By Brooke Laufer, Psy.D.
Motherhood, Not What You Thought
Mental health issues are among the most common complications related to childbearing, and yet it is still a topic that is largely misunderstood. A conversation I had with my dentist recently reminded me how little the general public knows about perinatal mental health issues. “Oh,” she said, “I just thought women cried a little bit, but you know, they’re usually just so happy to be mothers, right?!” We want to believe becoming a mother is an absolute joy. Motherhood is expected to be a fulfilling time for a woman, when a woman is in her most natural role–the role she was meant to play as suggested by film and other media–when her true purpose is determined. In reality, having a child is a profound, frightening, and exhilarating experience at the boundary of life, from which one comes back a transformed person. Most women bear this monumental transition to motherhood with some hardship. Experiences range from tearfulness, exasperation, and nervousness to more extreme feelings of obsessiveness, helplessness, and even murderous fantasies. While many women will have what is labeled the Baby Blues, 20% of women will have a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, a debilitating psychological experience that interrupts their lives. With a growing amount of research and education, we begin to clearly see what distinguishes a true Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder from the non-clinical experience of the Baby Blues.
10 years ago I was as unaware as my dentist of what could happen to a woman’s state of mind when she was faced with childrearing, so after my daughter was born I learned in a shocking and destabilizing way–the way most women learn–what a Perinatal Anxiety Disorder was. For me, it started with anxiety attacks while in my third trimester. I shook uncontrollably in the evenings and experienced an overwhelming sensation of claustrophobia during the day. I found a good psychiatrist who helped me understand that taking an SSRI (the one I’d gone off when I got pregnant) would relieve my anxiety and would not hurt my baby. Then after a fairly uncomplicated birth, I was supposed to be thrilled, but I had a new baby who didn’t sleep well. I loved her, but I wasn’t completely attached to her; I was also ragged and jumpy. When she was 4 months old, I started having intrusive thoughts that deeply disturbed me. At first they were like small blips on a radar, like thoughts from the periphery of my mind that I could barely hear. But then the blips grew larger and included images. I could clearly hear thoughts telling me that harm would come to the baby. I could see my baby being sexually violated. I had thoughts that my husband and I would be the ones to sexually harm our baby daughter. I could barely tolerate these thoughts as they began popping in with greater frequency. Luckily, my psychiatrist answered his phone the day I called beside myself in tears. He calmly told me that what I was experiencing was Postpartum OCD, he told me about Karen Kleiman’s book This Isn’t What I Expected, and he raised the dosage of my Sertraline. I was a therapist, a clinical psychologist, and I was learning for the first time what a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder was; this was not the Baby Blues. I recovered from my Postpartum OCD, but my life was changed forever. Since that time I have done what I can to research perinatal mental health, to immerse myself in the literature and new information we have on this condition, and to talk about it. Talk to women, to friends, to family, and especially to my clients, letting them know they are not alone, they are not crazy, and they can still be the mothers they want to be.
The term ‘Baby Blues,’ first used in Nicholson J. Eastman’s 1940 best-selling baby care book Expectant Motherhood, is an umbrella term referring to any emotional experience a woman has in the period after bringing home the baby. It is no surprise this massive life transition, along with sleep disturbance, disruption of routine, and emotions from the childbirth experience itself will contribute to how a mom feels. Her experience is also affected by the hormone changes that occur first during pregnancy, and again after a baby is born. The levels of progesterone and allopregnanolone rise during pregnancy and plummet after childbirth, and this drop is thought to contribute to emotional dysregulation. These short-term postpartum symptoms include weepiness or crying for no apparent reason, impatience, irritability, restlessness, anxiety, fatigue, sadness, mood changes, and poor concentration.The informal diagnosis of Baby Blues requires that these symptoms last no more than 2-4 weeks, occurring for a few minutes up to a few hours each day, and typically going away with rest, support, and time. Baby Blues rarely get in the way of daily life or need intervention from a medical provider.
“A baby opens you up, is the problem. No way around it unless you want to pay someone else to have it for you. There’s before and there’s after. To live in your body before is one thing. To live in your body after is another. Some deal by attempting to micromanage; some go crazy; some zone right the hell on out. Or all of the above. A blessed few resist any of these, and when you meet her, you’ll know her immediately by the look in her eyes: weary, humbled, wobbly but still standing. Present, if faintly.” Elisa Albert, After Birth (2015)
Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders
When a disturbing emotional state lasts beyond 2-4 weeks, clinicians should start to assess for a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD). Formerly referred to as Postpartum Depression, or simply “postpartum,” we now use the term “Perinatal” because the symptoms can occur not only one year postpartum, but also during pregnancy, or after a pregnancy loss. We say “Mood and Anxiety Disorders” instead of “depression” because it more accurately covers the range of experiences women have. These include major depression, generalized anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and postpartum psychosis.
Although there is no clear indicator of who will experience a PMAD, previous mental health issues, trauma, and lack of resources are some of the risk factors. Important to note: PMADs do not affect just biological mothers. Growing research shows us that men experience postpartum anxiety and depression. In fact a client of mine came in a few weeks after her baby was born and reported that her husband was acting strangely: yelling a lot, throwing pillows at the wall when the baby cried, uncontrollably crying, and openly fantasizing about leaving the baby out in the snow. We were able to get him in for a session with her and help him understand that he needed help. The couple was surprised that he was having postpartum rage, while she was adapting well. He actively resented his child for destroying their former life, while she’d become protective of the child. Eventually, with months of treatment, he was able to love and attach to his daughter.
Similarly, adoptive parents may report symptoms of PMADs: it can be particularly confusing to resent or feel disconnected to an adopted baby whom you wanted and planned for and possibly spent much or most of your savings on. Likewise, LGBTQ families who may have worked for years on fertility treatments or with a surrogate to finally bring home a baby are also vulnerable to PMADs and should not be ignored as a population worth assessing.
Perinatal depression mimics that of a major depressive disorder but with certain symptoms specific to mothering. A woman may be withdrawn from the baby and her family, not want to hold the baby or have difficulty bonding, have a flatness of facial expression and voice, exhibit excessive tearfulness, or severe self loathing. She may have a belief that she can’t handle motherhood or be a good mother, she may be unable to enjoy most of her life, or she may believe her family would be better off without her.
A client of mine described feeling like she couldn’t see herself in the family picture. She vacillated between dissociation and depression. This mom had twin baby girls with whom she was not bonding. She felt like a machine part going through the mechanical motions of caretaking. After her first session of unburdening herself of the sadness and shame she carried, she was able to start to locate herself. Her experience points to the invisibility some women feel as mothers. The erasure of self to motherhood is well noted by the poet Alice Notley:
“For two years, there’s no me here….
Two years later I obliterate myself again
having another child” (1972)
Perinatal Anxiety and PTSD
Perinatal anxiety, or anxiety during and after pregnancy, has received little attention compared to its well-known cousin, postpartum depression, yet anxiety symptoms are more frequently reported. Worrying, of course, is a normal part of new motherhood–checking that the car seat is secure or that the baby is still breathing, for example–but if it interferes with a woman’s life so that she cannot think about other things or take care of herself or her baby, then it verges on mental illness.
For women who are prone to anxiety, the information-saturated era we live in is loaded with potential stressors about conceiving, being pregnant, and parenting, requiring women to be vigilant about what information she is exposed to. An anxiety disorder can be spotted in the repetitive fears and questions moms have, in extreme over-protectiveness such as not letting anyone hold the new baby, or in the too well put-together mask some moms wear, hiding an internal world out of control.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the perinatal period refers to past trauma resurfacing during the perinatal period, including flashbacks and nervous system responses (freeze, flee, fight) that can interrupt caring for a new baby. What many doctors do not realize is that women who have experienced sexual trauma may have fear of a baby coming out of the vaginal canal, a fear of male providers, and/or a fear of being alone with baby.
Perinatal Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorders are possibly the most insidious of the postpartum conditions because they include the intrusive thoughts that haunt many mothers. Intrusive thoughts are thoughts that happen frequently and randomly, feel uncontrollable, and are often disturbing. These disturbing thoughts, or obsessions, can lead moms to engage in repetitive behaviors, or compulsions, to try to ease their anxiety. Many moms with OCD are plagued by repetitive fears of harm coming to their babies, possibly due to the extreme helplessness of a newborn baby. It is horrifying for mothers to have uncontrollable thoughts and images of their baby tumbling down the stairs or falling out a window, or images of themselves smothering the baby or sexually abusing their own child. Because of the disturbing nature of these thoughts, it can be the most difficult disorder to admit, yet, as was my experience, by breaking the silence women can find tremendous relief in the normalization of Perinatal OCD.
Postpartum Psychosis is the most rare of perinatal conditions, occurring in .1% of moms, but it is the most dangerous. Psychosis is a break from reality that can happen over time but can also become a medical emergency very quickly. As with Postpartum OCD, a mom may experience intrusive and paranoid thoughts, but instead of being disturbed by them, she may begin to identify with them. For example, a new mother may have the thought that someone is going to steal her baby, so she acts on it by hiding the baby or running away with the baby. Unfortunately, it is typically after a postpartum psychotic episode has ended badly that the media gives it attention. Just a few years ago a woman who I know from my hometown was arrested for the death of her 14 month old boy. After months of working full time, bad day care experiences for her baby, an unstable partner, and increasing symptoms of OCD and paranoia, she came to believe she and her son would be better off dead. After she suffocated her baby she attempted to overdose on medications, but she survived. Even though the she had an expert forensic psychiatrist diagnosed her with Altruistic Filicide, deeming her Not Guilty By Mental Defect, she was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Unfortunately, there is still little understanding or mitigation done for mothers convicted of infanticide, resulting in excruciating treatment and excessive sentencing.
Women may find it difficult to reach out for help, as it is taboo to admit you are unhappy or unnatural at motherhood. To the extent that women in our society are still seen as playing their most natural role as mothers, to acknowledge unhappiness or discomfort may have high stakes relating to women’s own identities and how others may see them. A mom may fear being seen as a “bad mother,” which would ostracize her from mainstream society. With more education and awareness around the frequency and epidemiology of perinatal mental health issues, much of this silencing can be alleviated. What is essential to understand is that a woman herself should not be blamed–not by her providers, her family, or herself–for a perinatal condition. We often have little control over the occurrence of a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, but we can do much about its treatment.
Psychotherapy and Medication
With a proper diagnosis of a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, good treatment can support a full recovery. The best form of treatment is individual psychotherapy that reduces stigma and shame and normalizes the client’s experience. Besides reassuring women that it’s normal to feel ambivalent during pregnancy and motherhood, I also educate each woman about her particular diagnosis. Women often feel desperately alone and deeply ashamed when they experience PMAD symptoms, especially ones that are less talked about like rage or intrusive thoughts. I reassure my clients that these inner experiences don’t indicate their worthiness as mothers but are instead treatable symptoms of common disorders. Women express tremendous relief when they realize that their scariest and most shameful symptom is something others also experience–and something we know how to treat. Helping women accept all the parts of themselves will reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. One important goal I look to when working with PMADs is helping women regain a sense of self. It may not be the self they knew before the baby but a new self that emerges in the transformation. Questions we consider: How does having a baby disrupt a mother’s sense of who she is, of her body, her understanding of life and death, her relation to the world and to her sense of independence, her experience of fear and hope and time, and the structure of her experience altogether?
Therapy may include the new baby, so that I can support a secure attachment and help the mom experience the infant’s behavior without insecure projection and negative interpretation. I may recommend infant massage or, inversely, setting the baby down for an extended period. Therapy may also include the partner or other family members. Marital disharmony is the most commonly cited non-biological cause and consequence of PMADs, so by bringing in and educating the partner on PMADs, a mom is more able to be understood and get her needs met at home. Group therapy, such as a moms support group, can be an excellent way to reduce shame and isolation, as it can provide universality, catharsis, socialization, and good information.
Additionally, psychopharmacology is an effective form of treatment for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders. Current research and an updated classification system (no longer the A, B, C labels for medications that were often misleading) suggest many medications are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. There is still damaging stigma around medication and pregnancy that needs to be fought with accurate information. Reducing a previously prescribed medication for pregnancy or changing a medication during breastfeeding are potentially misguided recommendations that can put a women at risk of relapse. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association agree that treating the mother’s health is the priority; the trace amounts of medication that a fetus or nursing baby will receive should not keep a mother from the medical treatment she needs.
Although public awareness of postpartum depression has increased in recent years thanks to celebrities like Brooke Shields and Serena Williams, many people–including therapists–are still learning that PMADs are serious and pervasive experiences. When I started talking about my Postpartum OCD experience one of my aunts told me the story of my grandmother, who had three children in four years. The day after they brought home the third baby my grandfather got in his car to go to work, as he started to pull out of the driveway my grandmother came running outside and threw herself on the hood of his car. She spent the next 7 months in a sanitarium, a nicer version of an asylum in a neighboring state, and came home to her children who were being cared for by a strict German nanny. It’s possible my grandmother was experiencing depression or anxiety or even psychosis, they sent her away and no one discussed it. Although awareness and treatment have improved since the harsh days of my dear grandmother, perinatal mental health is still overdue for the attention it deserves, considering women are doing some of the most laborious and important work of our world.
Brooke Laufer is a Clinical Psychologist who has been practicing psychotherapy since 2005. Brooke began her clinical work in psychiatric wards and then in schools with adolescents and their families. After having her first child Brooke had a disturbing Postpartum OCD experience, which inspired her to begin researching, understanding, and specializing in the treatment of perinatal mental illness. She has a private practice in Evanston, where she continues to treat adolescents and adults, specializing in perinatal mental health issues.Brooke Laufer, Psy.D.
by Marie Davidson, Ph.D.
As I write this it is actually the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated in Christian tradition as the day the Wise Men arrived from the East after the birth of Christ, led to their destination by a star. The Merriam Webster Dictionary also offers these definitions of epiphany: “A sudden perception of the essential meaning of something;” an intuitive grasp of reality through something simple or striking;” and “an illuminating realization.”
Many years ago, as measured in ordinary time, but not all that long ago as measured in emotional impact, I experienced an epiphany that made all the difference to me as a suffering fertility patient. I dwelled in distress much of the time, my thoughts haunted by the many challenges of treatment, the succession of disappointments, and, worst of all, the complete absence of any certainty about how this fertility drama would turn out.
One morning, my moment of epiphany arrived quite suddenly. No wise men or wise women arrived, and no guiding star appeared, just a swiftly dawning realization of what I was really going through—right now—in my life. To this day I cannot say for sure what brought on this intuitive grasp of reality at that particular moment. I suppose it was the result of many, many months of efforts to not embrace my situation. My distress had served to only highlight my sadness and anger and to keep me from moving past that. It was just no longer a reasonable option to keep this exhausting process going. So, I had a serious, mildly humorous chat with myself.
This is what I said:
“OK, Marie, this is what’s going on in your life right now—you and your husband have been in a battle against infertility (and against each other, truthfully.) Infertility sucks, but it’s what you’ve got. You didn’t cause it, and you may or may not overcome it in the way you hope. You don’t know the end of this drama you are in because the screenplay isn’t finished. But there is something you can do, and that is to accept the role you’ve been assigned and act it out as skillfully and graciously as you can. Inhabit the script! Be the star in your own drama, dammit!”
Or something like that, it’s pretty close to the internal conversation I had. I definitely know I made a conscious decision to star in my own story. I would be the guiding star leading me to my unknown destination.
My life improved after that. Far from wonderful and still plenty of stress and anxiety, but I had a peace of mind that had eluded me for a long time. I rather think I excelled in playing myself—the woman who happened to be an infertility patient; the woman who accepted her inability to control the next act in the play I was starring in; the woman who was now able to experience the other parts of her life without the dark film of infertility blocking the view.
I did not know then that my life’s work would be a career counseling fertility patients. What a privilege it has been. A number of years ago, I met a woman who had come to talk about family-building options. She’d been through a lot of treatment with no success. I noticed how even-keeled she was as she spoke of her history and I commented, “You seem to be handling all of this pretty well.” She said, “Well, you should have seen me a year ago, when I was a complete basket-case.” I asked, “So, what happened?” Her answer was, “One day I decided to accept the basic background reality of my life.” I smiled. “You had an epiphany.”
Over the years, I have found it very useful to apply the same kind of epiphany to other life situations—the ones you can’t control but must live in and through. Whatever it is I struggle with, I try my best to be as skilled and gracious as I can be, even if I won’t win any Golden Globes. Strangely, the experience of an infertility journey can give you a valuable perspective on how to deal with the inevitable brick-bats of life.
Marie Davidson, Ph.D.
Fertility Centers of Illinois
Dr. Marie Davidson is a licensed clinical psychologist and patient educator. She specializes in counseling individuals and couples who are coping with infertility, and has provided counseling services to patients, donors, and surrogates since 1992. Dr. Davidson earned her doctoral degree at the University of Illinois in 1988. She facilitates patient education seminars on numerous topics such as considering egg donation and cracking the door to adoption, leads several women and couples support groups, and is widely published in the fertility field. She has been an invited speaker at many professional meetings.
Her personalized care and detailed understanding of the treatment process have been a welcome and supportive resource to many couples and individuals as they seek to grow a family.
by Melissa Hinshaw LMTIt’s that time of year when everyone is moving and shaking and buying and baking and trying to make all the parties and give families equal time. Whether you are single, married, divorced, or in between, you know what I am referring to. During this festive, yet chaotic time of year, how do we hold on to ourselves and what we deem important? What do each of us hope for the holidays and what traditions do we want to hold fast to our hearts when the pace is so fast and we are trying to please so many?The pressure of the holiday season can be both exhilarating and stressful. In my younger years, two small children at my hip, one with Autism and not interested at all in Christmas, presents, Santa, or family gatherings, by the end of the season I used to feel completely wiped out, angry, resentful, and grateful that it was all over with. I realized I had no boundaries during this time of year and I went with the flow and did what was expected socially and and within my own family even though it was, at times, not good for me or my family at all. I wanted my younger son, who was ecstatic about Christmas, and presents, and Santa to experience the magic that I had growing up. My childhood home was a wonderland of smells, and tastes, and decorations and presents and nervous excitement while my four brothers and sisters and I awaited Santa’s visit. Looking back, we rarely traveled around from this house to that house or attended gatherings that my parents felt pressured to attend or did much anything stressful except for getting the lights on the damn Christmas tree. My mom was a pro…I think because she loved this time of year and you knew it when you were at my house. I longed for this feeling again. The feeling of holiday joy and giving and singing and snow. I wanted it to be simple. I wanted to love Christmas again and I wanted my children to love it too.After many stressful and disappointing holidays with depression looming each and every year beginning with Thanksgiving. After many tearful conversations on the phone with my mom, having a glass of wine when the whole thing was finally over, and asking her, “How do I do this mom? I used to love this time of year. How do I make it special like you did, for my boys, one who could care a less and often falls apart over the holiday break, and one who couldn’t get enough?” “Melissa my dear, create your own traditions. Do what works for your family. Say, No, when you need to.” She was right. I needed to create Melissa traditions, Melissa style, and engage both of my children at their individual levels yet do holiday things we could enjoy as a family. I took her advice. I created a few simple traditions that we have stuck with over the years. My youngest loves it while my older son complains and requires lots of cheerleading, but we do our activities together and it makes us feel like we are a part of the holidays. We have pictures to remind us that we have done this before and we will do it again this year. This is a big deal for me and I cannot completely explain my reasons. I just know that being swallowed up by others’ rituals and rules and schedules doesn’t bring me joy. It brings me sadness and stress. Of course I enjoy celebrating with other people and sharing what makes the holidays special for them, but that is reserved for a very few. It is ok to have quiet during this time of year. It is ok to find peace and joy in the simple.I encourage everyone to find one special thing to do with your partner, your kid or kids, or your best friend that brings you to a special place. Something that you can do each and every year…something to look forward to. Something that you decide feels good and brings joy. Something you can share a photo of to remind you what you’ve done and to remind you that you you will do it again.If you need to break that is okay, too. We are here for you, take time for a massage before or after the holidays or start the New Year off with a cleanse!
Pulling Down the Moon, Guest Blog
by Lindsay Housner
This is a picture of my family; it’s one of my favorites. On more than one occasion people who don’t know me well see this and say things like, “Oh my gosh, Lindsay, your life is so perfect that even your dog is perfect?!” The comment on our dog would be the first thing they were wrong about. Adorable, yes. Perfect? Not even close. I think our veterinarian has classified him as neurotic… Nevertheless we couldn’t love him more!
The truth is there’s so much behind the surface of this beautiful photo (which is likely true for many of the picture perfect moments we see daily). It could never reveal all the heartache, struggle and excoriating pain it took us to get to that moment, captured in time.
You would never know from looking at it that on February 20, 2016 (the day before I turned 33 years old), our world came crashing down harder than I knew possible when our first son, Aidan James, was born still at nearly 37 weeks and 5 days. Or that as I sat in the hospital waiting to induce labor, I was sure I was the only woman in the world that had lost her baby this late in pregnancy. Or that after experiencing the devastating loss of our beloved baby boy, with little to no answers why, we would struggle to conceive again. You could also never know the crippling anxiety I experienced for the 37 weeks and 5 days in my next pregnancy. Or the insane emotional rollercoaster I rode the entire time because while I was finally pregnant again after struggling for so long, it was near impossible for me to be happy about it. No, that wouldn’t happen until I held my sweet baby girl and light of my life, safely in my arms.
To say our road to parenthood has been tough would be the understatement of the century. It’s tested me beyond measure to the point of breaking. Each time I broke (and it happened a lot), I found new ways and things that helped me start to pick up the pieces again.
First, I found my “people.” My people are the women that I was connected with shortly after losing my son that had a similar story. These women were my lifeline, the only people that I felt fully understood by and endlessly supported. I wrote novels to them via email and they always responded with words of encouragement, understanding and compassion. They have become some of my closest lifelong friends whom I owe the world to. Each new person I met introduced me to new things that I grasped on to for dear life to help me through the day.
In the early days it was books. Anything and everything I could read, I did. Elizabeth McCraken’s memoir, “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination” resonated with me best. It was heart wrenching but beautiful all at the same time. I recall highlighting sentences and then entire pages, and rereading them over and over because she had taken the exact words right out of my head. Feeling so understood when nothing else made any sense was very therapeutic for me.
Then, once I built up the strength to leave my house, it was acupuncture, herbal supplements and yoga that were my savior. Which is what led me to walk through Pulling Down the Moon’s (PDtM) doors. From there my world as it exists today kept expanding when I was introduced to Beth Heller, one of PDTM’s founders, whose first daughter was also born still 16 years ago. Through an event Beth hosted one evening, I met a psychiatrist that quite literally brought me back to life. PDtM became a tranquil safe haven for me. Somewhere I always knew I would walk in feeling overwhelmed, defeated or just plain sad–and walk out with some sense of relief and hope.
As the days, weeks and months passed, I continued looking for answers to big questions. Why/how could this happen and what are we as a country doing to prevent it from happening to more families? What I found was disheartening but who I found through the process was encouraging. The Star Legacy Foundation is one of the very few organizations I found that focuses its efforts on research and ultimately prevention of stillbirth, when possible. They are doing amazing work and have made great strides, but there is still a long ways to go. In the spring of 2018, we officially launched our Chicago Chapter of Star Legacy all thanks to one of the amazing women I’ve met on this journey, Lindsey Schmitz. When I didn’t have the strength to get things off the ground, she did and she’s been an amazing and inspiring leader for our team here in Chicago.
On October 15th, everything came full circle when Pulling Down the Moon hosted a beautiful yoga session in partnership with our Star Legacy Chapter in honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I looked around the room and was comforted to see many of the same faces that helped get me to the family photo I shared (literally, my friend Jacqui even introduced me to the talented photographer who took it). But I was quickly reminded that there is still progress to be made and people to support as I saw many new faces.
There are so many women and families, that while they may not have the same story as me, their journey has been anything but easy. If you’re reading this, you are probably one of them. Wherever you are on your road, I hope you know you are not alone. Whether you’re struggling to conceive, searching for answers or just looking to connect with someone who understands your pain, I am confident you can find something or someone helpful through PDTM or Star Legacy.
There’s not a single day that goes by I don’t think about and miss Aidan. He led me to meet so many amazing people and I’ll spend the rest of my time trying my best to honor his short but beautiful life.
To read more about my story and Aidan, please visit his memorial page.
The night before you were born, there was so much lightning. It wasn’t raining though, just hot– the hottest night of the year. Sitting on the big blue birth ball, rocking from side to side, I’d rest my head on the hospital bed during the in-between. When a contraction came, I’d sit up, open my eyes and watch the jagged stabs of light through the window as they punctuated the clear, distinct pain in my body.
Later, the white haze of high noon would blur the edges of the clouds. By then, nothing would be clear for me. The pain and the urge to push or not push and the exhaustion and the panic would all run into and over each other, a hot, foggy murk, and I would not know when or if or how you were coming, or what my body was doing, or if both or either of us would survive.
Everyone said it would be a snap. A breeze. A walk in the park. There will be nothing to it, they said. They said, he’ll slide right out. Nothing is like the first one, after that, it’s all downhill. Your body is ready, they said. Your body knows what to do. Your body will take over. You’ve been through it all already.
Everything they said should have been true; but nothing could have prepared me for birthing you.
I cannot say your birth tore me open. My body did not literally tear. Somehow, I managed to expand beyond my own capacity to accommodate not only your body, but also the hands and wrists and forearms of the midwife who reached inside to turn you and free your shoulder from the umbilical cord that had wrapped and twisted its way around you.
And yet, later, I needed to mend.
It’s hard to know what happened to me afterwards, where I went. I thought I knew how to have a baby – how to birth a baby and then how to mother an infant back at home. I’d done it before – I knew how.
But I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to handle you, the colic. Who could blame you for being so fussy! You had swallowed so much amniotic fluid, having descended into the birth canal, then waiting there for much longer than you should have. The fluid was in your ears and eyes and belly. You needed to recover from your own birth. You needed to be held all the time, and of course I wanted to hold you, but you have a brother too, and he also needed my love and attention.
It’s not like things ever got That Bad, really. I was not incapable of joy, because I did laugh and love with you. I could never not get out of bed. I did not want to harm myself or others. I never fantasized about abandoning you or dropping you out of the upstairs window. I said “no” to many of the criteria on the doctor’s checklist when I finally went, nine months later, to get some medication.
It was hard to describe, other than to say that I didn’t quite feel like myself. But then again, it was hard to know who my “self” was anymore. There was a dark heaviness, an anger and sadness and loneliness. There was a feeling that nothing was wrong, but everything was wrong.
I slept upstairs for months, on the guest futon in my office. I did not know how to be married. I had no space. I felt so empty and hollow and heavy, there was no way anyone could meet me where I was.
It was, and still is, vague and blurry and hard to understand.
Maybe I just needed time to breathe, to mend my overstretched ligaments and allow the holes in my psyche to close back up again, after experiencing what was beyond my comprehension, to replenish the reserves of energy and fortitude that had been used up in birthing you.
Maybe if I had been allowed to stay in the hospital for another day or so I would have been okay. Just some time to collect myself before heading back out into the world where so much would be asked of me.
Maybe it’s because I felt so inept.
Maybe it’s because the only ways I knew to love were suddenly limited by time, attention, and energy.
Maybe it’s because your birth was so difficult but maybe it’s because that type of difficulty is not recognized as trauma.
Maybe it’s because I wanted to tell my story – the story of your birth – over and over and over to make sense of it, to find a context, but once everyone knew the basic details – 20 hours of active labor, the cord around your shoulder, no c-section, nine pounds, two ounces, everyone’s fine – they had heard enough.
Maybe I had post-partum depression. Maybe I had a chemical imbalance.
Maybe I just needed help. Everyone had told me – 2 kids is more like 10 kids, the workload increase is exponential, etc. etc. But no one ever said, you will not know how to handle it. You will not know how to love so much, so separately, at the same time, and this not knowing will tear you apart.
Maybe it was simply that I was an almost-40 year old woman who spent many long days alone with a toddler and an infant, and I could have used some time to myself.
Maybe it was nothing more than that.
My water broke first. That was a surprise. It hadn’t been that way the first time. Later, I was told that that there is much lore and myth around births where the water breaks before contractions have begun because contrary to common portrayals on TV, this sequence of events is actually rare.
I had just gotten your brother into the bath and I bent down to kneel beside the tub and there it was, as if the bathwater had overflowed onto the floor. Of course I knew, but I still wanted to be sure. I waited. Soon, there were puddles of amniotic fluid all over the house. We called your grandparents to come for your brother. I stood on the front porch, waving until the car disappeared around the corner into the clear evening light. My heart ached, saying goodbye to my “only” son, bursting to welcome you.
Back home again when everything was over, I was nostalgic for the hospital. There was a hippie deli down the street, and I missed the tuna sandwich on thick, soft, grainy bread, with tomato and sprouts brought to me on my one day of convalescence. I would miss the quiet, the solicitude, and that single night, alone with you, in the bed beside me, swaddled, nursing, as we figured out how to be together with you outside of me.
Afterwards, I wanted to do it again right away, which was crazy, given what I’d just been through. I thought it was the post-partum euphoria, the hormones and dizziness. But the feeling lasted. I wanted a third. A girl. I felt myself clinging to the hope that I would go through it all again. I knew that if I was going to do it, it was going to have to be now, that I could not make the transition in and out of this space again. I needed to keep the momentum going. As the months wore on, though, I knew I could not handle more. This was plenty. We were enough.
But first I had to be sad.
I had to be sad that I am not younger. I had to be sad that I didn’t do this sooner. I had to be sad that I’m someone who needs a lot of solitude in order to feel fully whole. I had to be sad that I will never have a daughter, a Violet or Ruby. I had to be sad that your birth marks an ending for me. I had to mourn the loss of possibility, that while it is still technically possible, it is not actually desirable, given our circumstances, our lives, to have more children. I had to actually say the words to myself, No, I can’t handle more. And then I had to be sad that I can’t handle more. I needed to be sad that this will be all, and I had to go through all of that to recognize that this is plenty. That you, I, we are enough.
Last time, I had birthed naturally, as I had wanted, but in a traditional hospital, with an O.B. With you, I was going to have a water birth. We had switched OB practices so that I could employ a midwife and use the Alternative Birthing Center and give birth in the giant bathtub. I could labor in water, which was said to be so relaxing and warm and peaceful. Floating took pressure off the joints and alleviated the affects of gravity and you would not be shocked by the sudden change from water to air and I could catch you myself as you slid out.
But the night you were born was the busiest of the year in the birthing wing. Someone said it was because of the lightning, the way it pierced the pressure of the atmosphere which induced labor. The tub was not available. It’s rare that so many women are laboring at the same time that those who desire the tub suites cannot have them, but as I breathed through my contractions in the triage room, I was told that there was a chance we might not be able to have a water birth.
There was much confusion then, and conferring with various staff members. But I left that to the trusted others to handle, your father and godmother, who were with me in the hospital. I was busy, breathing, focusing, rocking, turning further and further inward in preparation for the work I would do later.
The lightning began to fade as the first signs of daylight appeared in the sky. There was a shift change for the staff, and once my regular midwife showed up, I knew we would be alright. She was taking charge of the situation and said that yes, we could get into the tub room because I had been there longer than the others. I only had to be dilated 5 cm before I could get into the room but that surely that would not be a problem because I had been there all night.
But when she checked, I was only at 2.5 cm, still. I didn’t know why it was taking so long, what was wrong, what I was doing wrong.
Even at this hospital, with all their alternative methods, there were still rules; they followed the standard hospital protocol which allowed no more than 24 hours to elapse between when one’s water breaks and when the baby is delivered. Without amniotic fluid, the theory goes, the baby has no protection from harmful germs and bacteria and is potentially exposed to danger of all kinds.
5 cm to get into the water, 24 hours without water.
5 cm to get into the water, 24 hours without water.
5 cm to get into the water, 24 hours without water.
Later, somehow, in the space between trying to return to normal and recognizing that my notion of normal had vaporized – during the time when I tried to show your brother how much I still loved him and how much attention I still had for him, how much I could still dance and romp and play and be silly, and how much it was okay for him to be mad at me for having a baby, and how it was okay for him to not want me to sit next to him, or tuck him into bed at night, all while trying to figure out what would make you happy, not the car nor the stroller nor the bassinet, only my arms, my breast – somewhere in there a part of myself became dormant, as if stunned into stillness. It felt as if nothing within me was growing, that I had shed all the life I had.
I was already a mother when I had you, so your birth was not the dramatic transformation into something else that had occurred the first time. One birth revealed to me how much I was capable of, was for me about capacity; the other illuminated my limitations, the point where branches can bend no further, the point of breakage. Both showed me to myself. Both were necessary for me to be whole. At the time I did not know that. At the time I did not recognize that anything was growing or alive, that deep underground, my roots were stretching, absorbing nutrients from the rich soil of my life, of our lives together.
By now I’m Tired. I’ve been having steady contractions for 14 hours already. The tub is open. We are moving. We parade down the hall, carrying pillows from home and clothes and bags and cups of coffee and cups of ice. I feel that I’ve earned this and here we are, the large room with the queen sized bed with the flowered spread and oak headboard. The tub. The tub is full of water and waiting for me, for us. Through the window I see the blue sky and white, puffy clouds. Late morning light. I sink into the tub. Getting close to transition now. The contractions are coming quick and hard and I am breathing and the water feels so good, I lay back, rest, so that only my face and the apex of my belly with its protruding navel are not submerged in water. And then I wait. And nothing happens. When a contraction comes, several minutes later, it is weak, and barely a moan escapes my body. I wait some more. It’s afternoon now. We’re close to 20 hours now. I’ve gotten to 8 cm and now my contractions have stopped. I’ve reached transition and now I’m going backwards. I am closing back up.
Out of the tub and into the shower. Out of the shower and on to the bed. A walk down the hall. Nipple stimulation to get contractions going. We’ll try a breast pump. This works; the contractions are back and they are quick and hard and we are ready to go and they are in my back now. There is no water inside me and no cushion. I’m having back labor now and I’m on all fours on the bed and I have never had pain so deep and hot that it pushed me to the edge of consciousness. I do not know who I am. I do not know what I am.
Then back in the tub and do I feel pushy now?
I’m not sure; I can try to push but I don’t know how. I don’t know how to push anymore and it’s not time yet. It should be time, but it’s not time yet. We’re not ready yet. Back into the shower and down the hall and back and nipple stimulation and now I feel pushy. I want to push in the tub but that doesn’t work. We’ll try the bed and now the pain the pain the pain. On my back and I am screaming and I can’t take it. I can’t do it any more I am done. The contractions are too much, it’s too fast now. It’s happening too fast and too slow and it’s not over yet and it should be and out the window is only white haze and my eyes are blurry. The room is flooded with light and I scream into the light it’s too much I’m pushing now. I’m pushing now. My body is on fire and you will be here now.
I am in and out of that place within me that I have never known before, that I will not remember afterwards, that place that allows my body to take over. That place that pushes me out of itself, that is myself. That is fluid. I will need this later. I will want this later. But my moments here are so fleeting I will not know how to come back and this is not a place to return to, only to bring back with me. But there is no time to come back here, like waking from a dream and wanting to remember it before the day begins.
I am pushing now for you to come but you do not come. You move down but then back up and something is wrong. It is not supposed to happen this way. It’s not supposed to be this way. I am to push and you are to emerge but you are not coming out. You have descended. You can’t stay there too long but you stay. Your head is moving now your head is out. Your skull your brain your mouth your eyes are here but now your body is stuck. We’re both stuck. There is nowhere to go because of where you are and where I am and I am done but you’re not out and there is nothing to do but scream and sob and push and breathe and pray and beg to be cut open but they cannot cut because your head is out and the only way out is through me. It’s not supposed to be this way, your body should slide right out now, but there is the cord. The cord is keeping you here, part of my body holding strong to your body, not letting you out and this is when we could die. Like a flash of lightning, I suddenly know, in my bones and skin and fluid and a new kind of scream, that something is very wrong, that you or I or both of us might not survive this. Darkness descends now. But now there are the hands and wrists and forearms, reaching in and turning. I don’t know what is happening, only more pain but there you are now you’ve been turned and you’ll slide out now, and I’m pushing and just like that there you are. You’re out. You’re out now and I’m done. My shaking sobbing body is done. But you’re quiet. There is no sound from you yet, not yet not yet and I am waiting for you still and I don’t know I don’t know if-
Here you are. You’re on me now, blue and slimy and crying too and mine. You’re here and you’re okay and we both made it we’re both alive and you’re out and both our hearts are beating and you’re fine and you’re here.
Oh my God – you’re here.
“Waiting for Elijah” appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Calyx Literary Journal and is republished here with the author’s (Christine S, Massage Therapist LMT) permission.
Five years ago, after deciding to start a family, I became pregnant for the first time. Although my husband and I were nervous about a miscarriage in the first trimester, once we got to three months, we relaxed and started planning for the arrival of our son. I was staying active, eating healthily, doing everything I was told to do, and so it didn’t occur to us that our son wouldn’t be born in the summer of 2014. Then, in April 2014, our lives changed forever. At 25 weeks, I started having contractions. Within a few hours our son died in utero. I will never forget the look on the doctors faces as they desperately searched for a heartbeat but couldn’t find one.
Later that night I was induced, and Luca Thomas Sturdy was born at 4 am on April 4th, 2014 weighing 1.7 lbs. There was no first cry, Luca was born into silence. Our midwife stayed with us, crying by our side, and encouraging us to hold him, of which I am so grateful to her. Luca was perfect, tiny, but perfect.
The next few weeks and months were the hardest time of my life. I felt like everything I knew to be true was gone and I couldn’t understand how life could continue. It took months for the reality of what had happened to sink in. I would look in the mirror and think ‘thats not me, thats a women whose baby has died. No, it is me, that’s who I am now.” I had become one of the ‘other people’ that terrible things happen to. We got through it with the help of a wonderful counsellor and support from friends and family, but it fundamentally changed us both, and how we looked at life. We realised how unpredictable life can be and how naive we were to this previously.
It also reinforced how much we wanted children, and so we started to try again. We were constantly told what had happened was ‘bad luck’, and that we’d have our ‘rainbow’ baby. We conceived quickly again, but this was the start of a series of loses, four more in total, all apparently unrelated and ‘bad luck’.
After the third loss, we started IVF and begun seriously researching adoption.
IVF bought its own challenges and a great deal of resentment. I resented having to inject myself, and having to deal with daily phone calls to tell me if any of my eggs had survived and fertilised and then if any of the embryos had developed over night. I started to resent the idea of pregnancy – I didn’t want to deal with this anymore, I just wanted a child. IVF was a horrible reminder of how little control we had and it turned becoming parents into a numbers game.
Luckily, we had talked about adoption in the past so looking into it wasn’t a huge leap for us. As we researched it more, we understood it wasn’t a simple ‘plan b’, but came with unique and serious challenges. It added to the isolation I already felt when I compared the decisions we were making to friends around us. We had to let go of all our preconceived ideas of what our children would be like, and what how our lives would unfold.
We tried two rounds of IVF, both unsuccessful. Our lives had turned into a constant battle with fertility and grief. If we weren’t putting all our energy into trying to get pregnant we were recovering from another loss. I was embarrassed to contact friends as the only news I ever had was another loss, and I felt like people were running out of energy to support us. Suggesting we should have hope seemed farcical. I hated that this had taken over our lives so completely and felt so withdrawn from everyone around us who were seemingly breezing through life, now trying for their second or third child.
Through counselling I realised that I was avoiding my biggest fear; that we would never have children, whether through conception or adoption. It was like a monster in my peripheral vision, lurking just out of sight, but close enough that I could feel its presence and it filled me with dread. I decided to face this fear. I thought alot about what our lives could be like if we didn’t have children. I wasn’t ready to chose this path, but in facing it as an option, it helped me to see that there were so many possibilities and I could let go of the fear of any one path not working out.
And then an opportunity arose to move from London to Chicago. We realised how good it would be for us to be in a new place, and have a new focus, so in January 2017 we moved to the mid-west. After another loss, we decided to stop trying to conceive and focus on adoption – we had just been approved to adopt by the state of Illinois and were excited to start the matching process.
Four days after making the decision to stop trying, I had a positive pregnancy test. I cried, not out of joy or happiness, but at the thought of the inevitable loss this represented, I was devastated and petrified of how this one would end. After four and half years I finally, genuinely, did not want to be pregnant. I had accepted that we would start our family a different way, and was excited about this. But we pulled all our energy, and started the process again. I had my first scan at five weeks, surgery at eight weeks for a transabdominal cerclage and began weekly progesterone injections. I had multiple emergency trips to the hospital believing the baby had died. I felt sick going into every scan, which I was having every two weeks. But, despite everything, in between all the anxiety and stress, there were amazing moments – feeling the baby move, my husband singing to him, imagining the moment we would meet him (when I could bring myself to have this fantasy). We decided at 36 weeks we had to tip the scale and focus more on excitement rather than fear and so we bought some baby clothes. Once I got over the initial anxiety I couldn’t stop smiling as I held these tiny clothes and thought about our baby. I used every tool available to me to get through those nine months – acupuncture with Kelly, yoga including Prenatal Yoga After Infertility with Kellie, meditation, massage with Christine S, mantras, group therapy, swimming, walking.
I am writing this on Oct 16th, and our son Adam James Williams-Sturdy is three months old today, having been born on 16th July weighing 6lbs 8. He is an absolute joy and we still cannot believe he is here with us. Despite everything that has happened to us, we feel like the luckiest people in the world when we see his beautiful smile and his big bright eyes. He was born on Luca’s due date, four years on, and looked just like Luca when he was first born. One day we will tell him about his big brother.
I hope that sharing my experience helps others to accept that there is only so much of life that we can plan and predict, and by letting go of the rest, you can find new paths forward and new ways to be happy. This is the legacy that Luca has left us.
You’ve done it all. Diet. Acupuncture. Yoga. Reiki. You name it. You can only do so much to improve the quality of your eggs, so how do you know when you are ready to move on and use an egg donor to build your family?
Know your limits
When you first started on this journey, you probably didn’t think it would take this long to get pregnant. Perhaps you gave yourself a limit as to how many fertility treatment cycles or how much time you would allow yourself to try naturally before considering alternatives. It’s important to create some sort of threshold of what you can handle; not only physically, but mentally, emotionally, and financially as well. A crucial step in this process is feeling like you did everything you could to achieve a healthy pregnancy.
If age or egg quality have been factors for you on this journey then you probably have felt rushed to squeeze in treatment cycle after treatment cycle. The good news with egg donation is that age and egg quality are no longer a factor for you. You may need to grieve the loss of using your own eggs before you can consider collaborative reproduction. This takes time. Try not to rush through the grieving process. Once you’ve moved through those pivotal stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, you are more likely to allow yourself to accept that egg donation is a good option for you.
Make a choice
Egg donation might not be your first choice, but people choose to pursue this route because it is the best option for them. The first egg donation was a little over 30 years ago, so the process is still very new. It’s a personal choice and one that takes a lot of thoughtful care and planning. There is freedom in choice, but sometimes reviewing all of the options can be overwhelming. Try not to let others’ opinions influence your decision. They aren’t making this choice; it’s for you and your partner (if you have one). When you are ready, you may want to share the decision with a trusted friend or relative. Consider who may be a good person for you to confide in. Remember, once you tell you cannot “untell.” If you don’t feel like you have a good source of support, then you can choose not to tell anyone right now, and that is ok!
Fertility treatments are costly, time-consuming, painful, and stressful; doctors and nurses using terminology you barely understand don’t help either. But remember that you are your own best advocate. Ask questions if you don’t understand. Speak up. Take notes. Be the “annoying” patient. It’s better to know upfront than be surprised later. If you are educated and informed, it will give you the power to make decisions that are best for you. If your clinic has a mental health professional on staff, you may want to speak with them. Otherwise, you may want to get a referral to speak with someone privately. Sometimes it’s easier to speak with a complete stranger about what you are going through. There are communities of women just like you. Check out Resolve.org for local, peer-led support groups or nonprofits dedicated to supporting women through their family building journey.
There is no time like the present moment. Worrying about the future likely won’t serve you right now. You have an important job to do, and that is making sure you are in the best space possible to carry a pregnancy. Take care of yourself. Do the things you love to do and try not to worry about what’s to come. When you find your mind wandering bring yourself back to your breathing. It is a constant cycle of energy you can focus on if you need to regroup. Remember, you’re in control. You’ve got this!
Michelle Duchin began her career as a clinical social worker at one of New York City’s top-rated fertility clinics. For nearly a decade, Michelle provided supportive counseling to individuals and couples considering advanced reproductive technology to build their families. Michelle joined Treece and Associates Psychotherapy as a full-time clinician when she moved to Chicago and sees individuals and couples experiencing a range of issues including anxiety, grief, loss, academic/professional transitions, and more. She received a certificate in Yoga-Informed Psychotherapy, which allows her to incorporate mindfulness and breathing techniques in addition to traditional talk therapy. Michelle also conducts assessments for egg donors, sperm donors, gestational carriers, and intended parents who are pursuing third-party reproductive care. For more information about insurance accepted or services provided by Michelle Duchin, please visit her practice website: www.chicagotherapy.com
https://resolve.org/ – support groups, resources
https://www.sart.org/ – finding clinics, stats
https://www.asrm.org/ – finding professionals
https://progyny.com/ – infertility benefits
by Faith Donohue MSW, LCSW
From an early age we are taught that “our body is our temple”. To respect it and expect for it to be respected.
As we grow and mature, our bodies go through many changes, not all of which are welcomed, but we are forced to embrace nonetheless. In an effort to avoid embarrassing moments, we quickly learn to chart our periods and be prepared for when “our friend” arrives (in the middle of science class). Over time, it becomes a part of who we are. We own it!
As teenage girls, rarely did we sit around talking about how the changes in our bodies represent a path to parenthood. More often than not, we talked about the bloating, cramping and uncontrollable emotions, and perhaps, how to avoid premature parenthood. But as you read this and giggle because it brings back memories of your teenage years, it cements the idea that this is my body and I am responsible for it -the good, the bad and the many changes I must be prepared for. We own it!
As we continue to mature and become sexually active, if not prepared to start a family, we work hard to prevent pregnancy. While we are well aware of how to protect against unwanted pregnancy, the reality is, if we get swept up in the moment, make a silly decision while partying, or simply find ourselves in love and it just happens, the result of that encounter is ours. Knowing this, we as women take it upon ourselves to ensure that an unwanted pregnancy does not happen. We own it!
And now, we are married and ready to start a family. We schedule the appointment with our gynecologist, chart our cycles and prepare a romantic evening that will lead to the conception of our baby. We count the days waiting to find out if pregnancy occurred. Day 14, 15, 16… and you get your period. We tell our partners the disappointing news, ensuring them that there is always next month. We own it!
Months go by, sometimes years and still no baby. We schedule another appointment with the gynecologist and the testing begins. As research supports, the testing begins with us. It is often not until all female issues are ruled out do the doctors consider that it may be our male counterpart’s medical condition that’s preventing pregnancy (that’s a topic for another time). For those who have gotten to this point, we often feel like we need to coax or coddle before and after our partners’ appointment -like they just did us this amazing favor! (Funny, I don’t recall anyone needing to coax or coddle me when I went to all those doctor appointments trying to figure this out.) We own it!
I am sure you get the picture by now. We are taught from an early age by our parents and society to be responsible for our bodies. And, as with most things in our life, we take that responsibility seriously because if we don’t, there could be unwanted consequences. We own it!
And now, here we are being told that fertility treatment is about to begin. With mixed emotions, we jump in. We have no idea that we are about to turn over our bodies to a stranger, our reproductive endocrinologist. You are poked and prodded, often half-naked. Once again you find yourself charting, scheduling early morning appointments and waiting for the phone call with instructions about what to do next. We own it!
Here is where I want you to stop. You took good care of your body all these years and now you are about to embark on a journey with a partner you can trust and lean on to help you care for your body and soul. This is where the conundrum begins -giving up control of your body, the thing that you spent a lifetime controlling. But if you allow your partner to help, it can be an amazing release. It can take your relationship to the next level. It also provides your partner an essential role the journey.
- *Have your partner attend the doctor appointment to discuss the treatment plan
- *Have your partner order the medication and have it delivered to a place that will ensure its proper handling
- *If you are wearing an ovulation bracelet, have your partner manage the data gathered
- *Have your partner administer shots
- *Keep a calendar in a place where both of you can manage your cycle and appointments
- *Have your partner schedule and drive you to the next appointment (you can grab breakfast together as a part of your routine)
- *Have your doctor call your partner with any instructions
- *Have your partner plan a romantic evening -It’s important to stay intimate during this process
- *Have your doctor call your partner with the results of the pregnancy test
- *Have your partner tell you the good news, “we are pregnant,” or the bad news, “there is always next month.”
The process is challenging and we find ourselves needing to “own it” but the reality is we now have partners who want to be there for us, protecting and loving us. Try not to own it, let your partner in, tell your partner what you need, listen to what your partner needs. Communicate and support one another. And, together, own it!
I have spent over 25 years helping individuals and families overcome a wide array of challenges. During the course of my professional life, I have gained an expertise in reproductive health, family building including fertility treatment, assisted and third party reproduction, and adoption and foster care, as well as depression and anxiety that often accompanies life’s challenges. I have assisted individuals and couples as they think through their decision to have children. If pregnancy can’t be achieved, I have counseled individuals and couples in processing their loss, and aided them in exploring alternatives. I understand the struggles of pre/postpartum and post adoption depression. In addition to providing therapy, I have completed mental health and donor assessments needed to pursue third party reproductive services. -I accept BCBS PPO and BCBS Blue Choice and I offer weekday, evening and weekend appointments.
Faith Donohue, MSW, LCSW
4256 N. Ravenswood Ave.
**Know that you are not alone on this journey! Whether with a partner or going it as a single person, our community is here to support everyone on their road to parenthood! Try a free webinar, a Yoga for Fertility class, or just reach out and we will answer your questions at: 312-321-0004.
Anyone who has struggled with infertility can attest to the physical and emotional strain that accompanies this path to parenthood. The rollercoaster of hormones, hope and disappointment, comments made by others, and grueling medical schedule makes anxiety nearly universal to the treatment process.
As a result of this increase in anxiety I would encourage you to consider self-care as a fundamental tool to cope with the anxiety that is inherent to the process. Self-care includes:
- Pamper yourself. Between the daily hormone injections, the blood draws and ultrasound of an IVF cycle, your body takes a beating! Be sure to give yourself a little extra TLC. Get a massage, make time for yoga or take a nap. Treat yourself to what you enjoy. You’ve earned it.
- Find support. Though you may feel alone in this process at times, infertility is quite common. You may already know friends or family members who have struggled with infertility. Talk to them. If you don’t know anyone look for a local support group or a mental health provider who specializes in reproductive health.
- Stay rooted in the present. It can be overwhelming to deal with the countless details of IVF: the medication regimen, the monitoring, the instructions, the potential outcomes. Sometimes it is too much to take in all at once. If you find yourself stressed about the process, bring yourself back to the present. What is happening in this moment? What do you need to do today, not tomorrow or next week? Focus only on the next step and then the next step, one step at a time.
- Ease up on your schedule. Cut obligations where you can. Delegate work or chores if possible. Ask for help from friends, family, colleagues or neighbors. Fertility treatment is a time-intensive process–letting go of any extra responsibilities will give you the time take care of what is really important while decreasing the stress of trying to juggle too much.
- Remember your life outside of fertility treatment. It is easy to get swept up in the process so that conceiving becomes your sole focus. What did you like to do before you began treatment? Paint? Walk? Read? Do it again! What in your life is going well? Do you have great friends? A good husband? A job you like? Focusing on those good areas in your life doesn’t mean that getting pregnant isn’t a priority, it simply helps to balance out your attention and lower anxiety while you undergo treatment.
- Get help if you need it. If you find that your anxiety becomes unmanageable or if you’re struggling with depression, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Many women need a little extra help during this difficult time.
Ariadna Cymet Lanski, Psy.D
Clinical Psychologist, Wellbeing Chicago
Dr. Ariadna Cymet Lanski is a clinical psychologist who offers a wide range of psychological services to meet the unique needs of individuals and couples coping with fertility challenges. Her services include consultation and support during various stages of fertility treatment, consultation for individuals using egg/sperm donor or gestational carriers. Additionally, Dr. Cymet Lanski conducts egg donor, gestational carrier, and Intended Parents assessments.
Dr. Ariadna Cymet Lanski’s clinical practice specializes in reproductive health issues -from preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum adjustment to parenthood. Through the years, Dr. Cymet Lanski has provided support and assistance in understanding the psychological impact of fertility issues and other reproductive crises. She has helped many patients to manage stress and feel empowered about their choices. To this end, Dr. Cymet Lanski frequently utilizes mindfulness concepts and is a strong believer in the relationship between emotional and physical wellbeing.
Since 2011, Dr. Cymet Lanski has been an active member of RESOLVE and the ASRM Mental Health Professional Group (MHPG), having served and then chaired the MHPG Membership committee. She has presented in various national and international medical conferences including various presentations at the ASRM annual congress.
Well Being Chicago
Ariadna Cymet Laski, PsyD
By Amanda Hofbauer MA, AMFTInfertility can wreak havoc on a relationship. Trying to get pregnant may begin as an exciting journey to bring a new life into the world together, but it can quickly become a steep climb filled with painful procedures, blame, shame, difficult decisions, and financial burdens. At some point you may look over and no longer recognize your climbing partner.Here are 3 tips for maintaining your relationship with your partner while you climb:1. Acknowledge your losses: The path of infertility is fraught with loss and grief in many forms. Disenfranchised grief happens when we experience a loss that is not socially recognized. For instance, there are not funerals for miscarried babies or sympathy cards for unsuccessful IVF attempts. Not only are these losses not formally recognized, they are often not even spoken. Couples suffer silently, often without the support of their friends and family. Anticipatory grief happens when we begin to grieve the seemingly impending loss. We begin to think we will never have a biological baby, and we start to grieve in preparation for that loss.Take time to acknowledge these losses as a couple. Share your grief with yourpartner (even if your experiences of grief are different) and find ways to mourntogether. This may mean creating your own ritual to mark a loss.2. Act as a team: Don’t let infertility become one person’s problem or responsibility.Share the logistical burdens like scheduling appointments as much as possible. Goto appointments together whenever you can, even if the appointment is onlymedically “for” one of you. Try to be together when you receive results of tests orprocedures – even if it’s through a conference call – so that one person doesn’t haveto be the bearer of heavy news. Be curious about your partner’s experiences thatmay differ from yours, such as how it felt to go through a certain medical procedureor what kind of emotions they are experiencing each step of the way.3. Create infertility-free spaces: Infertility can easily engulf an entire relationship.Go on a date night where you’re not allowed to talk about anything infertility related. Rediscover activities you used to enjoy that have fallen by the wayside since you starting dealing with infertility. Reclaim your sex life by taking a short break from baby-making sex by only having sex at times when fertilization cannot occur. Infertility does not have to define your relationship.The climb is exhausting, unpredictable, and may or may not end with a successful pregnancy. But by prioritizing your relationship amidst the chaos, you can ensure that you will still be together when the journey ends.Couples therapy can also be a helpful resource while navigating infertility. Contact me to set up an appointment and start the process today. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-857-6270. Amanda is a Couple and Family Therapist at a private practice in downtown Chicago. She specializes in helping couples who have experienced or are currently experiencing infertility. Find out more at amandahofbauermft.com.Resources: Diamond, R., Kezur, D., Meyers, M., Scharf, C., & Weinshel, M. (1999). Couple therapy for infertility. New York, NY:The Guilford Press.; Humphrey, K. (2009). Counseling strategies for loss and grief. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
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