This blog addresses various emotional aspects of experiencing infertility. It is written by a clinical psychologist who specializes in infertility counseling. Thank you for reading, and best of luck with your journey!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Unexpected help, unlikely alliances, and other surprises along the journey of infertility

For me at least, experiencing infertility has been a life changing experience. Perhaps most profoundly, due to my infertility, I found myself traveling down paths in life I would have never predicted. In so doing, I met some amazing people, and developed a greater understanding of myself and the world as a whole.

When experiencing infertility, it is very easy to get stuck in all the negative feelings surrounding it, simply because they hurt so much! It's also easy to focus on all the hurtful things others say and do in regard our infertility. In the shuffle, sometimes the positive, helpful, and supportive things that people do for us can get short shrift.

As a psychologist, who spends her work days helping people deal with their painful feelings and experiences, I am probably more vulnerable to focusing on the negative than most. However, during the last couple of weeks I have been poignantly reminded, due the sudden illness and death of a dear relative, of how profoundly I was helped during my own journey to motherhood.

As you may have read in my other blog posts, we adopted our oldest daughter from India when she was an infant. Our adoption process went unexpectedly quickly, and we took her into custody very soon after we had finished infertility treatment. In fact, while I was in India with her, I was still coming off all the hormones I had taken in preparation for my last-ditch (and failed) FET. Although I was thrilled to be adopting my daughter, I think it is safe to say that I was still in the process of understanding and working through my infertility experience.

Due to the legal process in India, we were able to take her into custody right away, but could not leave the country until our case was processed. Thus, we decided that I would stay in India with her for the 3-4 months it took for the court case to be completed. My daughter and I stayed with my husband's aunt and uncle, whom I had never met.

As you may imagine, I was completely overwhelmed by this experience. Getting a new baby, new family members, and a new culture at the same time was a lot to comprehend. My husband's aunt was insistent that we not hire a nanny, as is common in India, to help look after the baby, in order that the baby and I bond. I still feel this was the right decision, but being alone with sick infant, I got sleep-deprived, and thus quite emotional, very quickly. My husband's aunt had never had children of her own, so sometimes her expectations of the baby and me were a bit unreasonable. Her husband seemed a little disinterested in the situation, or perhaps a bit unsure of what to do with this fussy baby and crazy American who had suddenly taken up residence in his apartment. One day he had promised to take me to a department store after he came home in the evening so I could buy some things for the baby. I hadn't left the apartment in days because I was intimidated by the streets of Mumbai, and I didn't know where to go, so naturally I was really looking forward to this outing. When he came home, however, he said he was tired and that we would go some other time. I got very upset--and I am ashamed to say I threw a bit of a tantrum, complete with tears and door slamming. To my surprise, he came into my room a few minutes later, and asked why I wasn't dressed to go out. I received no reprisals for my behavior, just a smile.

As we walked through the streets of Mumbai, we came to an extremely busy road that we had to cross, with no crosswalk or stoplights in sight. I stood at the edge of the road transfixed with fear--how would I ever cross it? To my surprise, my husband's uncle calmly stepped into the middle of traffic, staring at the drivers with his arm outstretched--and the cars quickly stopped. Having lived in Mumbai for so many years, I am sure for him this was old hat, but to me, it was magic. Had I been by myself, I think I would still be standing there, eight years later, trying to figure out how to get to the other side. With his help, however, we crossed the road with ease.

Sometimes I think it's just as simple as that--in dealing with infertility, we all get stuck by the side of roads we don't know how to cross. And by having help from just one person, just for one moment, to show us how to do it, and to support us, we can learn how to keep going towards our goal, even if it scares us silly.

After that day, my husband's uncle became my biggest helper and ally. Whenever I needed to go somewhere unfamiliar, or to a doctor for my daughter, he went with me. If there was any sort of ruffled feathers between my husband's aunt and myself, he quietly smoothed them. And at 7 pm, when my daughter routinely started screaming for 2 hours straight, he would come and take her out the porch swing, sit with her on his lap, and sing her songs to give me a break. Of course, I tried to thank him all the time for everything he did for us, but he would have none of it. "You Americans are always saying thank you all of the time! In India, we do not say thank you to our family members, because we are just all doing our duty. Please no more thank you's!"

My husband's uncle died today after a short but intense bout with cancer, and I must say that although I am no longer allowed to thank him, I shall remain grateful to him for the rest of my life. If I hadn't experienced infertility, so severe that it pushed me onto a plane and into a far away new land, I never would have gotten to know him, or appreciate his kindness, much less get across that Mumbai street.

And that's the thing about infertility. While you are in the midst of it, it feels horrible, and often all-encompassing. It feels as if nothing good will ever come out of it. But in retrospect, I can see that it pushed me out of my comfort zone, and into a whole different life, with a higher level of appreciation for the people in my life. I am not one of those people who believes everything happens for a reason, because there are too many awful things that happen for which I can find no justification. I do believe, though, that we must make the best of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and in so doing, we can learn and grow a great deal.

In your own infertility journey, I suggest that you also be on the lookout for support from sources you might not anticipate--chances are, at some point it will be there for you. Although it won't take away from the pain of infertility, it can soften the blow, and sometimes teach you new ways to approach problems.


  1. What an incredibly powerful and moving post. Your husband's uncle sounds like a kind and gentle soul and you were so fortunate to have him in your life. I am so sorry for your loss.

    Thank you for reframing fertility challenges and showing how just one person can make all the difference.

  2. Lisa you always manage to write the most beautiful posts that I can directly relate to. I am sorry for the loss of your uncle but grateful he gave you the support you needed.

  3. I send condolences on the loss of your husband's uncle. This is a beautiful tribute to him and a wonderful picture.

  4. This post bought tears to my eyes. Yes indeed, unlikely people become your allies when you least expect it. And it is a blessing when you find those people who will help you get across a seemingly impossible crossing.
    Have you had a chance to visit India again? I grew up in India, yet Mumbai intimidates me!! If you get a chance, do visit Kerala, the southernmost state, one of the prettiest places you will ever visit (ok I may be biased since I am from Kerala).
    Thanks again for a touching post.

  5. What a beautiful post. It gave me chills to read. I never thought of it that way, but it's so true. Thank you.

    I'm so sorry to hear of his passing, he seemed like a wonderful man. And that picture of the two of them is just adorable...

  6. This was so beautiful. What a wonderful story and what a wonderful man. This made me cry and I appreciate your sharing it.

  7. Nice post. I'm sorry for your 'uncle's' passing. Nice to read good memories/thoughts of him.

    I also like how you say that you don't believe things happen for a reason but to basically make the best of it. I really like that.

  8. excellent post and thank you for sharing your story... it is really amazing what you have been through and what you have learnt along the way..
    pls pop over to my blog - I gave you an award :)

  9. This is such a beautiful post - and a wonderful tribute to such an amazing man. Thanks for sharing this.

  10. Catching up here today. What a serene photo ...those two beautiful, gentle faces looking at you.

  11. Great post and advice. I didn't realize that you had a PhD until I finished reading and then looked at your profile info. It is so refreshing to have someone who has been in the trenches to help others who are still slugging along. I wish I'd had your help when I had needed it.

  12. Great Post….. I read a few of your other posts.