April 21-27 commemorates National Infertility Week. Infertility can be a difficult journey that leaves many individuals feeling hopeless and alone. Many describe it as seeming like everyone else around them is happily enjoying life while their lives are frozen in a place they never wanted to visit.
While discussing this topic, we had an opportunity to visit with couples in our area who have had their own struggles with infertility. We appreciate them taking the time to share their own thoughts with us on this subject.
Who experiences infertility?
Infertility is often viewed as a female problem and a problem that mainly affects older women trying to conceive. However, infertility is not biased, and it can affect men and women of various ages. Approximately one-third of infertility issues are from a female partner. One- third of issues are from a male partner, and one-third of issues are caused by both partners or the cause is unknown. 1
Men need support in infertility too. Paul and his wife struggled to conceive and also experienced a miscarriage. He said, “It was very sad and disappointing. I felt like there was nothing I could do to make that time any easier for my wife.”
Infertility is an emotional rollercoaster
Some days someone may feel positive during their infertility battle, other days they won’t. Beware of this and know some days are just bad days. There isn’t anything you can do sometimes but offer a hug and lend an ear, but your friend will still appreciate the sentiment.
Samantha suffered a miscarriage and then waited for years to be able to conceive again. When asked for ways to cope with all the emotions, Samantha responded, “Infertility is painful. It’s such a close, personal heartache. A piece of your heart is missing that you didn’t know existed. Find someone that has experienced it, that you can open up to, cry with, and be angry with them. Cling to them. Find happiness in the daily tasks. If you want ice cream, buy a gallon of it. Find your faith and hold on tight. Never give up.”
Be careful when sharing good news
Knowing others conceive easily when it seems to be anything but simple to someone with infertility, can make a pregnancy announcement sting. It isn’t that your friend isn’t incredibly happy for you, but he or she just wishes their own good news would come.
Big surprises in large groups of people can make it difficult for those in an infertility battle to process their emotions. You may consider speaking with them privately so you can also express how much you hope this day comes for them too.
“Don’t hide it if you become pregnant,” shared Angela. Angel and her husband have battled infertility for years, gone through the adoption process and attempted in vitro fertilization (IVF). “Though it’s hard to hear, it’s even harder to hear about a friend being pregnant from someone other than your friend,” she said. “Be upfront. We will put on a happy face though we’re hurting inside. It’s ok. We will grieve the life we hoped we would have, wishing that was us, and then carry on to be excited for you.”
Beware of language that triggers emotions
Be sensitive to the fact that conversations focusing on children or a pregnancy may be difficult. Never complain about children or even jokingly say, “Be glad you don’t have kids!” Try to steer conversations with friends in different directions so your friend doesn’t feel so left out while everyone discusses parenting struggles or their child’s milestones.
Never start a sentence with “At least…” Statements like “At least you can get pregnant” after a loss or “At least it happened early,” or “At least you don’t have to gain weight from a pregnancy,” do nothing but invalidate how someone else feels.
Lastly, avoid statements such as, “It wasn’t (or “it isn’t”) meant to be.” Not only is this hurtful, but it may also make the individual feel they somehow deserve these difficult circumstances.
Don’t try to fix it
There are days those struggling with infertility wish to talk about it. Other days they may not feel up to it. When you know life feels especially difficult, always let a friend know you would love to just listen.
“Just being a friend is the best thing someone can do,” said Angela. “Don’t try to fix the situation that can’t be fixed. Trust me, anyone going through infertility has already tried everything to fix themselves and the situation they are in. We don’t want to be in it. Just listening and offering hugs and sincere thoughts of ‘that really must be tough’ is all we need.”
Don’t avoid them
If you don’t know what to say, just give a hug and let her know you are thinking of her. Your support may help more than you know.
Sarah responded about her own struggles with a miscarriage followed by over more than a year of waiting to conceive again. She said, “I remember coming back to work after my miscarriage and feeling shocked that so many of my coworkers seemed to avoid me. I had just suffered the most devastating loss of my life, and the majority of them wouldn’t even look me in the eye. A few people didn’t even say anything but gave me a big hug. It helped a lot.”
During this time as we remember those struggling with their journey to grow their families and anytime you know someone is facing this difficult battle, we want to encourage you to reach out to them. Infertility is a battle that is hardest when the couple facing it feels alone.
Infertility is typically diagnosed after a couple has tried unsuccessfully to conceive for twelve months or longer and / or has experienced more than one consecutive miscarriage or stillbirth. If you are struggling to conceive, one of our providers would love to meet with you. Please reach out and make an appointment with MMG Obstetrics and Gynecology.
*Names have been changed of some of the individuals interviewed for this article to respect their privacy.
1 US Department of Health and Human Services: National Institute of Health. How common is male infertility, and what are its causes? 1 Dec. 2016.
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