Anne Lastman

As a preamble, I wish to state that I do not intend to enter deeply into the world of IVF as I am not trained in this field.  However, what I do want to do is offer a thought, an idea, why natural conception at times, seems a dream destined to remain unfulfilled.  

These thoughts of mine occurred as a result of a woman who came to my office because she’d heard that I work with women who have lost infants in the womb mostly by abortion.

For her (for ease I’ll call her Jane* not her real name) and her husband years of trying to conceive remained fruitless even though nothing physical was found, with either of them, to prevent conception and for Jane this was proving to be devastating.  She even said that at least if there was found to be something wrong then she would understand but nothing is wrong and still no baby.  It seemed to me that she was at the end of her tether and wouldn’t/couldn’t be consoled. From the moment she entered my office and sat down the tears flowed and continued to flow so it was impossible to even begin to discuss the issue except that she “wanted a baby so much” but she and her husband seemed unable to conceive.  They had even tried IVF and still losses and now were unable to afford further and there seemed no hope left.

I must admit that I didn’t know what I could do help her.  As I sat holding her hand whilst she continued to weep, over an hour had passed and not much talking had occurred.

I explained that I had another grief client arriving soon but would she be prepared to come back in four days and I would allow more time so that we could talk.  During her tears a light bulb went off in my head but I didn’t want to say anything or begin discussion about what I was thinking and leaving a door open until she returned.  We made a new appointment, which I didn’t think she would keep, but she did.  She arrived on time and was more composed.

Details taken, the story was that she and her husband had been married 10 years and for the previous 6 years had tried to conceive but nothing happened. They tried IVF nothing happened (more loss).  She said that she heard about me by someone who had met me and knows my work and asked me why could one of those women who can easily get pregnant have the baby/ies and she would have baby or babies. She said that she understood that her grief was different than theirs but somehow it was the same, neither could easily speak about their feelings of loss. 

Like the woman who aborts and feels shame, Jane* also feels shame because she can’t have a baby and generally if she speaks about this, other women (who already have child/ren) seem to mock her and tell her she should “enjoy her freedom.” So, she has stopped talking about it. (Disenfranchised grief. Kenneth Doka, 1989).

I could hear the pain in her voice. Her lack of success in conceiving had made her feel so unlike other women.

This is a little of the back grown from which emerged a thought directly from somewhere, maybe from above.

I suggested that if she can come to my office and we can discuss the issue more slowly and clearly, we might be able to find some clue for the reason of why she couldn’t conceive.  I think I already had an idea but I needed to think about this more fully before I slowly proposed it to her.

I had recently heard that it was thought that diet and exercise played a role in difficulties conceiving either naturally or through IVF.  I thought about this but somehow it didn’t sit right with me.  There was more to this than diet and exercise at play.  We know from literature and anecdotal evidence that even very obese women, with special care by their obstetrician/ gynaecologist a conception can be brought to success, so I found it hard to see how diet and lack of exercise could contribute to failure to conceive and the ensuing losses. Respecting the idea, but knowing that diet and exercise are very important for self-care and the ongoing progress of conception, yet still I found it hard to see connection.

So, I tried to think differently and perhaps “outside of the box”

Today we understand the mind body connection well.  We understand the strength of control which the mind has in all things body related and I wondered if perhaps this is where the problem with Jane* lay. Was she inadvertently not allowing herself to conceive even though she desperately wanted a child?  Was there something deeply hidden within her psychology?  some deep pain, which she had probably forgotten or not thought about which prevented her achieving her heart’s desire?

And so, this new work began, just as I would counsel post abortion grief, sexual abuse grief, now would attempt to see if something could be found hidden within her being.

My counselling is of the psychoanalytic theory variety. Pain hidden, especially pain in the lifespan developmental stages which lies simmering under the surface.  This wound, whilst not being seen or considered and which has left a deep imprint and can be triggered by something, words, relating to child, baby, conception, or some kind of similar experience.  In this instance, after hearing Jane’s story of failure to conceive, even though there appeared no reason for this to occur I began to think that the problem lay there hiding in plain sight.

With utmost care and mindful of her fragility, I began just asking her questions about growing up, family, parents, siblings, schooling, work.  Just normal everyday questions for her to begin to feel comfortable with me and for me to hear something not being said.

Several years ago, I had read about the relationship between the mind and its strength and the body’s reaction to the mind’s direction and had read about “inner vows”  

“Inner vows” are something not considered in psychology. Indeed, they are generally thought of as some “fantasy” created by some therapist to explain something that they cannot explain.  I suspect that this is because not much research has been carried out about this.  Not understood that these “vows” are made under extreme situations usually at a time of fear, pain, anguish, anger.  Vows made under much pressure and vehemence which a child makes to the best of their understanding, that they will never put themselves in such a position to be hurt again.

Indeed, “inner vows” are a self-promise, oath, to herself, her heart and mind (but in time deeply hidden from conscious memory and forgotten) yet the vow continues to be alive and active and keeps perpetuating itself so that throughout her time it still retains the force with which it was originally made. The promise she had made to herself long before and ostensibly forgotten is being kept alive. Almost like a sentinel.

Perhaps this sounds like fantasy but we all know that there are certain memories we retain which we have experienced as young children that remain as clear as if experienced yesterday.  These were very important moments (both negative and positive) and a promise is made to remember them. A trigger word, smell, colour, taste instantly recalls that memory or even that promise made. The retrieval is instantaneous.

Most other childhood or development stages and experiences are forgotten but that strong experience is deeply imprinted and remains, like a door ajar, ready to come forward and make its presence known and recalled. Usually, a memory with such strength is a negative one brought with all the emotions felt at that time.

This is especially found in childhood sexual abuse.  The very first incidence is deeply imprinted with colour, smell, time, place, person, what happened, and feelings being experienced.  All these recorded and then covered over.  The first experience creates the template and other future experiences of similar nature strengthen and deepen the template.  The inner vow made at the time never changes, improves, but remains as intense as when made.

I believe that inner vows are usually at the root of compulsive behaviours, anniversary reactions, irrational fears, phobias, and are at the root of unknown pain, and counselling requires a therapist to understand how these vows affect the psyche, spirit, soul of the victim and the therapist needs to be able to gently enter deeply into that pain, stay there as long as necessary in order that the part of the victim maybe slowly led out.  With careful care and understanding and explanation, and seeking, the “vow” is discovered and exposed.   This is not the end because the vow is strong and will not let go of its host.

I have thought much about this and perhaps IVF experts who have worked their whole careers seeking answers will be scathing of such concept but I am certain that as we learn more about the mind/body connection inner vows will be considered not as some fantasy but as the brilliance of mind created by our maker. Memory is a gift from the creator ensuring that we never forget Him or life gift.

I think that the “inner vow” is responsible for infertility, which by all intents and purposes, should not occur and stubborn mental health issues refuse help, and in the issue of infertility this inner vow seems a stubborn refusal of the body to accept new life.

Inner vows are psychological.  These are promises made which are never meant to be broken, under no circumstances, and these vows hold great sway or influence over decisions made by the individual.

“I will never have a girl child” promise made to herself.  These words spoken by an abused little girl so consciously or unconsciously girl babies were either aborted or miscarried.  “I will never marry. All men are violent and brutal” and so marriage and a female partner.

Vows are a “control” inner programme designed as a protection mechanism.  A protection against some horrific experience which is never to be repeated or accepted.  Negative “inner vows” cannot be loosened until seen and like a deep root to be removed from the soil in which it has been hiding.  “I will not” says the inner vow, ever let you be hurt again and indeed it doesn’t.

I would hope that therapists, counsellors, ART experts may consider, at least think about “inner vows” as a possibility when confronted with unexplainable conception and or pregnancy losses.

Back to Jane’s* story we are continuing the work of finding her little person.  From her early history, there is a wounded little girl who vaguely remembers something “yuck” happening to her at about 4-5 years of age but she cannot see the face of the man.  Behind that faceless man and the “yuck” is made the promise that never will she… 

My hope is that as we work through “I will never” we may encounter that vow made and release it to go and allow the mature woman to bear the child she and her husband so desire.