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What is the best way to deal with feelings of guilt and disappointment due to infertility?

Q: What is the best way to deal with feelings of guilt and disappointment due to infertility?

Dear We Want More,

My husband and I both come from big families and both wanted to have a big family of our own. Unfortunately this just wasn’t in the cards as we faced infertility issues throughout our marriage and both struggled with the disappointment. While my husband was supportive and took things in stride I felt constant anxiety over not being to give him children. What would have been the best way to deal with these feelings of guilt and disappointment?

– Wondering

My heart goes out to every couple experiencing this type of heartache. Fertility issues can be enormously trying, and many couples find it too difficult—too personal—to discuss. Thank you for your willingness to share part of your experience here at WeWantMoreNow.com.

The challenges of infertility are physically and emotionally draining for even the strongest, most loving couples. I know dealing with fertility challenges can be a whirlwind during which we have little time to sit with our sorrow because we are constantly cycling between hope and despair. Have you truly allowed yourself to feel your feelings? Anxiety is usually a mask for something; our body and psyche’s way of coping with what we perceive to be an unmanageable situation. If you are constantly anxious, it’s hard to get under that feeling to your deeper emotions. I’m wondering if anxiety has been replaced by something else such as sadness or the two other emotions you mention, namely guilt and disappointment. How do you feel now, in the present day?

Sadness and grief over infertility rarely go away simply because a window of opportunity has closed due to age, financial concerns or mental and physical exhaustion due to grueling fertility challenges and treatments. Addressing the sorrow and loss for both you and your husband may be an area still worth exploring with a qualified therapist.

In that same vein, if I had been working with you at the time you were feeling anxious, I would have suggested couple’s therapy as well. What would your husband have said about your perception of his ability to take “things in stride?” Was that the truth or a mask, a coping strategy, his best effort to support you? What would he have thought about your anxiety and guilt? Could it have made you feel less anxious to hear him say he in no way blamed you, and that you were in this together? Or perhaps something totally different would have been revealed, which could have lead to more honesty and communication (which typically reduces anxiety), and eventually emotional healing.

“Guilt” is a glaring and all too familiar word presented in your question. Feeling guilty over not being able to have children is akin to feeling guilty over having a heart murmur, arthritis, near-sightedness or any of the other thousands of physical/biological difficulties the human body endures. Infertility is in no way your fault, though the feelings of guilt are understandable and common. You are certainly not alone. One of the most frustrating aspects of fertility is that it is beyond our control. All we can do is try what the medical community suggests, and hope our body responds. While eating better, exercising, meditating, reading the latest research, etc., may help us feel healthier and more effective in our treatment efforts, ultimately it is our body’s determination whether to get pregnant or not, and one we must eventually accept and respect. There is nothing you did or did not do to cause your fertility issues. I hope your doctor(s) said this to you dozens of times. You cannot hear it enough. Guilt has no place here, or in the family you have created with your husband. Yes, you are a family, a family of two.

Some couples find it helpful to look for other ways to include children in their lives once they realize having their own biological children is not possible (I am assuming you were told by your reproductive endocrinologist about other options including about egg donors, surrogacy, adoption and fostering). I’m wondering if your large extended families can be a blessing and place to draw on for support and nurturance. Is there a niece or nephew that would benefit from your presence and understanding? Just because you and your husband do not have children does not mean you have to live a childfree life. Seek out the open-heartedness, fun-lovingness and raw honesty of children. I will not assert that being with someone else’s child will hold the same significance as being with your own, but it can make a significant difference in your life.

Other couples choose to focus on what they do have rather than what they do not. This means you and your husband have the time and resources to develop your interpersonal relationship (you and him) and intrapersonal relationship (you and you, him and him!). Explore your passions together, but also take full advantage of getting to know yourself better. Perhaps exotic travel together has always been a dream. Do it. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to take an art class or a writing workshop. Do it. Discover what this life you have been given can be.

Living with an openness of mind and body to a different life than the one you may have originally envisioned will help you let go of lingering guilt over the past and live in a space of appreciation for what is now. There is healing in acceptance—acceptance for what your body can and cannot do, acceptance for the family you have created, acceptance of love from others, and namely acceptance and love for yourself.

This article was originally published on wewantmorenow.com