by Patty Teagle
April 21-27 is National Infertility Awareness Week. This week rolls around each year, and yes, I had no awareness of it until I found myself in the midst of my own struggle with infertility. My husband and I were among the estimated one in eight couples who endure the struggle. This is a shocking number and some studies say that number is even higher.
We chose to be open about what we were going through and we talked to other couples around us who were forced to walk that emotional journey ahead of us. Many couples, however, suffer in silence. There is shame and guilt when you can’t conceive, and many would like to keep this devastating news to themselves. The result, of course, is that they find themselves feeling isolated and alone in their struggle.
I think there are two sides to the awareness of infertility. One side is for those couples who are struggling to fully understand how many other couples are affected by it and share in their pain, and the second side is for the family and friends around those couples. For those family and friends, let me try in some small way, to educate you on what is and is not helpful for the couple you care about.
It can be difficult because we may not be aware of who around us is struggling with infertility, but we may know a couple who has been trying for a while to get pregnant, or the couple who has been married for several years that says they want kids, but the timing isn’t right yet. Tread carefully with these couples. Don’t pepper them with baby questions each time you see them. This might be a comfortable, break-the-ice starter for you, but for them it is only uncomfortable to try to come up with a new answer each time.
Be aware that your “helpful” suggestions regarding conceiving or the timing of children coming along in their life are often received as hurtful. Some things couples don’t need to hear… “just relax,” “try not to think about it,” “God’s timing is perfect,” “just adopt,” etc.
And, if a couple already has a child and is having difficulty the second time around, they don’t need to have their desires for a second child dismissed or minimized by reminding them they should be thankful for the child they already have. I would bet they already are. Don’t beat yourself up if these phrases have escaped your lips, just be more aware for the next time.
Infertility is a tricky thing and none of us really know how to cope with it, even if we’ve been trying to for years. All of our situations are different and we all handle even the most similar of experiences differently, so we don’t always know what we need and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Be honest with your friends and family who are struggling and let them know that you don’t know what to say or do. Let them know you are there for them when they need someone to listen and then do just that. It’s ok to cry with them and just give them a hug when they need it. Still other times a glass of wine and conversation that is free and clear of anything baby related may be the solution, so be ready to give that too.
Aside from the things we say, please be aware that sometimes certain events are beyond difficult to attend. Baby showers, kids’ birthday parties, holiday and family gatherings can be painful events when you’re struggling to conceive. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t happy for you, or don’t care about you, but right now the hurt is too great. Be understanding and know that it isn’t personal. A particular day may just happen to be a day filled with tears, and they would rather shed those tears at home than at a party, or force themselves to hide the tears, only to be faced with more baby questions when they get there. Missing events can cause hurt feelings, but you know they love you, so you can only imagine how hard it is for them to be absent from your special event.
In October of 2011, after a miscarriage, medications, many ultrasounds, and seemingly countless months of disappointment, we welcomed our son into the world. I’m thankful to have that heartache behind me, but I’m also thankful for the awareness that it brought to me. Because of my journey and finding myself in a healthy place, I was able to see that there was a need and I found a way to fill it.
I started an infertility support group in Bismarck in March of 2012. It is a place for women to come together once a month and share in their struggles. It’s a place for laughter and tears and the knowledge that you are not alone. We meet the third Monday of each month at Evangel Assembly of God church from 6:30-8:00pm and women can join the group at any time.
For those of you who continue to struggle, know that your journey is your own, but comfort is close by. It can be heart-breaking, whether it has been one year or ten, whether you have experienced miscarriages and failed IVF cycles, or have only been faithfully charting and just started to get checked out by your doctor. Your heartache is yours. It is real and it is valid. After all, you are longing to be moms.
Patty Teagle is a counselor at NuVation Health Services in Bismarck. Questions about the support group can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.resolve.org as a great resource for information on infertility.