As an OBGYN physician and professor in academic medicine, this is not a topic often discussed. To those in the general public experiencing it, it is even less discussed. However, when we don’t discuss topics like this, especially ones that affect the mental health and well-being of persons experiencing it, we risk never being able to offer healing to those who need it. As Regina Townsend shared in her New York Times article, 'The Lasting Trauma of Infertility', infertility and infertility loss “can affect our physical and mental health in insidious — and sometimes enduring — ways.”
I got married at 39. Then, after two years of infertility treatments, two months of bedrest during my pregnancy, and delivering my twins prematurely, I became a NICU mom to twins born emergently at 31 weeks. Much of that story is what led me to start the Babies After 35 website and community. During this time, I was working a full-time job and was promoted to Professor. It wasn’t until my twins were about 2.5 years old, that I realized I had some unresolved issues from the entire experience of trying to conceive, carrying twins, having a high risk pregnancy and then delivering them in a very unexpected manner.
My story is not unique, though. Regina Townsend founded The Broken Brown Egg, "an online community and awareness organization, because [she] wanted to support women of color who are battling infertility. In the years since, hundreds of women have reached out to [her] to share their stories — about their struggles to conceive, and about the feelings of isolation and stress they often face, too.” (Regina Townsend for the New York Times)
As shared in the journal article, Trauma of Pregnancy Loss and Infertility for Mothers and Involuntarily Childless Women in the Contemporary United States, “Reproductive problems affect a substantial number of American women.” About 10% of women between the ages of 15-55 have trouble conceiving. The chances are high that you or someone you know has infertility grief or trauma. But until recent years, medicine had not properly labelled it so it may not be something you have heard of before.
I recently had a conversation with Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Dr. Loree Johnson. It turns out that she shares a very similar experience to my own.
Dr. Johnson got married later in life, and in a span of just 3 years, struggled with infertility including miscarrying naturally, having and treating fibroid issues, experiencing another miscarriage, having a chemical pregnancy, and undergoing IVF. During this difficult time, she was busy working and going through the stress and strain of it all. It wasn’t until she took a pause and was in therapy herself, that she discovered she had infertility trauma and grief, as well. In our discussion, Dr. Johnson shares more about infertility grief and trauma
• therapeutic options
• infertility coach vs infertility therapist
• infertility support groups
• how to vet your provider
For additional resources on this topic, follow Dr. Johnson on Instagram and connect with her therapy work and practice here. You can also read more about healing from pregnancy and birth trauma on the Babies After 35 blog.
If you feel you have or are experiencing infertility trauma and grief, don’t miss this discussion with Dr. Johnson! Be sure to find the support and help you need; your well-being and mental health matter.
Shannon M. Clark, MD, MMS is a double board certified ObGyn and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist, and founder of Babies After 35. In her roles as a clinician, educator and researcher at UTMB-Galveston, she focuses on the care of people with maternal and/or fetal complications of pregnancy. Dr. Clark has taken a special interest in pregnancy after the age of 35, which according to age alone, is considered a high-risk pregnancy.
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