Alrighty, friends. To honor National Infertility Awareness Week I want you to listen – no, really listen. I don’t speak for all, but I speak for some, and what I have to say is important.
If you know anything about me via this blog, it’s that we have a huge age gap between our first and second daughters. We battled infertility for over 6 years. Over those 6 years, I’ve had the opportunity to become a resource for those who would like to know more about infertility and how to support those going through it. I want to take this digital opportunity during NIAW to share what I’ve learned during our journey with secondary infertility.
Here are some things I want you, everybody, to hear:
- Infertility is a roller coaster ride of emotions. One day you want a baby more than you want to breathe, other days you are good with where you’re at. Both kinds of days can happen even when you’re in the thick of fertility treatments. Infertile people aren’t ticking time bombs, they’re just dealing with emotionally complicated stuff – just like everyone else.
- Mother’s Day can be hard. If you talk about motherhood like it’s only for someone who has birthed another human being, you’re going about it all wrong. Celebrate motherhood as what it is, an opportunity to nurture others. But it’s OK too if you want to mourn or remember your loss or emptiness every 2nd Sunday in May.
- Women trying to conceive may track their time in years, but it feels longer because each cycle is a missed or failed opportunity to get pregnant. If your friend/sister/wife/neighbor seems “dramatic” about how long it’s taking, consider this.
And the biggest thing I want you to remember is to just ask. No, don’t ask the stranger at the furniture store. No, don’t ask in the middle of a family get-together. But if you are presented with a private moment and you have genuine love and concern for your friend/sister/neighbor, ask.
- Ask if it’s ok to ask.
- Ask if she wants to talk about it.
- Ask if there is any way you can support her.
- Ask if Mother’s Day bothers her.
- Ask if she’d like to borrow your kids sometime.
Because you can’t listen up if you don’t ask.
I’ve had the opportunity to talk to one of my very fertile sisters-in-law about how our infertility affected her. Because she wanted to be sensitive to infertile couples’ pain, she didn’t post as many pictures of her pregnancy or baby. She was worried the reminders of her fertility would seem like a slap in the face to those who couldn’t conceive. I felt a mixture of sadness, gratitude, and frustration. Sadness that she missed out on those small celebrations because of someone else’s pain. Gratitude for her loving consideration. And frustration that on some days her actions were exactly what I needed to prevent a depressive meltdown.
How infertility can affect the joy we feel for others’ pregnancy and birth announcements is perhaps the most complicated facet of the infertility journey. I tread lightly here and only offer suggestions pertaining to my experiences and personality:
- Don’t hide your pregnancy from your infertile friends. If you’re close, consider telling them privately before the public social media post. Being excluded can feel hurtful in any situation, but especially when there are so many emotions already in play.
- Enjoy your pregnancy. If you want to post monthly belly pics, post them. If you want to have a baby shower, have one. If your infertile friend is a little MIA during these moments, forgive her.
- Understand that just because your infertile couple has one or more kids already, the ache of secondary infertility isn’t necessarily diminished.
- Women who aren’t able to have children generally are in different phases of life than women who are. Careers, travel, higher education, and robust hobbies are some of the “dividing lines” between would-be friends. Try to make it work. If all else fails, be the best texting/social media friend you can be.
To Those Struggling with Infertility
To my beautiful friends who are in the thick of their infertility journey: I say I love you. I say it’s ok to have bad days – it’s ok to have good days. I say it’s ok to have a love-hate relationship with your reproductive specialist. It’s ok to be grateful you don’t have to get a babysitter for date night. It’s ok to be scared of the needles; it’s ok to hate every fertility pill you have to swallow.
- Remember to hold on to what is real right now. Whether that be your husband or the kids you have so far, don’t go so far down the rabbit hole of anxiety, despair, or anger that you lose the treasures you already have.
- Remember to take it one day at a time. Your doctor may talk in weeks or months, but try to focus on today. Just today.
- Dark days come, but allow the happy days to come too. It can be easy to spiral down into depression. Don’t permanently block out the sunshine that can and will come.
- Acknowledge your feelings, but don’t destroy others. If you can’t handle a baby shower, don’t torture yourself. Don’t punish yourself or your friend for what truly is a miracle for everyone.
- Listen to your gut. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, do your own research, and push for your own medical care. And if you feel you need a break, don’t be afraid to let your doctor know that too.
Final Thoughts and Resources
With 1 in 8 couples battling some form of infertility, chances are you know someone who is struggling. Resolve.org is a great place to learn about infertility-related medical, emotional, and legal issues. If you suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) like I do, the Mayo Clinic has some great information on the condition. For men beginning their infertility journey, Resolve has a fabulous page on what information a semen analysis gives and how to interpret those results.
Ultimately, fertility is a private and personal matter. It’s tricky to make assumptions about someone’s family planning choices. If you take away nothing else from this post, please remember to simply listen up by asking appropriate questions at appropriate times. Every infertility journey is different and every infertile couple can react differently to your questions. But showing that you care is never a bad move.
Good luck to anyone reading this who is on their own infertility path. I send you the stickiest baby dust possible.