By Dr. Ryan Blazei, Reproductive Psychologist
Mother’s Day is Sunday. For most, Mother’s Day conjures images of Sunday brunch, celebration, and family. But, if you’re one of the 6.1 million women in the United States who have trouble getting pregnant or staying pregnant, then Mother’s Day may be a source of heartache. Leading up to Mother’s Day, you are bombarded by the commercials and advertisements for cards and flowers celebrating others who have what you desperately want: motherhood. People who don’t know about your infertility struggles may ask when you’re going to have kids. Social media feeds are full of pictures of children’s handmade gifts to their mothers or smiling pictures of a mother and her children. Mother’s Day can be difficult not only for people struggling with primary or secondary infertility, but also for those who have lost their own mother or a child, adoptees, birth mothers, and those waiting to adopt.
Making infertility even harder to deal with is the general lack of acknowledgement from society about how hard it is. Infertility grief is complicated and often considered a type of ambiguous loss. With ambiguous loss, the loss being suffered is not as concrete as a traditional loss and is not readily noticed or acknowledged by others. While the feelings of grief are as strong as with traditional losses, there is confusion over how to respond. There are no rituals for mourning. There is not even the certainty that the loss is true or permanent. Each month, hope returns, but may lead again to disappointment. This form of loss carries with it the feeling that you don’t have answers and may never have answers.
Infertility can lead to feelings of sadness, anger, insecurity, and fear. It’s normal to have these feelings, and it’s important to allow yourself to feel these emotions. Research has shown that the level of emotional distress associated with receiving a diagnosis of infertility is comparable to the distress associated with a diagnosis of HIV or cancer. It’s ok to give yourself permission to cry and to feel bad for yourself on Mother’s Day. Allowing yourself to fully experience your emotions can be the first step in moving beyond these difficult feelings. Throughout the day, as negative emotions are triggered, you should acknowledge the feeling, allow yourself to experience it, and then move on to another activity until the next negative emotion is triggered and you go through the process again.
So, what are some strategies to get through this Mother’s Day if it is difficult for you? First, take some time to think through how you want the day to go. You know yourself better than anyone else. If you feel that joining in on Mother’s Day activities might be too difficult, then give yourself permission to skip the activities. If you’re thinking of declining an invitation to celebrate Mother’s Day, you may want to explain to those involved beforehand in order to prevent any hurt feelings. For example, you could explain to your own mother that this day is difficult for you and suggest celebrating her on a separate day. Conversely, you could take charge of Mother’s Day by volunteering to host or organize the celebration for your own mother. By staying busy and having a clear goal, you may succeed in keeping the focus off of you.
Regardless of whether you celebrate on Mother’s Day, you should take some time out of the day to take care of yourself and increase the positives in your life. Plan a fun outing with your spouse, significant other, or a good friend. Go for a hike on a new trail or schedule yourself for some pampering at a spa. Go to a movie or get lunch with other friends who are similarly struggling.
Finally, seek out others who share the same struggles. Society in general fails to understand the devastation of infertility, and while your friends are well-meaning, it may still be difficult to find support from friends who haven’t had similar experiences. If you find that you’re feeling overwhelmed or just want extra support as you go through infertility treatments and tough decisions, it may be time to seek professional support from a therapist trained in infertility issues. There are a number of excellent websites with supportive information and infertility resources including:
Remember you are always welcome at our free monthly drop-in support group held on the second Wednesday of every month from 7-8 PM at Carolina Conceptions. Attend as many or as few groups as you would like. I also offer individual counseling at my Cary office. To schedule an appointment or to learn more, please call my office at 919-720-1452, send me an email, or check out my website.