10 Things My Therapist Taught Me: Reflecting On 10 Years of Infertility
I've made no secret about my stint on the therapist's couch. During infertility, it was either a weekly visit with Jan or an extended inpatient stay at a mental health facility. I chose option A which came with a comfy couch, ambient lighting, and a bottomless tissue box within arm's reach on the coffee table. It took months for me to trust my therapist and half a year before I cried. Even then I felt like I was letting someone down. I'm stronger than this. It's not that big of a deal. It's not like I'm dying or anything.
On the couch, I learned that therapy is much more than reclining on a lounger (I never actually reclined) and blubbering into space. In fact, my moments with Jan felt more like Charlie Brown's interactions with psychiatrist Lucy; practical advice to address my unwelcome, hamster-on-a-wheel thoughts. Thankfully, unlike Lucy, Jan never advised me to "Snap out of it!". Here's what she did teach me:
10 Things My Therapist Taught Me During Infertility
1. Life is about expectations
You can hope for a positive pregnancy test at the end of the month, but expecting one will often plunge you into the valley. You can hope that people will be kind and empathetic during your struggle, but many will say and do heartless things like scrolling through their photo cache of cutesie infant photos as you observe from the bench. You can cuss and fume and complain about these injustices, but doing so will make you miserable and do nothing to change your circumstances. Life is all about expectations. Adjust yours to fit more with reality and your wait suddenly becomes more bearable.
2. Becoming a mother often trumps giving birth
It took 5 years for my dawning realization, my "Eureka!'" moment. My problem was not with my inability to conceive, but rather with the empty room in our house...the empty place in my heart where a baby was meant to take up residence. When said baby came home and my days brimmed over with feeding and rocking and walking around with an omnipresent smudge of spit up on my shoulder, my infertility was demoted and relegated to its rightful cubicle.
3. I am more than my diagnosis
After studying to become a special educator and learning that a person always precedes their label, it's funny that it took me years to believe this about myself. Years of tests, hormone shots, failed pregnancy attempts and failed pregnancies had reduced me to a walking case study in barrenness. Jan's wise counsel corrected my nearsightedness, allowing me to see the rest of me: Wife, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, singer, baker of a mean batch of chocolate chip cookies. Infertility's hold on me loosened when I stepped into the rest of my life.
4. Men are like Russian nesting dolls
It just so happens that hyper-focusing on sex for the purpose of procreation does little to fan the flames of romance for a couple. Scheduled sex leads to strained intimacy both inside and outside the bedroom. But surely my big strong husband could put his need for closeness aside while I put the pedal to the medal in my drive for motherhood, yes? As it turns out, not so much. While men may appear beefy and tough, on the inside they're even more sensitive than we women are. This means we often need to stop in the midst of an argument and interpret their surly behavior as a cry for closeness. We need to see the little boy inside the big man and respond by reaching out instead of recoiling.
A crisis like infertility does not negate a husband's need for authentic expressions of love and affection. When your feelings are screaming "Retreat!", remember instead to make an effort to connect.
5. It's OK to break with convention
I grew up a (mostly) compliant child in a close family. After getting married, it was expected that my husband and I would join the tribe for 4th of July barbecues, Christmas parties, and (gasp!) Mother's Day. In our newlywed bliss, we were more than happy to oblige. However, when every first, second, and third cousin left us in the parenthood dust, our enthusiasm for attending these events dimmed. On my own, I never questioned our obligation to be present. That's what family did. Jan helped me to see that self-care, even self-preservation, during infertility surpassed the dictates of tradition. As a result, my husband and I formed our own traditions while waiting for our family to grow
6. Babies exist before they become flesh and blood
Before infertility, my head-knowledge that God knows the beginning and ending of every story had never migrated to my heart. When Jan reminded me that my babies were already held in God's hands and that he knew every curl, dimple, and toenail before their birth, my heart quickened. Sure, I didn't know the ending, but this simple truth made my babies--whether biological or adopted-- real to me even before I was able to lay eyes on them.
Photo by Ryan Graybill on Unsplash
7. There's more to infertility than Hannah, Sarah, and Elizabeth
These women are an inspiration, but need I point out the obvious? THEY ALL GAVE BIRTH! If I have to listen to one more well-meaning believer point out this trio's divine faithfulness, I may have to lay the smack down. Not every faithful prayer results in the hoped for answer. Sometimes God says yes. Sometimes God says no. Sometimes he says "wait". His answers are often not about our faith, but about his sovereignty, which I like to call "because he said so and he knows better". Acknowledging that my infertility was not a punishment from God nor an indicator of my lack of faith was a battle Jan helped me win.
8. Waiting makes you wiser, stronger, and more empathetic
There was nothing like a little delay in my best laid plans to oust me from my comfy throne of self-reliance. Years of struggling honed my listening skills, tuned me in to others' pain, and--paired with Jan's guidance--granted me perspective on my place in the world. Realizing that control was an illusion I'd bought into for 20-plus years, I renovated my heart and positioned God back at the center. In my weakness, I became stronger.
9. Therapists are highly-trained friends paid for by insurance
I could bring all of my crazy to Jan. All my anger, all my disillusionment. All. My. Feels. I often scuffled into her office looking like a crazy cat lady (and I didn't even own cats!) and waltzed out looking like I'd just spent the past week chanting "ohhhm" in the mountains of Taipei. As earthly guides go, there are none who work more slow miracles than the licensed family therapist. Their services are an insurance co-pay well spent.
10. Normal people see therapists
You don't have to wait until you're one insensitive comment away from nosediving off a cliff to make your first therapy appointment. Especially when facing a chronic struggle like infertility, the most effective therapy sessions arrive like oil-changes on a regularly scheduled basis and prevent you from ending up on the side of the road, broken down and in need of a complete engine overhaul.
Convinced that therapy is a good thing? Start here: