The Emotional Journey of Infertility, Pregnancy Loss and Stillbirth
Updated: Aug 5, 2019
Infertility, the loss of a pregnancy and stillbirth are all equally agonizing and are incredibly emotional experiences. The sense of loss and mourning is profound and completely unexpected. Your loved ones who have not personally experienced either will try to say and do the right things to support you, generally well-intended, but often falling short of fully understanding and supporting you. This lack of support and understanding by those closest to you may give way to a mixed bag of emotions.
When a couple is unable to conceive month after month, they will often turn to a fertility specialist who runs a series of lab work and tests to determine why conception is not occurring. While most all couples want to know why, this process can end up placing feelings of guilt and blame on one person more than the other. Women are also more likely than men to initially believe they are to blame in the absence of a medical work up. Guilt also creeps up by thinking that something could have been done to prevent it when in fact nothing could have been done. During this intense grief process, rationality is out of arms reach.
I like to think in terms of helpful and not helpful. When I get tripped up emotionally on a particular issue or I am helping a client through something, I like to explore responses as “helpful” and “not helpful”. And the short of it is this: the lab tests can be helpful to find a means to achieve pregnancy while blaming yourself or your partner is simply not helpful. Ditch the not helpful and cling to that which is helpful. Simple enough, right? Not really!
Depression & Isolation
Following closely on the heels of guilt and self-blame, many also experience profound sadness, loss, and even depression. Many couples who have experienced infertility, pregnancy loss or a stillbirth find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Anger and resentment are common, possibly towards friends, family or your partner. Mood swings never experienced before may occur and can cause tension with the very relationships that typically provide support to you.
Depression can also lead to isolation and avoidance of uncomfortable situations. It may feel like self-protection to hide yourself away from friends, family or your community where you see babies and children everywhere. While this may feel helpful in the short term, you cannot sustain this and isolating from your pre-existing support system for a prolonged period can lead to a deeper depression. Couples may avoid family gatherings for fear of being asked when they are going to start a family and not knowing what to say or how to say it. Friends may be avoided because they are expecting a child or already have children.
For some, there is also the loss of a hoped-for pregnancy at the same time as a girlfriend and that can lead to further emotional separation in a friendship. Anger and jealousy while common but also leave behind feelings of guilt with an end result of further isolation.
Anxiety can also develop almost out of nowhere. Tracking of cycles and ovulation can become obsessional. And, counter to the goal of conception, it can increase stress levels and make conception more difficult. The anxiety can also be projected into a future pregnancy, leading the couple to conclude that because their process of conceiving is “not normal” that the proceeding pregnancy will not be normal either. Some women will insist on multiple ultrasounds despite reassurance by their medical provider that all is well with the pregnancy. The anxiety can be come all consuming.
Help In This Lonely Time
You will probably feel alone in this journey because the people you immediately turn to are unable to relate. While you may feel alone, please don’t remain alone with them. Share them with your partner, a sibling, a friend, or your parents. Reaching out for help is courageous but sometimes the person you turn to first is unprepared to respond. If you don’t find the emotional support you need initially, seek out someone else or seek out a support group or therapist specially trained to help with this. Therapy can be incredibly healing during this time and does not have to be long and drawn out. Therapy can help you to learn some helpful tools to alleviate your sadness and anxiety and help you reach back out to your support network. You may also find solace in an online support group where you can interact with others who are right there with you in this.
The end truth is that this will be a very difficult time in your life. But if you reach out to others and expand your support circle, you don’t have to journey this dark road alone. There is help and there is hope for you to find your joy again.
You don't have to journey through infertility or loss of a pregnancy or infant alone
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Jennifer Perera is a mom, spouse and Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has over a decade’s worth of experience in mental health. She has a private practice in New Jersey, with locations in Cranford and Princeton. Her passion is helping new moms and dads find their joy again in parenthood through individual, group and couples counseling. Jennifer specializes in working with parents during the prenatal and postpartum periods and those coping with a pregnancy loss or infertility. Her other passion is travelling to different parts of the world and her goal is to vacation in a different locale every time. She also has a great fondness for cats!