On the Other Side of Infertility
One of the best, most liberating things, I have ever done in my life, was saying goodbye to the baby dream. Don’t get me wrong - it was incredibly hard ‘giving up’ as I saw it at the time. In fact, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’d invested years of my life, thousands of dollars, and my heart and soul into trying to have a baby. I felt like a complete and utter failure. So how did it turn out to be so liberating?
Infertility for me, like for everyone else, was a slog. It’s a constant yoyo between hope and despair, and everything in between – a crazy roller coaster ride of emotions. I would have done anything to have a baby and the more I invested, the more invested I was. A total belief that it was going to happen kept me trying for years. After all, this was something I had dreamed about since I was young so of course it would happen. The chance that this month could be the month, kept me going despite the huge impact that it was taking on my well being, my marriage and my life. It was a race against the tick tock of the biological clock and it was exhausting.
So what made me finally face reality and jump off the crazy train? After a painful miscarriage, I think I reached rock bottom. I was totally worn out. I was done. I could not bear one more moment of disappointment. It had got to a point where I knew something had to change and I realised that that something was me.
That decision set me on a new course. I sought some help through an amazing coach and that changed things for me. I saw that this relentless pursuit was making me miserable and that there were other options for me. I had tried hard, and for a long time, and it was time to move on.
At the time, I thought I would always want to have a baby and I was certain I would always feel sad that I was never able to have one. And for a while I did. I thought I would always feel envious of my friends, of even strangers in the street with their perfect families. But I didn’t. I thought that parents complaining about their teething children or sleepless nights would always irate me (didn’t they know how lucky they were!) but I was wrong. I thought I would always feel like an outsider of what seemed like an exclusive mother’s club. But it is not like that at all for me.
When I tossed away the thermometer, the charts, the ovulation sticks, the regimes, and the pregnancy tests, I was throwing away a dream. I was throwing away the vision I had for my life and it was painful. It was a loss and a grief that is as real as anything I have felt. But that decision to stop was a decision to let go. Rather than ‘giving up’, I surrendered. I stopped trying. That allowed me to begin a grieving process and to heal. It was time to trust that what would be, would be ok.
It sounds easy enough but trusting is certainly not the easy path, well not at first. There is zero control in trust! Letting go of the plan I saw for my life meant there was a huge hole that now demanded attention. It was uncomfortable. The movie in my head of how I imagined my life would be had children – lots of them. I needed reprogramming. Who was I now if I couldn’t be a mother? What did it mean for my marriage if we couldn’t have the children we’d always assumed would come? What did my life hold for me now? I needed a new story, a new identity.
What happened surprised me. While I was busy searching for the meaning of my life, things started to change. Just little things. Among the sadness, there was a sense of expectation. This felt so much lighter than the desperation that had filled the past years. Now that I no longer planned my life around trying to conceive, I had room for so much more. I started to look forward to things and enjoy the moments. I started making plans. I still didn’t have a baby but the difference now was that it no longer consumed me. There was space for other things. My life was no longer on pause waiting for something to happen. I was changing my movie.
So many people have asked me how I let go and to be honest, I’m not 100% sure there is one way to do it. What I do know is that for me, it started with the decision to want something different in my life than what I was currently experiencing. Letting go is a decision and making that decision is the hard part.
I’m not sure there is a formula for letting go, but these are the things that helped me:
Learn and practise meditation or mindfulness. I am so grateful for this practice. Meditation helped me be with my emotions after many years of pushing them down and showed me the way through. Meditation is anything but woowoo. For me, it is the opposite of that. When I meditate I feel more centred, more grounded and more aligned with my true self. I credit meditation for bringing an awareness of what really is in my life and a willingness to accept that.
Learn to be with your emotions. I could write all day about this one!! This was a big challenge for me and it is for many of my clients. We tend to push down our emotions – to be positive, to put on a brave face and get on with life. But what happens to those emotions – where do they go? No-one likes to admit that they feel depressed or isolated or shamed or broken. Infertility is hard to talk about and it is hard to find the right place and audience to share how you are truly feeling. There are ways to do this including mindfulness, journaling or talking to a coach. To learn more and for a useful tool, download a free copy of My Fertility Journal – How to Deal with Your Emotions on your Fertility Journey.
Get the support of someone who gets it. Find people who understand what you are going through. Get online, join a support group, have coffee with an understanding friend. When I came out of the ‘infertility closet’ I was amazed at the number of women who had been through similar experiences. I spent a lot of my journey feeling alone and I know now that I didn’t need to. I just had to be vulnerable.
Practice gratitude. This one can be hard to do when you aren’t feeling so grateful but that is exactly when you need gratitude the most. There is no shortage of online articles and books on gratitude. I can’t recommend this practice enough.
Know that it is ok to ask for help. Infertility is a big deal – sometimes more than we give it credit for – and it is ok not to do it on your own. It is ok to ask for help. Finding someone who is able to guide you to what is true for you. Know that there are lots of different options of support so, if you need to, try different people until you get the support that is right for you. This was instrumental for me.
We don’t always get the life we want, or the life we planned. We get the life we have but
we get to choose how we respond to that. I spent many years trying to make something happen that didn’t and they are years I’ll never get back. Infertility is still part of my story, it always will be, but it no longer defines me. I always thought that having a baby would make me happy, and perhaps it would have. But I know now that it is not the only way. There is more than one way to be happy.
I don’t want people to feel sad for me because I never had a child. I want people to know that there are different endings – that there is life after infertility! My fertility journey was tough but it taught me so much. I stand today as a stronger, more compassionate, more authentic person than when I started this journey.
What I really want people to know is something I never heard when I was struggling with infertility and that is that on the other side of letting go is an easier place to be than the place of trying.
If you are struggling to conceive my heart goes out to you. I send all the love in the world to you. I want you to know that you are seen, you are not alone, and your struggle is real. And without a doubt, you are stronger than you think. I share this story not to encourage anyone to let go. Only you know if, and when, the time is right for you. I share this because I want everyone who is struggling to conceive to know that they will be ok no matter what happens.