Below is a conversation that I had with award-winning novelist, Stephanie Arnold, on Twitter in February 2014. Stephanie went through 7 rounds of IVF to get pregnant with her second child. She listened to her intuition during her pregnancy in ways that ended up saving her life.
SA: Welcome everyone. My friend Michele Weiss, licensed marriage & family therapist, is joining me. She has a special interest in working with infertility and perinatal mood disorders. Welcome Michele. Thank you for joining us today.
MW: Thank you for having me.
SA: Will you explain what you do?
MW: I help individuals and couples work through the challenges of dealing with infertility. I offer people a space to talk through the high’s and low’s of their marriages, pregnancy issues, and anything that comes up.
SA: Why the focus on couples and infertility?
MW: Dealing with infertility strikes at something very central in each of us. People wonder, “What does it mean to be a family if we do not have children.” Or “Who am I if I am not a mother?”
SA: Do couples often try multiple IVF treatment centers? I had gone through 7 rounds of IVF. I had a bad experience at one program and left it for another and succeeded. Is that common?
MW: Absolutely. I ask a lot of questions about the patient’s experience with his or her medical team because that “goodness of fit” is so critical. Thankfully, there are a lot of options now. Patients have a wide selection of care providers. And many paths they can pursue toward having children. I advise my patients to do a lot of research and to find the best program and route that works for them.
SA: What are some common emotional and psychological challenges around infertility?
MW: The challenges that each person and couple faces are unique. But, there are some common threads. People often speak about the emotional roller coaster that they find themselves on when dealing with infertility. Anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, loss of self–these are just a few of the many emotions that people experience. Most patients also deal with a fair amount of grief and loss. They have grown up with a fantasy of the child or family they would create. They have a concept of their life purpose revolving around being a mom or dad. These fantasies often need to be revised when that vision does not become a reality.
SA: As my friend, you and I have been through a lot in our pregnancies, family, grief, etc. We were discussing a few weeks back what I had said to you a week before I gave birth– what were your thoughts?
MW: Yes. It is still remarkable to me. I remember you confiding in me that you knew something was very wrong–that you felt you were going to die during labor. I remember thinking that while all women have fears and anxieties related to childbirth, I rarely hear women these days worry about dying. I was struck by your concerns, and I said to my husband, “Something is very wrong here.”
SA: How would you have listened, or tuned in, or given credence to what I was saying if I was your patient?
MW: Just the fact of knowing that you need to tune in and really listen to what the patient is saying is the first step. As professionals, even if we have our own ideas about how things will or should go, we need to provide space to understand our patients’ points of view. I always say to my patients that while I may have expertise in this field, you are your best expert.
SA: It has been a struggle with survivor’s guilt, PTSD for both me and my husband–what kind of conversations would you hope to have with a couple who has survived traumatic events and come out on the other side?
MW: Each partner needs to share his/her version of the story–often again and again. Partners need to be able to talk through the depths of what was frightening and what they feel guilty about. Communication and witnessing is a very important aspect of healing.
SA: What emotional and psychological hurdles does someone who goes through a birth trauma face?
MW: One major hurdle is creating a “new normal”. How do you find ways to feel like yourself again, even though you are changed? How can you remember what happened, but still move on? It is complicated to fold the trauma into your current life.
SA: From a patient’s perspective, if a friend is going through it, I give them all of the good, bad, and ugly of the process.
MW: People going through IVF can feel very isolated and “different”. As a friend, your interest in what they are going through helps. Try to be supportive and curious.
SA: What are some tips patients and families can use to heal emotionally?
MW: Self-care is very important. Make time daily to nurture yourself. Put the To Do List aside and take time for you. Actively look for ways to nurture your marriage. Plan date nights and schedule time daily to just “be” with your partner. Find hope again. Stephanie, you are the perfect example of this. You took a devastating event in your life and transformed it!
MW: My turn to ask you a few questions…How were you able to transform your life from the negative to the positive?
SA: I don’t think I had a choice. I had to survive for me, my family and my husband. I needed to do more than survive. I needed to thrive. With all of the responses to my story, I knew this was now my calling. People were asking me the how, what, where and why. And I needed to have the answers, not just for them, but for myself. Lots of soul searching. Lots of tears. Lots of real moments.
MW: That process is hard for so many people. Many people get “stuck” in the past. How would you advise them to move forward?
SA: I thought I was moderating!? But, you can ask me whatever. I chose to live. I chose to see happy moments. I chose to concentrate on great, miraculous moments. The rest is truly painful. I don’t deny or disrespect the pain. I faced it head on, but I did it early so I could purge it. And I wanted to live. Love. And have moments with my friends and family that are happy.
SA: Back to a prior question…When you say “curious”, do you mean confront the elephant in the room? Talk about the issues directly?
MW: Definitely. People typically want to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. The best thing you can do is walk with people you love through it all. I know that we have cried together many times. And I think that our friendship has grown and deepened through these moments.
SA: I know what worked for me. But it’s not for everyone. I found a creative outlet to express my pain and grief, and the return support has been amazing.
MW: Every patient and family grieves and heals differently. You have to discover what works for you. Connecting with loved ones and activities that you can feel passionate about are key.
SA: I just want to say that I appreciate when someone brings up what happened to me. I allow myself to feel and they in turn allow themselves to grieve, confront their own demons or just have an open discussion which will lead to very emotional connected conversations. I have never been closer to my friends and family the way I am today. And I have my catastrophe to thank. I am so grateful to have you in my life and as my friend. I will conclude as I often do “If you SENSE something, SAY something.”
MW: You are going to make a pregnant lady cry!? Thank you so much for having me chat with you today.
SA: Thank you Michele for joining us today, I think we made a Tweetchat nut out of you in one experience.