No grief so great as a dead heart.—Chinese proverb
When you’re in the midst of pursuing a baby, everything is overwhelming. All you know is that you want to be a mother, and you can’t be. For women who have been on the infertility “treadmill” for years, the choice to stop is almost impossible to fathom. While the end of our fertility is something all women must face eventually, it is only natural that you feel a sense of loss and sadness, mourning the children you will never have. When you have wanted children and not conceived them, making the decision to stop can feel like death. The grief is real. The greatest loss a woman can ever experience is losing a child, whether it is a live child or a child she has carried in her womb and miscarried. When you are trying to conceive, your menstrual blood again and again represents the loss of the hope of a child. For a few weeks each month, you feel hopeful. Maybe this time, you think, only to feel disappointment wash over you when your period then appears. And when you fail to conceive month after month, disappointment becomes grief.
Grief, sadness and depression are difficult emotions, especially in a culture like ours that prefers us to do our mourning tidily and quickly. What's more, few people who have not experienced infertility firsthand can understand how much grief the unsuccessful pursuit of children engenders. After a woman miscarries, well-meaning friends may tell her, “Well, at least you can start trying again right away.” But before she creates another baby, she may need to acknowledge the child she has just lost. Others may ask an infertile couple why they would spend every cent of their savings, even borrow money, for yet another IVF attempt. “Maybe you’re just not meant to have kids,” they’ll say. “Have you thought of adopting?” These and many other comments can trigger new recriminations and fresh rounds of grief in those pursuing parenthood at any price. And what’s worse, showing our grief and anger to friends will usually result in blank stares or embarrassed looks--more discomfort for everyone.
For your sanity, you must be allowed to feel your grief and mourn the potential children you have lost. The biggest disservice you can do yourself is not to acknowledge your grief as you are experiencing it. Denying these feelings or bottling them up until you can't any longer will prevent you from dealing with and releasing them. As Kim Kluber-Bell wrote of her experience with infertility, “…if you can’t feel your grief, you can only move on by shutting a part of yourself down…. Although feeling your sadness won’t kill you, not feeling it can harden your heart.… [W]hat will enable you to move on with an open heart is allowing your sadness to come and go as it pleases, rather than keeping the door locked tightly against it.”
It is far better to experience the grief along the way as it occurs, to take the time to acknowledge your true feelings and their importance, and keep your heart moist and fertile in the process. Let your monthly blood represent tears shed by your body to memorialize the passing of another opportunity. If you miscarry or fail to conceive after an ART procedure, start trying to conceive again immediately if you want, but create the space in your heart to mark what you have lost.
Ask your partner to support you in the grieving process. No matter how much he may want children, men generally do not feel the visceral level of loss that women feel. But still remember that he has lost something too. In your shared loss, you may find consolation in each other, possibly even find each other in a new way again.
Above all, remember to take care of yourself. Often we’re so busy taking care of the part of us that’s going to make a baby that we forget we need to care for the rest of ourselves, too. Pamper yourself with treats you enjoy. A manicure and pedicure, bubble bath, massage, aromatherapy and so on can make you feel like a whole, vital woman. Get the emotional support you need, whether it be talking to friends, or not talking to the ones who don’t understand, seeing a professional counselor or even screaming into a pillow if that helps. Go for walks in nature. Ground yourself to the earth beneath your feet and breathe in clear Qi. Nourish your heart and soul in as many ways as you can.
Remember that if you are blessed with a child, he or she will require that you are the best mother you can be. If you are not blessed with a child, life will still demand that you are the best person you can be. Mother yourself and the world with all your heart, as you would have your child.