4 Tips for Coping With Infertility Grief
At the start of 2020, anything and everything seemed possible. Maybe not a worldwide pandemic...but we’ll get to that later.
At the start of the new year, I was getting ready for our second round of IVF. This time, we were doing IVF out of state and I was literally driving to my new home away from home on January 1st. What a way to start a new year! A new decade! A new IVF cycle!
This time was going to be different. Even though I’ve spent the past five years trying everything imaginable—acupuncture, chinese herbs, Reiki, gluten-free/dairy-free, no caffeine, no alcohol, chakra balancing, yoga, every supplement known to man, IUI, IVF—THIS cycle was going to be different. I was with a new clinic, a new protocol, and I could just FEEL the positivity coming our way.
Spoiler alert: this cycle was not different. The day after egg retrieval, our embryologist delivered the news that we had two healthy embryos. My husband and I had one and a half days of tearful gratitude. We couldn’t believe it. Two chances to become parents! For some, having two embryos might not feel like such a win. But when you’ve got low AMH and you’re historically a poor responder to stimulation meds, two is like winning the Superbowl!
I remember every single thing about the 1.5 days we had our embryos. I remember what I listened to in the car on the way to work (It Was A Good Day by Ice Cube on repeat). I remember the clients I saw. I remember the way I felt lighter in my body. I remember feeling like it was a happy dream.
And then, on our day five report, I woke up from that dream. I got the call on my way to work that both embryos had arrested. For reasons nobody knows, they just stopped growing. The embryos that looked beautiful on day 3, were no longer dividing beautifully. “I’m so sorry. Let us know when you’re ready and we’ll get you set up for another round”.
Except this was going to be our last round. My husband and I had agreed that it was the right choice for us. For our relationship and our mental health, this felt like enough.
Then, we grieved. We’re still grieving. We’re grieving in that silent way that others might not notice. We’ll probably always grieve. Because it’s really really really sad.
Between my own experience with infertility, my training as a licensed therapist, and my job coaching people through infertility, I’ve become somewhat of an expert on grief. It fascinates me. It terrifies me. And I’ve learned how to look it straight in the eye. I’ve learned that grief is important to sit with, to explore, and to understand.
And so far, grief has been in the air—hovering, lingering—for almost all of 2020. And we’re only a quarter of the way through the year!
Our infertility community is no stranger to grief, but COVID-19 has added a whole new dynamic. In obvious and not-so-obvious ways, one common denominator almost all of us are feeling right now is grief.
Let’s start with the obvious:
Delayed embryo transfers
No travel for adoptions
Now onto the more subtle:
Baby boom jokes
Loss of control
Lack of distraction (hello grief)
Social media (hello moms complaining about their multiple kids)
Passage of time
Did I already mention the loss of control?
I see it in my practice with clients and I feel it in my own life. Grief surrounds us right now. It’s the uninvited guest at every meal. It’s the jolt that wakes you up in the middle of the night. It’s the tear you shed when you’re reading the news.
I want to share some tips with you that I’ve learned about working through grief. These are strategies to help you cope, look grief straight in the eyes, explore it, and understand it. Because with grief, one thing is certain—the way out is through.
You can’t ignore grief and expect it to go away. That’s about as effective as placing a glass of milk in the corner of a room and expecting it to disappear. Sure, it will work for a day or two (out of sight, out of mind). But eventually, you’ll walk back into that room and your glass of spoiled milk in the corner will demand your attention. In a big way.
Grief is the same. Except once it demands our attention, it’s not always easy to understand. It’s become more complicated. It might show up as anger, addiction, avoidance, numbness, isolation, or physical pains in the body.
So let’s take a look at how you can work with your grief:
Just like anything else, you have to name it before you can understand it. You have to acknowledge that it’s there. Hi, my name is _____, and I’m grieving.
Give it a voice.
Slow down. Sit with it. Allow the others parts of you to quiet and see what your grief has to say. My favorite way to do this is to literally sit down and tell myself I’m going to write from the part of me that is grieving. It’s very important to recognize that this is PART of you, not all of you. So there is no need to push and pull between grief and gratitude, or grief and excitement. They can all exist, you’re just trying to understand this one part of yourself.
Allow yourself to not push it away. Thank it for showing up. Your grief builds your resilience. You gain wisdom from it. You are changed because of it. It is probably hard to see at first, but that change can be beautiful. Your grief can be beautiful. Maybe share it with somebody you trust. Work through it with a therapist or a coach. Do whatever you can to continue to understand it without judgment.
Speaking of no judgment, how would you treat this grief if it was a friend’s grief? A sister’s grief? Your parents’ grief? Would you shoo it away? Or would you 100% understand why it’s here? Would you be patient and slow? Supportive and compassionate? How can you offer that same understanding to yourself?
All of these tools are an important part of tackling grief. The irony being this: you’re not tackling it to beat it, you’re tackling it to understand it, learn from it, and move through it. You’re tackling it so you don’t end up with a glass of spoiled milk in the corner of your room someday.
Ashley Fina is a licensed therapist, online infertility coach, and yoga teacher based in Pittsburgh, PA. She is also a fellow human who is on year five of her infertility story. She lives with her husband and sweet one-eyed border collie. After two failed rounds of IVF, she is still figuring out what’s coming next. What she knows for certain, though, is that she is dedicating her professional life to serving the infertility community. She believes that every single person deserves to be seen, heard, understood, and supported through this incredibly difficult season of life. Through her own personal and professional experience, she helps you stay grounded - love yourself and your partner - and get back to YOU even when you’re dealing with infertility. And she does so with creativity and fun. Core values include: the healing power of the outdoors, dogs, yoga, friendships, music, good food, and great coffee. Ashley is always happy to answer any questions you may have about how therapy or coaching can help you on your journey. For more on navigating grief and infertility, check her out here. She is offering a resource specifically for coping with grief in the time of COVID-19.