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The Emotional Journey Associated With Infertility

Posted by Iris Waichler, LCSW on with 0 Comments

     I just read a beautiful and poignant blog written by a woman who had been unsuccessfully trying to conceive for years.  She was writing about her decision to donate the baby clothes she had been saving for her unborn child.  Letting go of those clothes meant she was finally able to let go of her dream of parenting the child she would not conceive.  The grief entwined with that decision is familiar to many of us.  When I had my first pregnancy we had nicknamed our baby JW for Junior Waichler.  When I lost that baby my husband who is a wonderful writer wrote a beautiful letter from us to JW describing the pain of the loss, what our unborn child meant to us, and the life we would never have together.  It brought me a lot of comfort and these many years later I periodically read it and it brings me a measure of comfort 14 years later.

     I would have another miscarriage following that one.  My third pregnancy was filled with anxiety after suffering two previous miscarriages.  My mother in law called and asked me if she could take me shopping for maternity clothes.  It was a lovely and loving gesture.  I couldn’t tell her I was terrified to go because I wasn’t sure how I would cope if I lost this baby and had maternity clothes or baby clothes to remind me of my inability to conceive a child and maintain a pregnancy long enough to have a healthy baby. When I look back on why I couldn’t tell her it was because I thought it would sound silly. I actually believed saying the words aloud or buying the maternity clothes would jinx my pregnancy.  I was afraid to allow myself to imagine a happy outcome.  I felt the need to try to safeguard my emotions as if that was even possible.

     I am Jewish and was taught that Judaic custom tells us not to bring any baby furniture or baby items into the home prior to the birth of the baby.  I was told that under Jewish law, allowing these items in the home could bring bad luck or a curse to the unborn child and the family.  This was particularly poignant for me as I faced my years of infertility.  I recently read an article by reformed Rabbi Jeffrey Wolson Goldwasser who addresses this issue.  He writes “Jewish belief does require us to avoid actions that might inspire the envy of others.”  He goes on to say “We are expected to be mindful that the joy of pregnancy—if flaunted could cause pain to those that are unable to have children of their own.” I found this interpretation very interesting. The full article can be found @  http://judaism.about.com/od/birthtomarria2/f/prebabyprep.htm   There are a range of different beliefs and customs practiced under Jewish law that are determined by the form of Judaism you adopt and this interpretation does not apply to all groups.

     I led a support group for several years that was designed to help couples who were pregnant after infertility treatment.  The purpose of the group was to help them understand and deal with their ongoing anxiety and fear about their pregnancy.  Anxiety was a common theme for everyone in the group regardless of their individual infertility history, how far along they were in their pregnancy, or how healthy a pregnancy they had.

     One of the messages I had for them was to acknowledge the individual, painful journeys they all took to get to where they were today.  I advised them to take the time to celebrate milestones during their pregnancy.  I observed that people forgot or were afraid to do that. Their past problems did not necessarily mean the pregnancy would be problematical. Remembering my own personal experience I recommended celebrating buying maternity clothes, recognizing and celebrating getting through the first trimester, and having people identify their own personal milestones.  I helped them create ways to take a breath, step back, and just enjoy and honor the moment.

     There are many people who are not able to fulfill their dream to get pregnant and become a parent.  The grief and loss associated with that is a process that affects people in different ways.  The author of the blog I referred to above felt that donating the baby items she had was a meaningful and thoughtful way for her to say good bye to her unborn child and bring some good into someone else’s life.  Take some time to think about what would be a meaningful way for you to say goodbye or honor the child you recognize will not come in the way you hoped.  Discuss ideas with your partner if you have one. Create a poem, a moment, a ritual, or ceremony to help along the way.  Remember that whatever you do is not necessarily supposed to end the sadness or the sense of loss.  It is just the first tiny step in moving to the next day.

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