Five Phases of Infertility

Empty crib

by Adena and Amy

When I was young, oh, I had plans. I was going to have six kids: three boys, three girls, each two years apart. I even had names picked out. I was going to be a stay-at-home mom and love every second of it, have the most organized house, cook the best meals and I even had a long list of things I would never do as a parent.

Well, life doesn’t always go quite according to plan, does it? Let’s take a look at my list and count how many of those things actually happened. Let’s see here…..uh…okay….NONE.  I’ve even managed to violate many of the things on my sacred list of “Things to Never Do as a Parent.”

The biggest struggle for me, however, has been seeing my desire to have more children go unfulfilled. I have two beautiful children, for which I am very grateful. Those of you who are childless, have mercy and don’t resent me for being sad about wanting more kids when you haven’t yet been blessed with any. Hopefully, we can unite over our infertility instead of resent each other over differences. I’m reaching out to anyone who has struggled with infertility, ever, in any circumstances. We are forged together through tears and heartache.

I write to offer any hope and comfort I can. This is a hard post to write; it gives my struggle an air of finality, as if I am saying, “I’ve accepted that I will not have any more children,” when in fact, my desire for more remains strong. Thus far, my story hasn’t ended like so many other stories: I don’t have a miracle baby to give my tale a nice, pretty ending.  I have, however, gotten to the point where I am at peace with the detour my life has taken. I can honestly say that even though infertility is still a reality in my life, my struggle with infertility I have largely conquered. So, I hope to share a few things.

Psychologists have identified five stages of grief associated with a loved one’s death. I propose that infertility also has stages, and if not distinctly a step-by-step process, they are phases each of us go through. I am here to say I’ve felt the “Five Phases of Infertility” and they can, eventually, all can be conquered.

Phase One—Self Blame. We get pretty creative because we feel that somehow our infertility is the result of shortcomings on our part. Are we eating the right foods? Taking the right vitamins? Exercising enough? Too stressed? For those of us with children, we suspect it’s because we are failing so miserably as a mom. This phase was the hardest for me. I walked around in a cloud of self-doubt, tearing myself apart every time I yelled at my kids. I would think, That’s why you haven’t been able to have more.  

Self-inflicted guilt is a serious struggle for the infertile, especially if your self-worth is strongly tied to being a mother– a false assumption that we are only valuable if we have all the children we want. If we constantly see our lack of children as a personal deficiency, then guilt and doubt is our path. To this I say boldly: Your infertility does not lessen your worth.

Phase Two—Allergy to Pregnant Women and Babies. It sounds horrible when you say it out loud, but every woman who has struggled with infertility has an aversion to being around pregnant women or babies. It is just a stark reminder of what we don’t have. And if you are pregnant, don’t feel bad; it’s not your fault. I remember baby showers as a particularly acute form of torture. Even the complaints of pregnant women irked me to no end.

Your heart aches when you see those gloriously round pregnant bellies, and it becomes a conscious effort to try to be happy for them. The universe becomes a very unfair place.

Phase Three—Wanting to Strangle Well-Intentioned Advice-Givers. They say things like: I had a friend who went 6 years and finally adopted and THEN she had a baby! That’s what is going to happen to you. These advice-givers, though well-intentioned, give false hope. It is someone else’s story, not ours. It just fills us with more shame because we do set little milestones in our mind, and when that 6-year mark comes and goes, it hurts all the more.

In this phase, the main reaction for those of us on the receiving end of such warm-fuzzy advice is anger, frustration, and occasionally, the desire to strangle. We think, Please, don’t try to fix me, because I feel broken enough already. Just ask me how I am doing, let me vent. That is what I need right now

Phase Four—Feeling Directionless and Meaningless. My plan was all centered around having 6 kids. When that didn’t happen, I didn’t know what to do with myself. It took some major re-adjusting; there was a period of feeling totally and completely directionless.

I remember a time where I was feeling particularly worthless. Then one day, I had several of my students tell me how much I had helped them out, and that I was an example to them. This rarely happens in teaching, and never all in one day. To me, that was a direct answer: I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, helping people in valuable ways. I realized that infertility does not define me. I may be infertile, but I am not infertility. I am so much more.

Gratefully, I have been led to many other avenues of fulfillment, and each has been as surprising as the last. I have learned to love these new adventures.

Can everything really be classified into specific phases? Of course not. Those of you struggling with infertility know it is so much more. It is life. But I am here to tell you that these painful phases of grief don’t have to translate into a life of grief. Even though your feelings are natural reactions, they do not have to become your permanent reality.

It is possible to move past the pain. For me, it got to the point where I was so exhausted with being miserable that I told myself something had to change. When I was around others, I got very good at pasting on a smile. Eventually I discovered, to my surprise, that my smiles became sincere. And in solitary moments, I trained myself out of dwelling on the pain. Hang in there; I promise it will get better. Eventually, you will move on to acceptance—phase five.

Phase Five—Acceptance. This is a nice step. An acceptance of your infertility does not mean giving up or that your faith is lessened, but it does mean you are able to live each moment free from the despair that accompanies the struggle with infertility. You will keep trying for children, and do what you can. But in the meantime, you have accepted your life for what it is, not for what you wish it wereYou will be confident in the knowledge that you are who you were meant to be, even if it isn’t who you envisioned being. You are still making a positive impact on the world.

Additionally, there are some nice things about not having as many kids as you wanted. Of course, you would trade these perks in a heartbeat for more kids, but don’t feel guilty for enjoying them while they last. It’s nice to sleep. It’s nice to take a nap and shower—unhindered. It’s nice to eat a bowl of ice cream without having to share. So, there are positives.

So, for those of you who struggle with infertility, I know you can relate to much I have said. You can also relate to the monthly pregnancy tests, the elated feeling of hope from those sticks that hold so much power over your life, then the crushing despair as it is negative—again. You can relate to the questioning, the pleading in prayer, and the heartbreak. You can relate to the monthly calendar mapping, to the hormone therapy and guilt and the frustration as the people around you don’t know how to comfort you. Yes, you can all relate to this heart-wrenching way of life.

But I hope too that you can also, someday, relate to a joyful life that can be yours, despite the infertility. Someday you will be able to relate to the sweet joy as you are able to freely and fully enjoy the children in your life, even if they aren’t your own. Someday you will be able to relate to the joy that comes from letting all the advice roll off your back, knowing it was given in love. Someday you will be able to relate to the joy as you discover new talents within yourself. Someday you will be able to relate to the joy that comes from knowing you are of value just as you are.

From Inside-Out Minds

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