When you’ve dreamt all your life of having a child, the sudden realization that you can’t may be hard to swallow. If you’ve pinned your hopes and dreams on a future that includes a little one of your own, the natural next step may be to swear that you will go to any lengths, do anything to have that child, come hell or high water.
At first, this approach seems healthy. Other people may actually encourage this attitude of defiant hope - after all, they’re just as committed as we are to a story in which a woman will eventually fall pregnant, just as long as she never gives up and keeps the faith. There’s a longing for the Disney-style happy ending in all of us!
But falling pregnant is not always mind over matter. It’s not a question of merely believing in yourself enough or “earning” a child after a long enough wait or pushing through enough psychotherapy. The hard truth is that sometimes, even after everything, a woman may still remain childless.
Why hope can hurt
Coming to terms with infertility doesn’t happen all at once. It creeps in slowly, one cycle at a time. Realization of a new reality unfolding before you may happen in fits and starts. You may start the month full of renewed hope, looking everywhere for signs and omens of pregnancy, trusting that this time will be the magic moment when it all finally happens, torturing yourself with visions of how things could be...
But hope may have built you up so much that you feel disappointment all the more keenly. Now, thrown into the mix are guilt feelings that you feel sad at all, or the suspicion that maybe you just didn’t hope hard enough. Hope can seem like all you have in a difficult time, but when your situation fails to change, blind faith can also trap you in unhappiness.
Trust in God, but tether your camel
There is a Sufi proverb that says “trust in God, but tether your camel”. I think it’s one of the wisest ways to think about balancing optimism with realism as you embark on your journey with infertility.
While optimism and hope are obviously good to have, they need to be tempered with a healthy dose of realism, too. Whether this means proactively educating yourself about your chances of conception, knowing when to call it quits or simply having the strength to consider a life without children, “tethering your camel” is a vital skill to master.
Your healing may come - just maybe not in the way you think it will!
Finding a middle way takes courage and focus. Both full-on despair and unrealistic optimism have their drawbacks. So how do you keep trying, but without clinging too hard to “hope”?
- Don’t postpone your happiness. The more you start to believe that having a child is all you want and all that will fulfil you, the more you close yourself off to other sources of joy in your life. Do all the things you would have done in your future “perfect life”, right now.
- Don’t feel bad for “giving up”, letting go or even feeling downright pessimistic at times. You’re not doing anything wrong by acknowledging the darker emotions you may have. In fact, being honest about how you really feel can be the first step to overcoming those feelings.
- It’s scary, but allow yourself to imagine what you might not have considered before: that you may fail to have a child, and yet still be deeply fulfilled and happy nevertheless. Just become curious about what different paths your life may take, instead of mourning too deeply the paths that seem like they’re closing themselves to you. Healing from the pain of infertility can be paradoxical: it’s when you let go of the desperate need to conceive that it can also let go of you.
- Temper hopeful, wishful feelings with informed knowledge of where you really stand. Do your research. It’s easy to feel a little superstitious, but a dose of reality can be grounding, too.
- Unlatch yourself from monthly, destructive hope/despair cycles. It may be the last thing you want to do, but distract yourself. Try remember all the other interesting, joyful and important things in your life. You are so much more than your ability to bear children!
- Abandon all-or-nothing thinking. Can you still enjoy children in your life, even though they aren’t your own? Are there any other burning desires in you that would bring you fulfilment?
How to avoid regret
Regrets are like tiny bereavements. We mourn the loss of what could have been. If you’re at the start of your fertility journey, there’s something you might not have considered: should you never fall pregnant, you may well look back on these years themselves with a tinge of regret. You may feel sad for how you beat yourself up, or the damage you incurred in the name of conceiving at all costs.
Whether you’re at the start of your journey or the end, there is only one solid antidote to regret: engage fully with the moment right in front of you.
Some women feel like they wake up after several years of battling infertility, and they finally reach the stage where they are willing to mourn the children they won’t have. But they’re surprised to find they’ll have to mourn something else: the waste of those years when they focused on nothing else!
Live well, in the present. If you fall pregnant, fantastic. And if you don’t, you can look with pride on a life you’ve created that’s rich and meaningful all the same. Hope is an emotion for those who are filled with despair. But if you can let go of thinking of your life as a tragedy to be endured, you may find yourself relying less on hope, and making a friendly truce with what is.