“Your test results are positive, congratulations, you’re pregnant.” It is everything that you wished for and spent years trying to achieve. You are shocked, elated, scared, tearful, joyful and in disbelief. Now what?
Prior to infertility, your identity was likely defined by your role in your family, your marriage, your work, your interests and hobbies, and your friends. When you found out that you were infertile, your identity and life became increasingly defined by your infertility. If you experienced years of infertility treatments, chances are that your life resolved around your treatment cycles, your moods and your disappointments. As friends of yours became pregnant, you found it increasingly difficult to socialize with them because of your envy. The more years of infertility treatment you experienced, the more isolated you became until you didn’t know who you were apart from your identity as an “infertile.”
Then, seemingly overnight, you find out that you have crossed over to the other side. Pregnancy after infertility brings with it all the normal concerns that a non-assisted pregnancy brings, but adds other layers of emotional complexity. The first challenge is to get over the shock and disbelief of actually being pregnant. During this phase your identity must shift from “infertile” to “fertile.” The emotional and financial resources expended trying to get pregnant can often create a deep seeded fear of losing the pregnancy or of something going wrong with the baby’s development. These fears prevent a couple from sharing their pregnancy news until the second trimester when the greatest possibility of miscarriage has passed. Ironically, like your feelings during your infertility journey, this can be a very lonely, frightening and isolating time for some couples.
If the couple has friends who are also struggling with infertility, then becoming pregnant will pose a challenge to those relationships. It is not uncommon for the pregnant couple to feel guilty that they are successful, but their friends are not. Be prepared, oftentimes these relationships end until all concerned are on their way toward building a family.
One of the most difficult aspects of pregnancy after infertility is rarely spoken about publicly. Pregnancy can be an extremely unpleasant experience for some people, both physically and mentally. After years of ART and yearning for a child, you are expected to be grateful for whatever pregnancy brings and not to complain about it. Hormones are widely implicated in a woman’s sense of well-being. During pregnancy, certain hormones are at an all-time high. For some women, this increase in hormonal level brings with it mental and emotional instability. It is possible to experience high levels of anxiety, depression or both. Understandably, the incongruity of a woman’s fantasies of pregnancy and her experience may cause additional emotional distress.
Pregnancy after infertility is a blessing and a hard won achievement. Your identity shifts from an infertile couple to parents-to-be. Your worries and anxiety about the pregnancy may be heightened because you know what it took to achieve this status. You may be guilty that you are pregnant when your other infertile friends are still struggling. You may be reluctant to even share your pregnancy with others until you feel fairly confident that it is going to last. You may experience physical and emotional symptoms that you did not bargain for when you became pregnant.
It is important that you honor and respect the feelings you have when you become pregnant after struggling with infertility. This is your pregnancy. There is no right or wrong way to feel about it. If you find that your emotions are controlling you however, then working with a professional who is experienced with infertility can be helpful to allay your fears.
Contributed by: Amy Blanchard, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in California.