Lifting the spirits of those coping with heartache
Infertility is unfair, unbiased and uncaring about your life plans, goals or dreams of a family. The psychological and emotional challenges of infertility can be devastating.
National Infertility Survival Day – celebrated each year on the Sunday before Mother’s Day – was created to acknowledge the many challenges of those experiencing infertility while giving the rest of us the opportunity to share their pain and burden.
“Infertility feels like you are alone even though 1 in 8 couples struggle.”
Infertility affects one in eight couples. Experts once thought that only about half of all infertility cases were physical in origin, and that the rest were result of psychosomatic problems in women or simply unexplained. But research shows that the majority of cases of infertility are due to physical causes – in both sexes: About one-third of the time in the woman, one-third of the time in the man, and the rest a combination of both or cannot be determined.
“Infertility feels like an identity crisis. I am a mom. Without a baby.”
One thing is sure, whatever the cause, infertility exacts a huge psychological toll. One study of 200 couples found that half of the women and 15% of the men said that infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives. Another study showed that women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension or recovering from heart attack.
“Infertility feels like skipping out on baby showers and kids parties, even though you love that stuff.”
And as you might expect, certain days or celebrations may be especially difficult. Baby showers, young children’s birthday parties and holidays (such as Mother’s Day) can bring up intense feelings of loss. It’s important to respect how those dealing with infertility choose to manage their feelings, even if it means declining your party invitation.
“Infertility feels like you are going through this all alone, no matter how many people are around you.”
Infertility may also cause relationships to suffer — not only with a spouse or partner, but also with friends and family members who may unintentionally cause pain by offering well-meaning but misguided opinions and advice.
“Infertility feels like grief.”
So how do we show those experiencing infertility support and care without being patronizing? Here are some pointers that may help:
Things to say to those experiencing infertility:
- Let them know that you’re there for them
- Validate their pain
- Let them freely express sorrow
- Read about infertility so you’re informed when they need to talk
- Remember them on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
- Attend difficult appointments with them
- Support their decision to stop infertility treatments
- Ask what you can do to help
Things not to say:
- Don’t minimize their grief
- Don’ tell them you understand what they’re going through (you don’t)
- Don’t say they are just not “meant” to be parents
- Don’t push adoption or IVF
- Don’t ask whose “fault” it is (but don’t assume it’s the woman)
- Don’t imply they’re not trying hard enough (or trying too hard)
- Avoid anecdotes like about how your cousin got pregnant on an all-cumquat diet
- Don’t grumble about your own pregnancy complaints
Everyone’s experiences are different and what people are or aren’t okay to talk about can vary greatly. But here’s the big takeaway: you don’t have to avoid the topic. The best thing we can do for someone experiencing infertility is to simply be there.
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