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Infertility is Bigger than Babies

February 5, 2020

Written by Guest Contributor, Tiffany Johnston

Let’s talk a bit about the psychological warfare that is infertility.

For those that have been following our story with What The Fertility, we began sharing about our journey about 3 years ago. We experienced a large number of failed treatments, loss of hope and eventually a few miracles. Just over a year ago I shared that we were pregnant naturally via video on #nationalrainbowbabyday with all of our friends. It was a feeling I thought we would never experience! What caught me off guard was that I was equally as terrified as I had been with our infertility procedure babies.

I have spent more than my fair share of time in post partum depression counseling, dealing with onset OCD, anxiety and feelings of loss that no matter that time seem to be unshakable. I feel guilty that we have three beautiful boys and yet every time someone announces a pregnancy or a gender reveal I cry. I cry because I am jealous that they get to enjoy a natural experience and that they won’t be under a mountain of debt when their child is born. That instead they get to take that money and pay bills, travel or create the perfect nursery for their expected blessing, Five years later and not a single one of my kids bedrooms is styled or complete. 

I have even felt a sense of loss over the fact that my memories of conception do not entail a moment of passion and love, but rather recollections of shame and fear. I have memories of my husband being taken away to masturbate in isolation to provide the needed sperm sample, and personally having to experience the joy of being turkey basted over and over again after each failed transfer. It has taken me over five years to realize that all of these feelings of loss, shame and sadness are natural and very common. Let’s talk about why…

For those new to the infertility world I like to remind followers that the term infertility is generally defined as a condition of the reproductive system that inhibits or prevents conception after at least one year of unprotected sexual intercourse. To account for the natural decline of fertility with age, the time frame is reduced to six months for women 35 and older. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 12% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 have “difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term.”

I bring up the definition of infertility because I believe we must educate society because I recognize that it can be hard to fully grasp what infertility involves unless you’ve dealt with it personally. I also am guilty of being one of the many people that originally believed that infertility was all about the end game, a baby. I truly believed that if we could just get to that prize, the pain of infertility would fade away. But infertility is bigger than babies. I want you to hear what I am saying so let me repeat myself.  Infertility is bigger than the baby. It can affect our physical and mental health in insidious — and sometimes enduring — ways.

Some researchers argue argue that the definition of trauma should be expanded to include the psychological and emotional response to not only physical threats, but threats too deeply held expectations of life. To understand a bit better I want you to take a moment to think about the grief that occurred for you after the death of a loved one. The relationship you had with your loved one was probably clearly defined, and you have memories of that person to look back on. The loss is easily identified because of the relationship you formed and the feelings you experienced over the years, not only by you but by others who were aware of the death.

It’s likely that your friends and family expressed sympathy and gave you their condolences,  you may have taken time off work for bereavement and attended a ritual such as wake or funeral that helped to facilitate your grief. Your loss was likely recognized, acknowledged, validated and supported in a multitude of ways. Now I ask you to think about the losses associated with infertility. One of the most common forms of loss and grieving is that of the imagined or expected family, women with primary infertility, who do not have biological children, face the loss of the entire life stage of parenting.

What seems to be the hardest for people to grasp is that with infertility, feelings of loss can come from an absence of something that has never been rather than the absence of something that used to be. Reproductive trauma also stems from the fact that many people begin imagining their futures as parents long before they even dream of starting a family. For many people their reproductive stories started when as children, they heard things like, “Someday, when you have kids…”, we start imagining what our experiences will look like long before we reach the age of reproduction. This doesn’t even touch on the emotional trauma caused by all of the babies lost early on, still born and those families that experience recurring miscarriages. There is so much more loss in infertility than what we see and understand as a society. 

I want to tell you today that you don’t have to feel guilty for having emotions, your emotions are valid, worthy of discussion and that everything you are feeling is natural and perfectly normal!  It is common and normal to experience shock, grief, depression, anger, and frustration, as well as loss of self-esteem, self-confidence, and a sense of control over one’s destiny. Infertility changes how you see yourself and the world.

Somewhere along the journey, many of us stop feeling as though infertility is happening to us, but instead begin to believe that it is ingrained as a part of who we are. You become used to living in a constant state of fluctuating despair, loss and hope; that seems even worse during the dreaded two week wait and as many of us later learn it doesn’t just turn off when and if you get pregnant. For many of us it has never turned off, we experienced those feelings through each ultrasound, the birth and so on.

I now have a 5 year old and 3 year old that we got through infertility and an 11 month old that we were blessed with au natural and I am still trying to turn it off. Just last weekend my sister in law who is 20 years of age announced the gender of her surprise baby and I cried for over two hours, hysterically. Want to know what my counselor said? “ That’s okay Tiffany, your heart is battered and worn by your experiences and your feelings are YOURS. You do not need to feel guilty for not experiencing the emotions that are expected of you.”

More than anything I want you to read that again! Lock it in your emotional vault and hold tight to the validation that your emotions are valid whether you are 6 months into trying for a family or 5 years past your very first IUI. Other’s may not understand your feelings or understand how you can simultaneously love the children that you hold earth side at the same time as you mourn the loss of those that you never got to hold and the experiences you never got to have. Hold strong in the fact that you have a safe and understanding community here @whatthefertility who see and acknowledge all that you are experiencing.  

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