When it comes to most big decisions, I oscillate between two extremes: hardcore detail-oriented planning and feeling so overwhelmed I can do little more than procrastinate in a puddle of my own intimidation (psst, I tend toward the latter). So when my wife and I first started talking about adopting a baby, I was thankful when she joined me in shrinking into a shell of herself. The only thing we knew was that beginning the adoption process would have to wait a bit longer. We had to first deal with the dreaded feels that come when you grieve your infertility.
I won’t mince words: grieving your infertility is a lot like grieving a death. In some cases, when miscarriages are involved, it’s exactly that. Other times, it’s the searing pain of mourning a life that couldn’t be conceived in the first place. And as much as everything in you may scream against it, choosing not to crawl up inside the agony of this loss before attempting to become parents through adoption will likely harm not just your own mental health, but that of your future kids. In other words, it would be like learning of the death of your closest relative or friend and refusing to attend the funeral or to even take a break from your daily life to just process the sheer sadness of it all.
The unfortunate reality is that infertility issues are prevalent (over 6 percent of all couples are infertile according to the CDC, while 25 percent of all pregnancies end in a miscarriage, according to the American Pregnancy Association). The silver lining to these terrible statistics is that while you may feel entirely alone in your struggle, you most certainly are not! Take the time to seek out others in your social network—friends, co-workers, neighbors, fellow members at your place of worship—and you likely won’t need to search long before you find someone who has gone through (or is going through) your current plight.
As with all hard things, getting started is the toughest part. When my wife and I first reached out to a couple at our church who’d adopted a few years prior, we were living each day in a thick cloud of envy, bitterness, and crippling depression. Getting out of bed became more of an accomplishment than a routine. Worst of all was the guilt—we shouldn’t feel this way, we often told ourselves. Contacting these friends, though we didn’t know it at the time, was a major victory—a daunting first hurdle officially jumped. Our friends validated every one of our crushing emotions, assuaged our self-inflicted guilt, and even shared their own challenging path to parenthood, much of which resembled what we were going through. For the first time, we felt genuine hope. It wasn’t long before we started connecting with others and developed a network of peers who really “got it.”
This season of grief is also a good opportunity for you and your spouse/partner to spend some uninhibited time communicating with each other. Even if your communication is already decent, processing infertility can look different for each of you and it’s important to be honest about any feelings of fear, guilt, shame, or felt needs you may each have. Journaling is another excellent way to sort your many thoughts and, if you choose, can serve as your own private means of giving yourself space to be sad.
In addition, I’d highly recommend seeking the advice and assistance of a professional counselor or therapist while you grieve your infertility. As my wife and I progressed, new emotions cropped up and I can’t emphasize enough how beneficial and healing it was to have these trusted listeners further validate our pain and encourage us in the tools we’d need to eventually move forward as healthy adoptive parents.
Today, I’m the ecstatic adoptive father of two girls who were destined to be my daughters, and yet it still pains me that my wife and I can’t get pregnant. It’s almost impossible to reconcile the two conflicting thoughts—without our infertility, they wouldn’t be our kids, and yet we are sad we can’t experience what millions of couples are biologically able to do. It’s important to remember the goal is not to “get over” the pain of infertility, but to recognize it, first, for the ugly thing it is, and secondly, how its presence in your life can serve to eventually form your forever family. I can truly say our season of intentionally working through our infertility grief only strengthened the love and gratitude we feel today for our children and their respective birth families. It has also afforded us the honor of comforting others just starting their own journeys. And after you choose to grieve your infertility, you too will have a much deeper appreciation for the way in which your children came into your family and be in the privileged position of being able to pay it forward when someone takes that terrifying first step and tentatively reaches out to you as someone who actually “gets it.”