There is no doubt that dealing with infertility is stressful and riddled with emotions!
If you’re reading this article, you may be grieving because of a recent diagnosis, or loss. Both pregnancy loss and infertility bring up emotions of profound grief. While learning how to cope with these emotions, it is also important to work to prevent developing depression. Identifying the signs of depression helps one to be more aware of where they are at with their grieving process and if intervention may be needed as part of the healing process.
In this article I explain the stages of grieving, how women and men grieve differently, what grief looks like and why creating a ritual to process grief is important.
Definition of Grief:
Grief is the process by which we mentally prepare for death or loss. This process can happen repeatedly in each of our lifetimes and more often than not with little-to-no time to prepare. The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as “…a natural emotional reaction… the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”
Causes of Grief Related to Fertility
Grief related to fertility can be caused by loss of:
- fertility health, or a reproductive organ
- youth (when women share they are older and feel they are “running out of time”)
- pregnancy (miscarriage), or a child (stillbirth or after birth)
- family, friends or peers – often a result of alienation or withdrawal because the loss/grief experience isn’t something one wants to share, or everyone to know
– being disowned as a result of not being able to conceive (most common in some foreign cultures)
- the ability to conceive naturally, or the idea that one would/should be able to conceive naturally
- identity (the idea that the female was created to bear children)
- control of emotions
- hope (due to repeated failed attempts of pregnancy whether natural or medically assisted)
This list could go on and on…
Stages of Grieving
Swiss Scientist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, identified and coined the 5 Stages of Grieving she saw in her terminally-ill cancer patients. These are stages she knows to be applicable to anyone experiencing any type of loss, even that of the death of expectations that are not met.
The 5 Stages of Grieving are:
1. Denial – refusal to accept the truth, rejection of the truth and shock
- One’s thoughts may be “Why Me?” or “This isn’t fair!”
2. Anger – deep frustration manifested in a physical or emotional way; crying, shutting down, isolation from others, yelling, anger, experiencing fits of rage, being suspicious, disbelieving in care/guidance being offered, seeking of pity
- One’s thoughts may be “This really can’t be happening.” or “I’ve been taking good care of myself.”
3. Bargaining – an agreement is made between the conscious mind and the soul involving an exchange of offerings
- One’s thoughts may be “If you let me conceive my child, I will never [fill in the blank].”
4. Depression – loss of hope
Reactive Depression – grieving the loss of a physical something
Preparatory Loss Depression – “quiet or passive mood of uneasiness while feeling overwhelmed with thoughts and responsibilities” – causes regression, isolation, solitude
- One’s thoughts may be “It’s my fault…” ; “No one can help me or has the answers.” ; “No one understands how I feel.”
5. Acceptance – the power to keep moving forward acknowledging the existing condition with hope rather than giving in or up, or surrendering to the circumstance. This stage is only reached if someone traverses through the previous four stages.
- One’s thoughts may be “I can overcome this.” ; “Others have made it through this experience.” ; “I can keep moving forward.” ; “Maybe I should get some help.”
With acceptance comes a sixth stage, Adaptation: when someone adapts to their new situation in thought and action, and no longer views him- or herself as a victim.
Not everyone will experience each stage of grieving in a linear order. We know in particular that women and men grieve differently.
How Men & Women Grieve Differently
Women are generally more expressive and quicker to seek support for themselves through talking with others – therapy and friends. They also often wish for a quick “fix” or “cure”. On the contrary, men tend to be introspective, burying themselves in work. They take action through educating themselves.
Why the difference?
A woman/mother can begin to bond the very minute she sees a positive pregnancy test, preparing for the baby mentally, emotionally and physically.
A man/father often doesn’t truly start bonding until he sees physical changes in his wife’s body, or the baby on an ultrasound, or hears a heartbeat. Many men don’t begin to bond until the baby is born.
What Grief Looks Like
We see grief rear its head as:
Grief is likely intensified by a previous loss(es) for those experiencing recurrent miscarriage and women who require medically assisted reproductive technology. These experiences can be traumatic and are emotionally draining. This trauma can result in anxiety and depression which may last longer than for those women who were able to conceive naturally.
Licensed Social Worker Kate Kripke shares that, “If you are not aware of a shifting through the stages of grief and continue to feel debilitated by your suffering, there may be an element of clinical depression or anxiety that needs to be addressed. “Healthy” grief moves, but sometimes it can develop into relentless depression that requires more specific treatment.”
How The Human Body Stores Emotions
Emotions that are not regularly released get stuck and are stored in our energy fields and tissues. The body creates and holds onto stress hormones when emotions are suppressed. These stuck emotions may then:
- create illness and disease
- lead to imbalances
- pose serious health risks
- contribute to infertility
Grief and bereavement get stuck in the throat, cause injury to the lungs and not only bring great grief and sadness to a woman’s heart, but her female reproductive organs (uterus and ovaries) as well.
Fear and anxiety harm the kidneys and urinary tract, and are believed to inhibit male and female sexual function and sexual desire which “closes down the woman’s [or man’s] feelings and receptivity to orgasm,” according to David K. Osborn L.Ac.
Why Grieving Is Important
It is important to acknowledge the emotions of grief so that the body doesn’t hold onto them. Emotions MUST be processed in order to release them.
“Healing is always a combination of emotional, physical and spiritual work.” ~ Dr. Christiane Northrup
Release Grief Through Ritual
Honoring loss through ritual is an important way to release grief. Ritual helps a person understand their grief, what their emotions mean and that they are entitled to feel what they are feeling. Rituals may also be helpful because they provide structure and can help create routine in a time of feeling out-of-control and lost.
“Perhaps the most significant thing that rituals provide is a certain order to an existence that otherwise might be full of confusion and chaos. Human life is full of confusion and uncertainty and, undoubtedly, the most chaotic times in our lives are the times when we are grieving.” ~ Karla Helbert, MS, LPC
In an attempt to learn how people cope with extreme loss, researchers Michael I. Norton and Francesca Gino found that through personal, private, or solitary rituals, that many people participating in this mourning study were able to be more emotionally resilient than others. Their study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2014.
The grieving process differs for each and every one of us and takes time! If you find yourself grieving your fertility situation, below are five resources to help you pinpoint depression, keep moving forward on your journey, to create rituals after loss, learn how to ask those you love for help and learn mind-body therapies to help deal with the emotions of infertility.
The Natural Guide to Infertility and Depression
Moving Forward After an Infertility Diagnosis
How to Honor Miscarriage Through Ritual
5 Ways Women Wish People Would Help Them During a Miscarriage
Top 10 Mind and Body Therapies to Help With Fertility Stress
“Healing doesn’t mean forgetting or making the memories insignificant. Healing means refocusing.” ~American Pregnancy Association