Making Choices During Infertility
Finding your way to the family you want
Experiencing infertility can be a long journey of lost dreams, grief, and shifting expectations as you let go of the ways you planned to make a family and accept new ways of moving forward. From assisted conception and adoption to building a family without children, you will face many choices.
In my practice as a psychotherapist, I work with women who are making these transitions, and it is not easy. But it can be very rewarding when you work through all your emotions before considering the next step. I have seen patients who were able to process their sadness and anger and decide to take a new direction – from becoming parents through egg, sperm, or embryo donation to fostering and adoption to deciding to build a life without children.
Together, my patients and I have discovered the following ways to help you redefine family.
Be compassionate with yourself. It's not easy to do, but it is important to not blame yourself for events in your past (such as waiting to have children, terminating a pregnancy when the timing wasn't right, or losing too much weight) that you fear may have contributed to where you are today.
Avoid getting caught in negative thinking patterns such as regret, self-blame, or anger toward yourself. Remind yourself that your fertility problem is not your fault. Even if you could have made different decisions in the past, they're behind you now. Concentrate instead on the moment in front of you.
Stay present. Pay attention to thoughts that take you away from the present moment or dwell on the negative. When you have such thoughts, acknowledge them and then let them go. Focus on what you are doing at that very moment – listening to music, riding the subway, or washing your hands. It takes a lot of discipline, but working on being mindful and staying in the present will help you let go of negative thinking and look forward.
Use your strength. We all become stronger when we are out of our comfort zones. It's as though a dormant part of us wakes up in times of struggle. Remind yourself about all the difficult situations you have faced and overcome successfully in the past. Know that you still have that strength inside of you. Your perceived failure is an opportunity for reinvention.
Be informed. Struggling with infertility means feeling a complete loss of control over your reproductive future. Understanding your diagnosis and options for treatment and building a family will help you regain some control. Learn as much as you can about alternative ways of building a family to help you determine the approach that feels best to you. (Talking with people who have made different choices is a great way to get a sense of the different options.)
Embrace the challenges. It is human nature to avoid challenges and resist change. But if you can view challenges as critical steps in your personal evolution, you can overcome the resistance you feel to your situation. It might be helpful to think of challenges as opportunities to grow. If you view life as a succession of learning and growth, you will start to accept the flow of challenges as normal.
Seek professional help. Struggling with infertility is very stressful and time consuming, and making many of these changes is easier said than done. But it is possible. Talking with a professional who understands what you're going through can help you accept that your disappointment is reasonable and make the experience manageable.
A psychotherapist with expertise in infertility can also help you decide on alternative family building choices. Look for someone experienced in reproductive mental health. Good places to find referrals are RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, or the InterNational Council on Infertility Information Dissemination.
Surrender. It's not easy, but sometimes the bravest and strongest decision you can make in difficult times is to surrender to what is happening. Letting go of your expectations is critical to moving through infertility to a place of peace. It's painful to let go, but the new life you move into can surprise you in wonderful ways.
Accept a broader definition of family. There is no "best" type of family. As long as a family is filled with love and understanding, it will bring happiness to everyone in it. Children grow up in all kinds of different families, and for them, the family they are raised in is what they know as "normal."
We are lucky to be living in a time of advances in technology that can help us have the family we always wanted and of growing openness to nontraditional ways of building a family. This can be hard to appreciate when you are struggling with infertility, but you do have options – and you do have some control. With patience and support, you can come through this process to build the future you want.