Whilst we don't appear to have lost anything in a physical sense, many people facing involuntary childlessness suffer a deep sense of 'loss and grief' that is invisible to most people around us. Realising that you are not going to have the family you've always hoped and dreamed of can feel very isolating. For me, in particular, the grief was overwhelming and intense.
Facing the reality of not being able to have children is heart-breaking, whether trying to conceive a child naturally, using methods of assisted conception (IVF) or arriving at childlessness by another means.
What people don't see - Invisible losses
The loss associated with involuntary childlessness sits more deeply than simply not being a Mother or Father, since we also lose the:
- chance and hope of ever having our own biological family
- celebrations of key milestones with our babies; the first day of school, passing their driving test or getting married
- chance to see our children play alongside our nieces and nephews
- experience of sharing holidays & our knowledge
- opportunity to experience being grandparents
When does grief strike?
For me, realising that I wasn't going to be a Mother didn't just hit me one day. Due to the nature of my fertility investigations and treatment, the reality of our situation was more of a 'gradual process'. With each failed cycle and loss, I began to recognise that our chances of becoming parents were fading in front of our eyes. With our last IVF cycle treatment failing, all hope was lost. Deciding to stop treatment after 8 years of trying for a baby was extremely difficult and very painful. It is hard to put into words the emotional and physical torment your body, mind and spirit goes through with each failed IVF cycle, allowing yourself the permission to grieve 'your way' is essential.
It took time and plenty of 'grief-work' for the cloud to lift, but steadily, I began to feel that I could experience joy, hope and happiness again.
Dealing with the grief
1. Recognising and owning our feelings of hopelessness, anger, disbelief, and bitterness is essential in the first stage of the grieving process. Know that it is 'OK' to have a bad day, week, month ...! Once we are able to do this, it is the beginning of the healing process.
2. Realising that grief is good and tears are a sign that healing is taking place. Communicate with people you trust, a counsellor or on online community support groups - with people who understand what you're going through.
3. Give yourself time to do what you need to do. Whether that is taking time out to be in nature, staying in bed or continuing to go to work if it offers you a distraction.
4. Be kind to yourself: If you've had fertility treatment, your body will need time to recover. It's easy to feel negative towards our bodies for somehow failing us, but nurturing ourselves and our inner child is important.
5. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) helped deal with the all-consuming sadness I felt. By releasing any energy blockages associated with the treatment, infertility and loss I began to feel more accepting of the situation.
Overall, for me, the psychological loss of 'a life I thought I was going to have' was the most significant 'invisible loss' associated with involuntary childlessness. There are no rules where grief is concerned, your journey is unique. Grief never goes away completely, but as time goes on, the pain lessens and you're able to live with your situation.
Kelly Da Silva