|illustration by victoria whincup|
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.