(c) Can Stock Photo
I am sure people who see me with my four young children in the grocery store would never imagine I struggled with infertility for over ten years. Sometimes they make comments like, “Wow, you have your hands full!” I probably surprise them with my huge smile when I reply “I know.” They don’t understand that not having my hands full was my biggest sorrow.
I remember when we started infertility treatments they gave us a flyer that compared infertility with a roller coaster ride because of the ups and downs. I never liked that analogy. I love roller coasters, I hate infertility. I think infertility is more like fighting a war.
Finding out you have infertility issues is similar to being deployed: you don’t know what to expect, how long you will be there or if you will be successful. Everyone feels inclined to share advice (usually well-meaning but uninformed) or horror/miracle stories. But no one’s experience is the same, not even your partners. You are often alone in fighting. The enemy is sometimes invisible, I never found out why. The enemy is unpredictable, sometimes things seem calm and then suddenly you are being shot at. Or you can turn the gun on yourself (I’m broken, it’s my fault, you’d be better off with someone else).
Sometimes your life is actually in danger. When I had my tubal pregnancy I was bleeding internally and literally hours away from dying. I wasn’t worried about my health, I was too consumed by the loss of my pregnancy. My husband was alone in his fears of losing me, fighting his own battle. I put my body through unimaginable procedures. My husband participated in extensive medical testing. Subjects that used to be personal and intimate were discussed with strangers. Each procedure was a reminder that we were at war.
If you are one of the lucky ones and have a successful pregnancy you can come back from the war with a new perspective on life. However, you dread being deployed again. When I talk to friends, family or clients struggling with infertility I experience a flood of the emotions. I want to console them, tell them everything will be ok but the hardest part is you don’t know.
Here is some advice as a therapist and infertility veteran for people struggling with infertility:
1. Don’t feel guilty about your anger- it is a normal and important part of the grief process.
2. Don’t isolate yourself. When people make hurtful comments, remember they are usually just uninformed. If the relationship is important, educate them on how they can help you.
3. Seek comfort/advice from people with some understanding. Find a support group or friends that have experienced infertility issues.
4. Don’t blame yourself or your partner. This is a vicious and isolating cycle. You are fighting a common enemy not yourself or each other.
5. Trust your gut. If you don’t like your medical professionals, get a second opinion. Listen to your intuition.
For friends and family members:
1. Don’t keep your pregnancies or happy news secret from people who have infertility issues. They are not jealous of your baby, they want their own child. Not telling them reinforces that they are alone and different.
2. Don’t say that you understand and then explain that it took you three months to get pregnant. Again no one’s experience is the same and shouldn’t be compared. Instead say something like, “I can’t imagine how hard, I love and support you.”
3. If they decide not to pursue further medical procedures, don’t say that they are “giving up.” Everyone has their own path. You can’t understand the emotional and physical toll that it takes.
4. Don’t tell them they just need to relax, stop stressing or to not think about it. That is like telling someone not to breath.
5. Don’t blame their infertility on diet, weight, life-style, choices etc. Don’t lecture them that they need to just be more spiritual or eat better. I heard and tried almost everything.
To those of you who are fighting the war of infertility. Whatever your path may be: IVF and other medical procedures, adoption, foster care, finding fulfillment in other areas, etc. You are a hero, you are not alone. You fought a good fight and there is no failure only acceptance and peace.
* The purpose of this article is in no way to diminish the experience of soldiers, their families or the seriousness of war. While there are comparisons, I acknowledge that it is not the same and have complete honor and respect for all Veterans.
** I acknowledge that infertility is also a war on fatherhood and would love to have an article written from the male perspective.
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