by Julia Mais
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: April 2018
“Is there anything we should be doing?” I asked the fertility doctor as she scheduled our initial tests. I expected her to tell us to lose weight, eat healthier, take vitamins or partake in a slew of other self-improvement activities. I wanted to be able to do something to get us closer to having a baby—to have some control over the process. Yet, her answer surprised me: “Take time to do things you enjoy. This can be stressful.”
Our doctor’s comments about stress certainly turned out to be true. They also proved to be one of the few validations I received on how difficult fertility challenges can be on your mental health. Because of the stigma and silence surrounding infertility, the emotional rollercoaster I experienced during testing and treatments came as a surprise to me. Beyond generic “stress,” I rotated through the following feelings:
Isolation. Understandably, fertility is a very private matter. Yet going through something so emotionally draining while keeping it from most people in our lives felt very lonely. This was particularly the case at work, where I was worried that my colleagues would somehow figure out why I had to leave for so many appointments and take private phone calls in the lunchroom. We did end up confiding in some close friends which generally proved to be cathartic. However, some of the friends we opened up to never asked us about it again, which was hurtful as we had trusted so few people with our story and were looking for support.
Self-loathing. When someone tells me about a physical ailment they have, like asthma or diabetes, I would never assume it was “their fault.” Yet, in this case, even before we received the specifics or our diagnosis, I felt somehow deficient. Since I was a child, having children always seemed like the most obvious life course for heterosexual couples. It almost seemed inevitable. Now in my thirties, it seems like everyone I know is having kids and Facebook is full of pregnancy announcements. The fact that we couldn’t do something so “natural” made me feel inferior to my peers who were effortlessly procreating.
Grief. I felt a sadness that was so hollow and complete that it felt like I had lost someone or something. Yet, I hadn’t suffered a loss; I had never been pregnant to begin with. I hadn’t suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth. Somehow this emotion still crept up though. My therapist suggested that I was mourning the loss of a story that I had been telling myself, the story that once I fell in love, my partner and I would conceive after a romantic date or a night out at the pub, rather than through a series of impersonal and invasive medical procedures.
Spite. I felt angry with people who had children and often avoided them inevitably adding to my feelings of loneliness and isolation. I bypassed the desk of the pregnant woman at work. I hated hearing about my friends’ pregnancy pains. I felt that my friends with kids who complained about sleepless nights and over-packed schedules were showing off. I knew that nobody was trying to hurt me and that these feelings were less than admirable, but I still harboured an anger towards the rest of the world, particularly towards parents.
If I were to go back to that first visit at the fertility clinic and give myself advice it would be to be gentle with myself. Trying to create a family when nature isn’t on your side is an emotional and exhausting journey. It was only made worse by the fact that I didn’t feel entitled to fully experience this range of emotions. I didn’t feel that I deserved to grieve as I hadn’t experienced a loss and I felt bad for resenting my well-meaning friends who had gotten pregnant quickly. Emotions aren’t always logical—and that’s okay. Allowing yourself to experience an array of feelings with self-compassion rather than judgment can make a difficult journey just a bit smoother.
Julia Mais is a communications professional with an interest in social justice. She recently joined the ranks of motherhood where she has found exhaustion, love and hilarity in equal measure. You can learn more about her work at JuliaKMais.com.
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