Have You Lost the Spark That Lights the Darkest Hour?

This morning there was a lot of sadness in my office. My client “Dawn” has just miscarried after conceiving twins with IVF. She could barely drag herself in to see me—she has been literally hiding under the covers for the few days since her miscarriage. Now, in my office, doubled over with anguish, she was questioning her ability to go on. Two years of unsuccessful fertility treatments and now this pregnancy loss have broken her spirit and left her defeated and hopeless. “The future is empty for me” she said, “I will never be happy again”. Those words didn’t surprise me. After all, women trying to conceive often have clinical depression rates similar to women who have heart disease or cancer. Surprising,though, was the fact that the words were coming out of Dawn’s mouth. You see, Dawn has always described herself as “a real bad-ass.” She’s confronted a great deal of adversity in her life and has emerged from it as tough and as rugged as a street fighter. When she first started fertility treatment, her attitude was, “Bring it on!” True to form, in the following two years she’s fought for her dream family with tenaciousness and unfaltering optimism. But now, she feels like she can no longer bounce back. She feels broken beyond repair. Listening to my client today reminded me of three basic truths about resilience: 1) Most of us posses it. Like Dawn, many people have dealt with trouble or misfortune, and have picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and went on with life, frequently strengthened by the challenge they’d faced. You too may have...

Postcard from the Barren Land

I am quite familiar with the tundra myself. In my late twenties, I was finishing up my doctorate in clinical psychology and doing a residency at a Chicago hospital, when I first began learning about infertility. The hospital had a large fertility clinic and, as part of my training, I began leading support groups for the couples who were going through in-vitro fertilization, or IVF. I was taken aback by the emotional demands of infertility, and by the drastic differences between men and women when coping with those demands. I was curious to understand these differences and to see if the “feminine” style of coping was more effective than the “masculine” (which I suspected), or the other way around. I decided to research the couples at the clinic and document the results in my doctoral dissertation. I spent a year studying infertile couples and writing my paper (to my surprise, men’s coping strategies, such as emotional distancing, distraction and humor, seemed to work better than women’s, but more on that later). Throughout this I continued to see infertile clients and began building what would become later a thriving clinical practice focused on infertility. But first, it was time for my husband and me to have a child. We started trying to get pregnant, then trying and worrying and then trying and panicking. Eventually we learned that we were part of the small group of infertile couples who is dealing with both a male and a female factor. We ended up undergoing five years of medical treatment that culminated in several cycles of IVF. I learned, during those years, that...

Siberia of the Soul

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Albert Camus This is a blog about surviving a Siberia of the soul. If you are infertile, you know this place well: it’s the social and emotional exile which women experience when they’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to have a child. It’s the frozen tundra of women who cannot be mothers. If you’re not infertile, imagine this: you’re the proverbial fly on the wall at any social gathering of women: a cocktail party, a shower, a luncheon. Imagine yourself hovering over them and eavesdropping. Notice how quickly their conversation turns to children. From the initial “do you have any kids?” to the exchange of concerns, tips and advice; to the heroic tales of pregnancy and birth–women’s conversations are seldom devoid of references to motherhood. That’s because the “moms club” is the world’s largest club. Numerous in members, not very exclusive, sometimes involuntary, but still, a club. When you have a child, you become a card-carrying member, you learn the secret handshake, and you uncover mysteries that “only a mother could understand”. We live in a society geared toward, even obsessed with, motherhood. Despite their liberation from traditional gender roles, most American women view being a mom as central to their feminine identity. Do you remember a 1970’s song that went something like this: “When I grow up, I want to be a mother… one little, two little, three little blessings from above”? From an early age, women receive the message that, no matter how much they succeed in other areas of their lives, they...