By Julie Hall, MBA, MS, MFT
There are few things that social media loves more than a baby announcement. It’s the picture of an expectant mother gently cradling her belly while her partner lovingly looks on. It’s the picture of a beaming toddler wearing a shirt that says “big brother” or “big sister”. It’s the picture of a couple holding their sweet first ultrasound picture with beautiful smiles. We have all seen variations of these pictures or perhaps have posted one of these images onto our own social media feeds. They garner loads of congratulatory words and kind prayers of blessing. But for one in six couples, or roughly 12% of the reproductive age population, the idea of making a baby announcement on social media feels like an unattainable dream that has been marred with disappointments, heartache and unbearable loss.
Just how painful is infertility for women? In one study, 63% of women who experienced both infertility and divorce rated their infertility as more painful than their divorce. In another study, women who experienced either chronic or life-threatening diseases ranked the emotional pain of infertility at similar levels to that of terminal illness. As a woman who can identify with fertility struggles, and as a clinician who works with couples and women around this type of grief in my office, I am convinced that one of the most difficult aspects of infertility is the isolation that often occurs because women and men do not know who to turn to and how to connect with support.
April 24th – 30th marks Infertility Awareness Week, a movement that was started in 1989 and founded by the National Infertility Association. This year’s theme is called “Start Asking”, which I love because it offers people who are directly in the infertility journey or watching their loved ones suffer in silence, the opportunity to use their voice and get involved in the cause, a counter to the norm of isolation. It’s often the feeling of helplessness that keeps us from reaching out or offering support. But in isolation, the pain is often exacerbated and the healing can be very challenging. A very simple way to encourage a friend or loved one is by acknowledging the heartache that infertility can cause. Offering a warm hug or inviting a couple out for a meal to just listen or help them take time off from their struggle to laugh can also make a meaningful difference in their journey. Offering to help them find therapy services can also be a way to encourage them in their pain.
As friends, family members, people in the community, we likely know one or more people who desperately want to have a child but continue to experience loss after loss. They celebrate the joys of the new sweet babies around them, but look at their own empty arms and ache with grief. Our friends, family members, and community would benefit from our love and care. We heal in relationships with one another and become stronger when we know that we are supported and cared for. Let us combat the isolation of infertility by acknowledging the pain and surrounding it with love.