Have you experienced infertility, pregnancy loss, or both? If so, I imagine you may have known a deep, overwhelming, and heart-wrenching sense of loss, whether it is for a baby that was in utero or a baby that could have existed if not for infertility. Perhaps you’ve felt confused, devastated, powerless, guilty, or angry as you try to make sense of what has happened or is happening to you. Maybe you envisioned yourself quickly and easily having babies and were not prepared for your dreams to be shattered by your unimaginable current reality.
Whether it is difficulty conceiving a baby or maintaining pregnancies, the psychological pain of struggling to have children is significant. There is a real void in life where children could have been in our lives and it is painful to be reminded of that and to imagine how things could have been different or how old those children could have been by now. We grieve the identity of mother or father and the reality of parenthood that we expected to have at this point, as well as the lost sense of belonging among our family, friends, coworkers, and church community. We grieve how much simpler things used to be now that we distrust that things will ever work out; the trauma changes us and we can grieve that we lost a blissful or innocent part of ourselves. We also grieve the loss of a sense that our relationships are understanding and supportive in both good times and in bad.
Infertility, miscarriage, and stillbirth can turn our worlds upside down with numerous forms of loss, so it is shocking when others don’t seem to notice or acknowledge this loss. This isolation can intensify our suffering. I know that one of the most difficult aspects of my personal experience has been when so many people did not seem to recognize my real and drawn out loss of children through infertility and the pain of my miscarriage. Looking at your own experience, I imagine you may be able to relate. Perhaps your loss is too painful and you have not been comfortable sharing your experience with anyone. Maybe you’ve tried to share your struggle or express your needs with loved ones but they have not responded in a way that was helpful. Perhaps you hoped people would ask how you are doing, but you experience a deafening silence instead. Or maybe you feel alone because you don’t see any acknowledgment of infertility and loss in the Church, on on social media, or in broader social circles. Regardless of why you feel like your loss is hidden or isolated, I see your suffering.
It stinks, but often people don’t know what to do or say with infertility and pregnancy loss because they are uncomfortable with the topics and the emotions that come with them. They may incorrectly assume we don’t want to talk about what we’re going through. They may say things such as “At least you can adopt,” “you’ll get a baby soon,” or “this is happening for a reason” in an effort to make us feel better, not knowing it can make us feel angry, misunderstood, guilty, or generally worse off. They may also seemingly continue to live their lives as normal, while it feels like we are trapped and left behind in our suffering. We then mourn the growing distance we feel between us and those loved ones who we hoped would be more sensitive and responsive to our needs.
On organizational and societal levels, despite the prevalence of infertility and pregnancy loss, there is still insufficient conversation about these issues and inadequate resources for families affected, adding to our sense of isolation. In many ways, it feels like there is a social taboo in our society around talking about fertility struggles. There is also scarce deep understanding and sensitivity around the challenges that families face when they cannot grow in the expected way. We need to do better as a society and we need to do better within the Church to facilitate conversations and listen. We need the general public to become more aware of the challenges we face and the needs we have. We need the silence around these challenges to be broken so we can feel like we are not the only ones and we can feel recognized and supported in our journey.
I am so grateful for Springs in the Desert, Red Bird Ministries, and other organizations which are dedicating an incredible amount of creativity, passion, time, and energy into raising awareness and support for those suffering through infertility and pregnancy loss. I also personally intend to continue talking about the struggles we are facing, to advocate for helpful social, organizational, and societal change. I hope that through such efforts, we can transform these issues from completely hidden and isolated to robustly noticed, acknowledged, validated, and ministered to.
Edward Luersman, MA, LPC lives in Central Ohio with his wife Kate and is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Spirit of Peace Clinical Counseling. As a Catholic and counselor, his clinical focus is supporting individuals and couples in Ohio with grief, infertility, or miscarriage through online and in-person counseling. You may find him online at griefcounselingohio.com.