The Science and Gratitude of Tears

A few months ago marked my 10 year anniversary specializing in fertility medicine at Acubalance. I have often been labelled lachrymose, which I feel both abashed and dignified about. I suppose it’s better then being called a sap. All to say, I cried a bit as I thought about the people I’ve come to know and had the honour of working with over the past decade. The stories, the peaks, the valleys, the varying landscapes, all of which I am deeply grateful to be a part of.

Last month, joyful tears leaked as a patient described the long awaited moment of sharing the news of her 12 week pregnancy to the delight and relief of her ailing grandmother. After years of trying to conceive and a previous pregnancy loss, how many times had she imagined and waited for the fulfillment of that moment. Now she would get to replay it, and treasure it as one of the memorable landmarks on her arduous road to motherhood.  

Last week, a patient remarked on the significance of the day, as I gave her an embryo transfer day treatment. Both of our eyes watered as we acknowledged she had finally arrived at the long hoped-for embryo transfer after years of problem solving and surgery from complications born with the stillbirth of her son at full term. Our tears were steeped with hope and anticipation.

Yesterday, a patient apologized as she cried, explaining how conflicted she was that her best friend had just given birth to a daughter. She was happy for her friend, but also overcome with grief for herself and guilty and ashamed about it all at once. She’s not the first to apologize for crying.

As it turns out though, science says it’s healthy to cry with our feelings. Crying is a beneficial evolutionary adaptation in humans that calms us down and signals our emotional state to others. It elicits empathy and the release of oxytocin, which allays the effects of stress hormone cortisol. Emotional tears, as opposed to basal and reflex tears, contain higher levels of stress hormones, endorphins and natural pain killers. They help us to stabilize our mood, heart rate, and breathing rate.

But we don’t really need science to tell us this. It feels good to cry. I know that when I put aside the story that crying is a sign of emotional weakness, what’s left behind is the raw truth that tears tell. Tears don’t lie. They reveal, release, they wash and they cleanse. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The tears I shed yesterday have become rain.” I love this.

Huge gratitude to my patients from before and to come, for all the flowers you water in my heart. (Maybe I am a bit of a sap..)

 Dr. Alda Ngo

Alda Ngo