Posts Tagged ‘Women’s Health’

How I Cope with Infertility

20130326-205801.jpgI wrote the other day about my own struggles with infertility, and I wanted to share a little more about what has helped me cope with it. Here are five of the resources and types of interactions that have made a difference for me.

1. When I was trying to have a baby, I relied heavily on The Unofficial Guide to Overcoming Infertility.

I casually mentioned this guide by Joan Liebmann-Smith, Ph.D. in my previous post. The truth is I relied on this book heavily before my husband and I conceived our son. The majority of the book details causes of infertility and the types of treatments that are available. The extensive medical information helped me know what to expect at appointments and how to interpret results as we went along.

In addition to the medical information there were some key insights in the guide that helped me frame what I was dealing with and how to proceed:

  • The book addresses the reality that both men & women can have infertility problems. It goes on to recommend that both partners be screened for possibile fertility concerns. (This is common practice in reproductive medicine, but I learned it first from the guide.)
  • As the title of the guide mentions overcoming infertility, the author addresses this by suggesting there is more than one way to “overcome” infertility: overcoming could mean having a child, adopting a child, making the choice not to have children.
  • The author also warns of the strain that infertility can cause for a couple. Practical advice we found helpful was to talk with your partner about your goals and decide together how far you will go with treatment, when or whether to go the adoption route, and when you will walk away. Talking about these things was essential for preserving our marriage.

2. I realize that I am not the only one dealing with this when I get to talk with others with infertility concerns.

Many people find strength to face difficulties by talking with other people who are going through something similar. This was an essential aspect of my coping with infertility.

Nobody understood how painful a baby shower was for me as well as other women facing infertility. Others who had been in treatment longer than me could give me first-hand insight into what to expect. It was a great relief to know that we were not the only couple having trouble keeping the love in scheduled love-making.

I have found these relationships pretty naturally, but if you don’t know anyone else facing infertility you could look for a support group. You could check with your doctor, a local hospital, or a nearby counseling center to see if they know of support groups in your area.

You can also find information and support online:

  • Hannah’s Prayer Ministries provides Christian-based support and encouragement to married women around the world who are struggling with the pain of fertility challenges, including primary and secondary infertility, pregnancy loss, early infant death, and adoption loss. Our outreach extends to those who become mothers of living children through pregnancy, adoption, and/or foster care.
  • Hannah’s Prayer Community Forums is the message/bulletin board branch of Hannah’s Prayer Ministries. To join, you will need to register and agree to their statement of faith. Administrator’s approval is required and could take 1-2 days.
  • Resolve: The National Infertility Association, is a non-profit organization with the only established, nationwide network mandated to promote reproductive health and to ensure equal access to all family building options for men and women experiencing infertility or other reproductive disorders.

3. I draw strength from talking about my infertility struggles with caring friends and family who are not dealing with infertility challenges.

While nobody understands in the same way as someone else going through infertility, there are lot of caring people out there. Being appropriately open with people about my struggles has provided me with broad-based support. This can be risky which is why I usually start with sharing just the basics.

The types of people I talk with most about it:

  • wait for me to broach the subject of children,
  • let me talk as much (or as little) as I want to about my infertility,
  • listen with love,
  • accept me and my emotions (even my anger!) and do not judge me,
  • pray for &/or with me,
  • follow up with me after I share with them.

The types of people that make me uncomfortable:

  • don’t know me very well, but pry into why our family isn’t bigger,
  • make predictions and promises about my condition,
  • despite lack of experience, have a lot of unsolicited advice,
  • ignore my verbal &/or nonverbal cues that I don’t want to talk about it.

Specific things not to say are listed in How to Encourage Your Infertile or Bereaved Friends, the last article listed under The Issues on the Hannah’s Prayer website.

For general insight into caring for others in difficult times, you can read Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart: How to Relate to Those Who Are Suffering and/or Christian Caregiving: A Way of Life. Both books are by Dr. Kenneth C. Haugk, the founder of Stephen Ministries St. Louis.

4. I feel confident about my medical care when I have doctors who really listen.

Throughout my saga with infertility one of my biggest concerns has been my overall health. My particular infertility condition is a complex syndrome with additional implications for my health. Even when we were actively seeking pregnancy I didn’t want to ignore my overall health and just get a baby at any cost. Then and now I am most confident about the care I am getting when I feel like the doctor really listens to my concerns and goals for treatment.

Finding a doctor like that can be easier said than done. I wish I had better recommendations for a sure-fire way to find a great doctor. Many people are limited by geography or insurance issues. Still, if you have a choice, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion or to find a doctor that is a better match for you.

Word of mouth is a great way to find a good doctor, which goes back to #2 above. Perhaps some of the links in that section could help you connect with people in your area who can make good recommendations.

5. Even when I’m mad at God, I need the support of my faith communities.

It was a big turning point for me before we had our son when I finally asked to be added to the church prayer list for my infertility concerns. I had told one or two people in the church, but most people had no idea. When I asked for prayer it became public. I was nervous at first, but my church family at the time held my prayer need with utmost respect.

When I am struggling in my faith I am particularly glad for corporate worship and liturgy in particular. Even if I can’t pray, the community of faith carries me through their prayers. Churches who do liturgical worship are accused sometimes of “just going through the motions.” I have to tell you though, when infertility plunged me to my lowest point, those “motions” were all I had. Reciting liturgy that I have memorized, that I know by heart allowed me to pray when I would not have otherwise been able to pray.

One thing that helped me also was when my congregation and other supportive faith communities became aware of the pain of infertility. Due to awareness about infertility, my church family prayed for couples who cannot have children on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Before I had my son, fellow members of an online discussion group for Pastor’s Wives made a point to show sensitivity when sharing about baby news.

These are the things that have helped me. What has made a difference for you in facing infertility? What other resources do you know of that can help raise awareness about infertility?

Infertility Interrupted

“You have one bebé? Just one?” she asked in her broken English.

We have these little talks when I see this lovely Hispanic woman where she works.

“Sí, uno. Solamente uno,” I used my limited Spanish to confirm that I had just one baby.

“Ahh,” she nodded.

I just kept nodding awkwardly because I had a feeling what she was going to ask next.

Indeed, with a gleam in her eye and a big grin, she asked, “How many you want?” She held up her fingers to count on them, “You want one? Two? Three bebé?”

She kept grinning.

I don’t even know how to answer that question in my native tongue.

There was a time when I would have burst, saying, “Yes! I would love to have two, three or four!” eagerly counting them out on my own fingers.

And now? What I want is no longer clear for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that I have a history of infertility. There’s a certain futility to wanting more when it was hard enough to have one.

I didn’t have the Spanish to tell her that.

I looked her in the eye, “no puedo,” I said very gravely, meaning to say simply, “I can’t.” Then I gestured to my womb, made a sad face, and hung my head.

“Ohhh…” she groaned.

I didn’t have to elaborate. Even across the language barrier she felt my meaning.

“Just one,” she nodded in understanding. I nodded back, relieved to have communicated my situation.

I don’t get asked those questions as much now as I did before I became pregnant with my son who is 9 now.

For the first several years of our marriage I was working on my degree. When the question of children came up I just said we were waiting until I was done with college.

Most people accepted that and I didn’t have to tell them that I seriously questioned whether it ever could happen because I already knew my body wasn’t working right.

When I finished my degree things changed and the questions came hurling toward us. As a beloved young couple in the public eye, inquiring minds wanted to know:

  • “Isn’t it time to start thinking about a family?”
  • “You two have so much love, don’t you want to share it?”
  • “Is there a little Tinker in the plans any time soon?”

I hope I handle those questions better now than I did then.

I was so angry back then.

I was angry at my body for being so dysfunctional.

I was angry at God for making me wrong. I was angry at God for not loving me enough to make me right.

I was angry at myself for not being good enough for God to let my body do what a “real woman” ought to be able to do.

I was angry at myself for thinking about myself as less of a woman for my infertility because I would not let any other woman in the world get away with that kind of talk about herself.

I was angry at people for whom it was easy to conceive.

I was angry when people asked me about having children. I was angry when they didn’t understand and I was angry even when they were understanding.

I was so knotted up emotionally that I’m afraid I lacked grace in many of the situations where people inquired about my prospects for children. For those I hurt back then, I am sorry.

I know that when people ask it is for all the right reasons. That’s why I try to be kinder now when the questions come.

I don’t hesitate to say, “I can’t” when they ask. I let them know the truth because being coy just draws out their questioning making it even more awkward for everyone. I’m definitive, but not curt.

I think it is safe to say that I can’t.

The Unnofficial Guide to Overcoming Infertility, by Joan Liebmann-Smith, Ph.D., says that a couple can be considered infertile if after a year of “trying” they don’t conceive. This means no pill, and no protection of any kind.

Well, I have never been on the pill and we have never used any kind of protection and in 17 years of marriage we have only had one child. That’s how broken my body is. That’s how much I can’t.

That’s not to say that I’m certain I couldn’t ever. I mean, I did once.

I have to tell you though, all that we went through to get that one bundle of joy sapped our marriage of much of its joy at the time.

I lost count of how many doctor’s appointments, medications, procedures, and needles I had to deal with in those days.

When I woke up in the morning I dutifully took my basal body temperature. Throughout my day I closely monitored my nutrition. Before bed each night I chronicled everything in a health journal.

When I was done with the health journal, I scrawled all my deepest longings, my darkest thoughts, and yes, my anger, into my main journal.

Is there still hope that I could technically get the right treatments, eat the right foods and eventually conceive again?


But I just can’t.20130320-232806.jpg

The “angry me” from back then might accuse the “now me” of failing to appreciate that I already had what so many women still long for.

I always have been and always will be grateful for my dear boy. I am a better person for having him in my life, for being his mom. He is a blessing.

I have tried to make peace with not being able to have two, three, four.

That peace tends to come and go though.

I do not feel deprived that I don’t have more children, but I lament that I can’t. I lament my broken body.

In all of this, in the peace and in the unrest, I cling to the God who loves me. I know I can lament and God will listen. Even in my angry days, I knew my God was strong enough to be mad at.

I find my worth in God’s love and that alone.