It’s National Infertility Awareness Week.
Infertility is something that many people deal with, but not many talk about. This week can be a starting point, a time when we begin the conversations to help us learn from, understand, and support those experiencing fertility issues, to help them know they are not alone.
Infertility puts many strains on individuals and couples. South Carolina is one of many states that don’t have laws requiring insurance companies to cover fertility treatment options. For those who don’t have coverage, there’s a lot of out of pocket expenses that they may not be able to afford. Along with that, the toil on emotional and mental health that fertility issues take is overwhelming. Yet, we talk about that a lot less.
I want to use this time specifically to bring awareness to the emotional and relational challenges couples may face when dealing with infertility. So here are 5 points that can help you begin to understand how infertility affects couples.
1. Partners in a relationship tend to experience more stress and feelings of anxiety when dealing with infertility. Fertility issues can weigh very heavily on the mental and emotional health of both partners, no matter what the specific fertility issue is. They feel worried at every turn, thinking about if a trial will work, what other factors may be involved in the fertility issues, what other decisions they have to make in this process, and so much more.
2. It’s hard on both partners in a relationship to carry on with normal activities when experiencing infertility. They see their friends getting pregnant, starting families, or already raising growing children. Baby showers, family events: all of those things are harder to be around. Partners tend to isolate themselves more because it feels easier to pull away, instead of being around so many people that don’t seem to understand.
3. Sometimes fertility issues may be related more to one partner than the other. Sometimes it’s both. With infertility comes some feelings of shame and even guilt. This tends to create conflict in their relationship. For example, if it’s considered male factor infertility, the man may feel guilt over something he can’t control. It might be hard for him to talk about that with his partner or his friends. He may feel ashamed or even blamed, leading to further conflict with his partner. So there’s a big challenge for couples to feel supported when dealing with infertility.
4. When you’re dealing with fertility issues, you try harder. Couples trying to get pregnant focus so much on timing and other factors conducive to fertility. It’s easy to fall into a trap of being obsessed with trying to conceive. Sex can easily lose the intimacy that is so important in a romantic relationship. It becomes a scheduled meeting filled with stress. The closeness that couples appreciate about sex tends to dissipate as they focus more on the outcome.
5. Sometimes fertility issues come with loss and even feelings of grief. It’s harder to understand because it’s not like normal grief and loss. Couples experiencing these feelings may not be sure how to talk about it or get through it. It can be really hard to keep up the hope and deal with it.
These are all really challenging issues couples experience with infertility. And since infertility is something many people are only recently becoming aware of or seeking to understand, you may not know what to do when someone tells you about their journey with fertility issues. So here are a few tips:
1. Listen. Be a supportive person and be willing to listen if they’re ready to talk.
2. Understand that they may not be ready to do all the events they used to. Encourage them to stay involved in outings, but also understand that there may be some things they aren’t comfortable doing. She may choose not to go to that friend’s baby shower. That’s ok.
3. Find out how you can help. The individual or couple you know is probably very stressed. Telling them to stop stressing is not really helpful. But find out what you can do to help relieve some of their stress. Maybe they need a day out. Schedule a fun outing. Maybe they need help with getting some cleaning done around the house. Whatever it is, take notice and at least offer to do it.
4. Even if you don’t understand the decisions they are making on their journey to fertility, try to be supportive. They may try different medical procedures. They may begin a process of adoption. Even if you don’t know their situation fully, support them in the choices they make. Because, as they go through all of this, they really need supportive and understanding friends.
5. Help build awareness and fight the shame of infertility. Learn about it. Educate yourself on infertility and get to know even more about its overwhelming physical, mental, emotional, and financial impact.
So, from this week forward, I challenge you to reach out.
Continue to learn more about infertility and understand what your friends or family may be dealing with. So many couples face fertility issues, so chances are you know at least one person dealing with infertility, whether they’ve shared that or not. Seek to support them. You can read more about infertility at Resolve, the National Infertility Association and learn more about steps you can take this week, during National Infertility Awareness Week.
And if you are someone dealing with fertility issues, reach out. Seek to break the stigma and find support. Share your story with someone you can trust. Begin to open up and let help in. You can also find online support forums and communities through Resolve and other resources including Inspire.com.
If you would like more support, whether you are recently dealing with infertility or are realizing the effects it’s taken on your life over many years, feel free to reach out. Therapy is a supportive space in which you and your partner, or you by yourself, can find help as you begin to navigate the journey ahead. You can learn more here.