Infertility and Ambiguous Loss: Tips for Managing the Day-to-Day of Infertility

Having trouble getting pregnant? Many couples and single women are finding out there is more to their story than just having trouble getting pregnant. It is not uncommon for people who wait and plan to have children and then struggle with conceiving to be unexpectedly hit with intense and overwhelming emotions. After trying for a year, stress and concern about being able to have children increases significantly as families and individuals make the decision to pursue fertility treatments. Couples and women struggling with becoming pregnant or having miscarriages share common concerns about each year that passes after trying each type of fertility treatment without success. Birthday celebrations, holidays, and menstruation become a constant reminder that time is moving forward without pregnancy. Yet, as it seems to those struggling with fertility issues, your family, friends, and co-workers cheerfully continue to have more children and grandchildren and are ostensibly unaware of the pain you may feel. Maybe you cannot go a single day without a reminder at work, on television, or anywhere you go that others are achieving easily (even accidentally) what you are desperate for. Maybe your partner or spouse doesn’t seem as concerned as you are about not having children and brushes off your sadness and pain. Maybe your sex life with your partner has lost its luster or you are no longer able to perform as you would like. All of these situations are common for couples and women struggling with trouble becoming or keeping a pregnancy.

If infertility or the threat of infertility is something that has affected you or your couple relationship, then you are likely dealing with a type of loss known as ambiguous loss. Simply stated, with ambiguous loss, you tend to feel the range of difficult emotions associated with loss sometimes even before the child has been conceived or other times before the child has been born, as in a miscarriage. The loss is not only limited to the child, but it is also, in many ways, the loss of a dream that you have planned for and expected for many years. Grieving this type of loss definitely has its own set of challenges due to uncertainty and confusion concerning what is causing difficulty in your fertility and whether you might ever be able to have a child. What follows are some tips that can help you manage the day-to-day struggles of infertility and the challenges associated with ambiguous loss.

Give yourself permission. It is better to admit to ourselves that we feel angry, sad, hurt, etc., than to try to hold everything inside. Maybe you feel angry when you see pregnant strangers or have to attend yet another baby shower. Acknowledge that different situations along with your fertility concerns will sometimes generate difficult emotions. Give yourself permission to be honest with yourself. Sometimes we all have negative feelings and thoughts about ourselves, other people, and our respective situations in life; that is a part of being human. Also, don’t forget to give yourself permission to grieve. In order to manage these feelings, we must first know what we are feeling.

Treat Yourself. You have admitted to yourself how you are feeling and, yet, you still feel upset. Now what? Couples and women must find ways to treat themselves with special care to manage these emotions so that they do not get stuck in them. Our bodies are made for stress, but too much stress will run us down and keep us from being the best versions of ourselves. The body handles stress much like a car engine. The engine that is used from time to time will last longer than the engine that is used constantly. Going through infertility treatments and being unable to have children is an unavoidable added stressor that you have to contend with. Thus, it is imperative that you give yourself extra attention to keep from getting run down. Take a day off from work and do something you enjoy. Go to place you find relaxing. Cuddle up with your favorite book or take a hot bath to help melt your stress away. When couples and women dealing with infertility are able to find ways to relax, they are better able to manage unexpected reminders of their struggle with infertility.

Talk about your pain and listen to others. Too many times, couples and single women think no one can understand what they are going through. If you are married or in a long-term relationship, tell your partner about the reminders of your struggle to get pregnant. Give your partner space to talk about how they feel, as well. Maybe you are more affected by having trouble getting pregnant, but your partner may also have hurts yet not be sure how to talk with you about them. If you are a single woman, find a friend or family member you trust to talk to about your feelings. Often, partners or confidants have no idea what to say or do; therefore, don’t be afraid to tell them what you need from them. Also, keep in mind that friends and family may attempt only to speak to you about the fertility—set boundaries around these relationships. You are more than your struggle to have a baby. Tell them if and when you want to talk about your fertility difficulties, and if you ever want them to bring it up. Otherwise, friends and family will continue to do what they think is the most supportive even if it is completely wrong for meeting your needs.

Ask for help. If you find you are having trouble managing your emotions and relationships or if you just can’t get a break from the stress of your fertility difficulties, I recommend consulting a professional who focuses on working with couples and individuals dealing with relational difficulties that may arise with fertility issues. Sometimes it is helpful to have a safe place to work through the stress and the pain of having difficulty getting pregnant. I welcome you to contact me with any questions, as I am happy to offer any assistance that I am able to give for you and your relationships.

Gabe Yandell

Licensed Marital & Family Therapist
Infertility Issues in Women and Couples

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