When someone that you love is diagnosed with cancer you all rally around them doing everything in your power to try and ease the pain; from phone calls to bringing over meals to attending treatments. How does that change when we replace the word cancer with the word infertility? While infertility is not terminal, it is a painful disease that can be life altering.
Infertility is considered the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after 12 months in women under 35 or after 6 months for woman 35 and over. It is estimated that 1 in 8 couples will experience infertility. Infertility continues to be a taboo subject and misunderstood by the general population. This can make those suffering from infertility feel like they are isolated and that others don't understand their pain.
"In terms of misconception, before going through all of this, I didn't realize there was such a thing as "unexplained" infertility. I always thought that there was an underlying reason: weight, smoking, ovulation issues, caffeine, alcohol consumption, sperm count or motility issues, etc. I didn't realize that you could be perfectly healthy without any female/male reproductive issues and still have fertility issues. You can adapt your lifestyle and diet and do everything right and still have issues. I do think that most people don't realize that either so most people assume it is something in your diet or lifestyle that is causing it not to happen which isn't the case."
If someone that you love is experiencing infertility, there are ways to help.
1. Be a support person- Be someone that your loved ones can talk to about their situation. They may not want to discuss it for weeks or even months, but let them know that you are there whenever they are ready to talk. Ask how they are doing and continue to ask how they are doing. Coping with infertility is a process and each day is different. One day your loved ones may feel positive and okay and the next day they may experience sadness or grief. Let them know that whatever they are feeling inside is okay.
"I can't pin point the hardest part. Besides the obvious of mental and emotional drain,- compounded by fertility medications, but in terms of infertility awareness, in general, the topic makes people uncomfortable and I'm not quite sure why. People can discuss all sort of personal things but when it comes to infertility, it's off the table in terms of being discussed openly. Maybe people don't know what to say, maybe people feel guilty if they have kids, but in my experience, it has become the elephant in the room that certain people tiptoe around. This causes feelings of isolation and lack of support. I'm fortunate in that I do have support from a few people, but it has caused a strain on some of my relationships."
2. Be sensitive- For someone that is experiencing infertility, an everyday experience can bring up painful emotions. Pregnancy announcements and baby showers can be especially hard, but even something as simple as running an errand at Target can bring up intense emotions. Be sensitive. Be kind. You may not know the right words to say to someone that is experiencing infertility and that is okay. The best thing that you can do for someone that is experiencing infertility is to let them know that you care about them and to listen to them.
" A person with infertility doesn't want to hear about how someone got pregnant after 8 years of trying...or once they went gluten-free they got pregnant...or once they relaxed they got pregnant. They aren't looking for reassurances or for someone to fix their problem. If they are talking about it, they just want someone to listen and let them know they are being heard."
3. Be a distraction- Sometimes the best support that you can give is inviting your loved one to have fun again. When someone is suffering from infertility it can be all-consuming from tracking your ovulation cycle, scheduling sex, discussing infertility options, to scheduling doctors appointments. At some point, it can feel like its hard to remember when life was enjoyable. Things that used to be enjoyable to someone dealing with infertility can become a stressor.
Infertility is a disease that can impact someone physically, emotionally and financially. While the support of a loved one can not fix infertility, it can help them. If you or someone you love is dealing with infertility and is feeling isolated you are not alone. For more information on and tips for dealing with the emotional consequences of infertility, call Kull Counseling, LLC at 608.239.4807 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
***Quotations were provided anonymously for use in this article.