Saturday, May 5, 2012

Navigating and Surviving Infertility #1

illustration by victoria whincup
I'd like to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to discuss some things I've learned and to offer an update on how things are going since our loss last September. For those of you who have no interest in reading about the ugly topic of infertility, I do not blame you so please ignore this series of posts and come back later. For those of you who have been following this blog for some time (thank you, you mean the world to me!) you are probably aware that I don't share much about my personal life here, but the things I do share are near and dear to me and are written with as much transparency and honesty as possible. This is not an easy topic to write about but I write for myself and I write for you, those that might find themselves in a similar situation and those that will inevitably find themselves supporting someone with a similar struggle. I've decided to structure these posts as a set of tips, not because I think I have some sort of special authority over the topic, but because I think this will be the easiest way to organize my thoughts AND perhaps offer some insight into my own personal struggles and the coping mechanisms I use in surviving and even thriving during this challenging time. Before I begin though, I want to make the disclaimer that I am NOT a medical professional (I have an art degree and work in grants administration, so not even close) and if anything I say sounds like hogwash to you then GREAT, disregard it and move on.

Tip #1- Choose your support system carefully. 
If there's one thing I can say about infertility that I think rings true for 99.9% of infertile couples is that infertility is extremely isolating. Finding a support system has probably been one of the biggest challenges for me in this whole mess and it's still a struggle figuring out "safe" people to talk to in my life. Here's the deal - I find there are three types of personality types and/or reactions that I can almost always depend on receiving if I find the courage to bring the topic up with someone (which is not often, mind you) or if they've received information about our situation peripherally: 1) The avoider. Someone who simply won't acknowledge that there's an issue or is too afraid to breach the topic with you for fear of saying the wrong thing. Avoiders can seem callous and insensitive, especially if you've suffered a loss, but avoiders probably care deeply and it will be helpful to remind yourself that not everyone is comfortable talking about your inability to have a baby. Avoiders will not make into your support system by default but they're an easy personality to deal with because in avoiding the topic altogether, they make the choice for you! 2) The advice giver. It never ceases to amaze me the type of advice people are willing give an infertile couple and although they mean well, advice can be a double edge sword and a painful one at that. These types of people are generally "fixers" and they genuinely want to help and you've got to love them for it but that doesn't mean that advice givers make the best support system. If you're dealing with infertility, you've probably been told to "relax" and "just let it happen" and "be positive". For the record- telling an infertile couple to "relax" infers that their inability to relax is what is causing the problem and the last thing that you want to do is blame the couple for their infertility. By giving this advice, you're insinuating the the problem lies in the mind, not the body. I don't know about you, but I feel quite relaxed after a good bedroom session so relaxing isn't the issue (infertility is a medical diagnosis and can be primary or secondary. B and I are lucky to have a known medical reason for our infertility, more on that later, but even unexplained infertility is a physical issue that the doctors have yet find an explanation for). Advice givers also tend to offer up other solutions from alternative remedies to old wives tales to other bizarre anecdotes (rub your belly and imagine the sperm penetrating the egg while standing on your head). Quite frankly, unless you've undergone the same tests and procedures or you have a medical degree and are trained in reproductive endocrinology, you should not be offering medical advice. The best advice I received from a friend was before I underwent a saline ultrasound and she told me to take a few Advil before the procedure to help with the cramping. That was good advice! Advice givers can be a part of your support system, no doubt, but remember to take advice (even the advice I'm giving you right now) with a grain of salt. You decide what's best for you in concert with your partner and your physician. Keep in mind too, that other infertile couples do not always make great support systems because everyone deals with this thing in their own way and your infertile friends may not understand why you're not proceeding with a treatment or why you have hang ups about certain meds, etc. This brings me to my final personality, 3) The supportive listener. If you are lucky enough to find someone who says to you, "I'm here for you although I may not know what you're going through, I'm here to listen and be your friend" then you should be thanking your lucky stars and giving that person a giant hug. Many times, an avoider or an advice giver can become a supportive listener is you simply ask for what you need, "although I appreciate your advice, what I could really use right now is a hug" but we all know, the supportive listeners are few and far between. If you are blessed to have a supportive listener in your life (and I hope you are) try your best not to take advantage of them or take them for granted. I've been on both sides of this coin and it can be very difficult and straining on a relationship to ONLY talk about infertility. It's easy to get so wrapped up in your own situation that you forget that you too need to be a friend. If the friendship turns into a one-sided, co-dependent relationship, it will eventually make your supportive listener bitter and everyone will be unhappy. Friendships are always a two way street.

I've been surprised at how family and friends have handled our situation. Some refuse to acknowledge there's a problem (even with a diagnosis and a plan of action), some people that I thought would be huge supporters have turned out not to be, and some people that I thought wouldn't be great listeners have ended up being my greatest support. I have never been great about sharing my feelings or letting people in and I acknowledge that much of my isolation is my own doing, but I'm trying to find a healthy balance of sharing with those whom I find trustworthy and telling little white lies to those whom I'd rather now let in on our "secret." Little white lies are OK, by the way, especially when you're barraged with questions like, "so when are you going to have a baby?." Not everyone needs to know your business and by being discerning with whom you choose to confide, you're protecting your own heart and that's not only OK, but it's smart! Infertility should not be dealt with alone but in the end, it's you and your partner's decision on how you choose to build your family. Period.

A note about online forums and support groups: Support can come from the most unlikely places whether that's an online forum or a support group at your local hospital or clinic. There are times when being around other infertile couples has brought me great comfort and there are also times when it has simply been too overwhelming and stressful to listen to other people's infertility struggles. These groups are designed to bring support but if you're not feeling supported and are only feeling overwhelmed, simply leave and try again later. Or not. It's up to you and that's the beauty of it. No one will judge and if they do, oh well.
A note about professional support: There are times and situations which will require more support than what families and friend can offer. Repeated losses and invasive treatment are harrowing to body and soul and although your doctor may be able to offer you medical advice, they cannot offer the type of emotional support that is needed during these times. Most clinics have psychologists and counselors on staff that are trained in the specific needs of infertile couples. Although they cost money, which can seem impossible with the financial strains most infertile couples are under, taking care of yourself emotionally must be top priority so I think this is money well spent.

I'd love to hear what you think about the new series. I'd also love to hear your own experiences in choosing your support system or being a supporter yourself. I realize this is a sensitive topic so please feel free to comment anonymously. I'd love to hear your thoughts and I hope that you'll find this a safe place to share. Disparaging and ugly comments (which I don't expect because you all are and have been, for the past three years, the loveliest readers around) will be deleted without hesitation.

15 comments:

catie said...

christina,
this is not advice : ) but something that can lift the clouds for just a second... knowing that your baby has a birth date which is written in the stars. each day of longing, each day of procedures, puts you one day closer to that date.
what an awesome mama you will be.
sending you a nice bug {{{hug}}}
♥catie

Anna @ IHOD said...

Christina,
I think its amazing that you are willing to share your story. So many people will gain strength and encouragement from your honesty. I have a few close friends suffering from infertility right now and it sucks. And they of course are the ones that would make incredible mothers. It was helpful to read your perspective on support and hope I can be a better support for them.
Hugs your way,
Anna

Em-Jae said...

You are so amazing from sharing this. I'm not at the point of even starting to try for kids yet, but I have to admit -- infertility is one of my biggest fears.

And I think it's such a common fear -- as women, we have no way of knowing until it happens to us. How frightening.

I think your post will help me be a better support for my friends who are struggling through the same thing... :]

*big hug*

jdavissquared said...

I think it's great that you're doing this series! My husband and I struggled with infertility for almost 3 years. (I'm actually 13.5 weeks pregnant now.). I think the biggest challenge for me was opening up. I can totally relate to feeling isolated. Fortunately, we were blessed to have a great support system. Those who said unsupportive things were few and far between, and we learned to talk through their advice between us as a couple and let go of what was not useful. We also had the help of a fantastic counselor. In fact, that was quite possibly the biggest blessing in disguise. We have grown a lot in our marriage, which will only better equip us for being parents.
I've often thought of you, sweet friend. I hope things are going well for you. Follow your gut. That's the one piece of advice I'd offer.
Looking forward to seeing what else you have to say.
God bless.

Anonymous said...

As someone who went through 'unexplained' infertility, it's quite courageous of you to be so open in such a public forum. It can be such a devastating thing that takes over every aspect of your life if you allow it. My husband & I underwent all the physical testing and both were deemed 'okay' although the two years of trying to conceive previously proved otherwise. I felt a bit better talking with a few people whom I knew went through the same thing with all different results (fertility drugs, IVF, adoption) but its still such a polarizing experience and very lonely, even though you endure it with a partner. It's hard to explain to people, especially extremely fertile couples. I found a lot of those girlfriends to be very free with their 'advice'. They were also very judgmental of an acquaintance who couldn't attend what seemed to be the never ending parade of baby showers & announcements due to her infertility. At first that made me keep quiet to some of my closests friends, then when I opened up, I tried to make them see it from her/our perspective. They kinda got it but unless you go through it, it's impossible to understand. I know that sinking feeling of finding out that yet another friend is expecting and how hard it is to keep your perspective & emotions in check. To allow yourself to feel happy & joy for them instead of the jealousy & bitterness that wants to to take over....it wants to work really hard to not let it. Work hard to swallow the bad feelings about yourself because that's really what the negative feelings are about. Someone else's pregnancy just magnifies your inability to conceive by one thousand percent & slaps you in the face yet again. It's something you can't get away from, think about every other moment & or fix easily.

I found myself falling into a deep depression so we made a plan in late November to see the doctor together & try chlomid in January...I wanted to holidays to relax. Once a plan was in place, one week later...December 3rd, I was pregnant. I stopped stressing and it happened. I hated hearing those stories when we were in the middle of the infertility but ...I don't know? It didn't make those two years any less difficult or hard. I just wish it was that easy for everyone to overcome it. Now our son is 18 months & we want to start trying again. I'm very anxious about going through the process again though.

Best of luck to you & your partner in this journey. I really hope your plan goes as you want it. All warm thoughts, good karma & positive wishes to you.

Down and Out Chic said...

@catie- thank you for your kind words.

@anna- from what i know of you through our dealings in blogland, i'm sure you are a wonderful friend and a huge support. they're lucky to have you in their lives.

@em-jae- yes, infertility is a major fear for most women, i think. the good news is that statistics are on the side of fertility so don't worry until there's something to worry about. (easier said than done, i know!)

@jdavissquared- HUGE congrats on your pregnancy sweet friend! it's nice to know that a counselor was able to offer you all support, it's something i've been thinking about trying. cheers to a happy and healthy pregnancy for you!

@anonymous- thank you for sharing your story. it is frightening opening up in a public forum but i suppose i'm tired of being fearful. everything you said rings true for me too. congratulations on the birth of your son and i truly hope this second go-round goes smoothly for you. xo

MrsKinne said...

I appreciate your sharing this. Infertility can feel hopeless and isolating, just like you said. The best thing for me was finding women who had struggled with infertility and knew how I was feeling. Of course, these were the women that I was most excited to tell when we finally got that positive test.

It took a year and a half-- and a couple medications, but we are 22 weeks tomorrow. I am sending positive thoughts your way!

Daniella@ThisCouldBeMeToday said...

I think this is excellent advice. I just hit the one year mark trying to conceive, and I hadn't thought much about actually CHOOSING a support system. Thank you for being willing to share on such a sensitive topic, and good luck!!

Dear Demoiselle said...

Christina, I'm so sorry to read about what happened! I didn't know until now - when you wrote your initial post, I was very busy and didn't do much blog reading =( I think you're very brave and very cool, and I'm convinced that your post will contribute to making some of your readers' life a little easier - as the comments are already demonstrating.

This post also teaches us about how to be someone's support system, because no one goes through life without meeting people who struggle with some kind of sorrow.

Best of luck, I hope everything will turn out wonderful for you and your husband!

Anonymous said...

Infertility is an ugly topic that those who have not had the pleasure of dealing with have a hard time knowing what to say or do. I became depressed after trying unsuccesfully for what seemed like forever. It feels as though you are stuck in one phase in your life and it is impossible to move on. Knowing that others are having similar experiences and struggles is comforting to me.
I also nearly lose my s?!> everytime someone mentions stress. If stress were the reason our species would have died off long ago. Best of luck to you..

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear about this...my husband and i have been down this road the last few years and I find myself nodding as I read your descriptions of responses of friends. I hope that you know you aren't alone in this journey and that your hopes of parenthood are answered at some point even if in a different way than you originally planned. All the best.

JanaĆ­na Lemos said...

You aren't alone! Thank you for sharing your story with us! In the world are many women who live this reality and many can note afford tratment or medical/psychological support. The support comes from the exchange of experience! thank you for this! sorry my english!

Anonymous said...

I want to thank you for sharing your struggle through your blog. We've been trying to have a baby since January, and that's not too terribly long by doctor's standards, but to us, we're surprised how long it's taking. No one ever talks about how long it can take to conceive -- you only hear about the people who get pregnant on "the first try!" It's amazing how little anyone talks about miscarriages, infertility, the resources that are available to us -- all are so important. Knowledge is power -- so thank you for posting the books you've read and are reading -- you have no idea how helpful that is. And, I just wanted to say that I agree about choosing your support system carefully -- people don't mean any harm, but never tell someone to "relax" !! We've been told the same thing, and it's so frustrating. And, maybe I'm being sensitive, but people who never had any trouble conceiving/carrying children seem to wear it as a badge of honor, and it can feel like they're rubbing it in others' faces a little. (Like I said, maybe I'm being too sensitive, but that's how I feel sometimes.) I don't think some women even realize it, but when childbearing/rearing is the topic of conversation, the snarky, judgey, competitive comments really let loose.

Anyway, thanks so much for sharing and being so candid -- you are a strong woman that I really look up to.

Onward! Today is a new day.

cgirl said...

It helps me to see that others feel the way I do. My husband and I have been trying for a year, with 2 miscarraiges, and my dr doesn't seem at all concerned. I am so incredibly sick of celebrating other people's babies, and of my friend who means well and tells me that I just "have to know" that it will be my turn someday. Everyone says "it will happen" I want to scream "YOU DON'T KNOW THAT!" I am going on 36 and feel as though I am running out of time. I feel so alone even though my husband is very supportive and understanding. I feel like nobody understands what I feel or why I feel that way. Reading your blog and comments at least makes me feel like someone out there understands. Not that I wish this upon anyone, but at least I don't feel like a freak for crying after my coworker had her baby today.

Thank you all for sharing.

cgirl said...

It helps me to see that others feel the way I do. My husband and I have been trying for a year, with 2 miscarraiges, and my dr doesn't seem at all concerned. I am so incredibly sick of celebrating other people's babies, and of my friend who means well and tells me that I just "have to know" that it will be my turn someday. Everyone says "it will happen" I want to scream "YOU DON'T KNOW THAT!" I am going on 36 and feel as though I am running out of time. I feel so alone even though my husband is very supportive and understanding. I feel like nobody understands what I feel or why I feel that way. Reading your blog and comments at least makes me feel like someone out there understands. Not that I wish this upon anyone, but at least I don't feel like a freak for crying after my coworker had her baby today.

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