The Berkley Center

Infertility is a journey fraught with emotional, physical, and psychological challenges. For many, the process of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) brings with it a persistent state of grief that ebbs and flows, known as chronic mourning. This type of mourning is distinct in its continuous nature, lacking a more linear path and resolution that typically follows traditional grief. Chronic mourning is marked by an enduring sense of longing and unfulfilled desire. Each cycle brings a renewed sense of possibility, only to be potentially shattered by another negative outcome. As a therapist specializing in both somatic and mental health, I help people with the chronic mourning that manifests during IVF and offer holistic strategies for navigating this profound experience.

The experience of chronic mourning in IVF is multifaceted, encompassing:

  1. Repeated loss: Each unsuccessful cycle represents a loss – of hope, of potential life, andof the imagined future.
  2. Ambiguous grief: Mourning for something that never existed in tangible form (or did in one form and never made it to fruition as a human life), yet was deeply desired and imagined.
  3. Identity crisis: Struggling with the unfulfilled role of parenthood and its impact on self-perception.
  4. Physical toll: The hormonal and physical demands of IVF treatment compound the emotional stress.

Somatic Manifestations of Grief

As a somatic therapist, I’ve observed how chronic mourning often manifests physically in IVF
patients. Common somatic complaints include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Digestive issues
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Headaches
  • Weakened immune system

These physical symptoms are not merely side effects of IVF medications but are often direct
manifestations of unresolved grief stored in the body.

Mental Health Implications

From a mental health perspective, chronic mourning in IVF can lead to:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Feelings of isolation and alienation
  • Relationship strain
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth issues
  • Decision fatigue and difficulty planning for the future

Chronic Mourning in IVF

Therapeutic Approaches

Addressing chronic mourning in IVF requires a holistic approach that integrates both somatic and mental health strategies:

  • Body-based interventions: Techniques like MindBodyWise therapy, gentle yoga, and breathwork can help release stored tension and emotions from the body.
  • Mindfulness practices: Cultivating present-moment awareness can help manage the cyclical nature of IVF-related grief.
  • Talk therapy and embodied therapy: Seeking support from a therapist experienced in fertility issues can provide valuable tools and strategies for managing both the physical and emotional aspects of this challenging experience.
  • Grief rituals: Creating meaningful ways to acknowledge and honor losses throughout the IVF journey.
  • Support groups: Connecting with others who understand the unique challenges of IVF can reduce feelings of isolation.

Chronic mourning in IVF is a complex and multifaceted experience, impacting both the body and mind. By acknowledging and addressing the somatic and psychological dimensions of this grief, you can find pathways to healing and resilience. As a therapist, my goal is to provide a compassionate and holistic approach, empowering you to navigate your fertility journey with greater strength and emotional well-being. 

Remember, you are not alone on this journey, and there are ways to find support and comfort amidst the challenges.

Guest Post by:

Rachel Shanken, LMHC

MindBodyWise, Inc.

Psychology Today


  • Rachel Shanken

    Rachel Shanken, LMHC, is a New York State Licensed Mental Health Counselor with a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling from Fordham University Graduate School of Education. She has completed two 5-day workshops at The Cape Cod Institute: “Cultivating Emotional Mindfulness” and “Guilt and Shame in the Treatment of Trauma.” Additionally, Rachel has undergone Co-Active Coach Training from The Coaches Training Institute.

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