In her book ‘On Death and Dying’ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the 5 stages of grief. These are the different phases a person goes through when they suffer a loss. People experience grief in different ways, and rather than being a straight forward step by step process of emotions, people often move backwards and forwards through the different stages. They may happen in a different order and people will spend different amounts of time in each phase.
Longing for a baby is a grief that feels like loss. Perhaps loss of a dream or how you thought your life would be. Attached to this grief is the possibility each month that maybe this time it will be different. But it ends up being the same thing each month with no chance of healing until your baby is in your arms.
How do the stages of grief relate to infertility?
Denial: This is often the first stage and a commonly used defence mechanism. Here we try to rationalise our overwhelming feeling and hide from the fact by saying ‘this isn’t happening’.
‘We must have got the timing wrong this month’
‘Maybe I’m testing too early or it’s a false negative’
‘Those test results were probably wrong’
Anger: As denial wears off, the reality emerges that again this month you are not pregnant. This is often followed by feeling or expressions of anger.
‘This is so unfair’
‘How come she’s pregnant again and they weren’t even trying?’
‘Everyone I see is pregnant, it must have been so easy for them’
This anger could be directed at your partner, family or friends, perhaps other pregnant women or those with children, maybe even your doctor or other specialist supporting you on your fertility journey.
Bargaining: This is a normal reaction to feeling helpless or lacking control over something. There is so much to read on fertility and conception and you are trying to do everything ‘right’. This may lead to dramatically changing your lifestyle, diet or spending money on the next thing that could be the magic answer to get you pregnant. This is all part of the bargaining phase, telling yourself if you work hard enough and do this…..you will get pregnant. The hope is that your thoughts or actions will lead to your longed for pregnancy.
‘Maybe if I try this, I will get pregnant’
‘I won’t drink this month’
‘I will be happy for the next person who announces their pregnant’
This is often also mixed with guilt and feeling that maybe you could have done something differently to get a better outcome.
Depression: The phase of extreme sadness, which may bring with it isolation, avoiding friends and family. During this stage time is spent crying and grieving. It may have an impact on your usual sleeping and eating patterns and people are often unable to enjoy the things they used to take pleasure in.
‘I’m never going to have a baby’
‘This is hopeless’
‘I can’t stop crying now my period has turned up again’
Although this is not talking about clinical depression, if it reoccurs regularly or lasts for a prolonged period, additional support is likely to be needed.
Acceptance: This is not acceptance that it will never happen, but that this was not the month and that although it’s taking longer than expected it will happen. Reigning hope and enjoying life again.
‘It’s going to be ok’
‘We’re not the only ones going through this, other people have struggled and had their happy ending’
‘I have people around me who love and support me’
What can help deal with these stages of grief?
As part of the Freedom Fertility Formula we share tools and strategies to enable you to feel emotionally in control of your fertility journey. Several of these will be useful in overcoming the difficult feelings associated with the stages of grief.
One of the tools to help promote emotional well-being is to have a daily self-care strategy. This is something we cover in our first session. There are 3 simple stages to the self-care strategy and I’m going to explain the first one as I think it particularly relevant here.
Step one of the self-care strategy is the morning pages where first thing every morning you write out 3 pages of whatever you are thinking. It’s important to know that there is no wrong way to do this. It is simply writing whatever comes to mind. Doing this helps your thoughts and feelings to emerge, that you may not have even be aware of. As a result you will let go of difficult feelings that are pulling you down and be set up for a positive day. Simple solutions for powerful change. Try it yourself and see how it works for you.