Sunday, December 20, 2009

IVF Loss and Grief

I have been meeting with a young woman who has tried IVF ( in vitro fertilization ) three times. She thankfully has a child. And now she is facing the loss of her current pregnancy. She is scheduled for a D&C tomorrow. Please take a moment to wish her well: a safe surgery and an easy as possible healing. The physical healing should be short and comfortable. The heart-healing will take forever.

There is absolutely nothing in the world that anyone wants more than a baby, especially when it doesn't happen. Modern Reproductive Endocrinology has advanced to such a degree that young couples can try repeated times to harvest eggs and have them fertilized for later storage and also for implantation. It can happen with the couple's own eggs and sperms and also with other's. Whoever is producing those eggs must follow a very strict regime for procuring them and whoever is receiving them also must use hormonal means to get the womb ready. Sometimes it's the same body. Alot of medical management and alot of emotional effort as well as physical manipulation. And often, it just doesn't work.

So there is this young woman, already influenced by extraordinary hormonal variation and then she must try to grieve the loss of the effort and the loss of the hopes and dreams for that pregnancy. It is very difficult to do that, in any event, and truly overwhelming when the added component of the hormonal storms is factored into the event.

Please don't ask young couples when they are having another baby. It isn't always as easy as it may seem to you. Please be sensitive to anyone suffering a loss. The best thing that you can do is listen, You cannot make it better. You may hear that this couple desperately "needs" another child to complete them or their family ( sibling for an only ) , you may hear that the marriage is failing with all the pressure, you may hear hopelessness and despair. You may see a lot of tears and feel alittle of the pain. Listen, be present. YOU CANNOT MAKE IT BETTER. There is nothing that anyone can say to fix the problem or the feelings.

Time heals a lot of the immediate pain but the loss of a dream is ongoing. It comes up at holidays and anniversaries; it comes up with every new baby born to someone else. It comes up with the pressure, implied or verbalised, whenever that subject of pregnancy and babies is introduced. It comes up with all the trips to the mall and Babies R Us and every commercial that glorifies the perfect little family.
It comes up all the time, forever.

There is guilt over not being able to and guilt over not being happy enough when it happens to someone else. There is guilt for the partner who can't make it better. And guilt for the extended family whose incompleteness is exacerbated by the loss. There is guilt for not being grateful enough. And there is guilt for just being a failure. Because there is nothing that anyone wants more than a baby when one can't have one. You cannot make it better; but you can listen. To the empty, lonely longing and you can be there. Be present.