When I was struggling with infertility, having a child was almost like finding the "holy grail". I was convinced that if I could just start my family, all of my problems would be solved. I must add that most of this expectation was held unconsciously; regardless, boy was it ever wrong! I am fortunate to be the mother of three (at this moment) reasonably healthy children, but I can't say I have ever approached the nirvana of a relatively problem-free existence.
I know from my clinical experience in working with individuals and couples struggling with infertilty that I am not alone in this belief. Perhaps it's one of those working fictions that we need to keep us going during difficult times. If we really recognized that difficult times don't really end, but just lead to difficult-in-a-different way times, we might just curl up in a ball and call it a day. However, the usefulness of this fiction often dissipates after the infertility struggle is, at least overtly, over. Often, I see people struggle with the expectation that once their child or children arrive, they should be over-the-moon happy all of the time. When they don't always feel this way, they worry that they are not grateful enough, or that after they have endured, they are somehow not "doing it right". Of course, it is their expectation that is inaccurate...most likely, their feelings are completely normal and expectable give their current situation,
In order to create a more realistic picture of life after infertilty, I will describe some of the more common experiences I have witnessed in the lives of others as well as my own life.
1. Pregnancy after infertility is often filled with anxiety.
Instead of shouting with joy from the rooftops, many newly pregnant infertility patients are riddled with anxiety and fear. This is usually quite the opposite of what they expected. They live anxiously from beta to beta and ultrasound to ultrasound. Every early pregnancy symptom is examined and reexamined. As the pregnancy progresses, the anxiety dissipates somewhat, but it never totally goes away.
2. Childbirth and breastfeeding can be difficult and can add to the already negative feelings you may have about your body.
For many infertile women, childbirth and breastfeeding seem like an opportunity to finally be and feel "normal". That's great if everything works out the way you hoped. Unfortunately, many women with infertilty are at at higher risk for difficult childbirth and breastfeeding troubles. For some women, having an unexpected c section or milk production issues can feel like another body "failure", adding to their still painful feelings about their infertility.
3. Your child isn't going to be perfect, and you aren't going to be the perfect parent, no matter how hard you try.
Of course, this is true of any child and any parent. However, many parents who have a history of infertility have lingering, unconscious expectations that because they have been so committed to building their family, they need to be perfect parents. When they fail at the impossible, they can be too hard on themselves. Sometimes, they may unconsciously blame themselves or their infertility for whatever difficulties their child might be having, even though chances are, it's completely unrelated.
These are just a few experiences I have noted, and I would love to hear about the experiences and observations of others, so please leave a comment!
Also, even though the parenting experience isn't a perfect one as we may have envisioned, it can be very rewarding--perhaps more so if we free ourselves of unrealistic expectations.
Thanks so much for reading, and as always, I look forward to your comments and questions!