Naturally, when people think of infertile couples they note the loss of the ability to conceive a child. Few see the full impact of losses that the infertile couple incur. It is very difficult to grieve something that never actually existed like the dreams of life with children, but there are a multitude of non-tangible losses that also occur.
For me, the biggest loss was joy, but not just over not having children. I wanted to experience joy at pregnancy announcements of friends and family, but it was always tainted with envy and sadness. I wanted to celebrate with them at baby showers, but they were (and still are) very painful reminders of my empty womb. Holidays that should be celebrated became overshadowed by my sorrow that I did not have children to celebrate them with.
Infertility stole joy from my friends and family as they were forced to sit on the sidelines and watch our journey unfold. Announcing a pregnancy to us became anxiety ridden. There was no happy, thrilling moments, just trepidation as to how I would respond. It would anger me that the enjoyment and celebration that people should be experiencing was diminished by my own inability to get pregnant.
It caused turmoil for my parents as they were caught between wanting to celebrate when a sibling of mine became pregnant and grieving over my inability to conceive.
Infertility stole from the relationships in my life. Few had ever experienced infertility so virtually no one ever knew what to say. We, like most infertile couples, endured a countless amount of painful, ignorant “advice”. I stood by as people griped about their pregnancies to me. I had to listen to their parenting dramas. All the while I was desperate to be experiencing any of their problems. I began to distance myself in order to protect my heart. Most everyone was placed at an arm’s length away so I could have space to absorb any unintended hurtful conversations.
Another of the invisible losses is well-being. Outside of the physical pain I was in due to the endometriosis, infertility robbed me of a sense of having a healthy, functioning body. It was not something I had ever considered as a gift to have until it was missing. Month after month I would go from the pinnacle of hoping that this was “The Month” to the depth of despair in seeing yet another failure. My body was not capable of conceiving a child and carrying it. As irrational as it may sound, in a way I began to hate my body. I felt trapped inside something that was unable to fulfill my dreams. My body looked whole on the outside. No one could visibly see something wrong, but internally I felt every inadequacy that came along with being unable to become pregnant.
Infertility also steals the future. It may seem obvious that it steals dreams of what life might be like once a couple become parents but it is more than that. Life has a way of getting put on hold while a couple is undergoing treatment. Vacations get put off because “by then we might be pregnant.” Professional pursuits, especially the woman’s, are put on pause until an undefined future arrives, just in case they are able to have children. Even more mundane things like purchasing a new car or home get viewed through the lens of “What if..?”
The pain of not being able to have children is far reaching. When supporting someone with infertility it is important to realize the full impact, which can be difficult given that none of them are concrete losses. The best anyone can do is to offer the couple space to grapple with a poorly defined terrain, backed by unconditional love. Even acknowledging that it is difficult to understand at least conveys a sense of someone trying to fight alongside. Feeling misunderstood and alone is a very common occurrence.
On the surface infertility seems like just the loss of the ability to have children, but infertility leaves an impact on nearly every aspect of life. Losses that are invisible and not tangible, but profound nonetheless.