by Donna Gibbs
The wedding was beautiful. Lifelong hopes and dreams became a reality as the vows were spoken and the couple was introduced to those in attendance. The bride and groom started down the aisle, full of aspirations for a hope-filled, joyous life together. They pictured themselves living the American dream, with a beautiful home, a Volvo in the garage, and 2.4 children.
Time passed. One year turned into two, then three, four, and five years. Family and friends began to question, “When are you two going to have a baby?” “You know, youʼre not getting any younger.” “Isnʼt it about time you started having a family?” For this couple, infertility was soon becoming a harsh reality. They considered the time, energy, finances, and emotional strain involved in medical interventions or adoption. It was all so confusing and overwhelming. They prayed, questioning God, asking “Why?” Why were relationships becoming strained? Why was walking down the baby food aisle of the grocery store becoming unbearable? Why were announcements of pregnancies and baby showers so painful? Why was Motherʼs Day such a sad occasion? Why?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 11% of reproductive-aged women experience challenges in getting pregnant and/or carrying a baby to term. This is probably a low estimate of the many isolated, hurting couples with few places to turn with their grief. Infertility is a disease that creates significant grief, bombarding its victims with intense, inexplicable emotions. The grief process can be experienced from one extreme to another, all within a cycle of 28 days. Infertility attacks an individualʼs sense of self-worth, tempting them to compare themselves to peers who seem to have no difficulty achieving or maintaining pregnancy. Certainly, infertility can place great strain on relationships among family and friends who often, with no evil intent, have painful questions and expectations. An unresolved plea for pregnancy can also create stress and tension in the marriage relationship. Without question, undesired childlessness shakes our faith in a God who describes children as a blessed gift. Yet, there is hope! For we serve a God who makes promises. The promise for someone with infertility is not that they would necessarily have a biological child (though approximately 85-90% are able to conceive). The promise is that even this difficult trial will be worked for good. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). “All things” is an all-inclusive phrase: even infertility can bear fruit!
If you are wrestling through this tough journey, I pray you will look for fruit, and don’t lose hope! There are others who share your pain. You are not alone!
Wondering what the grief process of infertility looks like? Here are some expected experiences of grief. While grief is better described as “waves” vs “stages” these are some of the typical places that you may find yourself, based on where you are in your monthly cycle, and where you are in the overall process of infertility.
The Waves of Infertility Grief
*Denial/Shock: “I canʼt believe this is happening to me.” *Desperation/Panic: “Iʼll do whatever it takes to have a child.”
*Anger/Resentment: “What kind of God would allow me to go through this?”
*Sadness/Depression: “Why me?”
*Inadequacy/Guilt: “What is my purpose now?”
*Hope/Peace: “Iʼm OK.”
*Reconciliation/Integration: “May Your will be done.”
If you have concerns that you are stuck in your grief, please reach out to a trusted pastor or counselor. You are not alone, and you don’t have to walk this tough road alone!
A Note for Pastors and Counselors
In all likelihood, if you are a counselor or a minister, you have encountered couples who are experiencing the trial of infertility. Below, Iʼve listed a few tips for working with these couples and hope that these assist you in providing a supportive and effective atmosphere for them.
*Be well versed regarding the emotional, relational, and spiritual challenges of infertility, as well as reproductive treatment options. Just as we would want to be aware of cultural differences that can impact our clients, we need to be aware of the life and challenges of the couple experiencing infertility. *Normalize and validate the common struggles at each phase of infertility grief (see “Processing Infertility Grief”)
*Educate regarding gender differences in infertility grief and assist the couple in processing their grief without divisiveness.
*Refer couples to support groups if available, at minimum mentors who can relate in a non-threatening and supportive manner. This is particularly important due to the isolation that generally accompanies infertility. If no resources are locally available, advocate for the development of these resources.
*Educate couples regarding stress management techniques. Infertility is known to be as stressful for individuals as a life-threatening condition.
*Assist couples in making deliberate, well-processed decisions regarding their treatment options, taking into consideration spiritual convictions, financial obstacles, family dynamics, stress-levels, etc…
*Assist couples, through role-play, in communicating their struggles, needs, and hurts to family, friends, and co-workers as it relates to infertility. Assist couples in determining what they are comfortable sharing with others and in explaining what they prefer to be kept private, how they will respond to announcements of pregnancy, invitations to baby showers, etc… This type of rehearsal assists couples in overcoming isolation and resentment.
*Have couples journal their experiences and emotions and process in session.
Excerpts from this blog are taken from Water From the Rock (2002), co- authored by Summit Wellness Centers co-owner, Donna Gibbs.
Donna Gibbs, co-owner of Summit Wellness Centers, PLLC, is author of the recent releases, Silencing Insecurity and Becoming Resilient. Donna has authored numerous other books, her blogs are frequently shared in various media outlets, and she is commonly featured on radio broadcasts across America, and occasionally internationally as well. Donna has been providing individuals and families the hope and help they need for more than twenty years as a national certified counselor, board-certified professional Christian counselor, and licensed professional counselor supervisor. A member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), she is a leading professional provider for Focus on the Family, Christian Care Network, r3Continuum, FINDINGbalance, and Samaritan’s Purse.
Follow Donna’s author page at https://www.facebook.com/DonnaGibbsResilience/ for daily encouragement, the weekly blog, and updates regarding events and speaking engagements.