The Day After Father's Day
I missed Father’s Day yesterday. I had planned to write about it on Friday; instead that wonderful article was released about Dr. Mark Leondires’ involvement in helping Maggie the Orangutan have her baby. And what a story it is. Made me feel especially proud to be part of the RMACT team.
Father’s Day is over for June 2014. We will see less “manly” ads for things that are traditionally bought for the dads in our lives, less sentimental images of daddy’s with their babies or grown up children. It will probably be a relief to see less of those things as they hit a particularly poignant note for those of us still without our children in our lives.
My sadness around Father’s Day was always wrapped up in infertility guilt. I felt, correctly or not, that it was my fault that my husband wasn’t a father yet. I wondered, as you may occasionally wonder, if my husband was with a different woman, would he be a father already? I also wondered, far less frequently, if I were with a different man, would I be a mother already?
These questions led me to face even more difficult questions. Like you may, I often pronounced that I would do anything I needed to do to become a mother. In fact though, I would not have given up my husband; I drew the line there. If you had guaranteed me that I would have had a baby but not been able to stay married to Bill, I would not have made that choice. It was a relief to realize that I would have had to find a different way or perhaps even, no way at all.
Bill was clear over and over again that was how he felt. His focus was on me and on us. He wanted a baby; he absolutely wanted a baby. But he was steadfast, that first and foremost, he wanted me. While I felt enraged sometimes by his calm insistence that I was more important to him than the baby we were yearning for, it was a calming thought as well. I was the point for him and we were going to do this together, however it turned out.
Our decision to create a family together made Father’s Day more bearable.
Our realization that we were already a family of two and that infertility presented the questions that made us see that was a gift.
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I'm so sorry!!!
We've been having technical difficulties with our blog host and have been unable to post blogs.
Let's make a deal, I'll post blogs, please do not post any responses until further notices.
And on that note, we'll go on.
If you are one of those folks on the east coast, specifically in Connecticut, New York or Massachusetts, I hope that you have power and are warm and cozy and safe.
Many of us aren't. My home has been without power since Saturday. We are lucky enough to not only have a generator, but to have it hooked up in such a way that my heat is on, my water is running and we have some lights.
Oh, yeah, and a toaster oven.
So guess what?
I still have a tremendous urge to complain.
I know I have it very lucky right now.
I live smack in the middle of towns that are 100% out of power. The only people on my street who are warm, have generators.
I'm very lucky right now, I know.
I still want to complain. It's still incredibly inconvenient, still much more work than usual, everything takes more thought, more time, more effort.
It reminds me of infertility.
It reminds of one of the most unhelpful (to put it politically incorrectly, STUPIDEST) comments that I ever had to endure while I was in fertility treatment.
I hope you've never heard it.
Here it is.
"Be grateful you don't have cancer or some disease that is truly life threatening."
Ok. Just for the record.
I am happy that I don't have cancer.
While I was struggling with infertility, if I thought about it, I was happy that I didn't have cancer.
That didn't make me happy about my infertility problems.
That made me feel guilty that I was unhappy at all.
As if I had no right to feel the depth of the feelings around the situation I was in.
Infertility was confusing, scary, frustrating and overwhelming.
It struck at the core of who I was as a woman and human being.
Went right to the heart of me.
No, it was not cancer. Yes, if I thought about it, I was grateful about that.
Was I grateful for infertility at the time?
There were things I could tease out that I was grateful for.
I was grateful for the opportunity to understand my husband more deeply.
I was grateful for my friends who stepped up and were comforting and available.
Was I grateful for my infertility?
Not at the time.
You know what my point is?
That we feel how we feel. That adding a layer of guilt on top because someone else has a bigger burden or a more challenging burden doesn't lessen the burden for them, but definitely adds to the burden you're already experiencing.
My point is that guilt has very little redeeming qualities to it, very little that it adds to your life. If anything at all.
Deep breaths and letting go of the guilt, one breath at a time.
Practice it, it works unbelievably well.
But first you have to believe that it's ok to let go of the guilt.
I'm working on it.
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
In caring for infertility patients, what troubles me the most is the amount of guilt that many women have regarding infertility. Women often feel that it is somehow their fault that they cannot conceive. Unfortunately, our society tends to perpetuate this type of thinking.
Women often present at this first visit thinking that they are doing something wrong. Thinking maybe I am not reading my ovulation predictor kit correctly, maybe I am not timing intercourse correctly. Well-meaning friends and family say "just relax and you'll get pregnant". Remember, it should not be difficult to get pregnant. After one year stopping birth control and having regular intercourse you should achieve a pregnancy. If you are not it is not because you are doing something wrong, it is because there is something medically wrong with either you or your husband (or both). Remember infertility is a medical diagnosis, just like any other disease. We don't blame ourselves if we get a cold or flu, nor should we blame ourselves for not getting pregnant. Think of infertility in the way you would any other medical problem, you undergo a series of tests to determine the underlying cause and then we set up a treatment plan that is best for you.
Women often present with feelings of guilt or inadequacy because they cannot achieve a pregnancy, that somehow this is their fault. It is important to remember that almost half of all cases of infertility are male factor. In the end it should not matter whether it is the male or female member of the couple, in the end it is a couple's disease and we treat both members of the couple. No one should ever feel that infertility is anyone's "fault".
Also it is important to remember that most couples aren't truly infertile. Infertile implies the complete inability to achieve a pregnancy. Most couples just need a little extra help - "sub fertile" is a better term Often a little extra stimulation to the ovary and an insemination of sperm to give them a head start into the uterus is all that is needed. Once we have completed testing we offer individualized treatment plans for couples. We try to start with the least invasive methods that will give you the best chance for achieving pregnancy.
In addition to addressing your medical needs at RMACT we also want to make sure your emotional needs are taken care of and help overcome feelings of guilt or inadequacy. We have a wonderful psychologist,Dr. Lisa Tuttle who is available to discuss any difficulties you may be having. She also runs a regular support group, some patients who are ‘'graduates" of her groups have formed lasting friendships. If you prefer something more informal we offer a Ladies Night Out through our Danbury office. This is facilitated by one of our staff who can share her own infertility journey with you. We also offer free yoga at both our Danbury and Norwalk locations. This provides an opportunity to relax and to interact with other women who are experiencing some of the same feelings you are. Please let your physician or nurse know if you feel any of these would be helpful.
Most important to remember is that you are not alone, and that infertility is not your fault!
Cynthia Murdock, MD, Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut