Unexplained infertility: ‘I felt as if I had failed my son because I hadn’t given him siblings’
20th May 2019
After having two miscarriages, Alexandra Carey was given a diagnosis that changed her life — “unexplained infertility”. Here, she tells her story of how the news affected her relationship with her body, her work and her mind, and how she emerged on the other side.
“Six years ago, after the joy of experiencing the first year and half of my beautiful son’s life, I decided I was ready to start trying again for my second child. I got pregnant immediately and my husband and I were completely overjoyed.
Eight weeks later, I was shocked and crushed to discover that I had miscarried. I bounced back fairly quickly and didn’t spend too much time grieving or processing what I might be feeling as a result of this loss. I simply carried on with my life – business as usual, and waited for my body to recover before trying again.
The feelings of guilt, shame and frustration were now starting to creep in but I kept going.
Three months later, we started trying again. This time was the same as before, I didn’t have to wait too long before I found out I was pregnant. Naturally, I was a little more cautious with this pregnancy. I started reading into every tinge or niggle more than I would have ever done before.
Unfortunately, my fears became a reality when again, at eight weeks, I found out that I had miscarried again. The doctors kept telling me there was nothing medically wrong with me so I was labelled as having “unexplained infertility.” The feelings of guilt, shame and frustration were now starting to creep in but I kept going. I didn’t want to deal with any of these uncomfortable feelings, I just made myself busier.
Related: After post-natal depression, I never thought I’d have another baby
A very dark place
I started to become extremely detached from life.
I started my yoga teacher training. At the same time, I decided to also train as a nutritionist and a health coach, while keeping my very busy full-time job in a solicitors office. I was also raising a toddler. I was determined to have another child so we kept trying. Three more years passed with three more miscarriages. I lost my last baby girl at just 17 weeks.
After this loss, even though I didn’t acknowledge that I was suffering from depression before, I went to a very dark place and it lasted for two years. The hardest thing about dealing with these losses was that no one understood what I was going through and therefore I felt nobody could help me. There was no tangible thing I could ‘fix.’
I started to become extremely detached from life. My life, my personality, my relationships, everything that made me who I was started to move farther and farther away from me. Then, all I could connect with were feelings of sadness and isolation. It was a profound sense of inadequacy.
Loss and grief
I really didn’t believe that I had the strength to come back to the person I was before all of this grief descended on my life
At the time, while dealing with these feelings, I felt even more frustrated and hard done by because I identified so heavily as a “healthy” person. I am a yoga teacher. I am a nutritionist. I live a very healthy, balanced lifestyle. How could this be happening to me?
This feeling of inadequacy washed over me so intensely that on my darkest days, I felt as if I wanted to run to the end of the earth, where no one knew me so I did not have to identify with these feelings anymore. I just wanted to run away from everything that I thought I was and start over with a totally new identity. I really didn’t believe that I had the strength to come back to the person I was before all of this grief descended on my life. I was devoid of hope for the future.
Finding the quiet
When I felt like the last thing in the world I could do was go out and teach a yoga class and start a health and wellness business, my friends and family gently encouraged me to start. I had no idea how I supposed to serve my students well while not being able to connect to one word that was coming out of my mouth.
At the time, my yoga journey was also very physical while also being very theoretical. I had loads of knowledge that I was able to share, but I hadn’t really connected with it on an experiential level. Little did I know at the time, the essence of who I was, the Self that we hear so much about throughout our yoga journey, was keeping me on the right path to healing.
Related: The untold anxiety of pregnancy after miscarriage
In every class I teach, I encourage my students to connect with that quiet sense of awareness that has no opinions, no thoughts or judgments. That sense of awareness that does not identify with good or bad, it just is. It was this aspect of myself that was listening, absorbing, assimilating and processing all of this information. I now know that it was this sense of Self that was guiding me through the healing process because the Self never loses hope, it always wants to survive.
As I only had one child, I felt I had failed my husband to be a perfect wife and that I’d failed my son to be a good mother because I hadn’t given him siblings.
Discovering true self-worth
I know a lot of what I have said there can sound extremely ethereal or even woo-woo. However, the more life throws at me, the more I have come to understand that when the chips are down, and when bad things are happening, nothing will anchor you through that storm more than connecting with yourself.
The ego will continue to tell you what your life should look and this can be very damaging when bad things happen. In my case, I was inherently attached to what I thought my life should look like from the outside, but also to how I had envisaged my life.
My self-worth was strongly attached to this vision I had of my life, this picture I had in my head. I had to be superhumanly healthy and vibrant all of the time so I could be an authentic yoga teacher and health coach. I had to have three perfect little kids to be a good mom. As I only had one child I felt had failed my husband to be a perfect wife and that I’d failed my son to be a good mother because I hadn’t given him siblings.
I also felt like I was a complete fraud in my career as a yoga teacher and health coach because I clearly wasn’t healthy and I had no idea what was wrong with me so I couldn’t fix it. So how could I possibly “fix” anyone else’s problems?
A deeper understanding
Not a day goes by without me thinking of the babies that I have lost. The grief is still there every day.
All these concerns I mentioned I’ve since learnt are pretty common. I’m not saying that striving to be great at everything you do or having a vision of what you would like from life is bad. The trick is when things start to go wrong and if you don’t feel like you are “ticking your boxes” it can lead to feelings of inadequacy and start to plant seeds of doubt about your self-worth.
When this starts to happen regularly and if you rarely check in with how this might be affecting you on a deeper level (like an emotional level for example), you may start to feel stressed. If the root cause of the stress remains unchecked it can start manifesting as anxiety. If the cycle continues you can start to feel bad – bad can mean physically bad and/or mentally low.
Not a day goes by without me thinking of the babies that I have lost. The grief is still there every day.
On a particularly low or stressful day, I can still feel the threat of those dark feelings lingering below the surface of my emotional state, threatening to drag me down. But through the passage of time and the wisdom gleaned from surviving such darkness and what I have learned through my yoga studies and practice both as a teacher and a student, I now have confidence in my ability to heal.
I believed for so long that the only thing that could heal me was bringing my second child into this world. I know now that this isn’t true. This time last year there was no possibility that I could sit down and write this, it was just too hard. Now, when the darkness threatens, I know that I need to slow down and connect in with my Self. I need to connect with the good things in my life, I need to feel gratitude for the things that I have, no matter how small they may seem.
I now allow myself to be vulnerable and ask for help or advice or just a hug when I’m feeling low. I now tell myself that I am worthy of joy and happiness even though I don’t always feel that way.
We are all perfectly imperfect
I’ve come to accept that this whole experience has made me a better person, inside and out. I now don’t want to change what has happened to me because I know that it makes me a better teacher. I feel that it actually makes me better at my job because it helps me to empathise on a very deep level with my students and with those who come to me looking to improve their health.
You are not alone
This experience has made me respect the human experience on such a deep level and I can finally say that I am thankful for it. If you are feeling low, helpless, hopeless or if you feel like the struggles of your life are threatening to drag you down to a place that you’re not confident you can get out of, know that you are not alone.
Everyone around you is struggling on some level and it is ok to ask for help. It is ok to show that you don’t feel strong and be confident that inside yourself there is a wealth of infinite wisdom that will see you through, you just need to start tapping into it.
Nobody is perfect, if you can connect with that feeling that we are all perfectly imperfect, you may start to feel a little lighter”.
All images via Unsplash
More: The reality of a decade of IVF: ‘I felt a light had gone out in me’
More: Why we need to talk more openly about fertility
More: Michelle Obama: ‘I felt as if I had failed‘
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