In recent years, there’s been some much-needed growth in sensitivity toward people who deal with fertility challenges. We’ve seen “thinking of you” social media posts on Mother’s Day addressed to folks who’ve experienced loss and/or long to be parents, and companies emailing notices asking customers and clients if they’d prefer to opt out of Mother’s Day content. These are positive steps forward.
Still, Mother’s Day can be painful for a lot of people, and many of us could be better at remembering this.
Sharing personal stories about infertility is difficult, but it can also be eye-opening. It serves as a powerful reminder that many people do not have perfectly smooth experiences conceiving, and some won’t become pregnant at all, regardless of how much time, resources, energy and love they put into the process.
Coralie is a mother of one who began trying to conceive with her husband shortly after their wedding. After going off birth control, they decided the following year was a perfect time to start having children.
After over a year of trying, Coralie requested to be sent to a fertility specialist, and her husband requested an assessment with his physician. That’s when the waiting game began.
Between summer 2016 and January 2018, Coralie and her husband did a number of medicated IUIs (intrauterine insemination) and two rounds of IVF (in vitro fertilization) before getting pregnant in February 2018. While they hoped to conceive another child, this plan was put on hold by COVID-19 shut-downs, as well as the couple’s hesitation to go through more of the all-consuming process of IVF.
“It impacts every aspect of your life,” Coralie says about in vitro. “It takes everything from you and there is no guarantee that there will be a baby at the end.”
Coralie and her husband call their son “a miracle”, but the journey hasn’t been easy, especially within the context of social media. Being bombarded with images of seemingly ideal families while they struggled to become pregnant was often too much to handle.
“I deleted most of my friends and peers from social media during this time,” she says. “Like many that struggle with infertility, I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone who would understand. They were all getting pregnant at the drop of a hat, and I was happy for them, but I was sad for me.”
Coralie agrees that Mother’s Day was often hard, but not necessarily any more difficult than any other time of the year. She says every day was filled with the heartache of not having control over this massive part of her life.
“In every other facet of my life, hard work had always paid off for me, but this was different. It was stressful and anxiety-inducing, likely made worse by the fact that I didn’t feel like I could talk about it with anyone other than my husband,” she tells us.
Typically an open book, and surrounded by a loving family, Coralie didn’t want to face the pity or discomfort of people not knowing what to say, so she kept most of her feelings inside.
“It just hurt too much to say it out loud,” she says.
It wasn’t until her son was safely here that she was able to process how infertility had affected her as an individual.
“Infertility completely changed the way I look at people, because I know what a significant impact this struggle had on me and my life. I’m a more empathetic person, not only to those who are facing similar problems, but with all people going through hard times. I freely share my story with strangers…even if it’s just so that they know they’re not alone.”
Coralie tells us that to get through the more difficult times, whether that’s Mother’s Day or any day of the year, she recommends speaking up if you can. She also stresses how important it is to give yourself all the grace and compassion you need.
“Stop using social media if it hurts too much, delete friends if it hurts too much. It doesn’t matter what they think. Don’t go to every baby shower if it hurts. It’s okay to be happy for them and sad for you. Set boundaries and don’t push them to make your friends happy to the detriment of your mental health and wellbeing.”
Brandy is a dietician and health coach who shares her experiences with infertility on her Instagram page, @bewellwithbrandy. She has had recurrent miscarriages for the last ten years, and she and her husband did their first round of IVF in 2021. The transfer failed, and the surrogate they used for their last embryo miscarried at around ten weeks. They are currently preparing for a second round of IVF in May of 2023.
Brandy can attest to the fact that holidays, including Mother’s Day, can be very difficult.
“It feels different now…I’m starting to lose hope that we will have biological children. It’s been feeling harder each time we experience loss because the grief is compounded over time.”
Brandy tries not to scroll on social media much around days like Mother’s Day, because it can bring up difficult emotions.
“It’s normal and perfectly healthy to feel sad, but feeling your feelings is tough. To get through, sometimes you avoid certain things that are triggering. That’s okay.”
But Brandy also recommends allowing yourself to process those emotions rather than avoid them entirely. She also suggests investing in self-care practices like massage, spa days, walks, yoga, and sleep meditation.
“There will be times you don’t even want to get out of bed or off the couch,” she says, but adds that planning things to look forward to is key. “A weekend away, a date night, time with friends, a vacation, or whatever makes you happy.”
For those on the other side, trying to support people experiencing infertility, consider reaching out to the person struggling instead of waiting for them to open up to you, especially on days like Mother’s Day.
Dr. Shannon Curry, a clinical psychologist and director of the Curry Psychology Group, tells Today.com that when doing so we should avoid platitudes like “everything happens for a reason”. We should be sincere, and truly listen instead of trying to force a solution. Offering practical support, like picking up groceries, can also be helpful as your loved ones take time to process their pain.
Brandy agrees that sending food or gifting a spa day can be very thoughtful and well-received amidst the crippling stress of it all.
She also cautions against toxic positivity when reaching out to struggling loved ones. For example, she says “I’m so sorry you’re going through this” is a much better response than “stay positive”, which can feel hollow, even if it is well-intended.
“Not everyone comes out of infertility or recurrent loss with children, and it’s not from lack of trying,” Brandy says. “The grief never goes away. People can be functioning well, show up with a smile and still be struggling.”
Wherever you are on your journey with infertility, and whether it leads you to becoming pregnant or becoming a parent another way, we hope you can take time for yourself this Mother’s Day to recognize your own strength and appreciate the beauty in your resilience. There are many ways to mother and be mothered as both an individual and within a community. You are not less than because of your struggles. If anything, they make you uniquely qualified to give love and extend empathy toward others. If you can, celebrate that.