Happy for You, Sad for Me: Tips for Navigating the Conflicting Emotions of Infertility
By Elyse Ash
I remember the first time I felt jealous after hearing a friend was pregnant. I remember it because it was such a bizarre feeling. I was usually the first one to jump up and down and happy-cry for my expectant friends, asking a million rapid-fire questions like; “When are you due? Is it a girl or a boy? How are you feeling? Any weird cravings or aversions?” I loved babies. I loved my friends. I couldn’t think of anything more happy than having a bunch of mini-friends toddling around wearing adorable baby Converse. Pinch me!
But this time was different. I still cried, but they weren’t happy tears. They were tears laced with surprise and jealousy. Surprise over the news, but also surprise over my complicated feelings. It was the first time I felt a little happy for someone else, but mostly sad for myself.
Luckily, my friend didn’t notice. I was able to hide the disappointment and jealousy...but as time went on and I experienced more and more failed rounds of fertility treatments, I got worse at burying my feelings during these surprise pregnancy announcements. Eventually my expectant friends could pick up on my despair, and I would always end up trying to reassure them that I was happy for them. But I was also just...deeply sad for myself.
Before trying to build my family, I had no idea it was possible to feel two diametrically opposed feelings at once. Then infertility happened and I realized not only was this possible, but it was a common occurrence when dealing with something as nuanced, complicated and emotional as trying (and failing) month after month to have a baby. In a single day, I’d feel a spectrum of emotions, ranging from gratitude and anxiety to hope and complete despair. The emotional swings of infertility were almost tougher than the invasive medical tests (shout out to Wanda!) and hormone injections.
The first few years of trying to conceive were spent learning so much about my body, my partner’s body, and the wacky world of health insurance. But perhaps the steepest learning curve was how long it took for me to be able to articulate my feelings when they were twisted, tangled up and ALL OVER THE MAP. Little did I know, this feeling would weasel its way into my emotional lexicon, becoming something I’d experience dozens of times throughout the three years I spent battling infertility.
So what’s a girl to do? How do we allow ourselves to feel these complicated emotions without beating ourselves up? How do we process the reality and gravity of what’s happening while still being able to enjoy ice cream and hang out with our friends and do the things we love? Below are a few tips and resources to keep in mind as you navigate the wacky, wild, totally unfair world of trying to conceive:
Get rid of the “shoulds.”
A lot of the shame I experienced around infertility stemmed from judging myself for not feeling the way I believed I “should” be feeling. It took a long time and a lot of hard work to learn how to stop judging my feelings and simply acknowledge them. For instance, if a friend told me that they were expecting their third kiddo and it was an “oopsie” - I’d change my internal dialogue from “Elyse, you should just be happy for her!” to “Wow. I’m feeling really jealous right now. It’s tough that she gets this incredible gift when we have to fight so hard for it. But it’s ok.I know that her getting pregnant doesn’t affect my own odds of getting pregnant.” By letting myself off the hook and not shaming myself for not being 100% happy for my friend, I learned to be much happier during an unhappy time.
Write it out. Talk it out. Sweat it out.
It’s important to process your feelings even though it’s far easier to try to bury them. Try to find a healthier way to manage them; perhaps it’s journaling every morning...or maybe it’s sweating it out at the gym or taking a long walk...it might also be finding a mental health professional to talk to. Regardless, you’ll need to find healthy ways to process and evaluate your feelings which might be changing every few seconds. Like the poet Robert Frost famously said, “The only way out is through.”
Focus on the things you can control.
While you can’t control most of infertility, there are a few things that you can control. You can control who you spend your time with: are your friends and loved ones making you feel at peace or judged? You can control what you eat. You can control how much and how you move. You can control what type of media you’re consuming: are you listening to helpful and inspiring stories / movies / books / podcasts or are you making yourself more anxious? Learn how to un-follow people, accounts and stories that don’t serve you. Don’t be afraid to tap that “un-follow” button (or even just “mute” some people - did you know you can mute your friends’ accounts on Instagram? Genius!). It’s okay. You have to look at for your own mental health first. Most friends or family members won’t notice...and even if they do, many will understand (forget the ones who don’t).
Find your people.
Most importantly, it’s imperative to build yourself an empathetic community who can support you during this crazy time. Perhaps you already have amazing friends and family members who you’ve confided in and who get it, but if you don’t there are many other resources like Fruitful Fertility, support groups from Resolve, and the Instagram TTC community (just search the hashtag #TTC). You are NOT alone and you do not have to go through this all by yourself.
Elyse Ash is the founder and CEO of Fruitful Fertility. It took her and her husband Brad three years, two rounds of IVF and one frozen embryo transfer to see their first positive pregnancy test which brought them their daughter, born in March 2018. Elyse lives in Minneapolis and loves poetry, hockey, social justice, Beyonce, and pretending she’s into yoga.