Posts Tagged ‘depression’

“When you don’t get your happy ending” by Cindy

Here is a link to a blog I wrote in 2016 for Fertility Matters Canada: http://fertilitymatters.ca/2016/08/08/dont-get-happy-ending/

I have so much more to share and write, so more soon, I hope!

“Your Infertile Friend and You” by Cindy

A few months ago, after I posted something about infertility on Facebook, a friend came to me because she wanted to know how to support family members who had just found out that they would not be able to conceive children. The fact that she reached out to me to ask this question shows how naturally strong her instincts were on this, but we talked for quite some time, and ever since then, I have been meaning to write a post about this.

The holidays can be a very tough time of year for people grieving the loss of their fertility. A year ago, the front page of our local news magazine looked like this:

import july 19 030

It’s hard to go anywhere at this time of year and not be overwhelmed by images of happy families preparing for the holidays, and Facebook is loaded with posts about children. And then there are the family gatherings where if there isn’t a new baby to coo over, there are other children who take centre stage (as they should – I don’t want to take that away from any children, and I, too, love to coo over babies).

I tell people to skip Christmas their first year of grieving and go to Mexico, but most of us struggle to be that selfish at this time of year, so we suck it up and do the best we can (but if anyone wants to send us to Mexico…) This doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the holidays, it just means that it is perfectly valid for us to lower our expectations of how much we will enjoy the holidays. It is very likely there will be some tough moments mixed in with all the fun and celebration. Christmas time is almost as hard as Mother’s Day for us infertiles.

So, all that being said, this seems like a good time to talk about how to support someone going through this. Of course, my experience is not universal, and everyone responds differently to this journey, but there are a few things that seem true for many of us.

A couple of years ago, I touched on things not to say in this post, and I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed lots of chocolate and wine in response (it was not my goal, but it was a nice benefit).

Let’s start with how to respond to the news. Because we’ve moved to a new town and have started making new friends here, I have found that there is this weird kind of uncertainty zone where the topic of us not being able to have kids hasn’t come up, but I know it will, and I’m not sure how they will respond. When it finally does come out, the best response is a simple: “I’m sorry.” Express sympathy as you would if the person has just told you a loved one has died.

In fact, this is a good rule to always follow – if you wouldn’t say it to someone who has lost a loved one or who has been diagnosed with a serious illness, then don’t say it to someone experiencing the grief of infertility. Someone recently responded to our situation with the phrase, “well, everything happens for a reason”, and although I know that person truly meant well and is a kind loving person, this is a comforting phrase for the person saying it, not the person hearing it. I do not believe that my infertility happened for a reason. I believe it is an absolutely shitty situation that I have to live with, and trying to make me feel better about it sounds like you are trying to minimize my grief.

If you are open to letting that person talk about their grief, that is wonderful. You can follow your sympathy with an open-ended question like, “how are you handling that?” Avoid giving advice or telling stories about other people you know who struggled and ultimately succeeded or who are super happy with their decision to adopt. This is the time to listen and get to know this person’s experience. It’s an amazing opportunity to get to know the person better and to show you care, just by listening.

The next step is to understand that people going through this journey may need to avoid certain trigger situations. Last year, I had to say no to a family gathering because I just didn’t have the energy to deal with more than two kids at a time. I have sent my regrets to children’s birthday parties and baby showers, not because I don’t want to be there showing love for my friends and their beautiful kids, but because I don’t want to be the one holding back tears in the corner. It is important to extend invitations so that the person doesn’t feel excluded, just be open to understanding if they need to decline.

Don’t be surprised if a couple coming to terms with infertility suddenly feels a need to make some major life changes. When the infertility journey becomes final, and the couple is no longer trying to conceive by any means, a kind of identity crisis settles in. Most of us spent much of our adult lives setting up so that we could welcome children. We bought a house that we could expand in, with a room that we pictured as a nursery.  We borrowed a friend’s car seat when we were test driving new cars so we could pick a good family vehicle. When it became clear that that room was never going to be a nursery, walking by it every day just reminded us of our loss. We still struggle with the car situation, and if someone wants to trade their fun car for a family vehicle… let’s talk.

Many couples choose to move. I have even heard of couples selling their houses and going traveling for months or years. When we find we are permanently excluded from the parents’ club, there is a desire to find a way to at least try and enjoy the “freedom” that comes from being childfree. This does not mean that the couple is OK with their inability to conceive. It means they are trying their best to move on. Believe me, the grief travels with them. Some people will want to share about this grief more than others, and that is OK, too.

Part of this move may be about searching for a community of people where we don’t feel like outsiders. Do you know how hard it is to find people to hang out with when all your friends and peers have children and you don’t? A couple of weeks ago, I was excited to go to a party with new people, and somehow, I hadn’t put together that since it was starting at 5 p.m., and the people were in our age bracket, that there would be as many children as adults there. I felt a bit blindsided, and it was no one’s fault. They had no way of knowing that this could be a difficult situation for me, and really, I was grateful for the invitation.

You may think you know what your loved ones need to do to move on in this situation. You may think that if they would just adopt, they would be able to give that love to a child in need, and it would be wonderful for everyone. You might even be right, but it is not your place to say. Adoption is not a substitute for fertility. Adoption is a wonderful option for every person who has the ability and space in their life to love a child in need, and it is not reserved for the infertile. So, before you ask the question, “Why don’t you adopt?” make sure you can answer that question yourself (and even then, really, just don’t ask it).

Your friend or family member may choose to pursue adoption, and that is wonderful. The pain of their infertility will not suddenly disappear. We will always feel the loss of the experience of conceiving a child and giving birth to that unique combination of our genes. We will never get to bond with a child in utero and experience every aspect of the miracle of pregnancy. We will never get to see whether our kids get John’s blue eyes or my curly hair.

Many couples will choose to live childfree rather than pursue adoption because they have considered deeply what adoption would mean for them and they recognize that it is not what they want to do. This is a perfectly valid choice and a difficult one to make and share. There is the fear of judgment from people who do not understand that adoption is not like going to the kennel and rescuing an animal instead of going directly to a breeder. Pursuing adoption means putting your life through a scrutiny that no other parents have to endure. Anyone can get fertility treatments without having to explain their parenting philosophy, take training, or have their house examined, and the decisions you have to make when applying to adopt can be absolutely heartbreaking.

One of the trickier situations to deal with is over how to tell your infertile loved one your own wonderful news of pregnancy. How we like to receive this news varies widely from person to person, with some preferring a more personal phone call, and some preferring an email so they have time to prepare a response. Intent is the key – if you tell us with compassion in mind, we will feel it. We will be happy for you, so please do not try to diminish your own happiness because then we will feel guilty on top of sad.

The feeling of being an outsider is a huge aspect of this journey, so making an extra effort to spend time with your grieving loved one is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Plan activities both with and without your children and be willing to do something different in order to support your friend or family member. We are so often expected to be the flexible ones because we don’t have children’s schedules to fit our activities around, that if you can make an effort to join us, it will be a great gift.

Finally, recognize that this experience may change your loved one in ways you can’t predict or understand. Be willing to get to know this new person without judgment. Grief is extremely powerful, and studies show that depression rates in women dealing with infertility are similar to depression rates in women after a cancer diagnosis – here is an article that discusses this. Since I have never had cancer, I cannot comment on how that would affect me, and I certainly don’t want to compare my situation to someone who is dealing with cancer. All I can tell you is that the grief of infertility hit me much harder than I ever would have expected. When we first started trying to conceive, we genuinely thought we would be OK if it didn’t happen, that we could just adopt. I had no idea how much coming to terms with the loss of my ability to reproduce would have me questioning my identity and what I should do with my life. I have long considered myself to be an optimistic positive person, able to find the humour in any situation, but the grief brought on by infertility took me to a darker place than I ever thought I could go.

One of the best things a support person can do is recognize the pain of this situation and encourage the person to get help. Support groups are an amazing place to meet people who truly understand the experience, and although it can be hard to find a counsellor who specializes in this type of grief, they are out there. Antidepressants can be extremely helpful, but many people are afraid to pursue this route out of fear of the stigma of mental illness. Sometimes, all a person in this situation needs is someone to say it’s OK to need some help and a gentle push in that direction.

We are extremely fortunate and grateful for the support we have received from family and friends, and I share this post in hopes of helping other people get this kind of care. With that support (and some medication), I ammuch better equipped to deal with the holidays this year. I know that it will not be easy, and I know I will meet people who do not understand, but having the support of people who do and people who try makes all the difference.

Thank-you for caring.