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!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Infertility and the myth of the reparative experience

A common theme in psychotherapy is the wish for a reparative experience, or an experience that in some way,  makes up for a prior bad experience.  Unfortunately, as much as reparative experiences seem like a good idea, the quest for them is actually the cause of much human misery--for in many situations, repair is impossible.   For example, if a woman grew up with a parent who was distant and uninvolved, she may find herself romantically attracted to men who are similarly distant and uninvolved.  She is motivated by the unconscious idea that if she could just get this man to love her and pay attention to her, it would somehow make up for the fact that her father did not.  Of course, we all know how this story goes.  Too often, the new romantic interest is psychologically incapable of being emotionally close, and thus the cycle continues.  Further, once the woman realizes that she has been, yet again, rejected. she is retraumatized.  She then becomes even more invested in the struggle to get a distant and uninvolved man to change.

The same dynamics that can make the struggle for a reparative experience so compelling in terms of relationships also hold true for infertility.  In trying to overcome our infertility, we are sometimes not just building a family; we are also attempting to somehow repair the emotional damage done by infertility.  I often hear patients tell me that if only they could get pregnant, everything in their life would be fine. And yet, although things are usually indeed better, pregnancy and parenting bring about their own set of stresses and problems.

My own recent experiences have been a case in point.  As I have mentioned in prior posts, I was recently pregnant and had a baby boy in October--the result of a final cycle with our one remaining frozen embryo.  Throughout the pregnancy,  I found myself worried that I would have to have another C-section.  I wanted to have a vaginal delivery for a variety of medical reasons, but also because I wanted to feel like I was "normal" in the reproductive sense, at least for once in my life.  When it became clear that a C-section was again inevitable, I briefly became depressed.  I realized that I too was longing for a reparative experience. Instead, I was forced to accept that my reproductive system was yet again not functioning normally.  Since this was definitely my last cycle and my last baby, my chances for a reparative experience were at an end.

However, regardless of the nature of my delivery, nothing can really fix the emotional scars from my experiences with infertility.  Despite the fact that I wish it were otherwise, I must accept that for me, having a baby is like driving a very old car  from New York to California.  The car can only goes 20 miles per hour, and if you don't want it to explode, you have to pull over and add oil to the engine every five miles.  Sure, you will eventually get to California...but it will take you a lot longer to get there, cost more money, and you are going to be pretty darn tired once you arrive.  And trust me, although that experience is not easy, I know I am lucky to have a car at all.

In the end, we must learn to accept our losses.  If we don't, we will find our energy depleted by our efforts to fix what can't be repaired.  Even when we are able to overcome our infertility and have a family, we are still likely to have negative feelings about our infertility experience.  The good news is that if we can devote our energies to other, more fruitful, endeavors, instead of trying in vain to undo our painful experiences, we can have a much richer, rewarding life.  This weekend, I ran into an acquaintance who recently completed her first marathon, which to me seems a very impressive task.  At first I thought to myself that I'd never be able to run a marathon, but then I realized that in terms of my infertility, I've been running my own type of marathon for the last decade or so.  I think that running an actual marathon, although difficult, may be easier than infertility treatment.  Now that I've dealt more deeply with my feelings of loss and sadness regarding my infertility, perhaps I'll have more energy to run my current "marathon"--parenting an infant, preschooler, and tween on very little sleep!  And when things settle down, maybe I'll be inspired to run my own kind of marathon, although I doubt it will be the actual kind. 

For all of us struggling with infertility, it is important to take a moment to consider if we are on a quest for a reparative experience, even in a subtle fashion.   By dealing more directly with our feelings of loss, we may be able to free up energy we can use to create our families, or enrich our lives and relationships in other ways.