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Grief and Infertility

Grief and infertility

a blog by Traci Shahan, RN, WHNP-BC, Doctor of Nursing, Albrecht Women’s Care: A Center for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, December 20, 2011

When the FertilityAuthority editor-in-chief asked me to pen another blog, I asked her for suggestions, few of which this blog will address, not because I don’t respect Jennifer —I laud her —but because I have been wrestling with a universally human experience, that of grief. My hope is that this entry will at least make one reader’s load a little lighter.

First off, this is the time of year that one of my sets of twins died in utero. There are no words that can describe the hell of losing a baby. especially two at the same time. Nursery decorated, names chosen, OB chosen, and new “mom vehicle” all check. I guess the only way to place this loss in perspective is this: When we got home from the hospital, my husband fell to his knees and wept. We have been married 23 years and that is the only time I have seen him cry. It’s random, this grief. For instance what always reminds me of when they died, which was in November, is the pink-orange clouds that are common this time of year. Sometimes driving to work, I sob, other times, I say a prayer. Starbucks cranberry bliss bars take the edge off at least for an hour or so.

Second, Hitch died. Christopher Hitchens was his given and pen name. No matter one’s thoughts on his decidedly controversial view points; bombastic, sometimes counterculture statements; and acerbic tongue, he remained to the end, intentional about living, realistic that he had, "stage four cancer and there is no stage five,” and avowed atheist. By early reports, there was no death bed conversion. Hitch, in my book, was far too rare in this world because he pandered to no one or idea, did not suffer fools, and died, with what I could tell, dignity and certainty.

Third, I have had a number of infertility patients recently who have experienced loss. They call me, despondent, frightened and scared that their loss will recur. They stop in my office, shut the door, pace or sit, and cry or rage about the unfairness of it all. Know what? They are right. One out of six of us will go through infertility. I would like to see the statistic of average length of time spent in fertility therapy, because the longer fertility treatment goes on, the more likely that the patient becomes depressed, hopeless, sad and angry

Fourth I’d like to talk a little about grief. Of course Kubler-Ross’s work was seminal and set the stage for fantastic advances, partly by taking grief out of the closet. I have taken lots of grief courses over the years, and have stood bedside reciting the prayers of the dying, as a parish nurse. No family endures it the same: some are livid, other members are sad, some are positive, some are even arguing over wills. The point is that every death and grief experience is different, and the same holds true for infertility.

I get asked a lot from patients: Is what I’m feeling normal? My response is, “What is normal? You are allowed to feel any way that you do.” You see, we get so caught up in being perfectly put together, what with our alpha muscles and males, fancy schmancy cars, McMansions and designer clothing, it’s alluring to think that if we try just hard enough — add another acupuncture session, eat raw food, swear off cranberry bliss bars, then we will “deserve” a baby. And what I have to tell you from the front lines of reproductive endocrinology is that there is not fairness. There is biology, and there is human reproduction which any Ob/Gyn will tell you is very inefficient. There are flawed gametes and counterintuitive hormones. So, yes, whatever you feel is normal. And whenever you feel it, it is normal. The Pampers aisle in the store is a for sure, certain commercials, women pushing carriages, Hallmark anything, and people at work who love to recount the details of their labors. All of these and many more are triggers — even years after losses.

In sum. grief is a patient, wily beast, which will strike from a position of power and seem to render you useless. This is an abject lie. In your grief lies your strength to persevere, to protect yourself, to help others and to prepare for parenthood — however you ultimately become parents. And, yes, I really believe that if you stay the course, you will become parents one way or another.

Now I’m going to go read one of Hitch’s last essays and challenge myself to use that sadness and channel it to make my dreams reality. Part of that reality is being attentive with my patients and offering my experience, strength and hope. Happy Holidays.


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