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Infertility and Denial


a blog by Ellen S. Glazer, LICSW, Apr. 22, 2010

As a mental health professional, I know that “denial” is seldom touted as a good way of coping with challenging situations. We’ve all known people who were thrown for a loop when their denial “stopped working” and they were forced to face something they had heretofore avoided. Still, I’ve found that when it comes to infertility, adoption and egg donation, on occassion, a bit of denial is not always a bad thing.

Here are a few examples . . .

Denial in Infertility

Most of my infertility patients make silent predictions about the course of their treatment. There are the unfortunate people who are steadfast in their belief that nothing will work. Even as their fertility doctors remain optimistic, these “I’ll-never-have-a -baby” patients sink lower and lower into their predictions of failure. Fortunately, many of them go on to have healthy, uneventful pregnancies for which they are surprised and deeply grateful.

[Read Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Failure]

By contrast, there are others who predict success, even when the odds seem to be against them. For some, this is simply unhealthy denial—a 45-year old woman is unlikely to conceive with her own eggs. However, for others – like the the 38 year old, with rising, but not sky-high FSH -- a “spot of denial” can be a good thing. Rather than diving deep into despair, she is able to undergo treatment with a measure of hope. Denying that the odds are against success, she is able to comfortably focus on the real, limited chance she has of becoming and remaining pregnant.

Denial in Adoption

I recently did a homestudy for a woman who is one of four sisters. During the course of the homestudy, she told me about each of her sisters, showed me photos and described the close relationships that all of them enjoy between and among each other. I was struck by how similar the sisters seem to be, how close they are and what a strong family unit they and their parents are. Towards the end of the homestudy, I said to my client, “So have you ever had any experiences with adoption?” She said, “Well yes, my sister, Jody was adopted.”

I was stunned as she had never mentioned Jody’s adoption in all our discussions of her family. When I asked her why this was (practically accusing her of withholding something), she said, “Well I know most people talk about adoption but we don’t. I don’t really think about it. None of us do. We’re a family and we don’t make distinctions about how we got here.”

My client’s family’s approach to adoption is what has been called “denial of differences.” In a landmark book years ago, a leading adoption researcher found that families that deny differences do not usually do as well as those that acknowledge them. I tend to agree with this but had to acknowledge, when my client told me about her family, that their denial seems to work for them. Or at least it serves a purpose — ensuring that one sister is not singled out as different from the others.

Denial in Egg Donation

I met a woman this morning who has a 10-year old daughter conceived through egg donation. She said that she and her husband always planned to tell their daughter how she joined their family, but then they “keep forgetting.” She explained that had two sons, both of whom were conceived with her eggs, but it is her daughter who is “most like me.” She went on to talk about the close relationship she has with her daughter, one based largely on the fact that they have so many shared interests, tastes, sensibilities. This very satisfied and grateful mother said, “I’m not trying to pretend that she didn’t come from a donated egg, I simply forget.”

As with the adoptive family of my homestudy client, this woman’s tendency to “forget” that her daughter was conceived through egg donation seems to serve a positive purpose. For sure she will need to talk with her daughter soon — and she knows it — but perhaps her “forgetting” up until this point has served a purpose: mother and daughter seem to enjoy a solid, secure and mutually loving relationship based on “all the things we have in common.”

Now Hold On . . .

Before you run out and look for Denial for Dummies, please know that I am presenting just one perspective on denial/forgetting. There is much to be said for openness, truth telling and a focus on reality.

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