Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stages of Infertility through Time

After my last post, I began thinking of the whole process of infertility, and the different stages through the years.  I've often touched upon the comparison to the Stages of Grieving, here on this blog:

  1.  Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These stages are cyclical, not just within a given menstrual cycle, but also through time.

And, I've definitely been to each, like this poor sap:

(Thanks again to Barbie for introducing me to this awesome video!)

It's certainly not melodramatic to compare the Stages of Infertility to the Stages of Grieving (aka the Stages of Dying), since the diagnosis of infertility brings with it the same reported levels of stress as the diagnosis of cancer or heart disease.  In fact, here is one blogger's comparison between her own cancer diagnosis and experience with infertility and miscarriage:

“Yeah, lucky me I have had both cancer and infertility.  But, hands down infertility has been so much harder. My cancer journey and the accompanying chemo and radiation was primarily physically painful (of course there was a lot of worry too, but a lot of physical pain). And thank goodness, at the very least, no one said anything stupid like "just relax" or "this is God's will" "or maybe you weren't meant to have hair. " Okay that last one was sarcastic, but I think you get my drift.
My experience with infertility (which started 8 years after the cancer) and recurrent miscarriage has not only been physically painful, but at points soul-crushing and I have bordered on despair. Not to be a debbie downer, but while my family was awesome during my cancer treatment, it was not like that during our IF struggles. It boggled my mind, and yeah I was bitter at times, but what helped was finding people who could and would support me.”

But in thinking beyond the stages of grieving as they pertain to infertility, I realized that there is a deeper progression happening alongside these stages, as our cross is carried over time, which is more of a linear progression than a cyclical one.

In Early Infertility, as I pointed out in the last post, there is so much pain and hope, hope and pain, tied together, always either at odds with each other, or fueling each other in their intensity.  Early Infertility is a horrible place to be, because no matter what, you just. cannot. escape. it.  Infertility, all things fertility, and baby, and family, and happiness, and rainbows, and sunshine, and expectations are quite literally everywhere, and they appear to be just out of reach.  If we can only reach just a bit more, try just a little harder, say and do just the right thing at just the right time, surely, we will be able to lift ourselves out of the muck and into the land of everyone around us (with babies).  Early Infertility is a time of living, and grasping at the Future.  Everything about Early Infertility is sharp.  It is penetrating, immediate, but also superficial, in that the hurts evaporate easily and quickly.  This is not to say the pain is a superficial pain, as you think about the nerve endings on our skin being incredibly sensitive.  The pain is real, but it is a necessary first step to numbing the superficial to begin working on the mid-level. 

Mid-Infertility, as I recently (i.e., 5 seconds ago) coined it, is not as much defined by what year of infertility as it is the couple's mindset and emotional status.  For me, Mid-Infertility occurred between years 3-6.
Mid-Infertility is a time of dwindling hope, accompanied by a deepening self-awareness.  Mid-Infertility is a time to soul-searching, a time of deciding just how far and just how long you will fight.  There is a glimpse of joy and beauty in the realization that you have grown as a person, have survived things you never thought you'd be able to survive, but also a real threat of depression when the expectations of Early Infertility begin to sneak in.  Mid-Infertility is a time of living, and lamenting in the Past.  Mid-Infertility, above all, is a time of discerning the difference between expectations and hopes.  If experienced spiritually, it can lead to a "rounding out" of the individual, where the pain of the past can be transformed into a deep conditioning and purgation.  There is a fullness that is achieved as the sharp edges of Early Infertility are smoothed from a quick, localized pain to become a deeper, lasting pain.  Allowing the pain to be felt is one crucial part of the Mid-Infertility identity.  It is a scary place to be, but if the fear can be turned to faith, it can be so incredibly purposeful.

Which leads me to Long-Term Infertility (veteran status).
Again, Long-Term Infertility is mostly consistent with the mental, emotional, and spiritual level of the individual, but I personally was not able to get there until year 6 through present, and only after all medication, charting, caring obsessing was completely stopped for quite some time.
Long-Term Infertility is a place void of all expectations.  Instead, hope is reignited, true, God-centered hope replacing false, self-centered hope.  Long-Term Infertility has allowed all of the pain from Early and Mid-Infertility to penetrate deeply to the root, allowing the pain to melt away the deepest fears and insecurities felt so powerfully in Mid-Infertility.  The pain now is a slow-to-rise pain, not a quick and sharp one, but it is firmly grounded.  Long-Term Infertility is a time of living just for today in the Present.  It is a safe place to be because once reached, even though the mind, the heart, and the spirit may wander back to regretting the past or worrying ahead about the future, having found oneself in the peace of Long-Term Infertility, it takes only a moment to bring oneself back into that reality.  Long-Term Infertility is not without pain, but it can be full of joy.  Best of all, Long-Term Infertility, once reached, is a place where you can escape all of the negatives of infertility and truly enjoy all of the positives (yes, I said "all of," there is more than one!) without feeling guilty or like a quitter.  Long-Term Infertility is about progress, not perfection - and about understanding what that means.

Of course, my perspective on all of this comes from a woman who is still childless and unable to adopt or foster.  I am sure that there would be some hurdles thrown into this analysis should an adoption take place, say, in Mid-Infertility, or for a couple with secondary infertility.  But, it's my belief that with children as part of this equation, it doesn't make the spiritual progression stop, but it can certainly place a greater strain on the timeline.  I believe we are all meant to achieve the Long-Term status even if we have become pregnant in Early or Mid-Infertility, but God may just need us to use a different cross to achieve it.  The cross of infertility is only one of many we will face in life.  The danger is when that cross is lifted, believing that your spiritual journey has ended.  It has not!  Pick up, and embrace your next cross to continue your walk, as painful as it may be, into the Long-Term status, where every day is a new day, every day is a gift, and every day brings with it the challenge to remain in a place of gratitude and hope.


Stephanie Z said...

I love how you emphasize that everyone goes through different stages at different times, as well as mentioning the challenge of deciding just how much to do.

DM + AM said...

Mid-infertility as you put it is also the loneliest times. Most people around "think" you are over your heartache. They think you have moved on because they certainly have. You desperately want people to ask how you are doing and still get the extra love but you don't want to risk being "that crazy person" that can't have kids... There comes a point where your pain is socially unacceptable.

Just wish there was a quick fix for all of this!

Amy @ This Cross I Embrace said...

DM + AM, that is so very true!! Thank you for adding that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this truth-filled post. I believe God allowed me to find your post for strength I desperately need. And to realize there are other women struggling with infertility that have not chosen the easy way out with IVF.

barbie said...

Love that video. Yes long term has to be reached for true "peace" beautifully written as akways my friend!!

Unknown said...

That giraffe video was brilliant. I actually have been thinking on this topic for a couple of days myself (early infertility over here - just a year and change into this mess)...and finally put my thoughts into words. It's funny that in hindsight my post seems like the question and your post seems like the response :)

Mike Brummond said...

This is such a helpful reflection. Can I share it with our infertility support group. I totally agree with this about long term infertility: "The pain now is a slow-to-rise pain, not a quick and sharp one, but it is firmly grounded. Long-Term Infertility is a time of living just for today in the Present".

Kat said...

Could not agree more with these stages! I definitely feel like I am in the long-term category now and it does feel so peaceful and hopeful. Thank you for this reflection!

Amy @ This Cross I Embrace said...

GraceofAdoption, of course you are free to share anything from this site with your group :) Thank you for hosting a much-needed support group for those who are struggling so much!

prayerfuljourney said...

Great reflection...I'm definitely in the long term IF category...even though we are still working on adopting...which hasn't helped me to move on altogether. The one thing that hit me when I was reading an article(or maybe a post) on IF and not having children when you wanted them was to allow myself to grieve. I don't think I've ever allowed myself to ever do that. I've cried for past cycles...but not for never having a baby and fulfilling that dream of parenthood. It is a needs to be some time I'm hoping I can get to that point. I will IF this adoption plan doesn't work out.

the misfit said...

Brilliantly observed. It's very true - at almost nine years, it's not like nothing ever provokes or hurts me (though I can sail through a great many things I could NOT have borne a few years back). But I can get up and walk away and do something else, and I'm OK, because I have totally given into the "that has nothing to do with you" voice, and I just have to listen again and realize how foolish I'm being. It used to be a mockery, but now I understand it's simply true. Babies are something that happens to other people. Maybe that's too bad, but so far that's also true of cancer and infidelity and divorce. My life is my life and their lives are their lives. Sometimes they piss me off, but that's just life. And I move forward.

Chella said...

Early IF here... Amy, thanks for additional comfort in this post that if our IF journey includes never having children (bio or otherwise), it eventually gets better. I am definitely in the throes of hopeful highs and depressive lows, and to know that if never being a parent is my future, I won't always feel this way, is comforting. I'm also just 19 months in, and to know that peace will probably not come for a long time is a little daunting! But we all know this isn't easy, no matter the stage we are in.

[email protected] said...

I just love you. You are an incredible woman.

Cecilia said...

I love this. For me, early infertility was the worst. Even looking back on it, I still feel that it was the worst b/c it felt so out of control and reactive. I hated that feeling. It was so antithetical to my own personality that it felt like the ultimate suffering. Mid infertility was an easier place for me personally b/c it felt steadier (more depressed, more resentful, but steadier).

krāsulauva said...

Thank you for your blog and this post. It helps somehow. I too (not christian) feel these years have made me a better person.

We are going to see NaPro doctor next month (ten hours driving, yay!). It makes me think, could I be good Fertility Care practioner? Can I justify expenses? Still thinking.

I'm glad you have your baby son. Take care.