How do I cope with infertility grief and loss?

8 fertility expert(s) answered this question

How to deal with loss and grief after unsuccessful infertility treatment?

Unsuccessful infertility treatment is a true loss. Grief is a completely normal feeling at such time. Watch the video answers and learn how to cope with these overwhelming infertility emotions.

Answer from:
Psychologist, In Vivo Fertility, Founder and CEO In Vivo Fertility

Indeed, the emotions related and created within the context of sub-fertility are many and usually they are incredibly tangled.
TANGLED RUBBER BANDS – Very much like this ball of tangled rubber bands.
One moment you feel hope and excitement about the possibility of becoming a parent,
and the next you may feel out of control, anxious and stressed,
guilty about what you believe you should, or you should not have done,
angry towards yourself or others, or about the ‘why me, why us’ eternal question,
jealous of other people’s pregnancies or family circumstances, of how they got it the ‘easy way’ while you are struggling.
Also, feelings of grief and loss.
Grief and loss are a big chapter within the book of emotions related to sub-fertility.
It can manifest in so many aspects of our lives –
It may be loss of the experience of pregnancy and birth, miraculous events of life.
You may feel loss of a sense of belonging to the ‘tribe’ of parents and family-life
A loss of control – first of your body, as your body isn’t doing what you want it to do, or loss of control of your life even, some of my COACHING AND COUNCELLING CLIENTS, COUPLES AND FAMILIES even report that.
The loss of feeling healthy and ‘normal’, as your identity shifts from ‘healthy person’ to ‘infertility patient’
The loss of feeling competent – you can no longer achieve a goal you set for yourself
The loss of sexual intimacy, identity, and privacy. Sex may not be sexy anymore! It can become a baby-making process rather than a love making pleasure. Many women get upset about the loss of privacy, tired of continually being scrutinized by doctors and medical staff.
Ultimately many of us feel a loss of Identity. We feel we are missing parts of the puzzle and the sense of who we are, becomes undermined and fragmented.

And why I am describing this multi-colored, multi-emotional ball of tangled rubber bands in such detail?
Because untangling this wretched ball of emotions is a good place to start.
Identifying, naming, understanding and working with different tools and techniques, and NLP has many good ideas and ways of doing just that, one can start to embrace and manage these emotions effectively.
One way I work with my people, my homies, my tribe (ha, ha) is understanding the information that my emotions are providing for me. With curiosity, and interest, letting judgement and criticism aside. Looking for the actual message that our emotions, our wise biology is trying to communicate to us! Let’s treat them as our consiglieri, or our digital inbox…
Emotions are messages, well-meant and very useful for our survival and our self-development as human beings.
Actively listening and attending to our emotions, giving them space and time, is a very good place to start.

Answer from:
Fertility Coach, Founder of Your Fertility Hub

Infertility itself is almost like a loss. There’s so much grief there as you go through your cycle and you get your period there’s grief. If you go through an IVF cycle and get a negative, there’s grief, and there’s also loss of a pregnancy at any stage is a loss. I think sometimes it’s hard because we can’t mark a miscarriage or a loss, or a chemical pregnancy or loss at a really early stage but it is a loss, it is a loss to you of hope, and a dream, and due date, and those milestones that you were counting on when you saw those two pink lines or knew that you were pregnant finally.

It’s really important to actually find ways to mark this loss, to commemorate the life, and there’s lots of support out there and help for you to do this but maybe it’s all about finding your own way to mark this loss, so it may be that you find a little space in your home, and have a picture frame, a candle that you light, anything like that finding like almost like a little sacred space in your home where to house that grief where you can return to when you need to connect with those feelings.

You may also want to mark this with some sort of ceremony like tree planting, or having a bench in your garden, or something like that. Another thing you can do is actually write a letter to your child and it would be a very emotional experience because yourself and your partner can do this as well and this can actually be incredibly cathartic in getting through some of those emotions and channeling them through this letter. Some people like to keep their letters, other people like to burn them in a fire or make the letters part of the ceremony part of the tree planting. so marking and commemorating loss is very much part of our society but we need to bring that into loss during infertility as well and that can be a really key way to cope.

Another way to cope is to find your tribe. Who else is out there who has gone through this? Find the support groups near you, online support groups, and organizations, there are some wonderful ones out there able to support you.

Lastly, being specific with those around you, if you can be really clear with those around you what you need as you go through this. Often when it becomes a loss and infertility people don’t know what to say and often cause more problems by fumbling through and saying the wrong things. If you can be specific about what you want people to say, when, and what you need particularly straight after a loss, be very specific about what you need, for example, “bring meals around and drop them on my doorstep”, “can you take this somewhere else”, just be really specific and clear and that can really help in those early days over that loss.

Answer from:
Fertility Coach, Freedom Fertility Formula Specialist and co-host of The Fertility Podcast Freedom Fertility Formula Specialist and co-host of The Fertility Podcast

Firstly acknowledging the grief is a huge part of this and that might be just the fact that you might not be able to get pregnant naturally and will have to have various treatments in order to have a family. That in it’s self is part of the grieving process. Allowing yourself to grieve and giving yourself time to heal because a part of sadness is taking you through, to enabling you to heal, so being kind to yourself, about this and working through it in as much time as you need is also a part of the process so acknowledging the grief is a huge part of coming to terms with it. 

Answer from:
Fertility Coach, Specialist Fertility and Miscarriage Counsellor Wendy Martin

It’s actually a very very painful thing to grieve the loss of a future baby. That’s whether you’re trying naturally or whether you’re not getting pregnant or whether you’re trying IVF and this grief can come through multiple miscarriage or through as I say trying naturally or going through treatment. I think many people don’t actually really think it’s grief. It feels like grief to them and sometimes when I say gosh you’re really grieving, aren’t you? They’re a bit confused because it’s like well I haven’t lost anyone. I think we often think about grief as being something that you experience if you lose a parent or a grandparent or someone close to you who you love and they were there and now they’re no longer there. You feel this sense of grief and you mourn their loss but somehow it’s different when there’s like maybe you might have for example found out that you’ve had a miscarriage at six weeks or something like that and for some people it’s just a tiny little fetus and it’s like can I grieve that? Can I grieve the loss of that? What is it really a baby? but in their hearts for some people they’ve already become bonded with that baby, there it’s their future child and so what you’re actually grieving and mourning is the loss of that potential baby, that future family and it is, it can be very very painful and it is felt by some people a very profound sense of grief and the thing about it is  that like if you lose somebody. It’s really intense at first and then very gradually over time you know it gets easier and easier and easier and you become more accustomed to the fact that person’s no longer in your life.
The trouble with infertility is that grief can go on and on and on over and over again. I call it chronic grief and it just means that you are there over and over again feeling this sorrow, feeling this loss, feeling this sadness and  a lot of people try to reassure or help by saying but it wasn’t really a baby, you haven’t really lost anything but for you might feel in your heart you’ve definitely lost, you’ve lost your baby and the thing is with it not happening is that you know that a baby represents more than just having a child – it represents the end of all the trying, the end of all the heartache and all the pain and all the treatment and everything that you’ve been going through. It’s the end of that and you can move forward and start to join the rest of society and have a family and have a baby and be parents and put all that stuff behind you but every single time that again it doesn’t work, that grief is there again and that sorrow and that loss and that pain and that heartbreak. You know that that absolute anguish has to be really relived over and over again. How to cope with it? Good question. I think first of all acknowledge that it is grief even if you only acknowledge it to yourself. It might be hard to convince or persuade others that what you’re going through is grief or to explain it to them or to make them understand but if you know in your heart that this is grief then you have to treat it like you would any other grief and you have to just look after yourself, take care of yourself and you have to do the things that you need to do to take care of your own well-being. Whatever those things might be, maybe take some time off work, maybe just be very quiet for a while and not go out and not socialise so much. Avoid things like baby showers and christenings and parties where people are announcing their pregnancies -all that sort of thing. Avoid social media probably for a while – just to give yourself a break and time to just be with the feelings and to gradually recover and to build your strengths again.
The grieving process is not straightforward, it’s very up and down. If you ever hear someone say: I have my good days I have my bad days you know they’re grieving because that’s what it’s like it’s not a straightforward linear curve up: you just gradually get better and better every time, no you go up and down up and down and it can depend on all sorts of triggers so you might go to work one day feeling quite good and two people in your office announce that they’re pregnant by chance that day and suddenly you’re plunged back down into the depths of distress and anguish and despair and you go to the bathroom and you cry and you feel like “oh my god when is this ever going to end” and then maybe a few days later you feel better again. Over time gradually you get through the grief and you feel stronger and stronger but I guess you just look after yourself and do things that help you and that varies from person to person.

Answer from:
Fertility Coach, Fertility Mentor Sarah Banks Coaching Ltd

One thing that often gets said to me when I’m talking to people in my support group going through treatment is that there are so many different levels of grief and at different points. It might be grief for a life that you’ve planned out for yourself that you feel like you are struggling to get to. It could be grieving for lost embryos if you’ve had a failed cycle. It could be grief for falling pregnant naturally, grieving that you have to have fertility treatment, through to grieving that you have to stop fertility treatment. You feel that it’s the right point for you to stop treatment for your own emotional or physical wellbeing. Or grief due to a loss. There are so many different levels, so I want to talk about a couple of those things.

Firstly, and most importantly, seek support if you are really struggling. It’s really important to speak to somebody. Whether that is a family member or friend if you feel more comfortable with that. I would also strongly recommend speaking to a fertility counsellor who can help you if you struggle with these feelings and struggling to move past the grief you’ve got. They can really help you process some of that. It might be grieving a loss of a failed cycle, worrying about how you’ll get into the next cycle and how you’ll cope with that. Fertility counsellors are really important in helping you deal with some of those emotions.

Most importantly, get support from somebody who can help you, and as I say, that might just be speaking to a family friend; they may not understand the same way. A fertility counsellor is perfect for helping with that. Allow yourself to grieve. Don’t feel that you have to hide it. Don’t minimise your grief and think that you shouldn’t grieve or that somebody else has had it worse because it’s such and such, or I don’t know why I’m grieving for a lost embryo. You have the right to grieve. After my failed cycle, I really struggled to get going with the next one because I was grieving for the opportunity and the hope I’d had for that embryo. It’s perfectly normal; allow yourself to grieve, give yourself the time you need, and again that will be different for everybody. Put yourself first. Allow yourself to do whatever you need to do to cope with that grief, and don’t feel ashamed about it. Don’t feel guilty about it. Do what you need to do to get through it.

Focus on self-care and looking after yourself, whatever format that is. Self-care is such a varied spectrum of things. It could be having time out to read, having time out to walk. It could be medicating. It could be journaling. It could be taking time out to go and have a facial because you know that relaxes you, or going for acupuncture. But make time for that and focus on yourself emotionally and doing what you need to do to get through it. Acknowledge the loss; this is completely personal, and some people like to do little rituals to acknowledge that loss. Some people like to talk about it a lot to acknowledge that something has happened and it’s not something that can be forgotten.

Acknowledge that loss in whatever way is right for you. You could write a letter to that child, I know that’s been helpful to some people, or planted trees or flowers. Think about what you want to do to recognise that loss. Know that it’s ok and there is nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about with that. Reach out to family and friends and let them know how you feel and how you would like them to support you. People tend to wait for 12 weeks before they tell anybody about the pregnancy. Then if you sadly suffer a loss, you don’t necessarily have the support around you. Don’t feel you have to do that, do what’s right for you. Tell people how you would like them to support you because they often don’t know and would appreciate knowing the best way to support you. Journaling is another great way of getting down those feelings. You don’t have to show anybody. If you want to write, free write, put down whatever you are feeling; you don’t need to show it to anybody. Write without fear of being judged over whatever you are doing. Spend time as a couple. Think about why you are a couple, to start with and do things together as a couple. Cope together, grieve together and support one another in a way that you both need support. As I said, most importantly if you are really struggling, reach out to somebody. Reach out to a counsellor if you are really struggling with your grief and moving past that.

Answer from:
Psychologist, Head of Psychology and Emotional Support Unit Clinica Tambre

In general, it takes some time to reach a diagnosis of infertility. The vast majority of women reach it after months and months of trying to get pregnant at home.

During these months or years of trying, many women are already experiencing real suffering, as well as a constant wheel of illusion/hope – disappointment/discouragement. When they finally see a specialist who confirms that they need fertility treatment to achieve their goal of becoming a mother, the actual mourning for infertility begins, although, as we have said, the suffering goes back a long way.

It is a mourning for something that is considered innate, the ability to father a child.

Many people feel inferior as women or men, they feel they have done something wrong, they wonder why this is happening to them, and it really has a big emotional impact.

We know that any bereavement goes through different phases, and this one is no different from the rest, although it has its particularities.

Many will know the famous Dr. Kubler Ross and her magnificent description of the stages of grief.In infertility, our patients fit perfectly into the phases she defined: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Normally, when faced with the news, there is shock or disbelief, “no, this can’t be happening to me, there must be some mistake with the tests”, then comes frustration, which usually generates anger and rage, often followed by depression, although sometimes it comes after negotiation. The stage of sadness is very necessary, once overcome it will allow us to walk with more strength, then comes the negotiation in which we begin to look for a solution.

Finally the acceptance of the situation. From here, we generally take decisions about the situation, start a treatment, live without children, start an adoption process or whatever.

Answer from:
Fertility Coach Monica Bivas Mindset & Holistic Fertility Coach

That is absolutely a process and, let’s face it, each loss is different for each person but in the end, a loss is a loss no matter if it is in your early stages or like in my case that I had both; I had one stillbirth at 39 weeks, and one miscarriage later at seven and a half weeks. A loss is a loss and it’s heartbreaking, so how you cope is very clear in its conception.

Grieving is a process that has approximately four to five stages which is the denial part. I’ve been there, the denial part is crazy you won’t want to live your life after that. The denial part is you know as a kind of your self-help, self-talk therapy, then there is a process of… this has a name but I don’t remember it, I can describe it – it’s like you start to allow yourself to feel that whatever happened is something that is out of your hands, and there is a choice in the end part of the process which is the healing, and healing comes according to our pain. How long it takes? I cannot tell you how long it takes because again it’s different for each person. For me, it took so many years until I felt the relief and the healing, and some people can take three months but, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Your process is your process and you must feel it, you must live it, grieving is crying and you have all the right to cry, if you have guilt it’s part of the process, guilt comes with that. So, we need to allow… that’s big advice because I’ve been there, we must allow ourselves to feel that grieving process because by not feeling it, or denying it, or trying to run away from it we are making it longer. So it’s okay to deny it, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to feel guilty, allow those feelings but don’t drown in them. That means go with your timing but don’t stay forever in them, simple. Simple but again very very hard to take action on it, but you know what I’ve been there and it took me years, took me about three years to eventually find that healing. It doesn’t mean that healing is forgetting. We’re going to have that scar always but somehow we’re going to be able to learn and look back and say we did it, we are capable of doing this so we can do more.

Answer from:
Fertility Coach

In the fertility process, there are a lot of losses and a lot of grief. For example, not being able to conceive naturally is a loss. Fertility treatments that do not work are also a loss. When embryos do not implant, it is another loss. Experiencing pregnancy loss is, of course, a loss. Not being able to have a genetically owned child is also a loss. These are different layers in the fertility process, and they involve different layers of loss and grief. These losses can often be very invisible and seem very thin, especially to the people around you. Often, you may try to minimize these losses for yourself, but before you know it, you have a whole stack or pile of these layers of loss and grief.

I often say to my clients that the fertility process is a layered or stacked grieving process. It would help if you acknowledged this. These losses may seem very thin and invisible to the people around you, but they are real and intense for you. It is tough, and you have to acknowledge this for yourself. Don’t push it away like a ball under the water because this makes you tense and tired. You have to, as I always say to my clients, look at it and make this loss real and visible because then you will be more able not to complete it but give it a part in your story and move on.

So how do you do this, making it real and visible? For example, by talking about your losses. Very often, we don’t talk about these losses. Also, as a fertility coach, I do ritual exercises with my clients. I mean, making something symbolic to make it real and visible. For example, I had clients who planted something in the garden to make these losses visible put a little statue wear a gem or a tattoo, or make something themselves. These kinds of things make your loss more real and visible for yourself like you do when somebody dies, and we do this too. But we don’t do it when we have a small layer of loss. It’s not small in your fertility process. So I think that helps to move on in this stacked grieving process.

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