Just like people with “mental health” conditions feel there’s something wrong with them, so do couples who experience infertility. Like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and bi-polar disorder, infertility often creates feelings of shame, insecurity, failure and the sense of being “damaged goods.”
Occasions like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day can be painful reminders of how life doesn’t always go as planned. For years, we’ve said with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders that no one expects to feel miserable after having a baby which is “supposed to be” one of life’s most wonderful experiences. Yet, 1 in 7 moms and some dads will have an episode of postpartum illness.
As a psychologist, I’ve been counseling couples experiencing infertility for over 25 years, and know that occasions like Father’s Day/Mother’s Day can be very challenging. Here are some recommendations to help you cope.
- Acknowledge whatever you’re experiencing. If you feel angry, sad, unhappy, lost, or numb, to name a few, let yourself be aware of what you’re feeling. Yes, men have a rough time on these occasions too.
- If you don’t feel upset or out of sorts, that’s okay. Everyone deals with the challenges of infertility in his/her own way. Respect the feelings you’re having even if they’re different than expected.
- Give voice to what you’re going through. Again, men are generally not eager to share uncomfortable or painful emotions because they’re raised to be the “strong ones” and want to be able to fix what’s wrong whenever possible. Instead of holding it in, speak to your partner or someone you trust. Letting go is healing.
- If unpleasant thoughts and feelings start to pile up, shift gears. Do something that has nothing to do with Father’s Day or fatherhood. Focus your attention on watching sports on TV, playing a video game, working in the yard or any activity you usually enjoy.
- Plan a pleasant day with your partner. Go biking or hiking or take a walk along the beach. Picnic at your favorite park. Go see a movie or visit a winery. Celebrate the two of you just the way your are.
- Stay away from restaurants or places where families may be gathering. Graciously decline requests to attend Father’s Day events. Respect your limits. You don’t have to “man up” today.
- Be proactive. Plan how you will spend the day in advance. Don’t be caught off guard if you can help it.
- FINALLY, remember there are many ways to become a family, and if you want to become a dad, there will be a way. Stay open to the possibilities life brings. You may not become a dad the way you imagined, but once you are it won’t matter how you got there.