When struggling with infertility, grief is an inevitable emotion. You are grieving for the loss of a child you never had, and for the loss of a dream. The dream to have the family you always wanted, to create life with your true love, or to be a mother or father. It's a unique kind of grief, because most of the time no one knows that you're feeling it. The grief comes and goes; with each failed cycle a new feeling of helplessness resurfaces. And those who have had miscarriages are painfully familiar with the grief and despair of losing their unborn baby. It's a sadness that never really goes away.
Most people are familiar with the 5 stages of grief as they relate to death. But I find that they also relate to infertility. Most of us probably experience several stages at once, and don't necessarily go through them in this order. Here are my experiences with each stage.
I experienced this during my first year of TTC. I felt that I had done everything right, Daniel and I were at a good place in our relationship and financially stable. It made sense to start a family. And my cycles had always been regular, so I was pretty confident it would happen in the first 6 months. At the 6 month mark is when I finally started to think that something could be wrong. So I started researching, I tried new vitamins and supplements. I followed the advice of random people on the internet. But still, nothing was happening. I knew that once we hit the 1 year mark that our next step would be to see a fertility specialist. But I didn't want to. I wasn't going to be "one of those" women who was desperate to have a baby. I was hoping that I wouldn't need treatment at all. I was in denial and waited longer than I should have to get help.
The anger kicked in after we got our initial fertility test results back. At this point we had been trying for 18 months. I remember that day vividly. I went in for my HSG and was sitting on the table with my robe on, waiting for the doctor to come in. When he finally did, he had a piece of paper in his hand and he said that he had Daniel's results from the semen analysis. He said there were problems. My heart jumped into my throat. The doctor explained that his motility and morphology were very low, and that he would need additional testing to figure out the cause. I took a deep breath but my heart was racing. I was thinking "oh no, what do I tell Daniel?" But I couldn't think about that; it was time for the HSG so I had to calm down, impossible as it was. So I laid back on the exam table as the doctor prepared everything. He told me to relax and to take deep breaths as he started the procedure. The computer screen was angled in such a way that I could see what was happening. As the liquid entered my uterus, it clearly split in 2 directions (it should look like a triangle, mine looked like 2 hot-dogs laid side by side and connected in the middle). I asked "Is that normal?" and the doctor didn't reply right away. In the middle of the procedure he asked the MA to get one of the other doctors. So the 2nd doctor came in and they were discussing the image on the screen, using words like bicornuate, septum, mullerian anomaly...words I didn't understand. My heart was beating even faster because I knew that something was wrong with me. The doctor finished the procedure and told me to meet him in his office. I was trying to hold back tears. I wasn't expecting this at all. Not something wrong with both of us. I tried to compose myself and went to his office and he explained everything to me and that I would need some additional tests. I was in shock. I could barely make it to my car without tears starting to pour down my face. I called my mom and told her what happened. And when I got off the phone with her. I started yelling at God. "Why are you doing this to me?!" I said over and over through the tears. I was SO angry. I felt like I was being punished and couldn't understand why. To this day I still feel angry sometimes, wondering, "Why me?".
As angry as I was with God, I tried bargaining with him. If I start going to church, will you fix me? If I start praying more often, will you give me a baby? As ridiculous as it was, I thought maybe I was doing something wrong, and that if I could fix it, God would allow me to get pregnant. Well, this bargaining phase didn't last very long.
The depression has been an underlying problem pretty much the entire time, but grew more prevalent after the 2nd anniversary and when I found out my 1st surgery wasn't successful. I just kept thinking, "What else could go wrong?" I was just sad all the time. I was seeing my friends get pregnant and give birth while I felt stuck, left behind, and alone. For a long time I wouldn't talk to Daniel about how I was feeling, because I didn't want him to know just how broken I felt. How incomplete. I didn't want him to blame himself. I started to feel like we would never have a baby. That Daniel and I will just have to learn to live life without children. And that scared the hell out of me. Could Daniel still love me if we never had kids? Would he be truly happy if he never got to be a father? These questions are heartbreaking and I still don't know the answers to them. Even when I ask myself if I could ever be truly happy again, I can't find the answer. I feel that if I never get to be a mother, that a part of me will remain sad, bitter, or angry. And I don't want to be that person forever. I want to be the carefree, happy person I was before we started TTC. Sometimes I think that person is gone, forever changed by this experience.
I'm definitely not here yet. And to be honest I'm not sure exactly what this stage would be like. Is it accepting that we will have a long, difficult journey to parenthood? Or is it accepting that we may never be parents? I would like to one day accept that this is the path that was laid before me, and I was chosen because I'm strong enough to get through it. But some days I don't know if I am strong enough. I don't know if I can keep going. I want this dark cloud that follows me around to dissipate. I want to feel happy and complete. And I'm scared I might never feel that way again.
This journey will end differently for each of us. It may be an ongoing struggle to build our family. Or we might have an easier time conceiving our 2nd or 3rd child. Regardless of how my life will turn out, I'm trying to accept the idea that I'm being prepared for something. Maybe this journey will help me be a better mother. Or maybe I'm meant to help others in this situation. I don't know the purpose, but I can hope that there is light beyond this darkness, and that someday I'll make it there.