I can’t believe that it has been almost six months since my beautiful son was born. I look at him every day and am still amazed that we created him. There are those moments where I wonder if my life is just a dream and in that moment, I'm afraid of waking up and it being gone. It took a lot of soul searching and courage to come out of the closet, so to speak, about my cancer and infertility diagnosis a few years ago. The almost seven year difficult, painful and very emotional journey of treatments and losses to get our little miracle remains ever present in my mind. I am forever grateful and humbled to have him in my life and he makes every obstacle worth it. Though we made it through the trials and got to bring J home, I know that there are many more couples out there still waiting for their hopes and dreams to come true. Recent studies show that there are 7.3 million people with infertility in the United States alone. For those of you who don’t want to do the math let me break it down for you; that’s 1 in 8 couples who are facing an infertility diagnosis. That means there’s a high probability that the 1 in 8 is someone you know. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) I’ve decided to dedicate this post to promote awareness to the growing epidemic of infertility.
I recently read an article about an Australian study on infertility. It stated that infertility will be the third most serious health condition after cancer and cardiovascular disease this century. Australian fertility expert Dr. Clare Boothroyd says, “Infertility can be compared to cancer and cardiovascular disease because of the impact it has on a desperate family’s quality of life.” Speaking as someone who has been through both cancer and infertility, I absolutely believe that is an accurate statement. When I was diagnosed with cancer there were so many things that went through my mind. Was I going to die? Will I ever be able to have the child I dreamed of? What was this going to do to my marriage? How is this going to affect us financially? Will my husband resent me for not giving him a biological child? The list goes on and on. The funny thing is, once my cancer was gone and I was officially an “infertile” the list was very much the same. Most of those fears where still there if not even stronger. A cancer diagnosis was very scary and stressful but the ironic thing was that the infertility treatments took a bigger toll on my marriage and our finances than the cancer.
With my cancer treatments there were times that I could mentally detach myself from the diagnosis and be able to enjoy doing things without fear of constant reminders. My doctor’s appointments were few and sometimes would be a couple months before I had to go back for checkups or biopsies. Not to mention one of the biggest reliefs was insurance covered the majority of my treatments. Yes, I still had copays and coinsurance responsibilities but that was far less than my fertility journey. When going through infertility treatments it was much more difficult to actually separate myself from the diagnosis and treatments. First, the appointments were many and often. Every cycle we were waiting to see if the procedure worked leaving us wondering and hoping for two weeks every month that this would be our time. Next, most of my fertility procedures were not covered by insurance therefor causing us to take on what was a massive hurdle and a huge burden financially. For those of you who are unaware treatments aren’t cheap and the decision to move forward with intervention cannot be taken lightly. We had to consciously make the choice that we were devoting the majority of my salary to having a child. Lastly, if I was able to mentally shutdown at some point I found there were often reminders that would slap me in the face when I least expected it. It seemed in the three years we were undergoing treatments every movie, TV show or magazine article had someone going through a miscarriage or infertility issues. I felt like I could never escape. If I was lucky enough to find that rare movie that was sure to have no baby talk, inevitably I was surrounded by pregnant women in the theater. The sheer pain of waiting every month, remembering every loss and the hormonal hyped marital spats were just too much for us to bear when we finally decided to stop treatments.
It’s very difficult to come out and talk about infertility with others. It’s hard enough sharing your most private moments let alone your most private body parts with someone other than your partner. For couples struggling with the diagnosis they often feel isolated and alone. It seems as if everyone under the sun has the ability to procreate but you. Often one person in the couple feels responsible for the situation they are in and I know from personal experience that I felt defective. I didn’t want others knowing that it was my fault we haven’t been able to have children yet. Having multiple miscarriages I felt a shame as well. I felt as if I was doing something wrong because my body couldn’t carry a child. No matter how often people reassure you that it is not your fault a woman often feels shame or responsibility for the loss.
So the big question is how can you support someone who is part of the 1 in 8?
1. Don’t Be The Datebook Keeper
It’s very difficult for some people to open up about their infertility, so if you are one of the lucky ones and someone chooses to share their journey with you don’t be the datebook keeper. It was nice to have friends check up on me but it was more stressful to have them watching the calendar to know when procedures would be or when we would have our BETA test to see if the cycle had worked and we were pregnant. I found that little emails, texts and cards were best for me. It was nice to know that they were thinking about me without having to keep them up to date of where we were in the current cycle. Try to understand that it’s nothing personal if they don’t share every detail about their injections, ultrasounds or blood tests sometimes it’s just too much and too difficult. Trust me…if they get pregnant they will shout it from the roof top!
2. Be Understanding and Give Us Space When We Need It
I had some wonderful people that walked through our journey with me and their support was crucial to getting me through some of the hardest times, but some days were too emotionally difficult to deal with. Infertility leaves scars that are deeper than you can imagine and you never know what will be a trigger. Baby showers, pregnancy and birth announcements were the hardest for me. These were always constant reminders of my infertility and the one thing I wanted more than anything and could not have. I completely boycotted baby showers during my infertility treatments. One, for my own preservation and two I did not want to ruin my friend’s special day. I had no desire to quell anyone’s joy but some days just opening up Facebook and seeing yet another birth announcement or positive pregnancy test just brought me to tears. Believe me we are happy for those who are able to successfully carry a child to term and it’s nothing personal but sometimes we just need the space to cope on our own. From my own experiences, I know that people just want to be helpful and show that they care, but for couples experiencing the trials and losses of infertility it is difficult to always accept the offers and be around others during those times. So I encourage you to take your cues from the couple as to what they need at that specific time.
3. Unless You're Their Doctor Don’t Offer Medical Advice Or Suggestions
Without fail someone has some “helpful” advice on how to get pregnant. My best friend’s sister got pregnant the first time with these special herbs. Have you tried Metformin? Have you tried acupuncture? Take a vacation and relax...it will happen. Believe me when I say that we tried absolutely everything to get pregnant. Yep, I did acupuncture, herbs, pills, injectables, insemination and IVF. As I’ve said before I have an honorary degree in reproductive medicine after everything we have been through. Most people experiencing infertility struggle enough with their own thoughts as to what they can do to have a baby. Offering unsolicited advice may not be helpful. You can always ask if they want the information but don’t be offended if they turn you down. Trust that they are doing what is best for them.
4. Be Conscientious of Those Seemingly Innocent Questions
Infertility is often a very private and silent struggle for couples. We kept ours fairly quiet with the exception of a few close friends until about two years ago. I had so much pain and loneliness and needed an outlet to release some of those feelings which is how this blog came about. Sharing with complete strangers sometimes seemed easier than sharing with my friends. I often felt as if people were judging me and my inability to have a child. I encourage you to take a moment before you ask some of those seemingly innocent questions like, “When are you going to have kids?” That one little question was always a sucker punch in the uterus for me! You just never know who that one person is struggling with infertility. Seriously, take a moment and think about eight of your closest friends. Statistics show it’s likely that one of those eight friends is struggling with infertility and has chosen not to share. If someone chooses to share about the lack of children in their life that’s one thing, but don’t always assume that someone chooses to be child free at a specific time. It was seven long years before I finally held my son in my arms and I can’t even begin to count the number of times we were asked that question during our journey.
5. Most of all…Resolve to know more
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the National Infertility Awareness Week sponsored by Resolve: The National Infertility Association. Resolve is a wonderful organization that helps those struggling with infertility answer questions, find help and most of all Resolve offers support to those going through this devastating disease. I encourage you to visit their website (www.resolve.org) to learn more about infertility (yours or someone you love) and learn how you can support those you love who are currently traveling down a very long and hard road. Most of all…resolve to be the support that anyone going through infertility desperately needs RIGHT NOW!