I originally published this on MySpace in January of 2007.
Thanks for taking the time
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I realize the post is quite lengthy, but it is important to us that you have an idea of what we are going through. These are mostly not my words – I found this in an alt.infertility.primary post, but everything here applies to us. I have added emphasis where I thought appropriate. –Dean
About Our Infertility
Adrienne knows that you love her and want her to be happy, to be her “old self” again. Maybe lately, she seems isolated, depressed or obsessed with the idea of having a baby.
You probably have difficulty understanding why getting pregnant has colored virtually every aspect of her daily life. Adie hopes that by reading this , written by psychologists with both personal and professional experience with infertility, you will better understand the pain she is feeling. This letter also will tell you how you can help her.
SOME FACTS ABOUT INFERTILITY
It may surprise you to know that one out of six women who wants to have a baby cannot conceive. There are many possible reasons for this dismal statistic: blocked fallopian tubes, ovarian failure, hormonal imbalances, toxic exposure, husband’s low sperm count, to name just a few. Moreover, after a woman turns 35, it becomes difficult to have a baby primarily because many of the eggs she has left are defective.
All these barriers to pregnancy are physical or physiological, not psychological. Tubes don’t become blocked because a woman is “trying too hard” to get pregnant. Antibodies that kill sperm will not disappear if a woman simply relaxes. And a man cannot make his sperm swim faster by developing a more optimistic outlook.
When someone we care about has a problem, it is natural to try to help. If there’s nothing specific that we can do, we try to give helpful advice. Often, we draw on our personal experiences or on anecdotes involving other people we know. Perhaps you recall a friend who had trouble getting pregnant until she and her husband went to a tropical island. So you suggest that she and I take a vacation, too.
We appreciate your advice, but cannot use it because of the physical nature of our problems. Not only can we not use your advice, the sound of it upsets Adie greatly. Indeed, she is inundated with this sort of advice at every turn. Imagine how frustrating it must be for her to hear about other couples who “magically” become pregnant during a vacation simply by making love. To us, undergoing infertility treatment, making love and conceiving a child have very little to do with one another, now. You can’t imagine how hard we have been trying to have this baby and how crushed Adie and I feel every month we learn that we failed again. Your well-meaning advice is an attempt to transform an extremely complicated predicament into a simplistic little problem. By simplifying our problems in this manner, you’ve diminished the validity of our emotions, making us feel psychologically undervalued. Naturally, both of us will feel angry and upset with you under these circumstances.
The truth is: There’s practically nothing concrete you can do to help Adrienne. The best help you can provide is to be understanding and supportive. It’s easier to be supportive if you can appreciate how being unable to have a baby can be such a devastating blow.
WHY NOT HAVING A BABY IS SO UPSETTING
Women are reared with the expectation that they will have a baby someday. They’ve thought about themselves in a motherhood role ever since they played with dolls. A woman may not even consider herself part of the adult world unless she is a parent. When Adrienne thinks she cannot have a baby, she feels “broken.”
Worse, we are not even certain that we will never have a baby. One of the cruellest things you can do to a person is give them hope and then not come through. Modern medicine has created this double-edged sword. It offers hope where there previously was none — but at the price of slim odds.
WHAT MODERN MEDICINE HAS TO OFFER THE INFERTILE COUPLE
In the past decade, reproductive medicine has made major breakthroughs that enable women, who in the past were unable to have children, to now conceive. The use of drugs such as Pergonal can increase the number and size of eggs that a woman produces thereby increasing her chances of fertilization. In-vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques extract a woman’s eggs and mix them with sperm in a “test tube” and allow them to fertilize in a laboratory. The embryo can then be transferred back to the woman’s uterus. There are many other options, as well.
Despite the hope these technologies offer, they are a hard row to hoe. Adrienne has endured repeated doctor’s visits, taken daily injections, shuffled work, school and social schedules to accommodate various procedures, and laid out considerable sums of money — money that may or may not be reimbursed by insurance. All of this is preceded by a battery of diagnostic tests that can be both embarrassing and extremely painful.
Infertility is a highly personal medical condition, one that we may feel uncomfortable discussing with our employers. So, Adie is faced with coming up with excuses whenever her treatment interferes with her job. Meanwhile, we are devoting considerable time and energy to managing a mountain of claims forms and other paperwork required by insurers.
After every medical attempt at making her pregnant, she and I must play a waiting game that is peppered with spurts of optimism and pessimism. It is an emotional roller coaster. She doesn’t know if her swollen breasts are a sign of pregnancy or a side effect of the fertility drugs. If she sees a spot of blood on her underwear, she doesn’t know if an embryo is trying to implant or her period is about to begin. If she is not pregnant after a procedure, we may feel as though our baby died. How can a person grieve for a life that existed only in our mind?
While trying to cope with this emotional turmoil, she gets invited to a baby shower or Christening, learns that a friend or colleague is pregnant, or she reads about a one-day-old infant found abandoned in a Dumpster. Can you try to imagine her envy, her rage over the inequities in life? Given that infertility permeates practically every facet of our existence, is it any wonder why she is obsessed with her quest?
Every month, we wonder whether this will finally be our month. If is is not, we wonder if we can muster the energy to try again. Will we be able to afford another procedure?
So when you speak with Adirenne, try to empathize with the burdens on her mind and in her heart. She knows you care about her, and she may need to talk with you about her ordeal. But she knows that there is nothing you can say or do to make her pregnant, and she fears that you will offer a suggestion that will trigger even more despair.
WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR US?
You can give us support, and don’t criticize Adie or I for any steps we may be taking — such as not attending a nephew’s birthday — to protect ourselves from emotional trauma. You can say something like this:
I care about you. After reading this letter, I have a better idea about how hard this must be for you. I wish I could help. I’m here to listen to you and cry with you, if you feel like crying. I’m here to cheer you on when you feel as though there is no hope. You can talk to me. I care.
The most important thing to remember is that Adie and I are distraught and worried. Listen to what we have to say, but do not judge. Do not belittle her feelings. Don’t try to pretend that everything will be OK. Don’t sell her on fatalism with statements like, “What will be will be.” If that were truly the case, what’s the point of using medical technology to try to accomplish what nature cannot?
Your willingness to listen can be of great help. Infertile women feel cut off from other people. Your ability to listen and support her will help her handle the stress she’s experiencing. Our infertility is one of the most difficult situations we will ever have to deal with.
Just as an ordinary room can be an obstacle course to a blind person, so can the everyday world be full of hazards for an infertile woman — hazards which do not exist for women with children.
She goes to her cousin’s house for Christmas. Her cousin is breast-feeding. The men are watching the football game while the women talk about the problems with their kids. She feels left out, to say the least. Christmas is an example of the many holidays that are particularly difficult for her. They mark the passage of time. She remembers what came to mind last Christmas — that the next year, she would have a new son or daughter to show off to her family.
Mundane activities like a walk down the street or going to the shopping mall are packed with land mines. Seeing women pushing baby carriages and strollers strikes a raw nerve. While watching TV, Adirenne is bombarded by commercials for diapers, baby food, and early pregnancy tests.
At a party, someone asks how long she’s been married and whether she has any kids. She feels like running out of the room, but she can’t. If she talks about being infertile, she’s likely to get well-intentioned advice — just the thing she doesn’t need: “Just relax. Don’t worry. It will happen soon,” or “You’re lucky. I’ve had it with my kids. I wish I had your freedom.” These are the kinds of comments that make her want to crawl under the nearest sofa and die.
Escape into work and career can be impossible. Watching our dream shatter on a monthly basis, we can have difficulty investing energy in advancing our careers. All around, her co-workers are getting pregnant. Going to a baby shower is painful — but so is distancing herself from social occasions celebrated by her colleagues.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Because we are infertile, life is extremely stressful for us. We are doing our best to cope. Please be understanding. Sometimes she will be depressed. Often times she will be angry. Sometimes she will be physically and emotionally exhausted. She’s not going to be “the same old sweetie” she used to be. She might not want to do many of the things she used to do.
We have no idea when, or if, our problem will be solved. We are engaged in an emotionally and financially taxing venture with a low probability of success. Overall, only about 11 percent of those people using special fertility treatments succeed in having a baby. The odds are even lower for women over 40. The longer we persevere, however, the greater her chances of pregnancy become.
Maybe someday we will be successful. Maybe someday we will give up and turn to adoption, or come to terms with living a childfree life. At present, though, we have no idea what will happen. It’s all we can do to keep going from one day to the next. We do not know why this is our lot. Nobody does. All we know is the horrible anguish that we live with every day.
Please care about her. Please be sensitive to her situation. Give her your support, she needs it and wants it.