It’s OK to Grieve: Infertility, Pregnancy Loss, and Mental Health
I practice what I preach, so I’m taking a break this week from Riverbend Therapy Chats on Instagram to focus on self-care. This doubles as an opportunity to dive deeper into my conversation from earlier this month with Nikki Walther, Riverbend’s new clinician. Previously, we talked about how to support a friend who is experiencing infertility, pregnancy loss, or maternal mental health issues. Today, we’ll dive into how to approach those issues in your and your partner’s lives.
Infertility and pregnancy loss can be deeply emotional, profoundly challenging, and intensely isolating. Finding a counselor like Nikki to talk to can be a crucial part of walking through these experiences. During our conversation, Nikki, whose work is informed by her own infertility journey, reflected on a few important things to keep in mind when dealing with any of these issues.
1. You Have Permission to Grieve
If your journey to parenthood has been fraught with infertility, pregnancy loss, or both, you may feel like your or your partner’s body has betrayed you. That sense of betrayal can foster blame and anger, which, for most of us, are more familiar and easier emotions than grief. But grief is at the heart of this. So instead of blaming or feeding betrayal, remember that infertility and pregnancy loss are almost never due to an action either partner took or didn’t take, and acknowledge the loss that underlies your emotions. Whether you’re at the beginning of this journey or are several years in, have lost pregnancies or are having to let go of long-held expectations about parenthood and pregnancy, giving yourself permission to grieve is the most important thing you can do. You’ve lost something dear to you and your feelings of loss deserve to be acknowledged.
2. Focus on Your Sphere of Influence
It can be very difficult to relax and enjoy milestones that come with a healthy pregnancy after experiencing pregnancy loss or infertility. You might feel consumed with worry or fear, or spend hours anxiously wondering whether every twinge you feel is a sign of more heartbreak. This, unfortunately, is very normal: You’re more at risk for developing perinatal mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or psychosis, if you’ve struggled with infertility or undergone fertility treatments. But know this: Letting fear consume you won’t change the outcome of your pregnancy. As hard as it may be, the healthiest thing you can do is recognize and accept that much of this process is out of your control. Focus on the things in your sphere of influence that you reasonably can control, such as taking your prenatal vitamins every day, and try to let go of the rest so you can revel in your pregnancy.
3. If Not Love, Then Acceptance
As we noted above, infertility and pregnancy loss can make you feel like at war with your body. You focus narrows to the ways in which your body is denying you the thing you dearly want, and it can be difficult (if not impossible) to feel any love for it. But compassion is exactly what it needs now (and always!). It might not be possible to get to a place of complete body love in the midst of infertility, so aim first for acceptance and compassion, and work from there. Begin by finding gratitude for what it can do, even if it's something as elemental as, “my body breathes on its own,” or “my body tells me when it needs food or rest.” This will help you work through your grief while maintaining a healthier more compassionate relationship with your body.
4. Rally Around Your Partner
If you’re undergoing treatment for infertility, you’ve likely got family and friends rallying around you. But with all the focus on you, your partner might get overlooked; perhaps he or she seems to be coping just fine but is struggling silently in an effort to keep the focus on you. To better support your partner, start by asking how he or she is feeling and what he or she needs. Recognize that the two of you might cope in very different ways—perhaps your partner needs more alone time, a project to focus on, or to talk about his or her feelings more—and make space for your partner’s needs to the best of your abilities. (It’s understandable if your emotional capacity is almost completely taken up by your own feelings.) Keep lines of communication open with your partner, as each of your needs might change over time. If he or she expresses interest in getting more help, share information about support groups (RESOLVE, the national infertility association, has them for couples and partners), or help your partner find a counselor. And if you’ve bonded with someone else who is experiencing infertility, you can see if their partner would be willing to connect with yours.
What will you do today to sit with your grief as you walk through the dark night of infertility or pregnancy loss?
If you would like to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with Nikki Walther Click HERE