Two years ago when my patient told me about his wife’s depression triggered by infertility, I didn’t know how to respond. I recall thinking in my head, “oh, but she’s still so young, she still has time.” Fast forward to two years later and I’m presently dealing with my own infertility journey as I start yet another cycle of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. When someone actually said to me “oh, you’re still young, you still have time,” I wanted to punch them in the face. “They have no clue what this process is like,” I thought. I had no clue what this process was like until I went through it myself.
My knowledge as a psychiatrist couldn’t have prepared me for the ups and downs and immense grief experienced during IVF. I look back and hope I provided enough support for my patients dealing with infertility, although now I know that even the most seemingly empathic words can still be triggering. Even someone asking me how IVF is going can make me burst into tears. Aside from my closest family members and friends, the only people I want to talk to are women who have been through it and “get it.” Yet, even some of their stories can be triggering depending on where they are in the process (for example, someone with a living child can stir emotions in someone who doesn’t).
Empathy is necessary for developing strong, therapeutic connections with our patients. Although it’s not realistic to have the same lived experience as ALL of our patients, empathy can be learned and strengthened as long as one is open to truly trying to understand what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes. Several instances during my IVF journey made me think about my patients:
Each time I was afraid to ask my reproductive endocrinologist a question, I thought of how my patients may feel when information I share feels too overwhelming.
Each time people said something to me that made me feel worse (even if they meant well), I thought of how my patients may feel invalidated and misunderstood by others.
Each time I struggled to get out of bed, I thought of my patients battling the melancholy associated with grief and depression.
Each time I didn’t know what to say to a patient who had a miscarriage or difficulty conceiving, I wish I could go back and tell them words that wholeheartedly validates their pain.
I recognize that being able to afford IVF is a privilege, so in no way am I equating my experience to what my patients with mental illness go through. But I do want to acknowledge how going through vulnerable, painful life circumstances can deepen our awareness of our patients’ experiences and perspectives. Going through IVF made me aware of the tornado of emotions that surround the hardships of trying to conceive — something that the general public doesn’t really understand unless they’ve been through it themselves. And for that reason, I’m a better psychiatrist because although this journey has been rough, I can empathize with my patients even more.
Vania Manipod, DO – Psychiatrist
Dr. Manipod is a guest writer for InCrowd. You can learn more about her on her website, Freud and Fashion, or on Instagram. Interested in joining InCrowd? Follow this link to join in less than a minute.