateful for the experience, but I am a better person for having gone through this. 

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