The Grief of Infertility

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The Mayo Clinic describes grief as: an emotion, sorrow, numbness, a natural reaction to a loss, a universal and a personal experience. When going through infertility, you may not realize you are experiencing grief. You may identify with feeling sad, worried, hopeless, or angry. Many of these emotions are part of your grief. Infertility has so many losses that are not acknowledged. Grief is a huge part of what you are going through if you are struggling with infertility.

Types of loss when going through infertility:

  1. Loss of dreams and expectations. You may have grown up playing with dolls, being told that you are a good mommy, or that someday you will make a good mommy. You might have been told that when you meet someone that you love and decide to get married then that is the right time to have children. You also might have been told to put your career or school first, and that after you accomplish your goals then you can have children. You may have the age planned out of when you would like to have children. You probably were never told you might get to be a mother or that you can decide when you want to start trying to conceive but that might not be when you get pregnant. You probably were not told when you were a little girl playing with dolls that it may take months, if not years to conceive, and that you might have to use assisted reproductive technology in order to do it. With infertility there is grief over your dreams and the realization that they may not be what you thought they would be.

  2. Loss of identity. Many of you grew up wanting to be a mother and probably felt it was always part of your narrative. For many of you it is part of your identity even before you ever start trying to conceive, knowing that one day you will be a mother. You may wonder if I am not a mother than who am I?

  3. Loss of relationships. When you are going through infertility it can be extremely difficult to watch friends or family get pregnant when you are also trying to conceive. You may feel disconnected, such that if someone invites you to a party you may not want to go because everyone will be there with their children or will be talking about their children. If you are not invited because you do not have children it is equally as painful. If you are going through infertility your relationships may be changing, weakening, dissolving and even ending. Even if your relationship with someone does not completely end you may feel a loss of what your relationship had been with the person.

  4. Loss of body function. When you are suffering from infertility it can be because one of your reproductive organs is not working. There is a loss when you feel like a part of your body does not work or is broken.

  5. Loss of youth. If you are going through infertility you might have heard the term, “advanced maternal age”. You also might have been told that you are too old to go through assisted reproductive technology, which may leave you grieving for your youth.

  6. Loss of control. You may be feeling a loss of control. This can look a like a loss of control of emotions. You may feel like you are on a rollercoaster of emotions, one day feeling hopeful, to the next day feeling like you cannot get out of bed. You may also feel a loss of control over your body. Even if you are timing everything perfectly, following your medical advice on how to conceive it still might not be working for you. You may also be feeling a loss of control over the fact that you do not have as much control as you thought. You might have thought that when the time is right that you would get pregnant, that you could decide when you were ready to be a mother and coming to terms that you do not have that kind of control can be a loss and need to be grieved.

  7. Loss of not being pregnant. For most of you every time you only see one line on a pregnancy test or get your period every month there is a loss of not conceiving. You may need to process your grief every month after this happens.

    Grief is an emotion that many of you are feeling during the infertility process but may not have acknowledged was there. Acknowledge it, name it, feel it, observe it. There are ways to process this grief.

    For more information on grief during infertility contact Julie@kullcounselingmadison.com or 608.239.4807.


Setting an intention for 2019

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Only a few more days and 2018 will be at a close. For many people this is a welcome change. The start of a new year signals beginnings, and provides an opportunity for change and growth. What do we want from this new year? How will it be different than last year? What do we wish was different in our life? What needs to change this year for us? While I am not big on New Year’s resolutions, I do like setting intentions and working to achieve goals.

According to Mind Body Green, “Intentions are the fuel to manifesting your goals and visions.” There are many different ways to set an intention, but this year I challenge you to set a one-word intention. Think of one word that will help guide you in the next year to get you closer to your goals or visions. When we create a long list of goals or resolutions, it can be difficult to stick with. Focusing on one word can provide focus on your intention and more obtainable goals.

My intention this year is GROWTH.

Ways to use Intentions:

  • Create a mantra around it that you can repeat to yourself or just say the word.

  • Post the word somewhere you can see it - on your bathroom mirror, your daily planner or set your phone screen with a picture of your intention.

  • Journal about how your intention is being incorporated into your life.

  • Meditate on this word.

  • Share your word, ask friends close to you to set an intention and discuss how this word is showing up in your life.

  • Create a collage with your intention in the middle and see what develops.


What will your intention be this year?

To learn more about setting intentions and growth check out www.kullcounselingmadison.com

#miscarriage matters...my story

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October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. I hope that sharing my story may help someone else find comfort and strength.

This Thanksgiving will mark 4 years since I said goodbye to one of the men that I respected most in this world, my grandfather. As the priest mentioned later at his funeral, it was so fitting that he died on Thanksgiving because he was the most thankful and giving man despite facing many challenges in his life. It was difficult to say goodbye to him, and bittersweet, as I had a secret that only my sisters knew, I was pregnant with my second child.

Fast forward 5 days later and I was sitting at the doctor’s office with my husband and one year old waiting for our 8 week ultrasound. I remember thinking how lucky I felt and how it almost did not feel real. I could not wait to show our daughter that she had a sibling on the way.

The doctor’s office confirmed my pregnancy with a blood test, so it was on to the ultrasound. As the tech started to move the wand around she was silent. I looked at the screen and knew immediately that something was wrong. I had seen what a 8 week ultrasound looked like with my first child and I knew this baby did not have a heartbeat. What happened next is a blur of talking with the doctor, crying, and feeling so empty. I will never forget the nurse that sat me down to go over my options with me telling me how sorry she was and that she had had 4 miscarriages. In that moment, hearing her story gave me strength to get through that day.

I decided to wait hoping that the baby would come out naturally on its own. I spent the next few weeks trying to heal and also let go. I went to my grandfather’s funeral, showing little emotion, fearing that any emotion would lead to a breakdown or trigger the miscarriage.

The baby did not come out on its own. The miscarriage took an entire month to complete. It was a month filled with pain, bleeding, and doctor’s appointments.

After the physical symptoms had subsided, the emotional ones had kicked in. Every person that has had a miscarriage is different and everyone reacts differently. I was embarrassed, ashamed and heart broken. I felt like my body had one job in life and it failed. I told a few people in my support circle. Some people were great, some people had a hard time relating. Support came from surprising places. Even with this support I felt really lonely. I looked for resources in the community and nothing was the right fit. Based on the challenges I had finding help in the community, I made a promise to myself that when I was at a place to help others with pregnancy loss that I would. In 2016 I started taking trainings and doing research on psychotherapy and pregnancy loss. In October of 2017 I started offering a support group for miscarriage.

Having a miscarriage can make someone feel so alone. If you or someone that you love has had an early pregnancy loss please share this resource with them. No one should have to go through this alone.

For more information on pregnancy loss or to sign up for the free monthly support group please contact julie@kullcounselingmadison.com or 608.239.4807.

Unplug and Hug to reduce Anxiety

I was honored to be a guest blogger for unplug and hug. This is a repost of the article.

Electronics can be great. We love having our gadgets connected to us and we love having what our gadgets connect us to.  The amount of information available at the touch of a finger (thanks to the internet) is life changing.  FaceTime with family has changed the way we interact and stay close to distant relatives. Social media connects us with friends and family that we don’t get to see often. There are wonderful mental health and meditation apps on phones and computers these days.  Connectivity anywhere, anytime allows flexibility at work to check and manage email when out-of-office.

 

As a psychotherapist that focuses on helping those with anxiety, I see a lot of college and graduate students in my office.  Many of these young adults use their phones and social media in a way that increases their anxiety.  Being active on social media can attribute to the fear of missing out. It can also lead to constantly comparing your lives to others. It can also provide a false sense of social support. It can reinforce those negative thoughts in our head that we are not good enough or that others are better than us.

 

While not all use of social media is negative it is important to unplug once in a while. Instead of grabbing for your phone in a moment of anxiety make time for mindfulness and bring yourself into the present. Focus on your breath, notice your discomfort, observe and let is go. When you are using social media be aware of how you feel. If you notice your anxiety symptoms arising or getting worse it is time to set a boundary and put your device down.

 

Besides practicing mindfulness when you are feeling anxious it can also be helpful to take a walk, spend time in nature, connect with a friend, exercise, read a book or practice another form of self-care.

 

Best practices for helping women after a miscarriage.

A miscarriage is pregnancy loss before twenty weeks. Early pregnancy loss is estimated to occur in 1 out of 4 women. Most miscarriages happen between 6-12 weeks gestation. Early pregnancy loss is considered a loss but also a trauma. I recently was asked by Kat Schuknecht to give a presentation to the Madison Postpartum collective on best practices in helping people through early pregnancy loss. Here is a summary of my presentation.

Miscarriage is an invisible loss. It is the loss of your baby but also the loss of your dreams to come. Many people wait until the second trimester to share pregnancy news. When pregnancy is unknown by others it can feel invisible to the couple that is grieving. There is no one asking how you are doing or checking in with you. It can be difficult to share your news with others because of the sense of shame and guilt that surrounds the stigma of miscarriage. Many women blame themselves even though it is not their fault. In most cultures there are no rituals or ceremonies to help people grieve. It is normal to grieve with others, you may grieve miscarriage alone or with only a few people and you may feel very isolated.  It can also feel very abstract. If you do decide to share the news of a miscarriage it can feel abstract to the people you are sharing it with. It can even feel this way for your partner. Women tend to connect with their pregnancy and baby early on while partners often connect later in the pregnancy or once the baby is born. This type of loss can feel very uncomfortable for people and you may find them shying away or not knowing what to say.

If you have had a miscarriage you have experienced a major loss. An earlier loss does not equal less grief. Grief does not go away, it becomes part of a new normal that you carry with you. Grief is not linear it is actually quite messy and make look different every day. Grief is different for each person. You have a right to your grief. Your partner's grief will be different from your own.

Miscarriage can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, isolation, emptiness, failure, feeling disconnected from your body and sadness. No two people feel the same way. We cannot assume that we know how someone is feeling.

Miscarriage can lead to women feeling disconnected from their bodies. It may lead to difficulties with intimacy. Because women may be feeling disconnected they can be unaware that they are holding trauma in there body. It is important if you do bodywork with people that you are taking a trauma informed approach.

A miscarriage is a loss but also a trauma. Having a miscarriage can trigger post traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms of PTSD to look for our: fatigue, trouble sleeping, hyperarousal, nightmares, lack of concentration, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite and frequent crying. Pregnancy after a loss can be triggering for people.

Women who experience a miscarriage can have postpartum depression or anxiety. Anytime a woman goes from pregnant to not pregnant there is a shift in hormones that can affect brain chemistry.  It can be difficult to identify what is grief and what is anxiety or depression.

How Can Professionals Help

Holding Space - Professionals can help by holding space for clients. Holding space is being present with clients. Starting where a client is and remaining non judgmental. It is providing an environment that honors your clients needs.

Communication - How we communicate with people about early pregnancy loss can greatly impact our work. By opening dialogue about early pregnancy loss we can normalize and help reduce stigma. Ask. Include questions about early pregnancy loss in your assessment.  Take cues from clients when addressing early pregnancy loss. Refer to it as your client does. Whether they call it a pregnancy, a baby or even a name. If you meet with couples acknowledging a partner's grief.

Advocacy - Advocate for your client's needs on different level. At a micro level address their needs within your office. Are there pictures you may want to take down in your office or waiting room? Does this client have to wait in a room full of pregnant women? Is it possible for them to wait in the office? If you have someone that needs support validating and normalizing that it is okay to need support. Connect them to resources in the community. Therapy and Support groups are a few sources of support.

What do clients want us to know? I surveyed a group of women that had experienced early pregnancy loss and this is what they wanted providers to know.  They wanted providers to:

  • Be present with the client and loss
  • To listen
  • To validate
  • To understand that grief is a lifelong process
  • To be told they are a mom

If you are a provider or someone that has experienced miscarriage and our looking for resources Kull Counseling provides therapy and a free monthly miscarriage support group. Contact Julie at 608.239.4807 for a free 15-minute consultation.