Dealing with the invisible grief of infertility — and finding support
In navigating through infertility, you may face plenty of physical challenges and barriers, but the mental strain often bears equal weight. Infertility can be frustrating, heartbreaking and confusing for those going through it. Often the grief is invisible. Some suffer in silence or don’t know how to talk about what they’re experiencing, whereas others fight feelings of anger or helplessness.
If you’re struggling with infertility, know that you aren’t alone. Countless individuals have experienced similar issues and borne the weight of similar heartache. Many have gone on to have successful pregnancies. With that in mind, here are five thoughts to keep close as you move forward.
Five things to remember if you’re struggling with infertility
1. Stay honest about and open to infertility support
There may be times when you want to bottle up your feelings for the sake of getting through the day, but ultimately that’s not a sustainable method for coping. Staying open about how you’re doing — whether that’s with your partner, family, therapist or support group — is key to keeping your mental health intact.
Honesty is especially crucial in conversations with your doctor or fertility specialist, since they should be aware of any emotional strain you’re facing as you figure out treatment together. You’re allowed to feel anger, grief, sadness or any other emotions that may come up during your journey — and you should also be able to express what you need to, when you need to.
2. Be kind to yourself
In a time when it’s easy to be frustrated with your body’s limits, it’s also easy to internalize that blame, especially if not much else is within your control. Remember: Infertility is not your fault or your failure. Find strategies to keep from spiraling into self-blame, whether that’s a self-care routine, daily affirmations, time spent with your hobbies or finding new outlets for your emotions. Being hard on yourself isn’t a helpful or productive way to spend your energy. Instead, be gentle with yourself and your body as you work toward your family planning goals.
3. Keep your routine as simple as possible
There may be moments when you feel out of control with your body or your reproductive health, and that’s natural. To balance that, create space for rest and simplicity in your everyday routine. Reprioritizing your nonessential social obligations can lift some weight off your shoulders as you focus on conceiving. Take time to slow down, maybe with a morning walk or time to read in the evening. Or start small by just doing one task or chore at a time instead of focusing on three at once. Your body and mind will thank you for a few moments of peace.
4. Set boundaries for yourself
If you can’t go to a gathering with nieces and nephews or a friend’s baby shower because of your own struggle, don’t be afraid to set those boundaries. Being around other children, newborns or pregnant friends can be incredibly painful. If they are close friends or family, they may know what you’re going through and will hopefully understand. It may be tempting to try to show up for everyone else, but make sure to leave room to still care for yourself.
5. We’ll say it again: You are not alone
Between the flurry of appointments, treatments and tests, you may feel like you’re facing infertility in a vacuum, completely on your own. In reality, issues with fertility are much more common than you may think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 11% of women and 9% of men of reproductive age in the U.S. experience fertility problems.1 Recognizing the prevalence of infertility among hopeful parents, and even sharing your own experience with others, can help break the stigma around an issue that affects many. Find a trusted friend or community to confide in, especially others who know what you’re going through. Because infertility shouldn’t be an isolated experience for any individual or couple.
How to support someone with infertility
Maybe you’re not the one facing infertility, but your friend, sibling or coworker is working through it. If that’s the case, you can offer infertility support and stay compassionate to their journey in a few important ways:
Be cautious when offering advice or encouragement
If someone shares their struggle with you, your instinct may be to jump in with a piece of advice or perspective, especially if you also went through infertility. However, not everyone who shares is looking for a solution, and some common encouragements may come across as condescending. “Everything happens for a reason” or “you’ll get pregnant when you least expect it” may sound comforting in theory, but there’s a chance it could be received as trite or superficial. With such a sensitive topic, only lend your perspective if someone explicitly asks for it.
Lend a listening ear
There is power in simply being a present, active listener to someone going through infertility. They may be expressing their deepest desires for a family in a very vulnerable way, and it’s an honor if they feel comfortable doing so around you. If you’re unsure of how to respond (and wary of giving unwarranted advice), you can simply ask them what they need and reassure them you’ll be there. Maybe they need a distraction or a few chores taken off their plate or just a friendly presence.
Sometimes the best thing you can say in support is, “I’m sorry you are going through this,” and make space for experiences to be shared. Likewise, for those going through infertility, telling your story holds power. Your journey towards completing your family may be uniquely yours, but you are never alone.
- Chandra, A., Copen, C.E., & Stephen, E.H. (2013), “Infertility and Impaired Fecundity in the United States, 1982-2010: Data From the National Survey of Family Growth”, National Health Statistics Reports, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr067.pdf