Grieving Family Building Expectations

Building a family is wrought with strange and unforeseen obstacles. Perhaps the oddest barrier we bump into is our own expectations of ourselves, our spouse, and how we thought our lives were going to unfold. Since our early childhoods, we were encouraged to plan and dream, set goals and achieve them, meet and marry that spouse, and have children.

Wow, so many expectations! What are we do to when the plan does not unfold according to plan? I mean, we have been at this since holding that first baby doll in our arms.

A friend told me once that building a family is a little like planning a trip. You think you know where you are going, perhaps Italy, and you pack accordingly. Somehow your plane arrives in a completely different place…let’s say Norway. Everything you packed is wrong for this trip! What do you do now?

  • First of all, express your feelings. Be sad. Be angry. Ask the flight crew what in the world happened (you get the metaphor)!
  • If you are too shocked to have feelings, identify you are in denial.
  • Push yourself to recognize your reality as it exists in the present moment. “Okay…we’re not in Italy. I’ve packed all wrong for this trip. But… can we still have fun in Norway?”
  • Put things into perspective. “Well…at least we didn’t arrive in Antarctica.”
  • Make sure you take care of yourself. Find a hotel and some food! (Seriously…sleeping and eating well are important.)
  • Recognize and become familiar with the stages of grief.

Metaphor aside, you may be asking yourself, “What is wrong here? Why do I feel like there is this constant gray cloud over my head?”

It’s grief. And it’s real. Here are the stages:

  1. Denial – Don’t minimize your feelings. “It’s been several months since our doctor’s appointment, I shouldn’t be feeling this way”.
  2. Anger – Anger is Grief’s body guard. Anger will protect you from feeling your sadness, and perhaps that is good for a while, but if you stay angry, moving forward wholeheartedly will be impossible and your relationships will suffer.
  3. Bargaining “Maybe if we adopt a child, we may be able to get pregnant later.” This is hugely problematic because even the thought puts you on a path to not be able to fully parent your children...whether they are adopted or genetic.
  4. Depression – Now you are making progress. Don’t pretend everything is hunky dory. It’s really not. Your life is not going the way you expected. There is loss in that. Recognize that loss so that you can symbolically let it go.
  5. Letting go – Do what helps here. Write a letter or poem about your journey. Do a balloon release. Buy a piece of jewelry to mark your loss. Donate to your favorite charity.
  6. Acceptance - “My identity is not in my ability to reproduce.”

Remember: grief is not linear. You will find yourself revisiting the different stages at different times. You may be frustrated thinking, “Been there, done that!” But give yourself patience and a generous spirit. In addition, it is vital to take a moment to slow down and acknowledge the loss of a genetic connection to any future children before moving ahead with further treatment or adoption processes. View our webinar Grieving the Loss of a Genetic Child for more information.

Grief is REVOLVING…not RESOLVING. Dream new dreams. Create a fresh plan. Heal your heart.

Doing these things will allow you to move forward in your family building with increased confidence and an ability to see things from your future child’s perspective. Many families have found that embryo adoption was the way they were able to finally build their families. To learn more about embryo adoption and donation, visit EmbryoAdoption.org.