Joy Tanner, MA, LCMHCS
Understanding the Grief and Trauma of Infertility
Updated: Jul 26, 2021
Alone. Unheard. Misunderstood. Broken. Ashamed. These are just a sampling of emotions experienced by individuals who struggle with infertility. The traumatic grief of infertility is often overlooked by those who have never experienced it.
An individual’s Infertility story begins with their hopes and dreams of having a family one day. It’s normal to assume that this will go according to plan. After all, infertility is not an issue for the majority of the population, therefore it is not commonly on the radar screen. When things don’t go according to plan, month after month becomes a repetitive cycle of hope, heartbreak, and insufficient time to grieve before the cycle begins again.
Consider for a moment the grief of bereavement. In our feeble attempts to heal the grief of others, we often don’t know what to say, but this type of grief is familiar enough that we know we need to respond to it. We call, send cards and flowers, attend funerals, bring meals, etc. so that we might provide a little salve to the grieving one’s wound. While infertility is not the same as the grief experienced with the loss of a loved one, it is a deep, repeated grief of failed opportunities and unfulfilled longing. Many will isolate and suffer in silence as they lose their sense of belonging to those who have no difficulty starting a family.
In my work with clients who struggle with infertility, their most common needs are to feel heard, understood, and supported by those closest to them. Here are some helpful ways to meet those needs:
Don’t avoid the topic. No one expects you to take away their pain, but it is nice to know that you care and that you are there for them whenever they need to talk. Simply asking how they are doing is the best place to start. It’s also appropriate to ask them how you can best support them.
Don’t tell them that they “just need to relax.” This adds to their anxiety that every failed attempt to conceive a baby is somehow their fault when, in fact, they aren’t able to physically control their relaxation response to their stressful circumstances.
Offer to connect them with someone that you know who has experienced (or is currently also experiencing) infertility. Shared experiences are powerful.
Acknowledge that child-centered holidays (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, etc.) are difficult days for them. Let them know that you are thinking about them by calling, texting, or sending a card.
Continue to include them in your life by inviting them to events, including activities that involve children. Whether they attend should be left up to them.
Support their decisions about fertility treatments, including their decision to stop treatments. Rest assured that they did not make this decision lightly and have thoroughly considered the pros and cons of their options.
Read up on the basics of the fertility treatments that they are going through. They will appreciate that you are seeking understanding.
If they are going through difficult fertility treatments, consider meeting a practical need such as providing a meal for them, helping them clean their home, or helping them complete an unfinished household project. If you have the means to do so, making a financial contribution can help ease the financial burden of costly procedures that are often not covered by health insurance.
Ongoing infertility can significantly impact an individual’s mental health and their ability to function well in their daily life. Mental health counseling can provide needed emotional support, coping strategies for symptom management, decision-making skills related to treatment options, and conflict resolution for couples. At Cornerstone Counseling and Wellness, we would be honored to walk alongside you. For more information, please visit our website at www.cornerstonecounselingnc.net or call us at 984-235-2545.