The media has been in overdrive reporting on the life transitions of Oprah Winfrey and Maria Shriver. Oprah chose to end her 25 year reign as the queen of television. Maria Shriver did not choose to be in the middle of a scandal caused by her husband that has blown her world apart. It got me thinking about the transitions that people who experience infertility must face; unlike media darlings, none of us have Stevie Wonder singing “Isn’t She Lovely?” and a stadium full of people sending us waves of love and support.
Nobody chooses to be infertile and face the subsequent challenges it imposes. The first transition that arises, is when you begin to build your family the old fashioned way and are unsuccessful after repeated efforts. This transition turns into a life crisis and is the first stage of your infertility journey. You must then consider a transition to medical assistance to get guidance about becoming pregnant. If your physician is able to identify the cause of your infertility, you then transition into a specific infertility treatment that offers you the best option for having a healthy baby. You may have to transition into other treatment options and possibly assisted reproductive technology as you seek ways to become a parent. There can come a point where you decide that the infertility treatments are not successful and subsequently, you find yourself transitioning yet again; this time into the path of adoption. For some, the final transition may be moving from multiple, unsuccessful infertility treatments, into choosing not to have a child. All of these transitions are coupled with a mixture of emotions including hope, anxiety, fear, sadness, and often, a sense of loss or failure.
How do you cope with the transitions associated with infertility? Remember that the emotions and physical side effects you experience throughout all of these transitional stages are normal, and you are not alone in experiencing them. Give yourself time to grieve and also for your body time to recover if you are unsuccessful, before you move on towards the next step. Approach each transition as a new experience and don’t go into it automatically assuming failure will continue to occur. Remind yourself that you are much, much more than your infertility. Don’t let your infertility define all of who you are. Find constructive ways to manage the stress associated with each new transition. Identify what you did in the past to nurture your mind and body when you faced a crisis or loss. You may want to develop new coping techniques to help manage the challenges associated with your family building efforts.
Transitions around family building cause us to take a closer look at our values, our faith, and our coping mechanisms. Gather all of the information you can as you enter each new transition period. It will help you feel more in control and give you something concrete to focus on. Each stage of the infertility process that is unsuccessful will challenge you in a multitude of ways. Transitions have a positive aspect in the sense that you can choose to learn from your experience of the previous transitions. Use that information to face the next stage. Finally, ask for help if you need it. You may have friends or family you can count on. If not seek resources such as support groups or therapists that have infertility and adoption expertise. Even Oprah and Maria sought support as they transitioned into new life challenges. Keep that option open for yourself.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of the award winning Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.