Carrie Underwood recently joined Gwyneth Paltrow, Andy Cohen, Pink, Courtney Cox, Jenna Wolfe, and other celebrities in bringing fertility treatment and pregnancy loss out of the shadows of shame. These individuals have shared the thrill of growing their families, but many are also bravely sharing their struggles as well. Ms. Underwood experienced the double whammy of multiple losses and secondary infertility. Both difficulties have their own versions of heartbreak.
Research has shown that the emotional pain of infertility can feel similar to the pain people feel when undergoing cancer treatment. While gratitude to have the first child is natural, having difficulty conceiving the second time, can also cause the intense pain of not realizing a dream. While some people feel comfortable with one child, others feel intense sadness and loss because their version of family is incomplete.
Ms. Underwood, like many secondary infertility patients, said she felt guilty complaining because she was “blessed” with her first child and grateful for her career and her husband. Some women feel that the blessings they have should be enough. This is often the only place in life where women feel this way. More and more, women feel entitled to a raise, to apply to their favorite graduate school and to marry the partner of their choice. Yet somehow, when it comes to completing their family, women, including women with Carrie Underwood’s fortune and fame, don’t feel deserving. This is one of the hallmarks of infertility. Feelings of loss are prominent, but women can also experience a loss of self-esteem.
In one interview, Ms. Underwood said she kept thinking, “what am I doing wrong”? Intellectually, women know that they are doing their best to find qualified professionals and follow treatment protocols. Yet, when their bodies don’t comply, they blame themselves. Ms. Underwood is like so many women in believing that their bodies are failing them or there is something they are doing, or not doing, that is the cause of the infertility.
According to the March of Dimes, a miscarriage occurs when a baby dies in the womb before twenty weeks of pregnancy. Some women have a miscarriage before they know they are pregnant. There are many causes of miscarriage and the cause is not always known. We do know that although it can take a month or more for a woman’s body to recover, the emotional recovery may take much longer. Nicole Kidman has publicly shared her pain living through an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriages and many fertility treatments. In a recent interview with Glamour, Michell Buteau shared her journey to have a child and said, “I always wanted kids-I didn’t realize how hard it’d be to have them”. She finally used the assistance of a surrogate to help her build her family.
While fertility treatment is often spoken about by women, more men are coming forward as well. Hugh Jackman and his wife struggled to have a child and eventually adopted their two children. In one interview, he said that each loss was a “massive letdown”. Neil Patrick Harris, Elton John and Ricky Martin used surrogacy to build their families. While we often read about their successes in creating the families of their dreams, the journey can still be a rocky road. Surrogacy rates are high but they are not 100%, and like all pregnancies, surrogacy pregnancies carry risk.
The number of people seeking fertility treatment is increasing steadily. There are many reasons people use fertility treatment to have a child. As these numbers increase, we are likely to hear more details about the fears and difficulties people experience. Hearing about the obstacles in creating the modern family can help those who are struggling to feel inspired to move forward, to become less self-critical and to understand they are not alone.
It is not easy to talk about a difficult journey, and it is never necessary, but even sharing your story with one person or posting on-line anonymously, will not only give you the gift of releasing some pain but may help others as well. If you are not sure where you can share, let us know and we will get your message out to people who may feel inspired, comforted and not alone by the story that only you can share.