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Infertility: Supporting Those We Love

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Sarah is tired and frustrated. Poked and prodded almost daily, she’s beginning to feel like a lab rat. It doesn’t help at all that she saw a friend’s pregnancy announcement on social media today. 

After dinner each night, instead of sipping a glass of wine, she bends over the kitchen table and waits for him to stick a needle the size of a #2 pencil in her thigh. He tries to relax her though, counting down from five, playing bad ’90s music to distract her, but the scene is still daunting and sometimes humiliating. So they either laugh at themselves, cry or just go to bed.

 About 10 percent of women, or 6.1 million, in the United States ages 15 to 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Couples are considered infertile if they aren’t able to get pregnant after one year of trying or six months if a woman is 35 or older. Women who can get pregnant but are unable to stay pregnant may also be infertile.

Often, the media, well-meaning loved ones or even the couples themselves focus on the woman when talking about infertility. So, when the doctor asks to test the man’s sperm, this may come as quite a shock. But infertility isn’t just a female’s problem. In fact, almost half of couples struggling to conceive are dealing with male infertility.

Testing a man’s fertility can include semen analysis, hormone and genetic testing, biopsies of testicles and other exams deemed necessary by the doctor. If the results show the primary cause of a couple’s infertility is the man, the news can be devastating to him. Finding out that his sperm count is low or weak can be crushing to his ego and make him feel as if he is not providing properly for his partner or that he has let her down.

And women experience similar feelings of guilt, shame, sadness and isolation. Many cases of female infertility are caused by problems with ovulation, so a doctor may ask about menstrual cycles and any missed periods. Other ways to detect infertility in women may be hormone and thyroid tests or exams of the uterus, fallopian tubes and more.

Although males account for roughly half of all infertility, women tend to bear the brunt of the issue, even if it is unintentional. Trying to conceive can be physically and emotionally exhausting and some research has found that women experiencing infertility have emotional stress levels similar to cancer and cardiac rehab patients. People that are fertility challenged are also more likely to become depressed.

We all probably know someone who is struggling with infertility, but we may not even be aware of it. Some couples are vocal about their struggles to have a baby, but others are more private in their journey to conceive. While there are many couples of childbearing age in the U.S. who experience infertility, as a society, we are often at a loss on how to give emotional support.

Infertility is a condition that often goes uncured, and it can lead to a lifetime of pain. The stress of not being able to have a baby can be devastating, even with the most loving and affectionate relationships. Emotions that accompany infertility can only be fully understood by someone who is going through the same thing. 

Although being aware of the things not to say may seem challenging, our loved ones understand our love for them by what we do say. Educating ourselves goes a long way when it comes to helping family or friends coping with infertility. 

Doing more listening than speaking can be extremely helpful. If you are unsure what to say to a loved one experiencing infertility, ask them what they need or want from you. Letting them guide the situation in a way that works for them is often the best way to show support.

Sources: resolve.org, myfertilityfacts.com, womenshealth.gov and babymed.com.

Even when our loved ones are experiencing infertility, we are unsure how to help. Sometimes we just don’t know what to say and often end up saying the wrong thing, which can make it harder for those going through the experience. These are some comments or statements to avoid.
• Don’t make light of the inability to conceive.
• Don’t blame loved ones for putting career first or starting later in life to have children.
• Refrain from suggesting adoption.
• Don’t complain about your own pregnancy or your children.
• Don’t ask them why they aren’t trying or are trying in vitro fertilization.
• Don’t tell them that things could be worse.
• Don’t make light of it or disregard it.
• Don’t ask whose fault it is that they are not getting pregnant.