By Penny Joss Fletcher, M.A., LMFT
Published in Resolve for the journey and beyond, Winter 2011
I often describe the healing process of infertility using the analogy of a physical wound.
When we first get a gash or cut from an injury, it screams with pain and bleeds profusely. All attention is on the wound. We can think of nothing else. “Get the bleeding stopped! Get me something for the pain!” You put pressure on the wound to wait for the blood to clot. You cover up the wound with a bandage to protect it from bleeding again or at least to soak up the blood.
Eventually a scab forms over the wound. The scab develops to protect the sensitive raw skin underneath. But if soon after the scab forms you bump it too hard, the pain returns and sometimes it even resumes bleeding. Then the healing process has to start all over again!
When the time is right, the scab comes off, leaving very sensitive, new skin underneath. It is often tender to the touch and lighter than the rest of your skin. It is still very noticeable. And again, if you hit it too hard, it may not start bleeding again but it is painful.
As the new skin strengthens, it becomes less sensitive. Sometimes it totally blends in with the rest of your skin and you can’t tell where the wound was at all. But often, a scar is left. Sometimes the scar remains more sensitive than the area around it. Eventually, it causes no physical pain even when bumped. You do not even think about it unless you see it. At first, looking at the scar can bring back all the memories of how you obtained the wound in the first place. You may not physically feel the pain again, but the emotions of that time resurface. As time goes on, the memory is still there, but the pain is much more distant. Sometimes the scar disappears. For some wounds, the scars never go away. They become a part of us. We learn to live with them, whether that means covering the scar up with makeup, or just accepting that it is part of how our physical body now looks. But life goes on.
This is what happens with the wound of infertility. When we are first diagnosed all attention is focused on it. There are many extremely painful days filled with emotions and “bleeding” tears. Some days we are filled with more hope and can handle the wound being “touched” by others through their questions or comments. Other days it takes only a glance at a pregnant woman walking down the street or a cute baby commercial to get the tears flowing again. Being in treatment can feel like an open wound, or perhaps be more like the scab stage, with the hope of new skin growing underneath. But when the pregnancy test again comes back negative, it is like the scab is ripped off too soon and the healing must start all over again.
Once you have resolved your infertility, a scar may remain. You may not notice it on a daily basis, but there will be times when you are brought back to those days of struggle or the many tears shed. It may come when friends talk about their pregnancies and you are reminded that you didn’t have a pregnancy because you adopted. It may come when people talk about who your child looks like and you know that your child does not carry your genes. It may come when people announce an unplanned second pregnancy and you know you don’t have the money to try for a second child. But the remembered pain will not be as intense and it will not last as long. Instead, you will focus on the child or children you now have in your life or on what you have now made a part of your life as you embrace living childfree. Perhaps you will even cherish the “scar” because you can now see what infertility brought you – a child, a stronger marriage, patience and compassion for others, appreciation of parenthood, strength of character.
What creates our infertility wound is different for all of us. How long it bleeds, how long it demands our attention, and what will bring healing to the scar stage, is our individual journey. These current days of pain and heartache will become your past some day. Healing will happen. It may come about by becoming pregnant and having a baby. It may come about by adopting the child meant to be in your home. It may come about by focusing on a future of living life childfree. You will be forever changed but you will heal from the wound of infertility.
Penny Joss Fletcher, M.A., is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in Tustin, California, specializing in infertility and adoption issues. She has been a volunteer and support group leader for RESOLVE Orange County for over 15 years and is also an active member of ASRM’s Mental Health Professional Group. She can be reached at (714) 730-7996 or through her website at www.infertility2adoption.com.