Coping with Grief in the Face of Infertility

Coping with Grief in the Face of Infertility (Part 1)

By AmarAtma Singh Khalsa
Board Certified chaplain, Adv. Grief Recovery Specialist

My wife is sweet, loving, kind, and generous. Above all, she’s the most creative person I know! She’s also 11 years older than me.

I was 28 years old when we dated, and she was 39. She had just come out of a toxic relationship that led to a divorce. Much of the strain of the relationship came after a miscarriage she had near Christmas a couple of years earlier.

When I proposed to her, we had several long conversations about children.

We both understood that with her age also came an increased risk to her health if she were to become pregnant. My love for her was undaunted, though I paused in the reality that I may not be a father. Grief arose within.

After marrying, we were excited to try. We were sure that she would get pregnant right away. We began making videos for our future children so they could see us before we were their parents. We were quirky and silly, and had a lot of fun. But, alas, after the first year of trying, we were unsuccessful. We were stunned when it didn’t happen.

As time moved forward, it became clearer that parenting wasn’t going to be a reality.

It was a loss.

I was able to face this grief when I became a chaplain. I began working in the acute care hospital setting, (often called in for night shifts in the L&D department supporting families who lost their babies late-term).

As a chaplain, we are specially trained in grief and bereavement. Within our training is “formation,” the work we do to become aware of our unresolved grief. When working with the bereaved, our role is to console the soul, and to do so is to have done the internal work. A chaplain can’t sit in the dark spaces of other people’s lives unless they can sit comfortably in the dark space of their own life.

During this professional development, I cared for hundreds and thousands of grievers. I learned that grief is massively misunderstood, and our typical ways of coping fall short when it comes to grief.

Insights around grief that may support you on your fertility journey:

  1. Grief is often misidentified. It sometimes shows as depression, chronic pain, burnout, or trauma.
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  3. We often relate grief solely to death. However, dreams, visions, or hopes for the future that do not come to pass are losses we grieve. This form of grief can be confusing because these are losses that we’ve never held in our hands. They’re an intangible form of loss.
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  5. There are over 40 different types of loss. These range from deaths, to divorces, to finances, to health, to shifts in careers, to changes in education. The grief you may be experiencing may be exacerbated by unresolved grief of the past.
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  7. Grief is the normal and natural response to loss of any kind. It’s not an emotion as much as it is a process that comes with many emotions simultaneously. We call it the tangled ball of emotions.
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  9. What makes grief so difficult is that it draws us into our heart, and in some ways, we’ve never learned about the heart. We’re rarely taught about emotional resilience, emotional intelligence, or how to emotionally cope. “We’ve learned how to acquire things, not what to do when we lose them” is a quote from the program I teach called the Grief Recovery Method[1].
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  11. Grief is often categorized as the 5 stages of grief based on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ work, though misappropriated to represent all grievers when it was only meant to help identify a grief process for those facing terminal illness in end-of-life scenarios. We don’t often grieve in stages or in a linear fashion. Grief doesn’t fit into categories nor do we all grieve the same way.
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  13. Grief is an emotional response, not an intellectual one. We cannot think our way through; we have to feel our way through.
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  15. Our culture is “emotion-phobic[2]”. We’re petrified of “negative” feelings. We often cope through suppression or  repression of pain. Often grief is unbearable because the coping mechanism of our past fails us in the current and acute situation. It calls us to go deeper into areas of life unexplored.
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  17. We often think that emotions equate to fragility or weakness. Actually, connecting to our emotions is a super-power.
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  19. While we want to maintain an attitude of positivity, negating raw emotions creates a complex of toxic positivity[3-5] that prevents authentic or emotional honesty. Avoiding or denying emotions leads to further emotional unrest.
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  21. Emotional tension often manifests somatically lodging itself in tissues, muscles, tendons, bones and our immune systems. Our neuro-endocrine functions are modulated by the increase of unresolved emotional stress. We refer to this as ‘somatic grief’[6].
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  23. Emotional releases like crying contain stress-relieving hormones that allow the physiology to return to homeostasis[7]. Often the most difficult thing to do is what’s necessary – to cry. Courage is often required to face and embrace the reality of the situation. Emotional release provides physiological equilibrium.
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  25. While we may put grief in the back of your mind to avoid pain, it’s difficult to deny. It consumes our thoughts, mind, and spirit. It’s ever-present and overwhelming. The way through grief is to move through grief.
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  27. Grief is one of the essential life skills we’ve never been taught.
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  29. Grief often feels like an uncomfortable presence that takes an indefinite residence in our heart. However, there are effective ways to “give notice” and reclaim some internal peace.
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AmarAtma is a Grief Coach with advanced certification as a Grief Recovery Specialist. He has spent the better part of the last decade helping hundreds and thousands of grievers working in a Trauma-1, University Hospital as a board-certified chaplain. He has a Master’s Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine and uses a mindfulness and mind-body-spirit approach to teaching and helping grievers from the many losses that occur through life. He currently offers 1:1 virtual grief coaching teaching and helping grievers to cope and release emotional pain.

 

[1] James, John and Friedman, Russel. The Grief Recovery Handbook. Harper Collins. 2009. https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com.

[2] Greenspan, Miriam. Healing through Dark Emotions. Shambala. 2004

[3] Quintero, Samara and Long, Jamie. “Toxic Positivity: The Darkside of Positive Vibes.” https://thepsychologygroup.com/toxic-positivity/. 7/12/2022. The Psychology Group 2019

[4] Villenes, Zawn. “What to know about Toxic Positivity.” https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/toxic-positivity. 7/12/22. Medical News Today. Posted 3/30/21

[5] Marie, Simone. “Toxic Positivity is Real – And it’s Big Problem During the Pandemic.” https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/toxic-positivity-during-the-pandemic. 7/12/22. Heathline. Posted 7/22/20

[6] Prashant, Lyn. “Transforming Somatic Grief.” https://bhdp.sccgov.org/sites/g/files/exjcpb716/files/transforming-somatic-grief-in-ones-personal-life-and%20-professional-world.pdf 7/12/22. County of Santa Clara Behavior Science. Posted 2/7/19

[7] Mukamal, Reena. “All About Emotional Tears.” https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/all-about-emotional-tears. 7/12/22. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Posted 2/28/17