The invisible weight of grief and loss in Fertility.
Just because she carries it well, know it does not mean that it isn't heavy.
Grief, loss, fear, hope, despair and overwhelm are not something that we talk about when talking about (in)fertility. Unfortunately it is still something that is so very much misunderstood and unless you have been through it, possibly can't understand the depth of emotions, the levels of grief or despair and the fear of hoping when hope a lot of the time is what is keeping us going while at the same time weighing us down.
Of course you don't have to experience it to support someone. Doing that involves being open and curious about how a person is feeling. Meeting them where they are at and validating ALL feelings. Not forcing someone to shove them down, not usually out of any badness but rather a discomfort in not understanding. To change this the more we talk about it, openly, honestly, transparently, authentically the more it will help others that want to support us to understand and us going through it to heal. Helping towards removing any stigma, shame, guilt or feeling the need for secrecy for fear of being judged.
When we talk about grief in fertility there are so many forms of grief. There is grief and loss as we go through the cycle of hope and despair each month. Excitement when there is a window in the month where we can actively try to conceive (which usually disappears or at the very least fades as months turn to years), the hope as we wait, coupled with the fear that it might not happen for us, followed by the very often raw and very real feelings of loss and grief when our period starts and the cycle starts all over again.
We have the grief of an actual loss, whether that is our period arriving each month, not being able to collect enough eggs, embryos not developing to day5/6 blastocysts, an embryo not implanting, implantation not sticking, chemical pregnancy, missed miscarriage, miscarriage, baby loss. They are all losses. All perhaps judged by society as differing severities of loss or accepted forms of loss. But loss, is loss, is loss. It is all relative. It all matters. It is very real to the person who is going through it and sometimes going through it more than once.
We have anticipatory grief and grief overload. In anticipatory grief as it says, the anticipation of grief, of loss. The anxiety, fear and despondency that comes with it. This is very much felt in fertility. When you have been trying for a long time and nothing is happening, you reach the stage where you are expecting loss each month, to grieve each month. To experience loss in the forms of all of the above mentioned in the last paragraph as that is all you have known. It is hard to be hopeful, to not anticipate loss when that is all you have experienced.
This feeling of anticipatory loss does not magically disappear once you become pregnant. Whether you have experienced previous loss or not. Experiencing a long fertility journey can be more than enough to cause anxiety in pregnancy. When you have had years of hoping and getting nothing to lose that mentality even when you finally become pregnant can be incredibly difficult, especially without support. When you see those two pink lines, when you have scans, when you can feel yourself physically growing, it can all feel like a blur, just waiting for something to go wrong. It again is not about being negative. It is nearly an inbuilt response or route map that has taken over. Something that we don't talk about for fear of what people might say. In that we are pregnant now, it is meant to be an exciting and wonderful time. Leaving you questioning yourself as to why you feel overwhelming anxiety, fear, overwhelm in replace of this expected excitement of anticipated sense of feeling whole.
We have loss in the sense of loss of a future. Loss of a child or children that we wished for, longed for, thought we would have naturally and now have to come to terms with not having. To look towards healing and how we can create a life for ourselves that looks very different from what we had hoped for ourselves. Not all fertility journeys end with a baby in our arms. With the family we had hoped for. Childless not by choice is unfortunately not something we talk about. We are starting to, but it has a very loooooong way to go. Exploring the concept of otherhood and creating a new future can be heartbreaking. Support, awareness and acknowledgement of this is so important.
This is true too for secondary infertility (or continued infertility after having your first child). For those that thought they would have a sibling or indeed siblings for their child. It can be very hard to talk openly about this, again for fear of being judged. Judged as selfish or ungrateful for the child/children that you already have. A failure for not 'providing that all important sibling' for your child. Responsible for leaving your child (an only child) alone in the world. The pressure and judgement never stops. Whether you have no children, one child or several children. It is compassion and understanding that needs to replace judgement and assumption.
Very often we can be told that we should be more positive, that we should be grateful for all we have in our lives already adding to the pain of it all in the sense of dismissing our feelings. We can be grateful for all we have and grieve at the same time. Grieving is not being negative. It is a response to an awful situation and our way of navigating through it and moving towards healing. Support and understanding is what is needed. Space to talk about it without worrying if you are making someone uncomfortable or that you might be judged is needed. The only way to change this is to start talking, communicating and being honest. In people being honest on both side. The person going through it in how they are feeling and the person listening/supporting in how they are feeling if it is out of there depth in not understanding but still wanting to be there. Communicating how they can help and what you need. As mentioned earlier it involves being open and curious and meeting both parties where they are at.
Just because she carries it well does not mean it isn't heavy. Reach out to someone today. Check in on your friend, sister, daughter, cousin or colleague. Let's begin to change how we view grief, loss, fear and anxiety in fertility, otherhood and pregnancy. Show kindness, compassion and understanding. Support each other. Together we are stronger.
Dara Byrne - Fertility Wellbeing Ireland. 28.10.2021