Tunmi’s marriage was barely a month, when she started to worry about having babies. Every backache, every tender breast, and the like, had to be a sign of pregnancy.
I had watched over the weekend as Tunmi, who is from my old neighbourhood, chatted with my mom’s long term nurse about some symptoms she was having and the nurse had gone on to tell her to avoid hot foods at this time. Are you for real? She was supposed to take it really easy, as though her job would allow that.
I absolutely wasn’t feeling the pressure she was putting herself in, just weeks into her marriage, when she should be enjoying her new status and man, but I knew the pressure started from the day of the wedding, when the prayers of twins in nine months’ time rolled in, and which quickly progressed to triplets.
And I could just see how this could lead her down the path of depression, even before her marriage was three months old.
I might not have lived it but I find that it is so easy to get depressed when dealing with infertility. Infertility can crowd out every other thought in one’s mind, dominating every sphere of one’s life or ensuring that everything else seems unreal, except the infertility struggle.
While Tunmi seems on the path to becoming depressed, Rita is already there. She lives and breathes her infertility. It has become something of an identity, something by which she introduces herself.
When I first met her a few years ago, she had been bubbly and a happy-go-lucky girl, who didn’t seem to have a depressive bone in her body. Fast forward a couple of years later and Rita is almost re-introducing herself to me as barren, getting misty-eyed at the sight of my younger twins, who were born the year she got married.
Rita and I don’t see that often, so we can kinda like to gist small when we see. She told me how she had a meltdown at church recently followed by a good cry. Thankfully, everyone thought it was as a result of her being under the anointing, but it couldn’t be farther from that.
Just as she had done with me, she almost called herself barren in Yoruba, when their pastor had asked them to turn to their neighbour, to greet and tell them a word about themselves.
Instead of turning to her husband jejely, she had turned to the neighbour on her right and told the young lady her name and said she was still waiting for her own baby. The young lady might have wondered why she told her that particular piece of information but she said a word of prayer along the lines of her baby coming soon, before turning to face the pastor.
Meanwhile, Rita wondered if her current cycle of IVF would work, why the girl 3 rows in front of her was pregnant, why she felt the need to speak about her infertility to strangers, and before she knew it, the closing prayer was being said and Rita was crying, with her husband having no idea what was happening, except perhaps her 9pm daily injections were finally getting to her.
He was right on the one hand, and far from the truth in another sense. Her meltdown wasn’t just as a result of the injections that had left marks all over her body, it was about the whole TTC journey that had become her life, her identity within such a short space of time.
When Rita first found out she was going to have to move mountains literally to be able to have her own baby, given her premature ovarian failure diagnosis, it was like all the things she had known about herself had ceased to exist and infertility was written over her life, and her identity. Everything now revolved around her need to have her own children. Nothing mattered anymore. Rita merely existed, waiting for that time she would see a BFP and hold her baby.
All her identities didn’t matter; being a wife, being a professional, aunty, sister, and daughter. The one thing that meant the most to her, being a momma, was a tough call.
She spent days trying to figure it out, and asked that classic question, “Why me?” She would ask, “Why would a person like me, who wants to devote herself to being a mom, be infertile?”
“What kind of lesson am I supposed to be learning here?”
“Is this even a lesson?”
“Is this punishment for my past sins?”
“What if I do come out of this all darkness, what I am going to do that day and every day for the rest of my life if I am not able to have children?”
“Will I ever be fulfilled?”
“Will I ever stop filling this emptiness in my heart?”
“Will I ever be able to stop looking at pregnant women and wishing I were in their shoes?
“Will I ever be willing to stop trying to have baby? When will I know enough is enough? Will I hear and be able to listen to God when He says, “You have tried enough”?
“Will I ever be able to be completely happy for my loved ones having babies and not have that happiness tinged with jealous and envious?”
Plenty questions that could only have come from a troubled mind. They are questions that come with no easy answers. None can be answered with a simple yes or no. Rita doesn’t even require an answer; no one can answer the questions. What she needs is to come through that dark tunnel, whether it leads to a baby or not.
Honestly, I did not know whether to suggest she continue seeing her fertility doctor or take a break and see a counsellor instead, if only to get her mind in a good place. But I know it is essentially not my place to do that. My business is to support whatever she decides to do.
Digging into infertility depression, I discovered that infertile women are twice as likely to be depressed compared to other women, according to a study led by Dr. Alice Domar, of the Mind/Body Medical Institute and Harvard Medical School. And that is in no way surprising.
Many individuals coping with infertility feel symptoms of depression from time to time. So how do you know if you are depressed or grieving? Where grief is temporary and consists of different feelings that may come and go, depression, on the other hand, lasts longer.
Depression can completely impair one’s lifestyles. Here are some common symptoms of depression:
- Feeling sad or down
- Crying or feeling irritable and angry
- Feeling less interested in things you used to enjoy
- Eating more than normal, or losing your appetite
- Getting distracted or having trouble concentrating
- Sleeping too much or having trouble falling asleep
- Engaging in risky behaviour or thinking about suicide
With these symptoms, it becomes imperative to seek medical attention as soon as possible. As expected the TTC mom might not see the need, but her loved ones should be able to pick up on these symptoms and be there for her.
Infertility is tough in itself and need not come with depression, but if it does, remember that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Loads of baby dust to you.
Join the conversation with any of our TTC and Pregnancy Groups here