Infertility and Suicide: Bravery + Why Rising Tides Lift All Boats
Cheers, dear readers,
I’m poking my head back here at Slow Swimmers and Fried Eggs (SS&FE) after a recent medical scare, which brings me to the main topic of this post: Our mental and emotional health as we traverse this infertility journey. I have been blown away as well as concerned and bursting with empathy at the multitude of comments that have been coming in from a post I wrote several years ago…
This is easily the most commented on post that I have ever written here at SS&FE, which only serves to highlight that there is still so much work to be done on supporting this often “invisible”, overlooked, and misunderstood portion of humanity — those suffering from the traumatic effects of infertility.
I’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the whole-hearted as well as chilling responses from our brave readers who help each of us feel less alone in our often troubling thoughts…
“Thank you for writing this. As I sit hear with tears streaming down my cheeks, I am relieved I am not the only one who wants to die due to my failure to produce a child.” — K.J.
“I struggle daily with just wishing my life would end. All of this has contributed to feelings of absolute despair and depression to the point that I frequently hoard medication with the intention of ending it all.” — A.W.
“I keep looking for meaning in my life, while my marriage is holding by a thread. You are not alone. We are not alone. I do wish for a tribe in real life.” — D.
“I want to go to sleep and never wake up. What’s the purpose of living?” — W.
“It really does feel like you’re alone. I’ve lost many ‘friends’ through infertility as I’ve just had to shut off from their repeated insensitivity. People just don’t get that it’s not just that we don’t ‘like’ hearing about pregnancy or other people’s children, it’s painful. It’s painful in a sense that is so damaging and debilitating it’s hard to even put it into words. The pain extends too to just not being heard, family members who constantly ask if you’re ok yet ignore what you say when you open up and tell them the truth. The truth that there is no ‘point’ to you. I feel I am a waste of breath, I too want to just not wake up in the morning. Am so grateful to read this post, breaks my heart to think of others hurting in this way, but it is ‘nice’ to know I’m not on my own.” — C.
“Thank you for raising this very important issue. In a book just published that called ‘Making Friends with Your Fertility’ by Sarah Rayner and Tracey Sainsbury, it quotes: “The national fertility charity, Fertility Network UK, did a survey in 2016 to coincide with National Fertility Awareness Week (#NFAW), and it revealed that over 40% of women experiencing infertility had experienced suicidal thoughts”. In my own journey of coming to terms with involuntary childlessness, I too felt so low at some points that no longer living began to seem like a very attractive option… and yet each of us feels alone in that pain. I know that such periods of darkness are very common and highlights how much more work needs to be done supporting women and couples with the emotional aspects of fertility treatments, both during and after.” — J.D.
“It’s such an important question, and so important that people who come here know that there are people listening, and that there are people who know, who may have experienced these thoughts, and who have survived and prospered. The key thing for everyone to understand is that it doesn’t always feel this bad. It may not feel like it right now, but trust in those of us who have gone before. The life that we imagined may not happen, but the life we can have has infinite possibilities. Eventually, I think, we learn to find true joy in our No Kidding (as I call mine) lives.” — M.
“I’ve been there myself, and still am. I felt like the bottom of my world had dropped out. Most days I still feel heartbroken about it and really wish I’d had a professional offered to talk with after I found out. People try to be kind but they really can’t imagine how horrendous it feels. For me, I’d imagined for most of my life having children as do all the other ladies here, that’s ripped away from you, but I also felt like I was letting people down by not having the ‘dream’. I can’t imagine that I will ever feel mentally the way I did ‘before’.” — W.
“Infertility has affected every area of my life… I’ve lost friends who couldn’t understand my grief and it has had a massive impact on my career because I work with children. I am still trying to figure out how to piece my life together. Because the depth of the pain is mostly misunderstood and unrecognized, my view of the world has been totally changed. I’ve been close to ending it all many times. Infertility is most definitely life-threatening.” — B.D.
“…You try to find a reason for the miscarriages – ‘if only I hadn’t gone to that wedding, if only we’d taken a taxi, not walked all that way’… someone I met at a support group was convinced she’d lost her baby from sitting on a cold chair. But we do this to ourselves, in the quest to find a reason why.
People who aren’t NOMOs probably can’t understand that something like [driving near the fertility clinic]can keep reminding you of going through IVF. Like other contributors here, I have also lost friends along the IVF journey through their lack of understanding and (un)helpful comments and advice.
IVF is lived trauma. You have to try to heal yourself. You have to know when to stop trying. You have to stop putting yourself through that repeated trauma.
I am still doing my grief work, dealing with ‘the loss of’ many things, hopes and dreams, dealing with the fact that no one will ever look like me or have my genetics or that I will not have anyone to leave my things to in my will and that there will be no children to come to my funeral.
Take comfort in the fact that there are so many people out there who have survived IVF, men as well as women and who feel exactly the same.” — T.
“I scarcely know where to begin here. First I feel gratitude for the honesty and the kindness expressed by all. There is nothing more validating than being heard and understood. I learned that when I was crawling out of a pervasive darkness following a decade of confronting infertility, I truly felt invisible and yes, more than a little dead inside. Bit by bit I started to feel again — sadness, grief, anger — it was scary at times but finding a way to voice those dark emotions (writing, talking — acknowledging them) in turn helped me in ways never expected. Even now, I go back to old blog posts and read the comments other women and men left and I am reminded how much we all need each other to fully comprehend the life-altering aspects of infertility. Finally, I want you to know you matter. Your existence and willingness to share here touched me deeply. It’s real evidence that you want to find a way forward. We are here to lift each other up…” — P.T.
“Totally get this. I feel for everyone in this position. You see loneliness which is also associated with childlessness is a slow suicide in itself. And I can understand how some people eventually take their lives because the pain is non-stop. It is an awful struggle despite what other fertile people think. Trying to put one foot in front of the other on a daily basis with feelings and thoughts in your head pounding and gnawing away at you is not a recipe for success. I admire anyone who gets through the other side. I for one struggle every day. I have gone from a happy go lucky person to a person who hopes their time is up. You might say ‘how selfish when people are fighting for their lives so that they can live and be with their children’. Well when you haven’t a family, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t have the answers only that you stay active and connect with all sorts of people to make your life bearable.” — R.
“This post is truly like a gif – thought wrapped with so much agonizing pain. I truly felt like I am the only one in the world who wants to stop this pain like that, that hurts so deeply, that I can’t go through a whole day without dark thoughts. I send all of you a huge hug.” — L.
Lastly, a letter I want to highlight from my colleague and dear friend, Alivia Tagliaferri, creator of “Power Of One: Preventing Suicide in America”.Thank you so much Alivia for sharing your hard-earned wisdom with our beautiful and brave readers:
“Dear SS&FE Readers:
Cathy and Eric are dear friends of mine. I am eternally grateful they shared, and continue to share their experience of infertility with me as well as readers like you who are called to this blog, as it has raised my awareness about the trials, traumas and heartbreaks they experienced as they struggled with and survived infertility— and the pangs that can still arise. More so, their caring and sharing has opened channels for compassionate listening, and that is a true gift to the world.
I am also a suicide prevention advocate. This is such a courageous and beautiful post, and as I read your comments and feedback, I was covered in chills. So I’m honored that Cathy has asked me to share additional research and resources with you.
- You Are Not Alone —The National Institute of Health conducted a study in 2009 that found an association between the trauma of pregnancy loss and infertility with symptoms of post traumatic stress and depression. The study also found that these symptoms and feelings do not always abate over time. Nor would one expect them to. Experiencing the loss of a pregnancy, or attempting and not being able to carry a child at all, is a major loss. Experiencing depression and symptoms of post traumatic stress is the body and mind’s way of naturally expressing grief, despair, anger and a whole host of emotions. However, untreated depression is a contributing factor of suicidal thoughts and acts of suicide. So please know that you are not alone, that what you are experiencing is normal, and that therapies do help.
- Resources are Available— Locally, Regionally, Nationally and Internationally. There are many organizations that will help you find a therapist or modality of healing in your area. In the United States, a few organizations that have state and local chapters include NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and MHA (Mental Health America). Internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched World Mental Health Organization that offers information and services by region. Since each one of you has a unique experience, it may take some time and adjustments to find the therapist or modality of healing that is right for you. But trust that you deserve this and will find what you are looking for.
- Take Care for Yourself and Loved Ones— If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call your doctor, #911 or a crisis hotline. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 (or 1-800- 273-TALK) and is available 24/7. WHO also offers guidelines on how to help someone who may be suicidal, and the International Association for Suicide Prevention offers information about crisis centers around the world. You matter. Your life matters. Please stay with us, no matter what.
May peace be with you all.
Research and Resources:
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Mental Health America:
World Health Organization:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
International Association for Suicide Prevention:
UPCOMING “MOTHER’S DAY” HOLIDAY
As we move into Mother’s Day weekend in the United States, many of us NOMO’s (Not Mothers) can feel the sadness and grief starting to creep into our well-worn psyches. At this tender time, I would like to share an article that offers some excellent coping strategies…
Being Childless Is Painful for Alot of Women: Here Are 9 Coping Strategies, where one of my Global Sisterhood colleagues, Melanie Notkin, was a contributor.
To end on a high note, my other Global Sisterhood colleague and friend, Pamela Tsigdinos, coined the term Mentors Of Many (M.O.M.) in a positive effort to re-define what it means to nurture and care for others outside of traditional motherhood. Here are two posts that I wrote about this in the past:
Please join Julia next week to hear more about her own personal journey down the fertility path. I look forward to speaking with you soon. I wish you the best on your respective journey.