After years of living with fertility challenges and pregnancy loss, the day I learned I was pregnant with my daughter was one of the most joyous, as well as the most frightening days of my life. Visions of baby snuggles, hugs and toothless giggles, birthdays and holiday celebrations ahead consumed my thoughts and heart- only to be followed by unexpected fear and anxiety.
My transition from infertility to pregnancy felt very confusing, and no one seemed to be talking about it. The goal for fertility treatment had been pregnancy with little to no regard for how well I was navigating my profound grief and the multitude of oscillating emotions I was attempting to cope with. Now that I was finally pregnant, I was ready to embrace my growing family and yet I felt stuck holding the weight of my fertility challenged identity in the midst of my budding identity as a mother.
If you are currently pregnant following fertility challenges, know that you are not alone. This is an exciting but often challenging transition, and here’s why…
Loss of Identity
As one struggling with infertility you may have experienced some or all of the following symptoms:
• Grief, high levels of anxiety, and/or depression
• Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, anger, fear, bitterness and/or pessimism
• Altered appetite, sleep patterns, concentration, or interest in enjoyable activities
• Extreme isolation and/or strained relationships with friends and family
• Thoughts of suicide or death
Consequently, you likely incorporated one or more of the following coping mechanisms as a means of daily survival in a fertile world:
• Skipped loved ones’ baby showers
• Deleted social media accounts to avoid surprise pregnancies
• Joined a fertility support group
• Surrounded yourself with child-free friends or fellow “infertiles” for emotional support.
And now you’re “one of them!” It can feel like you’re stuck between two identities. You may feel like a traitor when disclosing pregnancy to fertility challenged friends. Or, you may find it difficult to connect with pregnant peers who do not understand your fertility struggle and associated losses.
Welcome to the pregnancy after infertility limbo.
Although your fertility doesn’t define you, it can often feel all consuming when you’re in the muck of it. Your identity has likely shifted throughout your journey to parenthood. Now is your opportunity to acknowledge fertility as merely a part, not the entirety of your identity, and welcome this new and evolving part- mother!
History of Loss
It’s important to acknowledge the multitude of losses you have likely endured throughout your fertility journey in order to grieve and move forward with your pregnancy and beyond.
Let’s take a look at possible losses while living with fertility challenges:
Loss of control
Loss of dignity and self esteem
Loss of your body’s ability to conceive a child without assistance
Loss of trust in your body
Loss of ability to build a family on your own timeline
Loss of life events and relationships that may have been impacted by fertility treatment
Loss of previous pregnancies
Loss of your incredibly competent fertility medical team as you graduate to an OBGYN/Midwife
When you have experienced significant losses in your life, it makes sense that you may fear future loss, including your pregnancy. Emotions can waver back and forth (especially in the first two trimesters) as if one foot is still in the fertility challenged world and the other foot is stepping towards motherhood. However, know that it is possible to grieve past losses while simultaneously embracing future gains.
You may find yourself elated that you are finally pregnant following infertility; however, know that if you are experiencing feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt or sadness this is completely normal.
Many women who become pregnant following fertility challenges express feeling anxious about early pregnancy symptoms, particularly when they aren’t prominent. Some verbalize fear of “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” losing the pregnancy, or having to restart fertility treatment. Guilt may occur when sharing news of the pregnancy with others who are struggling with fertility, or when there is difficulty bonding with the baby based on previous losses. Lastly, some women report feeling sad that they are unable to experience the same level of joy and excitement as those who have never experienced previous pregnancy loss or fertility challenges.
If you are currently pregnant following fertility challenges, consider joining the Family Tree Wellness Pregnancy After Infertility Group where we explore this unique transition to motherhood and build community with others who get it.
Written by Jamie Van Zanen, LCSW