Random header image... Refresh for more!

Emotionally Busy

I heard a great phrase this week: emotionally busy. The person was describing a period of life where six separate life crises were merging together–some terrible; some wonderful–leading to this state of emotional upheaval. Because a life crisis is not always a bad thing. Planning a wedding, having a book published, winning American Idol–these are all a crisis in the American Heritage dictionary sense of the word: “a crucial point or situation; a turning point.”

Therefore, it seemed like the perfect term to sum up infertility. It is a period of being emotionally busy. Unlike some events that continue on a single, dirge-like note, infertility has hope embedded within the disappointment and self-anger and frustration and anxiety and unfathomable sadness. And this is what makes infertility emotionally busy; crisscrossing lines of silver hope against the darker hues of grief.

a crisis with a single note


While a crisis with a single note can be equally soul-crushing, there is something about having the rug pulled out from under you over and over and over again that creates a lack of self-trust even when we know intellectually that the self isn’t in control. It is living inside the anticipation of the other shoe to drop that creates emotional busyness–careening between hope and doubt and assuredness and despair. It is exhausting.

Treatments and adoption are emotionally busy because until there is nothing left to try or no money left to spend or no emotional capital left to use, there is always the next thing. The protocol that can be tweaked or the medication that can be swapped out or the book that you find that teaches you how to chart your cycles or the stirrup queen who slips you information about a blood test that you didn’t even know existed. There is always a chance that your call from the adoption agency could come today; your referral could come today; something could happen today. And so you live in a state of emotional busyness–not for a few weeks or a few months or even a few seasons. People live in this state of emotional busyness for years on end.

And I’m not sure there is ever an end to the emotional busyness that accompanies loss–the elation of knowing that a child existed. The indescribable grief of knowing that a child is not here. The childless mother. The childless father. That child becomes part of the definition of the self even if that additional limb is never acknowledged or even discerned by those around you.

And where is the stopping point for those living child-free after stepping off the roller coaster. It is like the sensation we take with us when we get back on land after being on a boat. The ground feels as if it is rocking. And that is the emotional busyness that must come out from time to time regardless of how much one moves beyond the experience.

It is something I’ve noticed parenting after infertility too. We parent going through the grief and wistfulness of those who are raising their final child while simultaneous going through the hope and anxiety of whether there will be another. We are thinking about the next child while we are still in the delivery room. We go through the raising of the final child for as long as we are building our family since we never know if there will be another. And even those who are grateful to have one or two and know they lack the funds or emotional fortitude to attempt parenthood again raise that child with the wishfulness of wanting something out of reach, especially if their earliest mental images of family had them surrounded by a small army of toddlers to teenagers.

I don’t even know where it ends. Is it menopause–when you know without a doubt that your reproductive years are over? When you pass the final cut-off age for an adoption program and you know that opportunity is behind you? I think when you live so intensely cognizant of your fertility; of what your body can and cannot do, it is difficult to walk away and leave it behind. Even when you know your family is built.

Emotionally, I am fine–I just thought it was an interesting phrase especially in how it summed up so perfectly all of these interconnected facets of infertility and loss.


1 dana { 05.14.08 at 7:30 am }

“there is something about having the rug pulled out from under you over and over and over again that creates a lack of self-trust even when we know intellectually that the self isn’t in control.”

What a great post and so spot on. Thank you for reminding me that even when I feel alone in the world of IF, I know I’m not.

2 Fertilized { 05.14.08 at 8:14 am }

I am shaking my head “yes”. I am not a parent yet. I am in the last few weeks of pregnancy and i find myself being asked so much, “are you ready to do this again”. I think to myself, This ..heck no , I haven’t even done it once. That thought brings on more “will i Want to do this again?” Will i constantly think in cycles?” Will my mind and body get to rest from these thoughts of infertility? Does it ever end?

Thank you for posting this

3 Meghan { 05.14.08 at 8:21 am }

I love this post. And I wanted to quote the very same line that Dana did. I’ve been thinking and dealing with so many of those thoughts right now. If we get this little girl in September…will I want to put myself back on this rollercoaster…what is the best way to give her a sibling?? (totally doesn’t help that my mother is already talking up my 2nd pregnancy because get this….she has faith in me…arg)

yikes….kind of stole your post with this comment, sorry. But a wonderful post, one that I will definitely be referring back to

4 Lori { 05.14.08 at 8:29 am }

Once again, you put out a post that stays with me long after I close the browser.

I’m not sure emotional busyness does end. Maybe it just transmogrifies. If one does end up with a child, there is a lot of emotional busy-ness that swooshes in. And if one doesn’t, that energy goes elsewhere. For me, it would have been travel, fixing up a home, processing the loss.

5 loribeth { 05.14.08 at 8:50 am }

I find it’s the convergence of several different crises (as in your first paragraph) that makes things so very difficult to handle. As one of my counsellors once said, it’s like you’re taking on more & more stress, until everything starts collapsing around you. One or two major crises at once, you might be able to handle, but when you’re facing a whole whack of things happening all at once, it gets harder & harder to juggle.

I had some problems with anxiety attacks right after ending treatment; I had another bout a year later. I went to see a counsellor, who asked me to think about what might have triggered this latest panic. I started writing out everything that had been happening to me & around me within the past six weeks. I realized with a start that it happened almost four years to the day of my positive pregnancy test (which ended in stillbirth). Other factors included work stress, the upcoming visit of my mother (& my mad rush to clean up the house before she got here…!), some health issues, including a diagnosis of gallstones & reflux, and the stillbirth of a colleague’s baby — her third consecutive loss. After I read my list, I thought, “Well, no wonder…!”

And yep, I’ve been living childless/free for nearly 7 years now, & it still feels like the ground is rocking sometimes…

6 annacyclopedia { 05.14.08 at 9:01 am }

I love this post, and the phrse “emotionally busy” really resonates with me. I’ve come to understand that I need to pay really close attention to what’s going on in my heart because it’s a mess in there! So many things going on at once and from moment to moment. Part of the exhaustion for me up to this point has just been living in this state for years – never knowing when things were going to happen, deperately wanting them to happen quickly, grieving and frustrated when they didn’t happen when I wanted them to, or didn’t happen at all. There is something about living in limbo that is so consuming and so trying. That said, I think in some way it has taught me so much about life and about myself. I believe that’s how life is – we never really know what’s going to happen, or what things mean when they happen. We think we do, but we don’t. Up to this point, for me, this journey has been a spiritual one far more than a physical one (although this may shift this month as we actually get to do our first DI cycle.) So as hard as it’s been, I can’t help in some ways be incredibly grateful I got all this spiritual and emotional training in before moving on to the actual babymaking attempt part – I think it will help me see the truth of things, which is, as you say, that the emotional busyness never ends. It’s really how life is, when our hearts are open and we can really be present to our experience. It’s always a bloody mess in there, and that’s ok. And whether it’s our own bodies, or our partners’ bodies, or the rest of our lives that don’t seem to have anything to do with fertility, I think going through this does make us appreciate and understand how complex our hearts really are.

Thanks so much for this post. Even though I’ve gone on for some length here, I still have a lot to think about with this and I know your thoughts are going to be with me for a long while.

7 Patricia { 05.14.08 at 9:51 am }

This is so completely spot-on, it rocks. You rock.

8 luna { 05.14.08 at 10:21 am }

yes. excellent phrase. I don’t know if it will ever end. I wonder if there will be a certain amount of emotional energy that’s always tied up in my infertility, my loss, my longing for the family I was never able to create. I imagine yes. great post.

9 ms. c { 05.14.08 at 10:43 am }

“We parent going through the grief and wistfulness of those who are raising their final child while simultaneous going through the hope and anxiety of whether there will be another.”

OMG: were you reading my mind this morning??!! I said somethng to this effect (though much less eloquently) this morning while changing the baby. I find myself often thinking “treasure every moment, you might not get to do this again.”

Excellent post, Mel. And great term. I truly believe that we are constantly emotionally busy. If it’s not one thing, it’s another, and then another…

10 candy { 05.14.08 at 11:07 am }

“And so you live in a state of emotional busyness–not for a few weeks or a few months or even a few seasons. People live in this state of emotional busyness for years on end.”

no wonder you’re having a book published. what a way with words.

very well put. i’m going to link to this if you don’t mind. no way to say it better.

11 Hez { 05.14.08 at 11:29 am }

What an amazing post. Thank you.

12 Kim { 05.14.08 at 12:08 pm }

Emotionally busy? I like it. It explains A LOT!!!!

13 PaleMother { 05.14.08 at 1:17 pm }

Love the expression, “emotionally busy.” Thanks for sharing.

Before I read the post, I thought it referred to a personality type. LOL. Specifically, mine. Yes, I think the people close to me would describe me as “emotionally busy.” đŸ˜‰ And I tend to have to hunt down all the ins-and-outs before I can put emotional to rest and walk away.

As for the family buidling mojo, I don’t know where it ends either. I felt sad being wheeled out of L&D this last time knowing I would not return. I think it’s harder to put away for some of us than others. I am presumably at the end of mine … we certainly won’t do more treatment. More kids is a bad idea for more than one good reason. To name just one, we are going through some iron-chef parenting challenges that let me know my plate is quite full as it is. When the curve balls come a ways down the road, you get a serious wake up call that shows you that you don’t know the half of how hard it can be to do justice by each child.

Fortunately, I don’t have the same feeling of family incompleteness that I did before my last child. But there are still many moments each day when I have a twinge-fleeting-wish that I wasn’t parenting my last, even though I know better. It’s not a head thing.

I’m edging my way sideways up to DONE. Like a sand crab. I guess I’m getting more comfortable with it. I’ll let you know how it goes. I need to find more BTDT parent blogs and buy myself a clue.

14 chicklet { 05.14.08 at 1:18 pm }

This, “there is something about having the rug pulled out from under you over and over and over again that creates a lack of self-trust even when we know intellectually that the self isn’t in control” is so totally bang on. I think you put it beautifully, and far less angrily than I did here, http://www.bloorb.com/2008/05/f-bomb-f-bomb-yer-my-f-bomb.html, but it appears we’re on the same page. It IS emotionally draining to do this again and again. To never know when you’ll be done, or when you’ll be willing to be done.

15 Penny { 05.14.08 at 1:20 pm }

I like the label. Although instead of silver sticks, I would have characterized it as a pile of dog poo on top of sticks.

16 sara { 05.14.08 at 2:32 pm }

Wow, you are so right. Even though I’m only 10 weeks pregnant right now, we’ve had such a battle, even since our IVF just to get here. I already find myself thinking, will we even try to do this again? Could I even do this again? It’s so early, but these thoughts race my mind already like they’re taunting me. Has the infertility affected me that much? Will I ever just be me, the old me again? Thanks for sharing this.

17 smartypants { 05.14.08 at 2:41 pm }

This post (and IF) makes me feel a lot of conflicting emotions. Life in general I think makes most of us “emotionally busy” at all times. Between work, marriage, family, friends, finances, world events-we all deal with varying degrees of emotional busy-ness just by being alive. Infertility puts a whole other layer of emotions on top of that.
After nearly two years of trying we are currently trying to decide if we are emotionally (and financially) available to even start the treatment process–if we are capable of handling that extra layer of emotionality on our already full lives. As much as we want children, I’m not sure that we are…But, then again, this blog and the others in this net-work proove to me time and time again that we are capable of more than we think.

18 Vee { 05.14.08 at 3:28 pm }

I love this post and I love that term, Emotionally Busy. I can certainly relate.

19 Three P's in a Pod { 05.14.08 at 4:01 pm }

I had not been a reader because I came upon you after I had made peace with my IF, adopted our first, become miraculously pregnant with our 2nd, had a hysterectomy and was in the process of adopting the 3rd. Obviously I made assumptions on where you were in all of this ‘fun’ and how I would fit here and now I see I was wrong. So, so wrong.

“We parent going through the grief and wistfulness of those who are raising their final child while simultaneous going through the hope and anxiety of whether there will be another.” While this is so true I want to give you a glimmer of hope that at you will make peace with this eventually. With me, it took our 3rd child…I am now in a place physically and emotionally where I know I cannot parent any more children and still do justice to these 3 that I love so fiercely.

You perfectly described the last 10 years of my life as though you were watching my life movie. Emotionally busy is it exactly and boy oh boy is it exhausting! After DD1 arrived, I was sure there were to be more and before I even left the hospital with DD2, I was sure there was another. More IF and a hysterectomy plus no $$ available made me logically try to put that feeling aside…a feeling that was persistent and draining. Sufficeth to say, things changed, DH supported me and we adopted DD3 from China. Almost as soon as she was in my arms last summer, that feeling disappeared. Gone. And it has not returned. Sure, I would love to give more children a home but I know I personally am done and I am finally at peace with that.

Alyson, the 3 P’s Mama

20 nancy { 05.14.08 at 4:49 pm }


it’s hard to parent my girls knowing I won’t have another.

I’m not emotionally okay.

21 Grad3 { 05.14.08 at 6:20 pm }

wonderfully said…

22 Bea { 05.14.08 at 8:50 pm }

Yes. I don’t have anything to add, really. I particularly was reading the “parenting after” bit – parenting both the first, and the last, but then again maybe not the last – it’s all very complicated. Just hard to know which angle to view it through.


23 Antigone { 05.14.08 at 9:23 pm }

Am I infertile? That’s what I asked myself reading your post. Not what you intended but that’s where my mind went. I don’t know what the heck I am.

Anyway, emotionally busy. Emotionally congested. Emotionally jammed. *sigh*

24 Kim { 05.14.08 at 9:55 pm }

So true, so true. I was first wondering what if it never happens and even before the baby was born I was definitely thinking what if it never happens again! I was constantly trying to ingrain his smell and touch and smiles into my brain because I didn’t know if it would ever happen again. I can attest to adoption being just as emotional as treatments. I did think that is was easier before I started the process. But with every update and change I find myself reliving the emotions that are still fresh in my mind from the cycles. This process has really taken hold of me and I am on the emotional roller coaster once again. Just like I was afraid of the cycles never working out, I am afraid of the country closing for whatever reason. I am scared that I will have invested years of waiting and paperwork only to have the door closed in my face. Yep, emotionally busy here!

25 Jess { 05.14.08 at 11:36 pm }

So so so SO true Mel.

I actually DID think of the next child, if there would be, if there could be, etc etc etc while still in the delivery room. DEFINITELY. And that’s as crazy as it sounds, what with already having a 6 month old as well at the time.

But you can’t get rid of the fear of never having another. Even if maybe you don’t end up WANTING another, you want to have the OPTION to have another, and even that isn’t sure.

It’s all so true. I wish I knew when/if it ends. It hasn’t, for sure, for me.

26 Piccinigirl { 05.15.08 at 7:58 am }

oh wow, I really liked this post and the term emotionally busy. As usual you did a wonderful job explaining how I felt during the years of IF and then even now, as I try to find myself in the IF community while moving inside the parenting one. I feel “emotionally busy” constantly.

thank you for putting it into words for me.

27 Maria { 05.15.08 at 8:18 am }

Ah, so well put. I definitely can describe myself as emotionally busy these last two years, and even more so now, since I’m in the 2ww of a FET.

I want to take a break if this cycle doesn’t work, but it’s going to be the hardest thing I’ll have to do yet. Walking away, with nothing. How do you do that!?

28 beautycourage { 05.15.08 at 2:15 pm }

Well said! I really like the graphic with the silver sticks superimposed on the other dark colors. That is what is so unique to this IF experience- you would think the element of hope makes it easier, but in the end, it makes it harder to find closure and to move on (like you wrote, there is always something out there you can try, with no end in sight). I think the first step (towards what, I don’t know- a healthy attitude? closure?) is to recognize the silver sticks- which you have helped me to do by writing this. Thank you.

29 katd { 05.16.08 at 7:28 am }

“We parent going through the grief and wistfulness of those who are raising their final child while simultaneous going through the hope and anxiety of whether there will be another” Yes. That is exactly it. I envy sometimes to a harmful extent those who can plan their family. People who can decide to just have another child and who can plan their time accordingly. Lily is only one and we’re asked regularly when we’ll “get” another one. Who knows if we’ll be able to! It costs us upwards of 25K to add a child to our family. That’s not easy on a teacher’s salary.
Very well said, Mel. As always:)

30 Pamela Jeanne { 05.16.08 at 8:52 am }

I’ve been mulling over this post — so much to consider. It really struck a nerve as I find my sea legs. This line, in particular, captures so much, “And I’m not sure there is ever an end to the emotional busyness that accompanies loss.”

I’ve just sent a pink rose to you. Check out my latest post, and as always, thanks for being you. You’re one in a million.

31 Niki { 05.20.08 at 4:00 am }

Oh wow I was so touched by this post. I thought I was the only one that felt this way and felt so guilty. Leaving the hospital for the first I was so depressed and stressed as each day passed and he got older. I have a second now but cannot find closure on having more children. IF does crazy things to people and I am sure if I did not go through what I did I would have been content with 2.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author