It is akin to being plunged into the boiling water of the underworld. Some women are pulled down kicking and screaming; others, as they descend, move into depression.
The space between worlds is where thousands of women who yearn for a baby but can not fall pregnant or stay pregnant, dwell. Women who cycle between yearning, striving, hope, and who then pick themselves off the floor, month in and month out when there’s no pregnancy. Women deemed, even if temporarily, infertile.
But what does infertility actually mean?
Usually it means an inability to fall pregnant but this word misses the nuances, the spaces between: women who are on the IVF roller coaster, women who may have fallen pregnant but endured the grief of miscarriage. Some women are labelled infertile but then fall pregnant. Suddenly they aren’t infertile. ‘Infertility’ implies a sense of permanence that is applicable to only those few women who have a solid diagnosis. And there’s there’s the emotion the word carries. Infertility drips with shame, self blame, grief.
My body failed me, let me down. It didn’t do what it was designed to do.
So much space in between the definition. And that’s why as a therapist, I prefer ‘reproductive challenges’.
One thing that is indisputable about reproductive challenges is the sense of isolation. Women feel disconnected from their lives, their femininity and their bodies.
From their story.
They don’t just put their lives on hold, they put their story on hold. Disown it. This isn’t mine. It will pick up when baby comes. But this is disconnect, right there. Because this is part of some women’s story and to disown that aspect of one’s life is to disown her very essence.
I work long and hard with my clients to reclaim their stories. And over time I’ve whittled down a step-by-step journey towards acceptance. This is the process in a nutshell:
- Step One: Bring the woman back from the Space Between. This begins with seeking support (the step she
makes by calling a therapist or friend). Only then can she forge the path back.
- Step Two: Hear her story. All of it. Even the disowned, painful parts.
- Step Three: Surrender to what is. This may take time. But it takes as long as it takes
- Step Four: Reset the client in the here and now. So many reproductive clients oscilate between living in
the future (all will be well when I get my baby) and the past (I want my pregnancy back). I need her here
and now. Over and over.
- Step Five: Bring her out of her head and into her body. Which is hard, because she must feel everything.
My job is to support her during this.
- Step Six: Reconnection! This is the ‘aha’ moment when she notices her connection to herself and back into
the world. And thereby reconnecting back to her story (and her humanity).
As a therapist I am constantly humbled by the women who sit on my couch. Each woman’s journeying takes astonishing strength- there is muscle needed to journey towards surrender and wrestle hard-won wisdom.
As Brene Brown says, ‘Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” Only then can you “Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be; embrace who you are.”
There’s a paradox to all this. In therapy we call it the Paradoxical Theory of Change. By finding acceptance, paradoxically we discover what we’re looking for may be possible after all. For my reproductive clients this may be a real baby, fertilised out of love and years of pain, but it may be also be a brand new woman in the shape of a phoenix, emerging out of the ashes, ruffling her feathers as she stands in the pure brilliance of sunlight.
Or, it may just be both.
(Image credit to Himanshu Singh Gurjar and Unsplash)