If you struggle with infertility, you’re not alone. Twelve percent of women, and 1 in 8 couples, struggle to get or stay pregnant. Infertility has been a source of pain and struggle for as long as there have been humans.
There are gods and goddesses, cults, and sects devoted to fertility. If you’re struggling with infertility for the first time, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, scared, and stressed. Texas’s Center of Reproductive Medicine helps you tackle your fears and concerns, one by one, so you can have a baby, retain your sanity, and protect your relationship from the ravages of infertility.
If you’re facing infertility for the first time, here are 10 things you need to know to survive.
It’s Not Your Fault
In religious texts, mythological works, and even ancient laws, everyone agreed on one thing: infertility was the fault of the woman. It happened because she said or did something wrong. Occasionally the man might be implicated, too. After all, good people are always able to have children!
We now know that this is untrue, but the social stigma of infertility persists. Most couples who struggle with infertility don’t openly talk about it. This means people facing infertility for the first time feel much more alone than they actually are. They may mistakenly believe they’re the only couple among their friends facing this issue. Single people trying to get pregnant might think they’re the only ones walking this lonely road.
You are not alone, and it’s not your fault. This isn’t because of something you did or didn’t do. Don’t feel ashamed of waiting “too long” or of not leading a perfect lifestyle, either. Everyone makes mistakes, and people are waiting longer now than ever before to have children. Most are still able to have kids. You didn’t cause this. That means you can’t will it away, either.
Blaming yourself for your infertility doesn’t just feel bad. It can also undermine your ability to get help. Fertility has a clock attached to it. Once a woman’s eggs are gone, they’re gone forever. Men, too, see age-related declines in fertility. This means that now is always the best time to have a baby -- no matter when now is.
Waiting until next month, next year, or next decade means waiting until there’s an even lower chance of a successful pregnancy. So when your sense of guilt and self-blame interfere with your ability to seek help, they can also undermine -- sometimes permanently -- your ability to become a parent.
Don’t punish yourself. Get help now. If you’re under 35 and have tried more than a year, it’s time for a referral. Couples over the age of 35 who have tried six months without success should seek help.
It’s Normal to Feel a Range of Emotions
Angry. Sad. Depressed. Hopeless. Inexplicably inspired. Resentful of your partner or family.
You’ve probably felt it all, and much more. Infertility taps into that which is fundamentally human: our ability to connect with others, and to continue the species. When this evolutionary drive is thwarted, the feelings can be overwhelming. In some couples struggling with infertility, the pain and endless waiting even trigger feelings of depression and low self-esteem.
Your feelings are normal, whatever they are. Don’t feel ashamed of them or view them as a sign of weakness. Infertility is one of the most stressful experiences a couple can have. The fact that your feelings are normal, however, does not mean you have to suffer in silence. The right support can help you face your fears, manage your grief, and feel hopeful about the future -- whether or not that future holds a child.
Infertility Can Affect Your Relationships
If you’re half of a couple trying to get pregnant, don’t be surprised if your relationship takes a hit as you try for a baby. Your sex life has become a utilitarian undertaking, so it’s easy to feel like there’s little intimacy -- or even for sex to become a painful reminder of that which you don’t have. Some couples find themselves losing interest in sex. This can spark further problems with intimacy, as well as resentment, since sex is the precursor to having a baby.
Relationship difficulties aren’t limited to the bedroom, though. Everyone tends to take out their stress on the person they love the most. You might believe the problem is something else, but if the issues coincide with infertility, it’s very likely that your stress and disappointment -- not a fundamental issue with your relationship -- are the real reasons you’re struggling in your relationship.
You might also find yourself snapping at or angry with other people you love -- particularly if they are unsympathetic, give useless advice, or continually ask you if you’re pregnant.
There Are Things You Can Do to Feel Better Right Now
It may be normal to feel overwhelmed by the pain of infertility, but that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to the pain and endlessly suffer until a successful pregnancy happens.
There are many things you can do right now to feel better. Those include:
- Coming up with a few quick retorts for unhelpful or hurtful comments. This prevents you from having to think about them and feel angry in the moment.
- Telling people you trust what you’re facing -- particularly if they keep asking you when you’re going to get pregnant.
- Finding an outlet for your emotions. Couples struggling with infertility sometimes find themselves spending every spare moment they have on trying for a pregnancy. They might read pregnancy sites and books, endlessly chart menstrual cycles, and otherwise turn pregnancy into a full-time job. You need a break. Invest in yourself. Find a hobby you love that completely takes your mind off of your fertility issues. It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that it makes you feel good.
- Get moving. Exercise can stave off depression. It can also improve overall health, potentially helping you get pregnant -- or get your partner pregnant -- faster.
- Consider meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or some other practice that alleviates anxiety. Living in a constant state of waiting is par for the course with infertility. That doesn’t mean you have to feel anxious about it.
- Find ways to reach out to your partner. A loving relationships offers significant protection from the pain of infertility. Yet for many couples, the relationships is the first thing to suffer at the hands of infertility. Find ways to support and love your partner.
- Avoid viewing a pregnancy as the key to happiness. If happiness is only in a hypothetical future, it can’t be yours now. You don’t deserve to feel that way. Find ways to be happy now.
- Don’t be afraid to create clear boundaries to protect yourself. If you need to stay away from baby showers or go off of social media to avoid pregnancy announcements, do it. Your mental health matters.
You Need and Deserve Support
Walking the road of infertility alone is one of the loneliest things you can do. So why would you try? Every individual and every couple facing infertility needs and deserves support to navigate the pain. If you have loving, supportive friends or family, don’t shy away from leaning on them. They want to help.
But what if you don’t have that kind of support, don’t feel comfortable asking for it, or are worried about how loved ones will react? You don’t have to go it alone.
The following strategies offer the support you need:
- Seek couples counseling. Counseling isn’t just for couples with “bad” marriages. Therapy can help you find ways to support one another, talk about difficult emotions, and construct a comprehensive plan for tackling the pain of infertility.
- Consider individual counseling. Couples therapy supports you as a couple. Individual therapy helps you manage your emotions, including depression and anxiety. Infertility is a relationship problem, as well as an individual challenge. Tackle it from both sides.
- Join a support group. There’s nothing quite like talking to people who have been there. You’ll get support, access to resources, and plenty of hope. Try
- Lean on your faith. If you are religious, consider asking your pastor, rabbi, or other cleric for help accessing resources. Some religious traditions are still somewhat stigmatizing of infertility, so if your faith doesn’t offer help, or if the help you receive makes things worse, don’t shy away from secular help.
Infertility Isn’t Just About the Woman
Men are doing more around the home and with their children than ever before. Yet we still live in a culture that treats parenting as women’s work. Witness commercials for diapers and baby products that always talk about moms. Or consider how schools address communications to mothers, not fathers. Women bear a heavy load on their shoulders, and nowhere is this more true than the world of infertility. Cultural norms -- not scientific fact -- have led many people to treat infertility as a woman’s problem.
After all, the woman’s body is more complex and more fragile, right?
In about a third of cases, infertility is due to a problem with the woman. In another third, the man is the problem. And in an additional third, it’s both the woman and the man. That means that if only the woman seeks testing or makes lifestyle changes, two-thirds of infertility cases will still go untreated.
Testing the man is often easier and less expensive than testing the woman. In most cases, testing begins with a semen analysis. So if you are ready to begin infertility treatment, treat it as a couples problem. And stay away from any doctor who wants only to test or treat the woman.
A Little Education Goes a Long Way
Making a baby is the most natural thing in the world, so you might think that it’s easy. Lots of “natural” things are hard -- running, breastfeeding, giving birth, and parenting spring immediately to mind. We have to learn how to do lots of things that are natural, especially if they’re not going well without some education.
Lots of factors can lead to infertility. But if the sperm and egg aren’t coming together at the right time, no amount of medical treatment can compensate for this fact. Some couples mistakenly believe that the woman is most fertile after ovulation. The day of ovulation and the day or two before are actually the most likely times for a couple to successfully make a baby. That’s because sperm can live in the reproductive tract for several days.
Other couples believe that ovulation always happens 14 days after the beginning of a woman’s last menstrual period. That’s also a myth. On average, ovulation happens after 14 days, but the average of all people tells you nothing about an individual! Home ovulation testing kits and diligent menstrual cycle charting can both help you pinpoint the moment of ovulation. If you seek fertility treatment, your doctor may test to see if you’re ovulating at all, and can likely tell you the day of ovulation.
‘Just Keep Trying’ May Not be the Best Advice
We all know that the world doesn’t reward quitters. But it also doesn’t reward trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If something is wrong, it won’t matter how many months you try, or how well you time intercourse. Making a baby requires functional sperm and eggs, and a healthy uterus and fallopian tubes.
If you just keep trying, you are likely only to experience frustration. What’s more, your fertility may be dwindling with each month that you try. Women are born with a finite number of eggs, and men’s sperm count and quality both tend to decline with time. Don’t waste time on a mission that may fail. Seek help if you’ve tried for longer than 12 months.
Infertility is a Treatable Medical Condition
We’ve all heard stories of couples who tried for seven years and then had a “miracle” pregnancy. And we all know of people who pursued fertility treatments but got nowhere. Taken together, these stories perpetrate a myth: that fertility is about magic, not medicine.
The overwhelming majority of couples can have a successful and healthy pregnancy with the right support and help. Infertility is not a curse. And it’s typically not incurable. It’s treatable, but only with the right help.
If you’ve tried for longer than a year, it’s time to get the help you need. Your primary care provider or gynecologist can begin the process. Typically, however, infertile couples need specialized help. An infertility specialist knows the latest research and uses the latest technology. That means you’ll get pregnant faster -- and often, less expensively -- than you would if you worked only with your usual doctor.
Treatment Requires Diligent Financial Management
Infertility treatment may be more affordable than you think. That’s especially true if you’re diagnosed with a medical condition, since insurance may cover the costs of treatment. When the problem is only infertility, however, insurance may not cover treatment. This means you’ll need to plan for the costs of treatment.
The good news is that you have many options. The Center of Reproductive Medicine offers financing and financial counseling. Other options include credit cards, loans from loved ones, and tapping into savings. No matter how you opt to fund your infertility care, however, you’ll need help to make this financial decision. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from a financial planner. After all, the expenses just begin with fertility treatment. Once you’re a parent, there will be many other expenses to consider.
If you need help with managing the financial side of infertility, you need to know the real costs. Don’t rely on fear or statistics. Get a consultation from a doctor who knows your needs, and then pursue an estimate based on this information.
We’re ready to help if you’re ready to become a parent. You don’t have to suffer any more. The path to parenthood begins with a call.