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,
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.