Infertility is a diagnosis that is less often talked about than other health-related topics. Because infertility can be such a life altering, emotionally taxing, financially draining struggle, some couples understandably choose to navigate this journey in private. But because most of us will know someone who is struggling with infertility, or will experience infertility first-hand, it is important to increase sensitivity to and awareness about what this diagnosis entails.
The most important thing to understand about infertility is that you merely cannot fully understand it unless you yourself have personally experienced it. We can imagine and sympathize, but you can’t truly empathize until you have personally been given the news that you might never be a parent to a biological child. Children are everywhere. Pregnant women are everywhere. Baby showers and birthday parties are common occurrences in the lives of couples, even in the lives of those without children. So, those with infertility cannot escape the pain of the constant reminders that others seem to so readily have what these couples so desperately want.
“Why not just adopt?,” so many might ask. Easy to say for those who have been able to experience a pregnancy, birth, and become parents of a biological child. Adoption is a noble and wonderful way to parent a child. But, this is not necessarily a desire for every prospective parent. And, choosing adoption is much different than being required to adopt because no other option is available to you. It is NOT selfish to want to parent a biological child in the traditional way that most people are able to do, rather it is a natural, normal feeling that the majority of couples experience. So, couples with infertility are no different when they want this for themselves.
When a couple is given the news that they are infertile, this is only the first step in their long and painful process of trying to become parents. Following the news, there are tests upon tests for both partners involved. This includes painful examinations, expensive office visits that are not covered by most insurances, and waiting days or weeks for results and answers that can dictate what their entire future may or may not include. With these tests and results come feelings of doubt, uncertainty, confusion, anger, sadness, fear, incompetence, and, sometimes, hopelessness.
Following the testing, there is the treatment. Depending on the results of the testing, there are a variety of courses a couple may need to take. Some couples must try different approaches, one after the other. While some problems are remedied during this phase, some treatments are met with failure and bad news. With each step in treatment, the couple will learn more about what their chances are and how much money they must invest to possibly become parents. There are no guarantees.
Some couples will have success within the first year of treatment, yet for other couples, the treatment period lasts years. Some couples must take breaks in between treatments so that they can financially afford the next phase. Other couples need marital counseling because the strain takes a toll on their relationships. And some couples choose to stop treatment altogether because the emotional and physical pain becomes too much to endure. It is important to understand that infertility treatments don’t always result in a child.
Many fortunate couples will achieve their dream of becoming pregnant. Some will lose these babies during pregnancy, and others will go on to deliver happy, healthy ones. But, the emotional scar of the struggle doesn’t disappear. People often think that, for those infertile couples who are eventually able to parent a child, the miracle of the success is all that is felt. But, even still, there are unanswered questions, medical bills to be paid, and the apprehension and fear that looms when they think about the next child that they may or may not be able to have.
For those who are experiencing infertility, there is hope. There are wonderful success stories and many happy endings. And, modern science has offered so many opportunities that weren’t afforded to couples in past generations. It is important for couples to understand that they are not alone, that the feelings they have are warranted, and that they are allowed to feel and proceed in the way that works for them. Some may ignorantly judge, offer unsolicited advice, or lead you to feel sad or guilty. But, others will offer you strength and hopefulness. So, take time to care for yourself, draw from these sources of support, and go forth in the way that feels right for you and your (hopefully) expanding family.
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