Gaining Perspective: The Infertility Therapist

I recently got an email from a reader who is completely frustrated by the communication Grand Canyon he has entered after multiple fertility failures. I know he was probably looking for advice…some nugget of wisdom that would suddenly build a bridge of common ground between him and his grieving wife.

The thing is, reading his email, I couldn’t find anything wrong with how he was treating his wife.  He seemed to be emotionally available, was trying to give her space to deal with the failed cycles, but be there if she needed someone to be a sounding board or a punching bag.

Yet, he felt like he could do no right.

And the truth is he is probably right.

Every couple going through infertility loses perspective at some point.  The differences in the biology of a man and woman are never more clearly demonstrated than when a fertility cycle fails.

When Lisa would get her period after a failed cycle, she would withdraw.  I would try to comfort her with a hug or kiss but often she would recoil.  It was as if the physical injury to her body of failing to conceive made her unable to deal with physical contact.  Or maybe she just wanted to be left the hell alone.

The problem is, as soon as I backed off, it seemed that I was suddenly labeled a distant, uninvolved, uncaring ass who really didn’t understand anything.  I cared more about work, about my problems and couldn’t hope to understand what Lisa needed.

There was a point where the problem became so severe that I worried for the first time in our married life if we would survive.  On a regular basis the back of my skull felt like it was going to explode, and Lisa never left the infertility research literature long enough to discuss the fact that we were in a very precarious place in our relationship.

Up until that point, I had never had an open mind about therapy.  My impression was that only weak people needed to talk about their problems with a third party.  Plus, the only reason shrinks got into business was to prescribe anti depressants and do past life regressions, and that would not help my sperm penetrate Lisa’s egg to cause a conception that would stick for 9 months.

But I went to the psychologist anyway.

Actually, I take that back.  We went to a poorly run support group at our fertility doctors office first, where the therapist had no understanding of any of the acronym-speak of fertility and spent more time asking what the acronyms meant than how we felt about the fact that they kept failing.  And to ensure that we never returned to the group-the therapist allowed the child of a secondary infertility patient to wander around screaming in a roomful of otherwise primary infertility couples.

After that disaster, we got in touch with Dr. Bergen.  She had been through infertility, understood the language, and had dealt with her own losses, which she openly discussed.

What we learned in that first therapy session was simple: we had to find perspective.

How did we do it?

By being thankful and mindful.

Yep—I know—psychological gobbledy gook and we resented the first five minutes of acknowledging that we were thankful for the comfortable leather chair we were sitting in, the beautiful 62 degree January air outside, and the incredibly authentic Buffalo style Anchor Bar wings we had at Friday’s that afternoon after therapy.

But damned if it didn’t get our minds off of fertility for awhile.

The therapist taught us that the reality of our biology was that we aren’t really hardwired to deal with a constant state of stress.  We need moments of release, relaxation, and distance to persevere through any hardship.  Otherwise, meltdown, break down and even permanent damage can be done to even the strongest of marriages.

In the moments of thinking about something other than a positive beta and being thankful for the life we had prior to parenthood, we found the Grand Canyon was replaced by that magical bridge that suddenly appeared like it did for Indiana Jones when he took that step of faith.

And that step of faith led us together, ultimately, to our baby’s spirit.

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