Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut has two wonderful mental health professionals that work with our infertility practice. Lisa Tuttle PhD works with our patients in the Norwalk office and Jane Elisofon MSW sees patients in our Danbury office.
Jane was gracious and compassionate enough to tackle a very emotionally laden topic today. She offers her own brand of understanding and non-judgemental advice as well as letting you know that the feelings that you may be experiencing are normal. Enough from me, read what she has to say:
Perhaps you had an abortion as long ago as one or two decades prior to beginning infertility treatment. Like most women with that experience, you may feel that if you had to make that decision all over again you would do it the same way, for the same reasons. Maybe you even wanted to have that child but circumstances in your life made that an unrealistic possibility. You were brave and you moved on with your life. It may seem difficult to believe that something in your distant past could affect you now, but it can and it will. Abortion is an enormous loss in one’s life, no matter what the circumstances were. Losses need to be mourned. The mourning process encompasses experiencing a myriad of intense feelings. Sadness, guilt, disappointment, anger, decreased feelings of self worth are some of the more common feelings aroused in this painful process.
Usually our losses are ones that we share with those close to us. We are surrounded by people who know what we are going through. With women who have just had an abortion, however, this information is often not shared or shared with very few people. Therefore, there are few opportunities to mourn and sort out all the feelings that might surface. Many women have not even begun to grieve for the child given up through an abortion—even one or two decades later. Other women begin grieving but become stuck somewhere in the process, with no opportunity to feel free to talk it out.
Loss and mourning are inherent in many phases of the infertility process. Anyone going through infertility treatments knows the visceral feelings that one has when they receive a negative pregnancy test or a negative result of any kind during the process. We know that these highs of anticipation and lows of disappointment make one feel as if on an emotional ‘rollercoaster.’ The dream of having one’s own child is a longing unlike most wishes and needs in our life. Therefore when you receive negative news about an attempted conception or negative possibilities from a doctor, you feel more than disappointment. You feel “loss.” Many people can understand your feelings of loss when you have conceived and lost a pregnancy. However, it is more difficult to understand the legitimate feelings of loss when an IUI or IVF cycle is unsuccessful. After all, what has been lost? Plenty! For many women, the loss of an embryo at any stage is the loss of a child. But even if you do not consider this early embryo in this way, you have temporarily lost the dream of the cycle working and becoming pregnant with your child. At these times of grieving, you need to have support and understanding of those around you, so that you can sort out all the feelings you have in relation to these losses. Being able to mourn gives you the emotional strength to continue the infertility journey until you are successful in having your family. If you need to terminate the infertility treatments, regardless of the reason, it is important to mourn the losses left behind before embarking on other paths to having a family.
When we are faced with all the emotions we may be experiencing about a loss during the infertility process, there is an eruption of feelings from prior losses in our life. Even if those prior losses have been mourned, the intensity of that upsurge of affect can be difficult but manageable with support. However, when a woman has not had the opportunity to mourn an enormous previous loss, infertility issues and treatment can cause the suppressed feelings to return with a vengeance.
Many women feel guilty and think that maybe they are now being punished. Guilt is an emotion that is part of any normal mourning process but it becomes more intense and complicated when it is in response to having decided to terminate a pregnancy. Sometimes the guilt is related to strong religious belief and can leave one feeling that they do not deserve to have their desire or prayers for a child now to be answered. Too often women are unable to forgive themselves. I have heard many women blame themselves for waiting too long to try to conceive, even though it is clear to them and to me that the reasons they waited to start a family were mature and realistic. Some women feel guilty because they feel responsible about their husbands being on the emotional roller coaster with them.
Many women speak of the irony of having trouble conceiving when they easily conceived a child that they were not ready to have. Some women have spoken of wanting that baby but knowing that they did not have the support system necessary to raise the child. Thus the feelings of loss are endless and resurface with each new loss. One woman spoke of feeling that “someone was missing” in her family. She was pained at the idea of maybe not having a second child. A realization hit her: that she was not sure if she wanted a second child because that was her idea of a family, or whether ‘the empty place’ in her life was because of the lost child. That insight caused her to question whether a second child would fill that empty space. In her counseling sessions she mourned the lost child and discovered much about herself. In the end, she decided that she did want a second child for her family and that the ‘missing person’ was put to rest. This was quite important for this woman. Why? Because if she had not mourned the lost pregnancy, she would have found that having a second child would not have filled that ‘empty place,’ and that recognition could interfere in her relationship with this child. Now she is pregnant and thrilled. In addition, she expressed finding a peace within herself and in her relationships with others.
The traumatic experience of an abortion can surface in other ways. The medical procedures and appointments can stimulate memories of the medical experience of the abortion. Thus the infertility process takes on traumatic memories and can feel unbearable. I know a woman who is questioning continuing her treatments, even though her doctor feels positive about her prospects. Although encouraged to talk about her abortion experience, she fears being re-traumatized just in the ‘talking about it.’
If this blog article is speaking to you, you need to know that you are not alone. There are many women who share your past and present. There are many professionals: nurses, doctors, counselors, and other professionals involved in your care, who would understand and support you, without judgment. I strongly believe that when painful and difficult crises come into our lives, we need to try to take advantage of any opportunities for growth that the situation may present to us. For example, this infertility journey may strengthen your marital relationship or it may validate the strength you have as an individual. For some patients, this difficult journey, which no one would ask for, can present an opportunity to heal from a prior painful event, like an abortion.
Jane Elisofon MSW
Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut
Wednesday is the day of the week that we have our medical pieces on PathtoFertility. The line up for the next several weeks is exciting in that several challenging topics are being tackled. Some of these subjects are not talked about very much and are difficult for patients to bring up with their fertility doctors or other medical care individuals. Although they are not talked about easily or openly, they are certainly on many of our mind’s and can often weigh heavily on our hearts as well. Please read these educational and informative blogs for a clear and comprehensive explanation and understanding of some tough subjects.
The first this Wednesday, is from Dr. Cynthia Murdock, of Reproductive Medicine Associates of CT. Dr. Murdock has been with the practice for over two years and has office hours in all three of RMACT’s offices (Norwalk, Danbury and Greenwich). Dr. Murdock writes about one of the most alarming things that can happen after a positive pregnancy test. Bleeding or staining in the first trimester of pregnancy is scary; Dr. Murdock explains what it can mean, what it generally doesn’t mean and what to do. Anyone, whether after an IVF (in vitro fertilization) or IUI (intrauterine) cycle or having become pregnant on one’s own, knows just how heart stopping it is to see any blood at all after a positive pregnancy test. It’s very reassuring to have a Board Certified Reproductive Endocrinologist tackle this upsetting subject and separate out the truly worrisome from the ordinary. Read this Wednesday to hear exactly what she has to say.
Next Wednesday is a thought provoking blog written by Jane Elisofon, MSW. Jane is one of the two mental health professionals who work with Reproductive Medicine Associates of CT. (Dr. Lisa Tuttle works in our Norwalk office.) Jane sees and counsels couples and individuals; evaluates donor situations; facilitates support groups, and on occasion writes wonderful blogs. This particular blog is on how a woman’s feelings about a previous abortion in one’s life may continue to affect her through her life, and particularly as she enters infertility treatment. If you are one of the many women who experienced an abortion, then you know just how conflicting the feelings can be around this subject. Jane’s blog is non-judgmental and compassionate while giving solid support and useful advice on how to manage such a difficult subject.
Dr. Spencer Richlin (Surgical Director of Reproductive Medicine Associates of CT) will be up the Wednesday after that, writing about fertility preservation. He writes about patients who have been helped by pre-counseling after getting a diagnosis of cancer. While the diagnosis of cancer and subsequent treatment is devastating enough, to a woman of reproductive years that has either not started or not completed their family, it can feel even more hopeless. How reassuring to read Dr. Richlin’s blog and find out about the procedures that can be done prior to cancer treatment to enable a woman to become pregnant and have a child after treatment.
Thank you to all three of these Reproductive Medicine Associates of CT professionals for taking on uncomfortable, challenging subjects so that infertility patients can breathe a sign of relief, understand what their options are and know that you are not alone on this path to fertility.