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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!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The fantasy of closure in infertility treatment

By the time a person enters into infertility treatment, they have already experienced a significant loss in terms of their expectations of having a family.  They have had to come to grips with the fact that they could not start their family the "normal" way, without medical intervention. However, for some infertility patients, this is just the beginning of a journey that involves numerous losses, disappointments, and other twists and turns. Every once in a while, the reality of the situation is revealed quickly and definitively; for most, however, the real nature of the problem only becomes clearer in slow motion--one failed treatment at a time.  To me, it's like freefalling down through space on an elevator, but agonizingly slowly, but without any idea of where the bottom floor is.

This is one reason that infertility wreaks such havoc with our emotional life.  While it's going on, it can feel like a constant stream of torture, filled with the worst kind of suspense.  Hope alternates with fear and despair, and of course, there is no definitive ending that can be reliably predicted. Time seems to slow down to a standstill. When looking at others' lives, I can see that these things do come to an end, and usually happily so; but while I was myself living in the midst of it, I had no confidence that those days would ever be done.  I try to share this with my clients, that their struggle will most likely end, and happily so too; and while I am always thanked for my reassurance, I think I am very rarely believed.

Although many problems do tend to resolve themselves over time, infertility is not usually one of them.  To overcome it, you have to actively address the problem, and this is even more difficult when you don't know exactly what the problem is.  Many times, we never really get true clarity, and are forced to guess, making finding a solution difficult.  We usually don't have unlimited time, money, or treatment options.  Plus, as described above, we are usually in an emotionally upset and fatigued state when we must make these incredibly important decisions.

Thus, many of us find ourselves in situations where we cannot know what the best course of action would be--and yet we must, in spite of this, act anyway.  As my grandfather used to say, "You pays your money and you takes your choice!"  Whether it ends up to be a good or bad choice is many times also impossible to determine.  You may have embarked on exactly the right course of treatment for yourself, and it could still fail, just due to bad luck that time around.  Or not.  Too often, there is just no way to know.

All of these observations lead me to the conclusion that that because of the many unknowable variables inherent in infertility treatment, true closure is frequently impossible to obtain.  I have heard many clients long for this closure, understandably feeling that this would help them get over their trauma and losses, and move on with their lives.  However, the frequent impossibility of obtaining closure is yet another one of the traumas and losses those struggling with infertility may have to experience. Thus, sometimes we have to give up our quest for explanations, diagnoses, and certainty, because otherwise we will become even more exhausted and depleted.

The good news is that learning to live with this kind of ambiguity is a skill, and it can be learned.  It's not only helpful with dealing with infertility; life is full of situations that present little clarity, logic or fairness.  The key to to getting over something without clear closure is to accept that you are always going to have some sad and angry feelings about the situation.  Over time, these feelings will dim in intensity, and they will not unduly interfere with your life.  Too often in our culture, I think we feel a pressure not to experience our negative emotions.  If we aren't "happy" all of the time, then there is something wrong with us.  However, I think this is a fairly American and western concept, and an unrealistic one at that, given the trials and travails that can life can offer.  Once we accept that sad and angry feelings are a normal response, and a normal part of life, we don't feel as intense of a need to quell them with explanations and understanding. 





8 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post--I think the uncertainty is definitely the hardest part of infertility treatment. You're constantly wondering if you're doing the right thing, and if it will end in "success"--whatever that means. I love your blog. Your comments are always thought-provoking.

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  2. This is a fantastic article, thank you. We tried ART methods 16 times (including IVFs) and there were no answers in our case. We actively tried for 6 years and had several pregnancy losses. Eventually we moved on to adoption and had our child. But the transition to moving away from ART took about a year and part of the biggest peace brought to me was not having our daughter- but rather learning to accept my infertility-and myself- at a basic level. Though I'll always be disappointed I could not carry a child to term, it no longer dominates me and affectively, rarely affects me. I sometimes wonder if I had gotten pregnant if I even would have healed as much as I did by adopting...

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  3. This is a great post. The uncertainty is definitely the hardest part for me. I think if I had some sort of guarantee that I would definitely have a child (even if it be two years from now)that I would be able to relax at least somewhat. Because the thought that I may never have a child of my own is a very scary, heartbreaking thing for me. But its something I think about often. When all someone keeps getting is negative news, its hard to think that things will ever turn positive. Thank you so much for this blog, I check it often and it has helped me so much. You have so much insight.

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  5. Thank you for this post, Lisa! This really does justice to the complexity of the "parenting 'after' infertility" subset of the IF population. I actually co-run a website dedicated to creating a safe space and meeting place for bloggers who are pregnant and parenting through adoption, infertility and loss (PAIL), so I'm particularly passionate about this topic :)

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  6. Thank you so much for your blog. I have had 4 unsuccessful IVF treatments in 7 months. It is so helpful to learn that things can get better, even though I have no idea how I will heal this immense heartbreak. I get panicked about not knowing what the future will hold for me, and how I will change my whole outlook on life. I am so glad to have found your site.

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  7. Yes, I'm now noticing that the Positive Thinking movement is now a religious cult. No one wants to dwell on failure and pain, but Positive Thinking is also a burden and also takes energy that could've been devoted to improving one's life.

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