Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"T" is for Therapist

I had my second appointment with a therapist this past weekend. This isn't a fact of my life that I'm sharing with everyone, but I'm not ashamed of it, either. In fact, it feels very providential how it all came together: Mr. M and I attended a few talks for newlyweds this past year, and two of them were given by a local Catholic psychologist, who I'll call Dr. K. We really liked her presentations (one on intimacy and one on meeting the needs of your spouse). She was very knowledgeable and professional, but also personable and funny.

During one of the talks, she shared with us how she and her husband struggled with infertility for 5 years before conceiving their daughter, who ended up being their only child. I was floored by her story, which was a pretty miraculous one, as these stories go, and felt a strong connection with her because of our IF situtation.

Fast forward a month or so: one morning in February, things were just so heavy and my heart was burdened so much by our childlessness that I couldn't bring myself to go to work. Instead, I took a sick day and spent most of the morning laying on the couch thinking, praying, crying, and paging through old journals. (I was quite the journaler, especially pre-marriage. I think I'm up to number 52 or so.) Anyway, I was reading back through more recent entries, and I was struck with how hard the IF cross has been for how long. Like more than a year of consistent intense emotions and having to handle CD1 after CD1 after CD1. It had clearly taken its toll - hence the "sick" day.

I thought of Dr. K at that moment, and how good it would be to get some solid professional advice from a therapist who has a strong faith and also suffered from IF. So I called her up and, thankfully, she said she'd be happy to work with me and we set up our first appointment.

Two appointments later, I'm so grateful for her help. Here are some things she's taught me so far, that I'm trying to work on:

  • Infertility is a grieving process, and like every grieving process has various stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and eventually acceptance. These "stages" aren't linear but cyclical, so they could happen at any time.
  • To cope with anger (something I really needed to talk with her about): anger is like a fire that starts with a spark but can blaze out of control. Just like a real fire, when the "anger fire" starts, Stop, Drop, and Roll. Stop and realize that you're angry. (For me, I think "stop" could also mean just stop what I'm doing - put down the chart! Sit down and don't pick up anything because you'll want to throw it at the wall...) Drop the mask and realize that anger often covers up other more vulnerable feelings - sadness, hopelessness, despair, feeling unloved or forgotten. Anger is a defense mechanism against these more vulnerable feelings. Roll with the underlying feelings - talk about them, write about them, scream about them, but recognize them and go with them. She also said it's okay to be mad at God - He's a big boy, He can take it!
  • To cope with pregnancy "jabs" that seem to build up and pounce when I'm at my weakest: don't just push them from my mind (I do that and think I'm "over them") - actually take the time to feel them. Feel the sadness, the feeling of being left out, the unfairness, whatever. Take time to process them now, and they won't be shoved as easily to the dark corner of my mind just to come out a'blazing the next time I'm extremely sad or angry. Mr. M is good about letting me "talk things out" - I'm trying to do this more frequently, so emotions don't build up inside. (I'm not sure how to do this in public or at work....maybe make a mental note to deal with the feelings as soon as I can?)
  • Don't let the unitive aspect of marriage be swallowed up by our pursuit of a baby. Come together in non-fertile times to nurture our relationship. She also encouraged me to lighten up on the the charting if I need to, if I feel like charting is making our intimate relations feel forced or like an item on the "to-do" list. I need to give this one more thought. I usually do lighten up on charting the last part of the cycle, since what's done is done anyway, and that can be a relief and a break.
I think the biggest thing I've learned from Dr. K so far, and the most encouraging, is that it's okay to feel incredibly sad, angry, and disappointed because of our childlessness. These are normal feelings! I'm not failing at life somehow because I am devastated at not having a child yet. I think a lot of my therapy has been and will be learning how to accept and deal with the (normal) strong emotions that come from IF, while not letting them run my life. (That's a tall order!)



  1. I think therapy is an excellent idea, and I'm so glad you found a good therapist. That is truly a blessing. I went to therapy for a few months after RG died, and even though it was expensive, it was totally worth it. I needed some strategies for coping, and someone who would listen without giving me platitudes. I found it very productive and I'm so glad it seems to be helping you as well.

    Praying for you!

  2. I LOL'd at the "Stop" part, that is very good advice - my previous phone is evidence of that (just in case you were wondering hard wood floors + a thrown smart phone = disaster).

    Sometimes feeling the feelings at work means being a few minutes late - like this morning. I got a BFP text from a friend that I was so genuinely happy about, and was expecting, but I couldn't stop the tears. Thankfully I was in my car and I just let them come. I got to my desk 15 minutes late, but I will be much more productive today (nevermind that I'm commenting on blogs in the middle of the day) than I would have been if I'd not let myself feel the emotions.

    It took a long time, a retreat, spiritual direction, and a couple of really good, timely homilies to help me realize how to do this. I still don't do it well, but I know one thing, I can't just shove the emotions away - that leads to bad things (chest pains last summer in fact).

    Your therapist sounds amazing! I'm so glad you met her and reached out to her. I wish I'd sought out something earlier.

  3. If only IF were easier! The whole grieving processes is so hard at times. Praying!

  4. I love her Stop Drop and Roll advice! She sounds like a great lady, does she do therapy over Skype? I am half joking. I have been thinking about therapy or spiritual direction for some time now I just need to pursue it. I am actually leaning toward spiritual direction.

    1. I'll check! I have a spiritual director too - I figured the more help, the better, and it's so good to have wise, faith-filled people who will let me talk on and on =)

  5. Your therapist sounds amazing! It's great that she gets the manifold effects that IF has on us, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

    I'm so glad you sought her out.

  6. I LOVE the stop, drop & roll! It makes sense. I'm sure my DH wishes I had heard this earlier, as he bore the brunt of some of my IF rages. I sure wish that I had talked to a therapist or counselor. Although when you say you're going to a therapist or counselor, people think you're weak, but actually, I think you are STRONG to acknowledge that you need more advice/counsel/etc. One of my regrets is not going during my bitter IF struggle ... and even now, think DH and I would benefit from a marriage counselor. Things aren't bad, they could just be better & we could be more united.

    1. I agree - I'm grateful that I come from a family that saw reaching out for help as a strength, not a weakness. That helps me not feel conflicted or like I've failed for seeing a therapist.

      I hope you find someone good to talk with, if you think it would help! Good marriages can always be made better! And we're all only human =) I'm sure everyone could benefit from some help in working out marital kinks and bad habits, etc.