Infertility and loss can affect women in many different ways. Just as there is a wide range of emotions one can experience as a result of infertility and loss, there are myriad ways to cope. We teamed up with our friends at Natalist to tackle this complex and emotional topic.
Dr. Constance Guille, MSCR, an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC, sat down with us to answer our questions about infertility, loss, and how to cope with the difficult emotions that may arise.
Dr. Guille, what are some of the emotions that women experience when struggling with infertility and loss?
Dr. Guille: Women struggling with infertility or experiencing multiple miscarriages describe a wide range of emotions. There is almost always a profound sense of sadness and grief related to the loss of becoming a mother and growing a family. There is also commonly anger and resentment for being the one to deal with this problem. Some women feel a tremendous sense of guilt or shame as if there is something fundamentally wrong with them or their bodies or that they have done something wrong to ‘deserve this.’ Some women vacillate between feeling numb and experiencing excruciating emotional and psychological pain, loneliness, or despair.
How do these emotions affect a woman’s ability to cope during this difficult time?
Dr. Guille: Weathering these intense emotions and the psychological rollercoaster of dealing with infertility can take a toll on a woman’s emotional and physical health, one’s sense of self and relationship with a significant other, and, at times, friends and family. Just as there is a wide range of emotions one can experience as a result of infertility and loss, there are myriad ways to cope.
For many women, they turn to avoidance behaviors. Avoidance behaviors only prevent you from processing grief and prolong the misery. For some, there is fear that if they allow themselves to really feel the pain of loss, they will never recover. They imagine they will never stop crying, or it will never stop hurting. Grief has a way of never stopping until we really feel it, embrace it and let it go. This allows us to fully digest the loss, and once we do, we can then let it go. Trusting in this process with a loved one or professional can be very helpful in moving through grief.
How does someone cope with these difficult emotions? Are there ways to cope in a healthy manner?
Dr. Guille: The greatest challenge is finding the path that allows you to fully mourn this loss and move forward in a way that is in line with the life you want to live. There are some fundamental elements to this process.
You must first identify how you cope. What do you do when you feel all of this? Commonly, and understandably, women want to avoid these feelings. Avoidance can take on many forms. Sometimes, avoidance may look like not going places or seeing people because they remind you of this misery. Other times, you have a glass or two of wine, beer, or whatever, or you throw yourself into your work or activities that keep your mind busy. Avoidance behaviors only prevent you from processing grief and prolong the misery.
Not avoiding, however, feels insurmountable when you don’t have the tools to cope. This is often another place where I see women entering treatment or therapy. They recognize that their avoidance is not actually working to help them, it often hurts them, but they can’t seem to find any other way to cope that feels safe or alleviates their pain.
Good emotional, psychological, and physical health builds on a very basic foundation of getting good sleep, eating well, drinking water, and exercising regularly. These behaviors foster and support resilience and the strength needed to tackle these strong emotions, grief, and difficult conversations with your partner, friends, and family.
Should women who are dealing with infertility and loss ask for support from friends and family?
Dr. Guille: Yes, absolutely. Recognize that you are not alone, and no one should walk through these life experiences without support. In my experience, women often come to me because they have never in their lifetime had to ask for help or rely on others for emotional, psychological, or physical help. Helping women become clear on what sort of support they want and need, identifying who is the best person to ask for help and how best to ask for help in order to get your needs met is often the first step in building supports.
If you or someone you love is struggling with coping after infertility or loss, do not hesitate to reach out. Click here to get connected with one of our providers today.
Dr. Constance Guille is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC. Dr. Guille completed her psychiatry residency training and sub-specialty training in perinatal psychiatry at Yale University. She established and is currently the Director of the Women’s Reproductive Behavioral Health Program at MUSC. The mission of the program is to improve the mental health of pregnant and postpartum women through clinical care, education, teaching, and clinical research.
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