5 Lessons I Learned About Grief While Living in Mexico

Expressions of grief vary by culture and country. Years into my grief journey, I spent five weeks immersed in Mexican culture during one of the most powerful holidays of the year – Day of the Dead. 

I was struck by my emotional reaction to the celebrations.

Particularly I was struck by what it feels like to be immersed in a culture that honors and celebrates grief – rather than treating it as something to be cured, an expectation we have normalized in the U.S. Grief is in fact far from linear and the type of resolution that many of us are told to expect never comes, leaving us to feel stunted in our grief, wondering what’s wrong with us.

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a Mexican holiday traditionally celebrated over November 1st and 2nd. It is a time to welcome back the souls of loved ones who have passed. 

Dating back thousands of years, it is believed in this part of the world that death is part of the cyclical pattern of life and that the border between the spirit world and the real world dissolves. During this brief period, the souls awaken and return to the living world to celebrate with their loved ones, guided by marigolds (whose scent is thought to guide the dead), the deceased’s favorite foods or drinks left out as part of the ofrendas (or offerings placed on a home altar during the celebration).

In the Yucatán, where I stayed, Hanal Pixan is also celebrated. While often referred to as the Mayan Day of the Dead, there are distinct differences between its Mexican counterpart. Hanal Pixan is celebrated over three days. The first day is dedicated to honoring your children that have passed, the second day is dedicated to the adults, and the third day is dedicated to honoring all loved ones who have passed.

In stark contrast to rituals we follow in the U.S. to honor the dead that tend to be solemn in nature, Dia de los Muertos and Hanal Pixan are joyful celebrations in honor of loved ones. 

Five take-aways I learned from grief culture in Mexico:

  1. There doesn’t have to be an expectation to get over it. What a relief it is to know that grief isn’t something that you’re supposed to suddenly be healed from. Grief shifts and changes over time, but it never goes away. And that’s okay.
  2. Normalizing the existence of grief is invaluable. Seeing the language and rituals embedded in the culture was heartwarming to see.
  3. Grief can be actively celebrated instead of seen as an emotion that is supposed to be final.
  4. The normalization of language and rituals helps you stay close to your loved one. 
  5. There is beauty in grief – as highlighted by the altars, flowers, and rituals in Merida, Mexico.

Experiencing these two grief holidays first hand made me feel sad but grateful. 

Grateful to witness a special cultural and community celebration. There is power in healing, mourning, and living with loss when you’re able to be more open and transparent with your grief… free from the expectation of an arbitrary time limit we Americans tend to associate with the grieving process. 

The sadness stems from knowing the amount of work we expend in the infertility and grief communities to find meaning and live after loss. I couldn’t help but wonder how our healing and growth would differ if grief were treated as a part of life as opposed to a one-time event to be “gotten over.”

Infertility Struggles and Pregnancy Loss

Data suggest that one in eight couples struggle with infertility and that one in four couples suffer from pregnancy loss. With those statistics, you may either fall into one of those groups or know someone who has. Even though the conversation around fertility struggles and pregnancy loss is increasing, a veil of secrecy still exists among those affected, making it more challenging to take care of yourself or your loved ones who struggle.  

Reasons that infertility is still kept secret:

The stories of successful fertility journeys are ubiquitous, while the narratives of the struggles and losses remain scarce in comparison. Infertility may still be kept secret for the following reasons :

  1. Self-Protection – Discussing fertility struggles is emotionally draining, to begin with. Individuals may not have the emotional capacity to field others’ energy or opinions about their journey. The sheer mention of a fertility issue may be met with questions or unsolicited advice from the person who is trying to be supportive. For example, hearing “Have you tried x, y, z?” can be triggering.
  2. Shame – You may come from a community where fertility is tied to motherhood/fatherhood/personhood—i.e., defining oneself as mother/father/parent is intertwined with the racial/cultural/religious narratives that shaped how you grew up. So when the process of having a baby fails to happen as expected, you may feel a sense of shame/embarrassment. 
  3. Avoidance of strong opinions about treatments – Even though seeking infertility treatment is becoming more common, you may want to avoid those who have strong views about said treatments.
  4. Lack of education and information – Many of your informative years were spent learning how not to get pregnant. You may have learned about abstinence and various forms of birth control, which supported the underlying assumption that getting pregnant is relatively easy when, in reality, you have a 20% chance of getting pregnant each month.

The benefit of keeping these issues private is that people need time to process before they share with others. Sharing means inviting others into a delicate and emotional process that is still getting sorted out.

How Do You Show Up For Yourself? 

The journey to parenthood isn’t as easy as most people think. If you’re like many other women, you know what it’s like to be the supportive friend watching others have their first, second, and third child. You are happy for them, as you manage your pain in silence.

Establishing a self-care routine is vital during this journey. Identifying how you feel and what you need may be challenging initially, but it is a foundation for prioritizing your mental wellness.

While many differences exist between infertility struggles and pregnancy loss, one commonality between the two is grief. The inability to get pregnant, a series of early pregnancy losses, and late pregnancy loss/stillbirth are grief experiences and represent the most profound losses. 

Pregnancy loss, however it happens, symbolizes the loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations for your life that is not unfolding as you imagined. Having the framework of grief as a lens to guide your self-care may be helpful.

How Do You Show Up For Others? 

You know your loved one is struggling but worry about what to say or when. Experiencing that internal conflict is normal. If someone has confided in you about their struggle, find comfort in knowing that you and your support are trusted and valued. When you care about your loved one, you want to provide comfort and do whatever it takes to soothe your friend or family member. In these instances, I find the easiest way to acknowledge a challenging experience is some variation of the following:

  • “Thinking of you…”
  • “I am here for you…”
  • “Tell me more…I am listening…”

If your loved one is undergoing treatments and/or has experienced a pregnancy loss, saying either one of those phrases can help them feel seen. 

Be mindful that simply asking someone “How Are You?” can be triggering in the infertility and pregnancy loss communities when all you expect (or have time for) is the automatic “I’m fine” response. Maybe they’re not fine. In those instances, it may be best to say, “So nice to see you” and then check-in later when you have more time to respond.

Infertility struggles and pregnancy loss are periods of time characterized by emotional highs and lows. The impact of this journey will continue to impact many lives. Whether you need support or are playing a supportive role, knowledge and a sense of community can help you feel empowered while navigating challenging discussions.

*This article was inspired by a recent talk about fertility struggles and pregnancy loss hosted by SOFI.

Related articles: Disenfranchised Grief: A Q&A with Alex Zappala

Infertility Trauma is Racial Trauma

The country is in chaos. People around the world are peacefully protesting the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. But the protests represent so much more than a reaction to Mr. Floyd’s senseless murder. 

The world is expressing its rage and despair. We are crying out for accountability for the countless state-sanctioned killings of unarmed Black individuals. 

Many people recognize the racial inequalities that exist in the U.S. and around the world, while others still struggle to understand the meaning behind the protests. 

Living in Different Worlds

These protests represent the individual and collective racial trauma that’s been perpetuated over hundreds of years, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar penned in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. 

Navigating racism has been a large part of my experience. As a nine-year-old, I learned code-switching (the not-so-subtle art of changing your speaking style to adapt to different social environments) and other tactics Black Americans have learned to use when living in different worlds.

I write this article as a Black woman, a Black female therapist, and a Black female who is a member of the infertility and grief communities. Being part of these different communities has often left me feeling disjointed. 

I can speak about my experiences of racism with my black community, and I can talk about my pregnancy losses with my infertility community. But I struggle to find ways to marry the two worlds. 

Years ago, in a conversation I had with a friend who was also a professor of social justice issues, I shared how my experience of racism impacted my fertility. But without sound scientific evidence, the discussion ended there. 

I could never fully process this with the members of my infertility community. The overwhelming majority of professionals, therapists, and coaches couldn’t comprehend the depths of my racial experience, which created another barrier. 

The Intersection Where Infertility Trauma and Racial Trauma Meet

Being a part of the infertility community can bring about feelings of isolation in its own way, much like my experience within the racial community. However, I never fully conceptualized or owned the impact that racism and racial injustices have had on my reproductive health until recently.

I know the trauma of infertility. I’ve suffered four pregnancy losses, and I endured five mini-IVF rounds with only a chemical pregnancy to show for it. The hormones and repeated losses threw me into a world of grief and isolation. 

When I began seeing social media posts about infertility trauma without any reference to what’s happening within the Black community, I became even more triggered. 

Infertility and other fertility issues have long been considered something that only impacted white people. Stereotypes around Black female fertility portray us as hyperfertile, thus having no problem procreating. It’s one of the reasons that discussing fertility issues is so challenging within the Black community. Assuming the validity of these stereotypes delays many within our community from seeking help, while some choose not to access services at all.

If you’re working with people of color, particularly Black women and men, you need to understand the intersection between racial trauma and fertility trauma. 

Discussing issues of race is already a challenge. But discussing intersectionality is even harder. Understanding the connections between racial trauma and fertility trauma is essential to understanding this country’s history with slavery and discrimination.

Infertility and Racism: A Complicated History 

Born in 1813 in Lancaster County, South Carolina, Dr. James Marion Sims is considered a pioneer in women’s reproductive health, having developed tools and surgical techniques used today. He is regarded as the “father of modern gynecology.”

Dr. Sims was also a slaveholder, and he conducted research and experimental procedures on enslaved women – without anesthesia. Since they were viewed as property and devoid of human rights, these women could not give consent or take ownership of their bodies. His decision to operate on enslaved women was informed by his assumption that they did not feel pain. This concept still exists in the medical community, as confirmed in a 2016 study conducted at the University of Virginia

His work is part of a long history of medical apartheid, which includes the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and the stolen cells of Henrietta Lacks that have generated millions of dollars for the medical community without any compensation to her or her family.

Racism in the Research

In 2019, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine noted that racial disparities in fertility care continue to exist. Their findings are compelling and validating: 

“The success rate, measured as the ratio of live births per ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) cycle, was lower for Black women, and the miscarriage rate was higher. Using statistical methods, the researchers found that race was an independent factor related to a live birth, even when controlling for age, BMI (Body Mass Index), previous pregnancy, and etiology of the infertility.” 

Subtleties around race and white privilege extend into how a diagnosis is made. The difference in the rates at which African-American women were misdiagnosed with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and sexually transmitted infections (instead of fibroids or endometriosis) underscores the assumption that reproductive health issues are related to sexual behavior instead of reproductive ones. 

Quinlan and Johnson (2017) suggested that gynecologists didn’t even believe that Black women could contract endometriosis, which had long been characterized as a “white woman’s disease” until 1960. But evidence suggests that African-American women can suffer from higher rates of endometriosis and fibroids. 

Biases Around Diagnosis and Treatment 

Biases within the medical community exist, and our experiences early on teach us, as people of color, to expect it. 

While in graduate school, I experienced persistent pelvic pain. During my exam, my gynecologist dismissed my concerns and diagnosed me with PID. After conducting research on my own and enduring several more months of pain, I went back to the doctor. Eventually, I received an ultrasound where two large fibroids (the sizes of a grapefruit and lemon) were found protruding from my uterus.

Years later, when I sought help for fertility issues with therapists and coaches, I hardly felt seen or validated in terms of my racial experience and its impact on my fertility. One practitioner even told me that “Africans are having babies later in life” as a misguided way to soothe my anxious spirit.

With the existence of mistrust for the medical community amongst the African American community around basic medical care, can you imagine what it’s like to try to access specialized treatment for infertility?

Representing the Black Experience

The lack of representation and understanding of racial experiences within the fertility world is another barrier to accessing care.

It’s easy for people to dismiss the argument of racism when racial issues have never negatively impacted them. When you’ve seen your story represented everywhere all your life, it can be hard to accept that a person of color experiences it through a different lens.

Being Black in the infertility world means not seeing your story represented in the very communities it’s designed to support.

It means not being guaranteed to see a doctor that looks like you and or who will approach your case with racial sensitivity. It’s one of the reasons my communities fight so hard for representation because it matters.

Racial trauma and infertility trauma are interconnected. But for Black women who experience both, the intersection is rarely discussed or even acknowledged in either community. 

For the Black people who face these challenges every day, what has been your experience with race and infertility? I’d love to hear your story. 

Use the hashtag #infertilitytraumaisracialtrauma and tag me so that we can begin representing our experience for the world to see. 

Resources to Learn More

I’ve compiled a list of resources to help you explore this topic even further: 

Also, the following are social justice activists can provide additional information and support along your journey: 


American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (2019). Philadelphia, PA. Racial disparities in fertility care persist. https://www.asrm.org/news-and-publications/news-and-research/press-releases-and-bulletins/racial-disparities-in-fertility-care-persist/

Hoffman, K.M,  Trawalter, S., Axt, J.R., & Oliver, M.N. (2016). Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Apr 2016, 113 (16) 4296-4301https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1516047113

Holland, B. (2018, Dec 4). The “Father of Modern Gynecology’ performed shocking experiments on slaves: He was a medical trailblazer but at what cost? https://www.history.com/news/the-father-of-modern-gynecology-performed-shocking-experiments-on-slaves

Johnson, B. & Quinlan, M (2017, Nov 10). Race, racism, and infertility. Vital. https://the-vital.com/2017/11/10/racism-infertility/

#infertilitytraumaisracialtrauma #racialtrauma #infertilitytrauma #fertilitytrauma #infertility #blackinfertility #endometriosis #fibroids #PCOS #pregnancyloss #recurrentpregnancyloss #IVF #failedIVF #fertilitytreatments #endthedisparity #amplifymelanatedvoices #blackwomen #blackwomenmatter #blackwomeninmedicine #blackwomenhealing #blackdoctors #blackfemaletherapists #blacktherapist #ally #blackally #allyship #representationmatters

— Originally published on June 6, 2020 for Thrive Global

Related articles: Should You Try to Get Pregnant During a Pandemic?, Regrouping During Uncertain Times

Should You Try To Get Pregnant During a Pandemic?…

In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has dramatically changed our communities. Schools, economies, and cities have shut down as we attempt to mitigate the virus. Individuals and couples who have waited months to conceive are now questioning whether it’s safe to try to get pregnant. For those who are pregnant, you may have concerns about the impact of the virus on your pregnancy. 

While initial research is limited, the effect of this disease on fertility and reproductive health remains unclear, thus creating uncertainty as hopeful and expectant parents navigate the unknown.

COVID-19 and Conception

 If you are trying to get pregnant, theoretically, there should not be any reason you should not. However, please keep the following in mind:

  • Limited research exists about the transmission of the virus between mother and child. Therefore, medical providers have recommended that women abstain from actively trying to conceive until more data becomes available. 
  • Since each individual’s fertility journey is unique, adhering to the guideline to wait may feel frustrating. 
  • For those who struggle with fertility issues, postponing trying to conceive exacerbates an ongoing emotional wound. You should ask yourself how it would feel to wait even longer, as well as how you would feel about managing a pregnancy during a larger medical crisis. It is a personal decision that is best discussed with your partner, medical provider, and perhaps your therapist.
  • Should you become pregnant, access to medical care may look different as medical providers move to virtual appointments or performing specific exams in your vehicle. At individual offices and hospitals, partners are prohibited from attending appointments or from being in birthing rooms. 
  • If you don’t have COVID-19 and want to pursue Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) supports clinics resuming care with precautions. Those precautions include performing general risk assessments, mitigation measures for the clinic and staff, and building testing capacity. The guidelines also suggest that clinics can open when certain milestones are met (e.g. reduction of cases for at least 14 days) and when local hospitals can safely address crisis care without overwhelming their capacity.
  • If you meet the criteria for COVID, please check with your doctor about when it is safe to resume trying to conceive or pursue ART.

COVID and Pregnancy

  • The impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy is still unknown. As stated earlier, little is known about the transmission of the virus between mother and child.
  • A small study of nine pregnant women in Wuhan, China, revealed that infected mothers were no more likely to have worse symptoms than non-pregnant women. 
  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that “pregnant people seem to have the same risk as adults who are not pregnant.” However, they also noted that since individuals’ bodies constantly change during pregnancy, there is an increased susceptibility to infections in general.

COVID and Fertility Treatments

When the pandemic hit the US, many individuals and couples saw their fertility treatments postponed or canceled. Having spent months or years and thousands of dollars to prepare for cycles to have them delayed caused great emotional hurts.

The taskforce for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recognizes the unique challenges faced by patients in the fertility community. In its latest report, ASRM noted that US states and cities are increasingly recognizing infertility care as essential services and have provided guidelines for resuming care when appropriate. As such, the benefits of providing treatment will be balanced against the risks of patient and staff exposure to the virus.

Coping During Fluid Times

We are living through an unprecedented time in our history, one that is heightened by uncertainty and anxiety. Therefore, self-care is even more critical. You may want to try:

  • Sticking to your routine as best you can. Waking up, eating, and going to bed at the same time each night help to bring some structure to your day, especially when information is constantly changing.
  • Meditating or practicing mindfulness to soothe anxious thoughts. Anxiety is expected during a medical crisis, so find what a practice that works for you.
  • Exercising can be challenging, especially with restrictions on being able to go outside. However, you can find many exercise programs online that can be done in the safety of your home. 
  • Giving yourself permission and space to grieve the loss associated with needing to wait or postpone treatments. You are living through a disappointing time that deserves to be honored. 

Everyone, pregnant or not, should be following the precautions outlined by the CDC. As medical guidelines change as we move through the pandemic, please check with your doctor about how they directly affect you. 

Also, if you need more emotional support, most licensed mental health professionals are equipped to provide services online.

This article was originally published on Oova.life on May 4th, 2020.

It has been updated to include new data from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Covid Task Force Update on May 11th, 2020.

The updated version of this article was published on Thrive Global on May 12th, 2020.

Related articles: Regrouping During Uncertain Times, How Do You Know When You Need a Fertility Coach

Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them… or not.

The following guest post was written by Rachel Scott Everett. Her voice and support have been invaluable to many women and men in the infertility and childless not by choice communities – even those childfree by choice, as people without children (for all reasons) often struggle with a shared sense of not belonging.

It’s that time again. April showers bring May flowers and… a complicated holiday known as Mother’s Day.

While many will be celebrating, many will not. Mother’s Day is a tough time for a lot of women. They may be mourning a mother or child who has passed, grappling with a strained relationship, or grieving the fact that they never had the opportunity to become a mother. For these reasons and more, the holiday is a painful reminder of loss.

Mother’s Day can even be difficult for women who have chosen not to have children. Although they’ve made a conscious decision, it’s hard to ignore the extraordinarily high value society places on women who are mothers, leaving those who aren’t to wonder where, and how, they fit in.

Whether someone is a good mother or not is often irrelevant. In our current social construct, being a mother seems to offer an automatic pass to purpose, validation and achievement.

What’s interesting is that childless women (defined here as women who wanted children but were unable to) and new mothers tend to experience some of the same feelings. Research into these disparate groups show they share a sense of loneliness, isolation, judgement and invisibility. Countless articles point out how being a new mom is lonely and discuss why new moms often feel isolated.

But as new moms get the hang of things and find other mothers for support, negative feelings are replaced with confidence and empowerment. Crossing the threshold from “new” to “experienced,” mothers become welcomed, accepted – in some cases, even glorified. 

This is where the similarities of women with, and without children, abruptly end. 

In our modern day culture, it’s often said that mothers have the hardest job in the world and that staying at home with kids is harder than going to work.

Certainly, raising a child into a self-sufficient individual is no easy feat. Mothers rightly deserve the praise and respect. Some handle the majority of the parenting workload, while holding down full-time professional careers. There’s also been a steady increase of moms who serve as the family breadwinner, adding to an already intense workload. 

The saving grace is that while mothers carry most of the burden, they also receive most of the recognition.

Mothers experience a sense of belonging and inclusion – not just within their family, but within society at large. While moments of isolation and judgement may still occur, mothers remain inherently united together. Because not only is being a mom considered the hardest job, it’s often referred to as the most important job any woman can have. 

Which raises the question: where does that leave women without children?

Currently, women without children, ages 35 and older, make up between 15-20% of the U.S. population. Whether by choice, chance or circumstance, these women will not have “the most important job any woman can have.” In fact, they’re in what society may deem the greatest tragedy of all: the role of not being a mother. The reasons for their childless – or childfree – status are as varied and complex as the women they apply to. 

Women who wanted the chance to be mothers, but are not (for whatever reason), are living out a narrative they didn’t envision for themselves. These warrior women step out into a world filled with landmines that trigger a range of emotions – from sadness and shame to pain and frustration. Every day, they bear witness to women carrying out the very dream they hoped would eventually happen for them. A dream that seems so ordinary and effortless, yet to them, is totally unattainable. 

Women who are childless by choice must navigate a different set of obstacles – typically related to validating their reasons for not procreating. A situation that childless men seldom find themselves in. They may be subjected to unasked for thoughts and opinions, presumed selfish, or told they will come to regret their decision.

Historically, society has not looked kindly on women without children.

They tend to be a mystery. Assumptions are drawn. Stereotypes are made. They’re met with criticism or worse, pity. You could be a woman who went through years of failed IVF. A woman with a genetic condition that prevents you from having biological children. A woman who didn’t meet a suitable partner or got divorced during child-bearing years. A woman who pursued adoption but did not end up with a child. Or a woman who simply didn’t want to bring a child into this world.

No matter the reason, society lumps all of these women into the same category: an abnormality.

The idea that women without children are unwelcome, unworthy or undesirable, takes a unique emotional toll that others rarely experience. And while not applicable to all, this stigma weighs heavily on most childless women who are forced to learn a variety of coping mechanisms.

They become adept at fielding well-meaning, yet insensitive comments from family, friends – even strangers. They tune out the media’s constant obsession with pregnancy and babies. They let advertising’s depiction of the ideal family (mom, dad, kids) wash over them. They ignore the stereotypes on TV and in movies where the childless female character is relegated to the one-dimensional role of the crazy drunk aunt, the ambitious career woman, or the spinster cat lady. They avoid cruel labels found in articles that perceive women without children as self-centered, bitter and unnatural, among a litany of other baseless misconceptions. 

Here’s the reality: Women without children can be just as kind, empathetic, strong, compassionate and tenacious as mothers.

Many are incredibly selfless and generous. Think of all the wonderful women without children who exist in the world – the aunts, godmothers and girlfriends in our lives. These women often take on the unheralded supporting roles as the helpers, givers and cheerleaders.

Consider all the incredible women without children who’ve inspired us throughout history: Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, Julia Child, Gloria Steinem, Condoleezza Rice, Oprah Winfrey. In a way, these women are less of a mother to none, and more of a mother to all. And like all human beings, these women simply want to be happy, fulfilled, and valued. 

No woman – or anyone for that matter – should have to justify their existence. But in order for that to happen, we must not only respect women without children (understanding it may or may not be their choice), but accept them – fully and unconditionally.

We must create a culture where women without children are no longer hidden in plain sight. Where their worth is not tied to the sole role of motherhood – or potential motherhood. Where their narrative is not defined by society’s expectations. And where they feel they can speak freely, own their story and perhaps even encourage other childless women to come out from the shadows.

After all, it takes courage for a woman to say, “I’m not able to have children,” or “I’m giving up on trying to have children,” or “I don’t want children.” 

So yes, mothers should be celebrated on Mother’s Day. But for the other 364 days of the year, let’s work on shifting our collective mindset to help shape a culture that truly values, and celebrates, all women – whether they’re mothers or not. 

If you, or someone you know, needs support, encouragement and validation as a woman without children, a sampling of resources is listed below. And if this article inspired you or helped open up a new perspective, please leave a message in the comments.

  • Gateway Women – a global friendship and support network for childless women founded by Jody Day who has become the leader of the lost tribe of childless women. Her book, Living The Life Unexpected, offers an actionable plan for those seeking a meaningful and fulfilling Plan B without children.
  • Savvy Auntie – an online community for cool aunts, great aunts, godmothers and all women who love kids founded by Melanie Notkin. Her book, Otherhood, sheds a light on the growing demographic of women who have gone without definition or visibility until now. 
  • The Uprising Spark – an online revolution founded by Isabel Firecracker helping modern, childfree women be the very best version of themselves. Her podcast, The Honest Uproar, features life stories of modern, childfree women and discussions on topics important to the kidfree community.
  • To Kid or Not To Kid – a new documentary film created by award-winning director Maxine Trump that aims to dispel the myth that choosing not to have children is weird, selfish or somehow wrong. Releasing worldwide in 2020.
  • Chasing Creation – a blog and online community developed by Katy Seppi focused on designing an unexpectedly childfree life. Katy hosts Virtual Childless Support Circles, including happy hours and discussions with special guests.
  • Tia Gendusa – a Childfree After Infertility Advocate offering private 1:1 and group coaching. Tia is also the founder & CEO of the first ever Childfree after Infertility mentorship platform, Principal of InfertileAF.
  • Dr. Loree Johnson – a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) & Coach offering psychotherapy and therapeutic coaching with a focus on creating a self-care plan that meets your mental and emotional needs. 

This article was originally published on Thrive Global on May 8, 2020.

Rachel Scott Everett is a freelance creative director and contributing writer. She is passionate about raising awareness of, and advocating for, women’s rights and social equality.

Disenfranchised Grief: A Q&A with Alex Zappala

The experience of grief transcends different types of losses. While we may all be familiar with its stages of grief, one element of grief that often goes unnoticed is called Disenfranchised Grief.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Alex Zappala, a writer and therapist from the loss community called Grief Uncovered™, about how disenfranchised grief impacts those struggling with pregnancy loss and infertility.

To read more from our Q&A, please see below:

Can you explain the concept of disenfranchised grief, for those who are unfamiliar with it or who may have experienced it but never gave it a name?

Disenfranchised grief – a term first coined by Dr. Kenneth Doka – occurs when a person’s mourning process is not fully supported or recognized by their larger community or society and becomes devalued. 

Doka (2002) has identified five ways we may see disenfranchised grief:

1. The loss isn’t seen as worthy of grief (ex. non-death losses)

2. The relationship is stigmatized (ex. partner in an extramarital affair)

3. The mechanism of death is stigmatized (ex. suicide or overdose death, pregnancy loss, pregnancy termination for medical reasons or otherwise)

4. The person grieving is not recognized as a griever (ex. co-workers or ex-partners, parents whose children are no longer here)

5. The way someone is grieving is stigmatized. (ex. the absence of an outward grief response or extreme grief responses).

How have you seen disenfranchised grief show up in the lives of the women you work with?

Disenfranchised grief shows up in my community when women, men, and couples feel less entitled to honor their losses because of how it occurred or from a particular circumstance like pregnancy loss (miscarriage), pregnancy termination for a medical reason (TFMR), and infertility. 

  • While pregnancy loss (miscarriage) is often misunderstood, it is still the loss of a pregnancy and triggers feelings associated with grieving like anger, sadness, and loneliness.
  • Even though research tells us that early losses (at five and six weeks) has a profound effect on a person and register as a loss, some may feel less “entitled” to grieve because they never “knew their baby” or “could not have bonded so quickly.” For women and couples who have experienced losses, there appears to be an unspoken rule about an “entitlement” to grief that depends on how far along they were in their pregnancies.
  • Regardless, pregnancy loss at any stage is painful, and feelings of grief are normal. Minimizing the impact of the loss due to the length of pregnancy or the perceived ability to bond with one’s baby exacerbates the pain that already exists.  
  • Ending a pregnancy is a delicate topic in general. Because of this sensitivity, women and couples within the pregnancy loss community may experience disenfranchised grief when faced with ending a pregnancy for medical reasons. These reasons include a fetal diagnosis with chromosomal or genetic conditions that result in a poor prognosis or an incompatibility with life or a risk to the mother’s health. While the parents of these babies have made heartbreaking choices out of concern for the baby’s (or their) health, they may not feel open to discussing their losses, especially if they fear judgment from loved ones who have strong opinions about their medical decision.  
  • Struggling with infertility is akin to a perpetual grieving process. Constant grieving over the loss of achieving a family the way you imagined, exacerbated by the grief associated with failed fertility treatments month after month, takes its toll. 

What impact does it appear to have on these women, their grieving processes, and their lives as a whole?

The impact of disenfranchised grief on women is multi-layered. 

Women, men, and couples struggle with pregnancy/child loss/infertility experience grief for the reasons described above. They may also question themselves, their sense of womanhood as a result of these losses. Or, they may even mention feeling like their bodies are “broken” or “damaged” because they are unable to carry a child. 

With so much of the world oriented toward parenthood, redefining a sense of identity outside of grief as it relates to parenthood takes time, extreme care, and patience.

What sorts of recommendations for coping strategies do you tend to share with your clients when they are encountering this?

  1. Acknowledge your pain. It matters.
  2. Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions. Also, accept that grief can be triggered by many different and unexpected emotions. Don’t judge what comes up.
  3. Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you. I always say, “Your grief, your process!”
  4. Seek help where you feel supported and valued.
  5. Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically by eating properly, getting enough sleep, and exercising.

What do you think is needed in order for us to de-stigmatize and validate pregnancy loss? Whether in the field or not, how can we all do our part?

One in four women experiences a pregnancy loss (miscarriage), and 1 in 8 couples struggle with fertility issues. 

Social media is a powerful medium that is being used to promote awareness of many important issues, of which disenfranchised grief is one. The more we discuss the not-so-obvious ways that grief shows up for people, the more we increase awareness and de-stigmatize loss and grief.

Alex Zappala is a Counseling Psychology EdM candidate and writer with a personal commitment to demystifying and normalizing grief. You can follow her on Instagram: @griefuncovered.

Our Q&A was originally published on April 26, 2020. You can find it here.

Related articles: Regrouping During Uncertain Times

Regrouping During Uncertain Times

Dear Fellow Infertility Warrior,

The spread of Covid-19 has quickly crippled our nation. What was happening in China, South Korea, and Italy felt so distant weeks ago until it became our reality. Those of us in California, New York, and Washington state (where the virus seems most concentrated at the writing of this post) are adjusting to a new normal where the grocery store shelves are bare, we’re isolated in our homes, and toilet paper feels like budding currency.

Amid this national chaos, we are dealing with additional challenges as a result of the virus. IVF cycles, months and years in the making, have been canceled or postponed. Long-awaited transfers have been too. For some, that translates into thousands of dollars and months and years of hopes crushed and cast into limbo. 

The impact of the virus on pregnancy is still unknown, leading to another layer of uncertainty and worry for those of you already pregnant. 

Living through a medical crisis, while our nation is undergoing a larger health one, further compounds the emotional trauma that comes along with our journey. Constant change and uncertainty only heighten the emotional chaos you may feel when you are doing your best to stay grounded.

While there is no easy way to get through this, remember that we have endured hardships before, and we can do so again.

Initially, you may need to retreat, reprocess, and regroup. It may look like a variation of what I have outlined below which I found helpful in the past:

  1. Honor your feelings – Anger, sadness, frustration, etc. Give them a voice. If your feelings had words, what would they say?
  2. Journal – Use it as much as you can to capture your thoughts and feelings.
  3. Needs – Ask yourself what you need most right now – words of comfort, affirmation, a hug, or something else? Identifying what feels most helpful is important.
  4. Reconnect with yourself – You’ve just gone through yet another disappointment in a string of disappointments. Be tender with yourself. Get lost in a book, mindless television, or listen to music that you find uplifting.  
  5. Control – Focus on what you have control over vs. what you don’t. Stay in the present as much as you can.
  6. Strength – Lean into the strength that got you to this point. Faith, community, connection – any or all of it is fair game. Get support wherever you find it.

Lastly, I know you have heard this before, but I will say it again – WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! 

Sending love and light to all,

~ Dr. Loree

Find Balance Through Fertility Nutrition

If you’ve been trying to conceive for a while, somewhere along the way, you may have researched fertility nutrition, only to feel confused, overwhelmed, and with no idea of where to start. You may have tried different fertility diets or nutrition recommendations such as clean eating, keto or low carb, avoiding added sugars, paleo, or vegan only to come up without a positive pregnancy test.

These may have left you feeling restricted from eating some of your favorite foods, thinking that if you ate one thing that wasn’t on your diet plan that you had blown your chances of conceiving that month. This often turns into a cycle where every negative pregnancy test turns into a new diet change, just to see if that would result in a positive pregnancy test. All of this can be so frustrating, especially when you aren’t sure if the information you are finding is correct.

When it comes to fertility nutrition, there is a vast amount of misinformation out there, but the truth is you don’t have to follow a restrictive diet or meticulously read food labels to get pregnant. Creating a more balanced approach to eating for fertility is likely better for your fertility than any strict diet.

Restrictive diets often increase stress on your body. This could be from not eating enough of the right nutrients or not eating enough in general (calories). All of these diets can also cause you to stress out about what to eat when to eat and how much to eat. It can even make meal planning stressful.

The problem with all this added stress around food and fertility is that stress increases the hormone cortisol. When the body has high levels of cortisol, this can impact your reproductive organs. Too much cortisol sends signals to your brain to decrease your reproductive hormones. This could affect ovulation, egg quality, and your uterine lining. Think about it, if your body is struggling to get its basic needs to survive, will it think it is a good time for you to grow a baby? Probably not.

What Helps

Now that you are stressed about stressing about nutrition (amongst all the other stress-related to infertility!), lets calm those nerves with a little basic fertility nutrition lesson. While the research on fertility nutrition continues to evolve, similar to all areas of nutrition, there are things that we know for certain will help promote fertility:
1) Eat more fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
2) Increasing unsaturated fats from nuts, seeds, nut butters,
avocado, olive oil, and fatty fish such as salmon.
of things that have shown to have positive impacts on fertility.
2) If you consume dairy, consuming full-fat dairy.

Common Pitfalls

One of the more common issues I have seen is that women aren’t eating enough or finding the right balance of nutrients for the body. Going through all the different fertility diets and the constant wonder of what to eat can lead you down this path of not eating enough, which is just more stressful for your body and ultimately not good for fertility. An easy way to tell if you are eating enough is noticing if you are hungry frequently, especially after eating a meal. If you are, this is a sign you may not be eating enough food (volume) or the right blend of nutrients for your body.

When it comes to fertility nutrition, incorporating these recommendations in a balanced way, rather than an all or nothing or restrictive mentality, is better for your fertility and overall health. Learning how to listen to your body is incredibly important when you are learning how to eat for fertility. Struggling with infertility may leave you feeling like your body is broken. Chances are at some point you stopped listening to what your body needs. When we learn how to listen and respond to what our bodies need, whether it’s food or rest, this can help your fertility by decreasing the stress on your body.

You Got This!

Bottom line – stressing about fertility nutrition isn’t the answer to your infertility. Nutrition can support and improve your fertility, but we need to approach it in a balanced way that involves you listening to your body. This means no more google searching fertility nutrition or seeking out answers from an infertility support group page, seek help from a qualified expert! You got this infertility warrior!

Susan Portz is a registered dietician, fellow infertility warrior who specializes in helping women with infertility find balance with fertility nutrition without diets, rules, or guilt. You can find her at https://www.simplejoyfulnutrition.com/.

How Do You Know When You Need a Fertility Coach

You’re resourceful. You’ve thoroughly researched your doctor. You’ve put together all the information about the fertility process you could possibly find. 

You might have friends or family members who’ve already gone through the process, so you have an idea of what to expect. 

But no matter how much we might think we know about fertility, being thrown into the seemingly endless cycle of appointments, tests, procedures, and potential disappointments can be jarring, even for the savviest of women.

Your medical doctor is responsible for overseeing your treatment process. But the intricacies it involves, along with all the dense medical terminology, can get lost in translation. 

Imagine how you felt after first hearing terms like AFC, FSH, AMH? 

A therapeutic or fertility coach can help you understand how these new medical issues can impact your fertility journey.

Going through the fertility process can be a traumatic experience. But you can work with a professional to mitigate its impact and start prioritizing your mental health. 

What Exactly Do Coaches Do? 

Therapeutic or fertility coaches guide you through the fertility process and help you identify a plan that works for you. A coach can be the “point person” who helps you manage everything outside of the time you spend with your doctor. 

Coaches are space holders and mentors. They help you stay on track while assessing your needs at every step of the way. Coaches help you manage your experience throughout the treatment process. 

Coaches can assess and help you navigate your struggles with helping you make lifestyle changes in your food and exercise. They can encourage you to use additional treatments such as acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic care while keeping your that your budget and spiritual needs in mind. 

A Therapeutic Coach or a Fertility Coach: Who Should You Work With? 

With so many coaches and mentors in the field, it can be hard to figure out who you need to work with. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect from different coaches: 

Fertility Coach or Mentor

Most fertility coaches and mentors have gone through the process themselves, giving them first-hand experience with the fertility world. 

Having personal experience with fertility treatments can make a fertility coach a good option when you need a sounding board as you work through treatment-related issues that may come up for you. A fertility coach can offer support and guidance around your fertility journey.

Therapeutic Coach

Therapeutic Coaching is the intersection where therapy and fertility coaching meet. 

Most women going through the fertility process tend to focus on the here and now as they try to navigate the complexities of the fertility world. But this can keep them from addressing emotions that can come up when women struggle with fertility issues. 

A Therapeutic Coach can help you create a space where you can work through feelings and emotional difficulties with the guidance of a licensed psychotherapist. 

Therapeutic Coaches can also include anyone who’s been trained in specific research methods that address the emotional pitfalls of the fertility process. 

For many women, fertility issues can be experienced as traumatic events. Research shows that this can lead to challenges with anxiety and depression.

Having the support of a licensed clinician through Therapeutic Coaching can help you manage and overcome traumatic emotional triggers, such as hearing unexpected diagnoses and going to doctors’ appointments. Developing a plan for managing them is part of the foundation taking control of your long-term mental and emotional wellbeing. 

Other Coaching Resources for the Fertility Process

Other professionals you might see in your research include nutritionists, naturopaths, chiropractors, or functional medicine doctors. Each one can provide a unique perspective on how to care for yourself during fertility treatments.

Choosing the wrong coach can lead to frustration and an inability to address the root causes of whatever issues you’re trying to address. So it’s important to understand what your unique needs are so that you can choose the right professional to work with.

How Coaching Can Help You During the Fertility Process

Fertility research is still grossly underfunded. The data we do have continues to show that women who undergo mind/body programs can have higher chances of conceiving, fewer miscarriages, and better egg-retrieval rates (if they pursue IVF). 

Other benefits can include:

  • Having the personal space to manage your nutrition, lifestyle choices, and emotional wellbeing.
  • Getting help to create an action plan that matches your needs.
  • Having support and advocacy for your medical and emotional needs.
  • Saving money: Working with a coach or participating in a structured program can potentially increase pregnancy and IVF success rates. This can reduce the number of additional treatments you might need down the line. 

You may need more support around creating a healthy nutritional plan. Or you may be someone who needs more emotional support. In order to find a good fit, identify the areas where you need support and find a coach who has expertise in those areas.

Having someone on your treatment team who understands what you’re going through and has the practical solutions and strategies to help you along the way is invaluable.

Do Your Research

Most coaches offer a 15-minute consultation so you can learn how their services might address your needs without feeling obligated to sign up for coaching you don’t think is right for you. 

In the meantime, if you still don’t know where to start, my 6-Step Fertility Self-Care Plan provides information about managing the fertility process. You can also get more information about my Therapeutic Coaching services here.

There are plenty of resources for getting the help you need during the fertility process. But this can make it harder for you to figure out who you should work with. 

The more you know about what different coaches can provide, the sooner you can get started creating the self-care plan you need as you start this next chapter in your life.

Set Intentions, Not Resolutions

The holidays are filled with a wealth of traditions—shopping for gifts, trimming the tree, feasting on delicious food, and spending time with family and friends. 

Setting New Year’s resolutions is another holiday tradition. Many of us start the year with lofty goals to reinvent ourselves and improve our quality of life.  

The most common resolutions include losing weight, spending time with family, quitting smoking, reducing debt, and living life to the fullest. These are all important goals, but we can drift away from the very goals we strive to achieve. 

Why We Break Our New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions have become synonymous with broken goals, missed opportunities, and frustration.  

Around 8% of people make their New Year’s resolutions stick, and studies have shown that most resolutions are broken within the first few weeks.

Here’s why…

1. Holiday Fatigue – After a season full of cooking, shopping, and festivities, we can find ourselves emotionally and physically exhausted. We may want to make significant changes in our lives, but we don’t have the motivation to follow through with our actions. 

2. Unrealistic Expectations – It’s easy to set unrealistic expectations, such as losing 10 pounds in two weeks. We can try to do too much at once or in an unrealistic time frame. But this can trigger an “all or nothing” way of thinking, which can lead to frustration that causes us to revert to old behaviors.

 3. Unresolved Issues – You might think that losing ten pounds is going to solve your problems and help you feel better. But it could actually uncover a deeper issue that you need to address first before you can achieve your initial goal. 

Making the Shift from Resolutions to Intentions

Intentions are attitudes that affect your actions. They can be an empowering and nurturing way to create lasting changes in behavior. 

Intentions can be just as motivating as setting goals for the New Year, but without the negative associations most people have around New Year’s resolutions. 

Intentions can give you a broader vision of your life and serve as a starting point for setting more specific goals…like an overarching guide for the changes you want to create. 

Setting intentions requires emotional presence and mindfulness. The first step is to ask yourself, “What do I hope to gain from this shift, and how would my life be better as a result?”

Here’s how you can make realistic intentions that lead to successful results: 

1. Create your intention.

Write down the changes you want to create in your life. Use nurturing and compassionate language as you make your intention more concrete. 

2. Create small action-oriented steps to achieve change.

Using your general intention as a guide, create small measurable steps to formulate a plan that helps you achieve the results you want. 

3. Tell others about your intention.

Research shows that those who make their intentions known to others are more successful. Sharing your intention establishes accountability that can support you along the way.  

4. Don’t wait until the New Year.

Start now. Intentions are the guiding force to laying a foundation for changing behaviors. They should be seen as a lifestyle change and not just something you do for a specific period of time.

5. Be mindful (physically, emotionally, psychologically).

With our reliance on technology, we can be disconnected from others and ourselves. Learning to live in one’s body is an essential part of cultivating a healthier and compassionate perspective.

6. Celebrate the milestones.

Reward yourself when you reach small goals. If your intention is to live a healthier life by making better food choices, then reward yourself with a new book or a long walk. 

7. Be flexible and expect setbacks.

Life is full of unexpected turns, and there will be joys and challenges. If you falter and revert to old behaviors, be kind to yourself and start again. Change is never linear, so don’t think of progress in that way.

8. Periodically revisit your goals.

This is where accountability is crucial. It may be helpful to reexamine your intentions and the path you’ve chosen to honor them.

As you usher in the New Year, I hope your intentions allow you to take a gentle and compassionate approach to goal-setting. Every part of the process, whether positive or negative, represents your life’s journey and deserves to be honored. 

Originally published in Thrive Global on December 12, 2019.

Related Article: (In)fertility Self-Care Plan for the Holidays

Fertility and Infertility Self-Care Plan for the Holidays

The holidays are a time when we find ourselves surrounded by families and their children. You’ll be participating in holiday traditions that other families share each year.

But if you’re struggling with fertility issues or undergoing fertility treatments, the holidays can be a painful reminder of the family you wish you had. 

The emotional stress that the holidays can bring adds to the stress of the fertility process. This can cause you to feel overwhelmed and make it harder for you to enjoy this special time with family and friends. 

So I’ve created a Fertility and Infertility Self-Care Plan for the holiday season to help you navigate what may not be the “most wonderful time of the year” for many women. 

1. Check-in With Yourself Each Day During the Holidays

Daily prayer or meditation sessions help you identify what you need at any given moment. Journaling can also be an effective way to process emotions and observe your responses to situations and people around you. 

Remember that your emotional needs can change daily, and that’s okay. But the more awareness you have around those needs, the better you’ll be at making sure you’re taking care of yourself throughout the holiday season. 

2. Eat Sensibly and Stay Active 

Food and holiday celebrations go hand-in-hand, and the holiday season often becomes a time for us to over-indulge.  

Too much of a good thing can leave you feeling sluggish at a time when you need all the energy you can get. So enjoy your favorite holiday foods in moderation. 

Regular exercise at the right intensity for your needs can improve your mood and help digest all those holiday calories while helping you manage stress. 

Eating sensibly and staying active during the holidays can make it easier for you to enjoy this special time without any unwanted stress. 

3. Just Say No and Have a Backup Plan for Holiday Events

Be selective about which holiday events you want to attend. If you aren’t sure if you want to go to a certain party, ask yourself, “How will I feel if I go? How will I feel if I don’t go?”

Being around pregnant women or parents and their children can trigger women who are struggling with fertility challenges. Give yourself permission to opt-out of any parties where you know you won’t be comfortable.

You can also arrive late or leave early if you think there’s a chance that you might find a particular event difficult. The important thing is to have a backup plan and know when you need to use it. 

4. Prepare in Advance for the Questions You Don’t Want to Answer

Decide what information you plan on sharing about your situation when people ask questions you may not want to answer. 

Prepare answers in advance for common questions like, “When are you having children?” or “Isn’t it about time you thought about starting a family?”

Rehearse your answers ahead of time, and don’t feel shy about telling others that you don’t feel comfortable answering certain questions.

5. Don’t Pretend There’s Nothing Wrong 

Be transparent and share your feelings. Sometimes the act of saying how you feel lets you move through negative emotions a little faster to find space for more positive ones. 

Being honest about what you’re going through can take away the power it can have over your feelings and emotions. Owning how you feel can help you be more in control and empowered to connect with others in an authentic way. 

6. Celebrate the Holidays the Way You Want

If you feel like celebrating, enjoy it. Listen to your favorite holiday music, plan out your holiday decorations and meals, or go shopping. Do what feels right for you.

The holidays are yours to enjoy however you want. There’s often a pressure to do things a certain way, and expectations from others can add to the stress of the holiday season. 

Learn to recognize what the holidays mean for you, and start creating your own celebrations and traditions. 

7. Take a Break From Fertility Treatments

If going through potentially mood-altering treatments during the holidays sounds like more than you can bear, talk with your doctor about taking a break. 

It might make more emotional sense to revisit your treatments after the holiday season is over. 

8. Create Your Own Child-Free Holiday Traditions

This step may feel like the hardest one of all, especially since you probably dream about someday having holiday traditions with children of your own. 

But it’s okay to create new ones in the meantime. You may find comfort in celebrating with friends and family members who also don’t have children. 

9. Practice Having an Attitude of Gratitude

Giving thanks can feel tricky when you’re overwhelmed with sadness. But when you can, learn to be grateful for what you have. 

You might be surprised by how gratitude for the small things in life (like your favorite tea, candle, or space) can lead to more significant moments of gratitude in your life.

10. Reach Out for Support When You Need It

If you’re working with a therapist or coach, schedule a session sometime during the holiday season. 

You can find a support group online or in-person to help you navigate the challenges that the holidays can bring. 

Knowing you have a safe space and the support you need, free from unhelpful advice or unwanted comments, is priceless.

The holiday season is one of the hardest times of the year for women and couples who are struggling to start a family. Wherever you are on your journey, remember to be gentle with yourself and with others. 

Use the steps and tools listed above to help you make your way through the holidays more confidently and with greater ease. I wish you a joyful holiday season and celebration for you and your loved ones. 

Originally published in Thrive Global on November 18, 2019.

Related Article: Set Intentions, Not Resolutions

A Therapist’s Journey Through Pregnancy Loss

Unexpected memories can take you back to the happiest and saddest times in your life. Not too long ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across an old photo from a college reunion I’d attended. 

There I was, basking in the joy of people I hadn’t seen in 20 years, holding a classmate’s infant in my arms. 

I quickly remembered feeling a twinge in my belly that made me pause. I’d suffered a miscarriage at 9 weeks the year before, and that little bundle of joy I was holding was bringing me face-to-face with something I’d been too afraid to see. 

Although I still felt hopeful, when it came to having my own child…I was still guarded

One Step Closer to Motherhood

After returning home from that reunion, I soon found out that I was pregnant again. I was thrilled and hopeful. But I also felt the intense anxiety of being pregnant after having had a miscarriage. 

Each week was a new milestone. It was one week closer to being out of the “danger zone” (the first trimester when miscarriages are most likely to occur) and one step closer to my dream of being a mother. 

It didn’t help that pregnancy symptoms can often mimic the signs of miscarriage. But I was comforted by the fact that, even though I was spotting, my constant nausea and all-day sickness meant my hormones were working. 

My baby was growing.

Just as I approached the end of my first trimester and began to celebrate, my excitement turned into unimaginable despair. 

My blood test and ultrasound confirmed our worst fears: Our son was sick. 

The Unimaginable Grief of Pregnancy Loss

On October 13, 2014, we said goodbye to our son at 15 1/2 weeks. He would have been four and a half years old today. 

My husband and I were forced to face unimaginable grief. We were walking through life in a daze as we tried to move forward. 

No one wants to be part of the “Pregnancy Loss Club”, and it’s a membership I didn’t sign up for. I wish I could say this second loss was my last one, but in fact, it became the second of many. 

Regardless of how common the data suggest miscarriage is today, the reality is that it’s always heartbreaking for women and their partners.  

Thankfully, I was soon surrounded by a community that included my therapist and women who’d suffered similar losses. These were women who were further along in the journey than I was.

They became my Pregnancy Loss Tribe. They were my role models for learning how to cope and survive something I couldn’t conceptualize or process at the time. 

The Support of a Pregnancy Loss Tribe

Being a licensed therapist myself didn’t protect me from the pain even though I had the tools and training that allowed me to help others go through their own challenges. 

Grieving is a humbling experience. But my tribe showed me the importance of honoring my grief without apologies.

My tribe, some of whom I’d never even met in person, supported me virtually when I was up late at night in tears. 

They helped me make it through pregnancy milestones without my baby. They reached out to check up on me when my due date was near. 

They taught me so much about resilience, strength, and perseverance. I could move forward because I saw that it could be done…and that others had done it so many times before. 

I had to honor my process however it unfolded. 

If I couldn’t attend someone’s baby shower, or if I unfollowed someone on social media, that was okay. 

It was okay to cry throughout the day and feel frustrated when I felt like I couldn’t stop. 

It was okay to feel angry, jealous and embarrassed when a family member had a child on the date of my son’s death. 

I had to honor all the ugly feelings in order to let them pass. The more I tried to force myself into what I thought my grief should look like, the more intense those feelings became. 

So I did what I tell my clients to do: I surrendered.

I have so much love for the women in my pregnancy loss community. But my circle of women outside that community was equally as important. They loved me just as much and reached out to support me, too. 

They gave me a sense of identity where I could safely have some distance from the pain of being without a child. They showed me that life could still be enjoyable even when dreams change.

Embarking on My Grief Tour

Because of my age, my doctor suggested I try in-vitro fertilization (IVF), a process that was more emotionally draining than I’d anticipated. 

A year and a half of treatments and thousands of dollars later, with only a chemical pregnancy to show for it, I was left feeling deflated and desperate. I was also getting too old to qualify for additional treatments. 

After considering another attempt at conceiving naturally, another diagnostic test revealed that both of my tubes were blocked. 

I decided we needed a break from the emotional stress. I had to reclaim my body and spirit and step away from the narrative of failure that often comes with the fertility journey. 

So I made my way back to something I always loved but was neglecting: travel. 

Traveling became a different form of therapy. It helped me disconnect from the struggle I’d been going through so I could experience the joy of exploring other cultures. 

There were no longer any doctor appointments, medications, or procedures running my life.

I started planning, and it worked. It’s hard to be sad while you’re researching a travel itinerary for Cuba. 

If you think the ruins in Rome are impressive, wait until you see the ones in Greece. 

Plan a trip if you’re feeling sad. When all else fails, plan some more! 

Planning trips became my new (and expensive) antidote to pain. I was honoring my need for freedom from the weight of my emotions. Traveling was my way of doing just that.

The Lessons I’ve Learned From Pregnancy Loss

I’ve learned plenty of lessons since that time, and there are new lessons that I learn every day. 

Miracles Do Happen

Eventually, those familiar and uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms were back. I was, once again, pregnant after the medical community had told me it was impossible to conceive with two blocked tubes. 

Sadly, that pregnancy also ended in a miscarriage. But I still experienced a miracle. They really do happen.

Doctors Don’t Always Know Everything

Doctors can have an in-depth understanding of science and medicine. But they don’t know everything. 

I remember going over test results with my doctor and looking at my blocked tubes on the screen. She described how getting pregnant naturally was going to be practically impossible…until it was possible. 

Getting pregnant reinforced my belief in the power of the mind and the body. I had a glimpse of what could be possible if I just let myself feel free—undefined by any “failure” I’d faced during the fertility journey.

Beauty Can Come From Sadness

My journey isn’t over. My grief has led to some beautiful experiences. Traveling the world with my husband helped us redefine our relationship outside of the fertility world. 

I needed distance and a new perspective to reconnect with myself and align my work with who I am now. 

I’m a woman who is still hopeful…still expecting my miracle…and still learning to stay in the moment.

Making my way through the depths of my trials have confirmed that I can endure and persevere through unimaginable pain. I appreciate the wisdom that comes from the experiences I’ve had.

I’ve come to know so many other women who have done the same. But more importantly, I can now take what I’ve learned and help others make their way through the same journey, too. 

Originally published in Thrive Global on October 4, 2019.