As I am writing this post, it’s now late January and the Christmas holiday is past. This past holiday season may have had joyful moments, but it may also have been trying for you. For people suffering with infertility, there can be an emotional rawness during the holidays from seeing the stream of pictures, videos, and cards depicting parents with their children opening gifts and posing for family photos that remind you of your suffering. The liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas, which focus on Christ’s birth, may have even been painful reminders of your own empty manger. You may have thought of the baby you dreamed of having by now and of the empty crib that is your reality. Reminders of your infertility and how things could have been different can be found everywhere and that is emotionally painful.
You may feel distraught, alone, abandoned, or perhaps infuriated. You may feel an unspoken, invisible pain that no one else wants to see. It can seem like everyone else gets the miracle of a child and you are left standing on the sidelines, perpetually waiting for your own miracle. You may feel out of place and left out of the experience of being a parent at the same time as your family and friends. You may feel like God has abandoned you in your suffering or perhaps even inflicted this upon you. How could He bless others with the miracle of life but not you? After all, He willed that the Virgin Mother miraculously conceive the Savior and blessed many couples in the Scriptures with a baby after years of infertility; why not you? Perhaps you feel like a failure or like you have less worth because of your inability to conceive. You may tell others that you are fine, but you are not fine at all.
The experience of infertility grief is complex and may be difficult for others, and sometimes even for we ourselves, to understand. When our families and friends recognize our sadness in witnessing others’ fertility and parenting journeys, they can be quick to judge our emotions as jealousy or envy. We have all heard, “You should be happy for them, why on earth are you sad!” or “You’re just jealous of what they have.” Sometimes we are too quick to judge our own emotions. Do you feel guilty for experiencing anger or sadness at others’ pregnancy announcements? Do you think you’re a bad friend or a bad Christian for wishing you didn’t have to see yet another couple blessed with children? Do you feel false for having to bear a smile for others when you feel empty and desolate inside? Before you assume that this is jealousy, I invite you to consider: Are you truly giving into envy or harboring resentment, or are you simply feeling the emotional reaction to something lost? That emotional reaction is called grief. Emotions are not sinful or wrong. You are experiencing the sadness and anger that comes from infertility taking your dreams, sense of belonging, and joy. Do not assume you are guilty of the acts of envy or jealousy.
The experience of infertility also brings opportunities for great virtue. As a counselor, I see strength and resilience among people who suffer from infertility. Infertility is a long and exhausting journey. It takes real perseverance to continue with your life with this immense emotional burden. I think it’s especially courageous and virtuous when those experiencing infertility choose to be joyful, present, and supportive for other people in their moments of joy, even when it hurts inside; for example, by showering women with love at their baby showers, agreeing to be godparents, and being loving and supportive of the children in their lives. It is a real sacrifice to accompany others on the journey of parenthood when you wish you could be on that journey yourself. When you perform these acts of kindness despite your internal pain, you are being brave, and God sees your acts of love.
Given all the complexities, pain, and challenges of infertility, I encourage you to be kind to yourself. You have a genuine need for recognition and validation of your pain. You need social support to combat your sense of isolation even if others do not recognize that need. I hope above all that you and your spouse come to understand and accompany each other. Find trusted people who try to understand your experience and are compassionate toward your struggle rather than judgmental. Seek out others who struggle with infertility; Springs in the Desert is an amazing place to find other Catholics who personally can relate with your pain. Find a compassionate confessor and/or spiritual director to navigate the intersection between your emotions and spiritual life. And seek out counseling to process your complex emotions and receive professional psychological support. I have hope that no matter whether you and your spouse ultimately conceive children or not, you can find true peace and acceptance in your life.
If you ever wish to talk about your struggle with infertility, feel free to contact me. While I can generally only offer counseling for people located inside the state of Ohio, I would be happy to talk with you about your infertility journey and help you find counseling resources in your area. You may reach me at 614-957-3061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Know that you are not alone and that there are others who can understand your pain and desire to assist you in your suffering. May God bless you now and always and help you find the peace you long for.
Edward Luersman, MA, LPC lives in Columbus 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 includes support for individuals and couples with infertility and miscarriage and the many other forms of grief and loss.