Finding Joy in the Midst of Infertility

Proverbs says that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” But I think “sick” is a far too gentle way of putting it. 

After 3 years of trying… and failing. 3 years of planning my sisters’ baby showers and then their sprinkles, of watching them swell and swap pregnancy stories, and then newborn clothes and nursing tips. After 3 years of watching my dream lived out in their lives while I pee on a stick and learn that, once again, my hope has been “deferred.” 

I don’t think “sick” quite captures what my heart has felt.

It’s felt butchered.

Butchered by each 2-week-wait.

By each time I’ve felt hope climb after googling “early signs of pregnancy”,

only to find one stripe on the stick, despite desperately squinting to see if maybe there might be another faint one there.

Each time I’ve dreamed of our child,

prayed for our child,

planned over and over all the different ways that I’d tell my husband… my family… my friends… that I’m pregnant with our child.

Each time I’ve imagined finding out its gender,

and have added a new favorite name to the list on my phone.

Each time, we moved, and I’ve packed up the unused onesie that my husband bought years ago for our babies to wear on the day we brought them home.

Each time… The pain I’ve felt has been a sharp, cutting-edge kind of pain, not the dull achiness that comes with the flu.

Hearts that have had their hope deferred by years of infertility, or in my case, by 3 miscarriages, 2 surgeries, and numerous procedures, all culminating in the news that women with my condition have about a 25% chance of having a live birth. 

Hearts that have been through all that aren’t just sick… They can’t be mended by rest, tea, and a little homemade chicken soup.

So how do they mend? Better yet, how do they find JOY in the midst of infertility?

This is a question I have wrestled with.

How do you heal a wound that gets ripped open each month and poked at every baby shower and gender reveal?

Because for most women struggling with infertility, whether they have a concrete reason why they’ve been unable to conceive or not, there’s nothing definite

There is no guarantee that they’ll never be able to have a child. There’s always the possibility

However improbable it might be. However the odds might be stacked against it. It still exists. 

Hope still exists.

So, how do they – how do I – deal with the pain that comes from a “maybe not” or a “probably not” instead of a “no”?

After years of searching for this answer, I have learned that healing and joy can only start in one place:

You have to take time to grieve.

This doesn’t mean giving up. 

It doesn’t mean you stop trying.

It means letting yourself feel all the feelings that have come from the loss of being unable to have a child yet.

For me, this “feeling all the feelings” is so incredibly hard. I say that it’s because I hate being a sad person. And I hate bringing negativity into other people’s lives. But I think the truth is that I’m afraid.

I’m afraid of the magnitude of those feelings. 

As someone who’s struggled with depression multiple times in her life, I am keenly aware of my emotion’s ability to drag me down to a prison of sadness and keep me locked up there.

And the (admittedly unhealthy) coping mechanism I’ve developed to avoid future lapses into darkness is to avoid negative feelings all together. I choose happiness. I choose gratitude. I choose setting goals and focusing on what I can control. I choose moving forward instead of sitting with my brokenness. 

And while there is definitely a time and a place for each of these disciplines, I have learned that they should proceed, not precede the discipline of grieving.

Because pain stuffed down extracts an exorbitant cost from its host over time. Ann Voskamp, who as a teen slit her wrists to try to let her pain, wrote 

“This is always the choice: pain demands to be felt – or it will demand you feel nothing at all.”

THE BROKEN WAY, 28

When I stuff, ignore, dismiss, or deny my grief, I inadvertently stunt my other emotions as well. Happiness, peace, gratefulness, and love that live in the shadow of a loss I haven’t dealt with become stunted, immature versions of their former, richer selves. 

In short: I cannot be fully alive to the goodness in my life until I have allowed myself to be fully alive to the heartbreak.

Choosing to be fully alive to heartbreak looks different for every person. No one’s expression of grief or path through it looks exactly like another’s. But I do want to share with you one tool that I’ve found invaluable as I’ve processed our struggle with infertility. Maybe it can help you too:

I started scheduling a consistent time each day to sit with my grief.

Now I know you might read this and immediately want to walk away. It seems like nowadays, the solution to every problem lies in some new discipline that we should be cramming into our already too-full schedules. If that’s your feeling – I can totally relate! But before you walk away, read a little further. I think you might just find that, for those struggling with infertility (or any loss for that matter), the benefits offered here are too good to pass up…

  • First, I choose a time slot each day that has a predetermined start and end. For example, I like to designate a half hour each morning from 7:30-8:00am to process our struggle with infertility.

  • Using the same time each day creates a habit, which not only increases the likelihood that I’ll show up, but it teaches my psyche to trust that it will consistently get the opportunity to express its anger, sadness, jealousy, hope, and whatever other emotions are swirling around inside.

  • A closed time slot helps me trust that my emotions won’t overwhelm me. As I said before, I’ve struggled with depression, and engaging negative emotions can be pretty scary for me. By sticking to my 7:30-8:00am time slot, I am training myself to sit with hard emotions, let them be fully felt for a time, and then put them aside. In other words, I am teaching myself to safely process my grief.

  • Consistent processing time lets me focus on life beyond infertility during the rest of my day. Now, when I see a pregnant woman in the store or a new baby announcement on Facebook, I remind myself that I have a time set aside to process the emotions and thoughts that have been brought up. But it’s not right now. And because my mind has learned to trust that it truly will get the time that it needs to process, I’m able to move past these painful thoughts and continue on with my day in a way that I never would have been able to before.

** I also started keeping a small notebook in my purse so that if there’s a particularly persistent thought or emotion that I’m having a tough time letting go of, I can jot them down. That way, I know they won’t be forgotten and can be addressed at the appropriate time.

  • Setting aside time for my grief to be fully felt, focused on, and processed sets me free to fully feel other emotions. I’ve found that when grief is consistently engaged and expressed, joy, gratefulness, and love can coexist with it in a way that they could never have when it was being stuffed down and ignored. In the end, sitting with my grief for a half hour each day has allowed me to be the positive person I’d been trying to be when I was running from it.

  • I fill my set time with journaling, reading books on grieving, and meditation – you can use whatever helps you process. And when the half hour’s up, I tell myself that it’s time to put those thoughts and feelings aside, reminding myself that I’ll be back tomorrow. I like to imagine closing them into my journal or whatever book I’m reading and leaving them there, in a safe place.

     

By setting aside time daily to process my grief, I’ve been able to stop infertility from taking over the rest of my life.

This is how a wound can heal despite being reopened monthly and poked at daily. 

This is how to live with the indefinite “maybe” when it pertains to something you want more than anything.

This is how to grieve the loss of not yet, while still holding out hope for the future. 

This is how I’ve found joy in the midst of infertility. I hope you can find joy there too!

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