Guest Blog by Victoria Nino
Victoria Nino vulnerably shares her infertility grief experience in hopes of helping others who are in the midst of their journey grieving infertility. We are honored to partner with Victoria in our series on Donor Conception to address many of the emotions associated with using donor eggs or donated embryos.
I’ve said goodbye to multiple loved ones, lost a home to a tragic fire, buried animals I loved deeply, and let go of many other meaningful possessions. I know what it feels like to lose something you love and grieve it.
I can so vividly recall the moment I learned that my cousin passed away unexpectedly. He was only a year older than me and a big part of my childhood life. When I received the news from my parents, I went from shock to sickness, to deep, deep sadness, followed by anger, fear, worry, and then helplessness.
Eventually I was able to start progressing through my emotions. I grieved with my family and with people that loved him - his friends, his co-workers, his neighbors. We told stories about him, we celebrated him. People checked on us. They sent casseroles and flowers. As years passed the grief lessened and I was able to focus more on our happy times together. Little things would remind me of him and I started to smile instead of cry. I will always miss him, but I don’t feel angry or sick about it anymore - because I was able to accept that he was gone.
I was able to accept that he was gone and move forward. My family grieved the loss together, year after year.
There are a lot of parallels between losing a loved one and infertility grief, yet most people don’t even consider that infertility is grief - because the loss is invisible.
When it comes to coping with infertility, grief is very real. It is absolutely without a doubt, grief you are experiencing. And I’m sure to you, it is anything but invisible. It is the first thing we think about when we wake up in the morning and the last thing we think about when we go to sleep (if we can actually sleep, that is).
The grief that comes with infertility isn’t a loss you can accept as gone, either. Many of us have been holding on to a vision of a family for years, and it’s not something we can just let go of, and with every opportunity to conceive, new hope arrives. One negative pregnancy test can feel like your heart is being ripped out of your chest as we start the infertility grieving process all over again. We never get to fully grieve, because we dust our shoulders off, piece our hearts back together and open that same heart up to the same exact thing that tore it up.
For so long, my husband and I were the only ones that bore the pain of infertility in private and in public we put on our happy faces. We did our best to help each other cope, while also trying to cope ourselves. No one was checking on us or stopping by to make sure we were okay. We didn’t get any flowers, cards or casseroles. We aren’t supposed to go through grief alone, yet many of us do, and it can feel extremely isolating.
Infertility grief is all-consuming. Triggers are everywhere - pregnant women, babies, pregnancy announcements, people asking “so, when are you going to have kids?”. Just going to Target can feel emotionally overwhelming. I started avoiding baby showers, because I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. I had run out of happy faces. I avoided birthday parties, family gatherings, and social events.
The loneliness of infertility isn’t something I would wish on my worst nightmare, it’s a very dark place to live.
The infertility grief process is exhausting, but we must move through it. We have to learn how to grieve infertility in healthy ways, find ways to heal and cope, knowing that we have to live alongside these emotions in our day to day.
For the longest time, the only person I would open up to was my husband and I know this responsibility weighed on him heavily. He, too, was going through his own emotional battle, while trying to ease my pain and dry all my tears along the way. It wasn't until I started talking about my disease to others that I began to heal.
This process had multiple steps.
First, I told my therapist and my journal, then I opened up to a few friends I knew had struggled with infertility, then a few more close friends that I trusted, and then family, and eventually the whole world through my blog.
I started getting support from people that I desperately needed long ago. I started hearing personal infertility stories from close friends and family members that I had no idea about. And most importantly, I didn’t have to keep any more secrets about “why” we didn't have kids yet. I no longer had to hide my illness or cry in my car.
I was finally free.
If you can start by telling one person, and then another, it will get easier, and the grief will feel a little lighter, little by little. I highly recommend joining a support group, there is no other group of women out there that can validate your pain the way someone who has been through it.
Making space to experience painful emotions allows us to practice our resilience and grow.
Think of one thing you have to be grateful for and focus on that. Then think of another, and another. Maybe it’s just the fact that you have a roof over your head, or that you are healthy. Start making a gratitude list and keep it handy for triggers. When you get hit by an unexpected pregnancy announcement you can immediately reference your list.
Gratitude has been scientifically proven to increase happiness, reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and increase energy. It’s a practice that can truly change your life.
Remove any judgement of yourself. We must allow ourselves to grieve and go through the steps and not judge ourselves for it. Cut yourself some slack. Picture a woman who just lost her husband sitting in the front row of a wedding. You’d cut her slack if she was angry or sad, right? You’d forgive her if she got up and left in the middle of the ceremony, right?
Infertility grief is grief. Cut yourself the same slack as you would that woman.
It is incredibly important to feel the feelings of infertility grief. Burying them or avoiding them will just bottle them up to explode at a later date. Letting them out in a healthy way, little by little, can help better prepare you for triggers.
Starting the donor egg process can be emotionally and physically overwhelming. It took me and my husband about six months of pondering and discussing before we were willing to even consider exploring the idea. I’m not sure which was harder, deciding to use donor eggs or choosing the donor herself. It’s all really scary.
We all assume that our children will only get the very best qualities from ourselves and our partners. I’ll admit, I believed it too. My husband, and I both did. We assumed that our child would be the perfect combination of my very best traits + his very best. That’s what you think about when you want to have children with the one you love the most, right? People would say “You guys will make such beautiful babies together” and we visualized the perfect mix. His athletic abilities, my creativity. My blue eyes, his tan skin. My skinny legs, his good smile. Our child wouldn’t get his oily skin, my widow’s peak or weird toes. Only the “good” stuff!
We grieved the vision we had of our perfect mix, but later realized that this vision was never actually real. We never had control over genetics, even when they were only ours. There was a really good chance my bad teeth and autoimmune history would get passed on. I had been putting my genetics on a pedestal for so long, but in reality my genetics weren’t that great.
I am a strong woman because a strong woman raised me. Strong women aren’t just born that way, they are taught by watching the strong women in their lives work hard and stand up for themselves and others. I definitely attribute a large portion of my strength to my mother’s leadership, independence, wisdom, vulnerability and love. The other portion comes from my experiences and challenges of life.
I may not get to pass on my mother’s genes to my daughter, but I sure as hell can pass on her teachings. I don’t get to pass on her blue eyes, but I get to pass on her confidence and fierce love for her family.
I also got to pass on some strong names from my family. My daughter’s first name comes from her badass Great Grandmother who was still mowing her own lawn in her 80’s. Her middle name comes from her fiery great aunt.
We get so hung up on genes, but there is so much more we get to pass on. As parents we influence and cultivate who our children become. I may not have influence on what my daughter looks like physically, but I sure as hell play a major part in who she is as a person. And, that’s what matters most to me.
We don’t have children to make “mini-me’s” out of ourselves, that’s not the point of reproducing, or a reason to grow a family. We have children to be uniquely themselves. To be individuals. My daughter has her own thoughts, her own soul, her own personality. I am her teacher but she learns and grows in her own unique way.
The truth is, I strive to be more like her, not to make her more like me. I am in complete awe of her uniqueness. She inspires me daily to be more than I am - to be my own version of me, not like anyone else.
Here are some things that have worked for me when working through the emotions of genetic grief and coping with egg donation.
• Give him/her a name and picture what this child would look like.
• Plan a ceremony for you and your partner, like planting a flower, or sending a lantern into the sky
• Write a letter to your genetic child, address them by name and tell them that you love them but it’s time to let them go now
• Start telling your story to safe people and get comfortable with talking about it. Telling your story allows you to reflect your reality by seeing the emotion in the people you tell. I highly recommend joining a donor conception support group.
• Give your non-genetic child a name and picture what this child would look like
• Write a letter telling them how much you love them and that you are welcoming them into your heart and how excited you are to meet them and be their mommy or daddy.
• Find other parents who have walked this life and - “If we see it, we can be it”
• Make a list of all the amazing non-genetic traits you will get to pass on
• Buy at least one children's book about donor conception and read it out loud, start thinking about how this relationship would feel when you tell your child their love story.
• TRUST that the universe is working on a master plan for you and that the child meant for you is going to be even better than what you imagined.
I will be honest, some days you will feel like you are dying. You will feel like this is the worst possible thing that could happen to you. You will feel like life is over.
Life isn’t fair, I know.
But, guess what? You aren’t dying. This isn’t the worst possible thing that could happen to you, and your life certainly isn’t over. Pain teaches us who we really are, and getting to that beautiful person deep down inside, means you are going to have to go through some really hard things first. But you can do hard things. You are a mother in the making. You are a warrior.
You will get through this, the pain will lessen, the wounds will heal, but you can’t do it alone. Trust me I tried. I can honestly say that after all we have been through, all the pain, the financial debt, the lost friendships, the deep emotional sadness, I still wouldn’t change a thing.
My child wouldn’t be the same person if I hadn’t experienced infertility, my marriage wouldn’t be as strong, and neither would I.
I survived infertility, and so will you.
Want to hear more from Victoria? View more from her series on donor conception:
Written by Guest Author, Victoria Nino
This blog post was written by Victoria Nino from @expectinganything. If you are struggling with how to deal with infertility, Victoria provides a welcoming and supportive online community on her Instagram and support groups on her website.