I have sat in Relief Society, looking around at the sisters, certain that none of them knew how I felt. I was sure that they had no clue what it was like to feel the deep sorrow and grief caused by infertility. To others, my body looks fine and they would never suspect that inside, my soul is bruised, tender, and aching.
Though I often felt that no one knew my pain, I have learned with time that I was wrong. Perhaps every woman does not know what it is like to be infertile, but without question, every woman knows what it feels like to be saddened by experiences of life. Our circumstances are very different, but we have all wept because of heartache, misery, disappointment, and guilt when life does not turn out the way we desired or felt that it should. How common we really are!
With statistics showing that infertility affects 15 percent of the population, it could be said that each of us knows someone who is dealing with infertility—it could be a friend, a sister, a son, or, it may be you. It is incredibly painful to learn that you cannot do what comes so easily for most people. And, when you are in a religious culture that is focused on families, feelings of deep sorrow can emerge frequently.
Regardless of if we are fertile or infertile, stepping back and thinking about infertility differently can offer hope, peace, and feelings of inclusion.
If You Are Dealing with Infertility
It is easy to feel as though you live on the social periphery where you are observing everyone else living the ideal life. You feel forgotten. You feel like you do not belong. But, at the same time, you, I, and all people with this challenge have a choice. We can choose to feel isolated and alone, or we can find meaning and depth to life as it is. Here are some ideas to consider:
1. Recognize your specific, individualized plan.
We all do it—we all look at our lives and how they are deficient compared to everyone else. These moments of comparison do us no good. We need to remember that in addition to His overall plan, Heavenly Father also has an individualized, specific plan for each of us. We are each given opportunities to learn and grow, tailored to our personalities, that are different from anyone else’s opportunities. It is in these differences that we can see that we are being tutored, that our souls are expanding, and that our hearts are being purified.
2. Find life in other realms.
Parenthood is only one realm of life. Each realm, even if it lasts but a small season, can add dimension, provide growth, and change us in ways that other realms cannot. Additionally, each realm can provide new friends, draw new talents from within us, and allow us to be something greater than we were before. These realms, of course, do not replace parenthood. Rather, they are what we do in the interim. Some of these other realms include volunteering, receiving an education, enjoying a career, being a temple worker, or developing a talent.
3. Educate rather than retaliate.
Be ready for questions and comments—they come when you least expect it! When you come up with exact phrases to use at specific times, you will be prepared instead of being caught unaware. When you are prepared, it is easier to remain calm and in control. Try to make your responses positive and non-offensive. If we respond negatively, we further isolate ourselves and push ourselves away from others. When we focus on educating and helping to raise awareness, we foster relationships of love and understanding.
4. Preserve your marriage.
Be careful that infertility and the quest for a child do not become a priority over your marriage relationship. Fortify your marriage by going on dates, setting goals unrelated to baby-making, learning what your spouse needs from you and providing it, and being sensitive to the emotions of your spouse. Establish “time-outs” when you keep yourself away from anything associated with infertility. If you can preserve a good relationship with your spouse, you will endure this trial.
5. Do the things you know you should.
Going to the temple won’t improve sperm count. Reading your scriptures will not open damaged fallopian tubes. But doing these things shows that we are choosing to have faith. If we want miracles to happen and doors to open, we need to do all things we have been told to do. Even after our expression of faith, the outcome of our actions may not be the exact miracle we seek, but we will have increased ability to cope, strength to endure, and ability to see interim blessings.
For Those Seeking to Support
It can be difficult to support someone dealing with infertility. As with any trial, it is challenging to know exactly what to say and how to say it without offending or causing an overwhelming emotional response. No matter who you are, you are in a unique position and have a valuable opportunity to help your friend or family member find the capacity to endure this trial with greater success. Here are some things to consider:
1. Think about what you have to offer.
In a time of trial, has someone reached out to you in a way that you appreciated? Could you apply those acts of love to the situation with your friend or family member who is dealing with infertility? We all know what it feels like to feel alone, betrayed, and to be pained by a life experience. We can take what we have learned to reach out and help another.
2. Learn more about infertility.
Since statistics show that 15 percent of the reproductive-age population experiences infertility, to the other 85 percent, fertility is what is known. That 85 percent might not know that infertility affects so many people, what the causes of infertility are, and the treatment options that are available. Educating yourself about infertility gives you a greater advantage as you reach out to comfort your friend.
3. Recognize that every case of infertility is unique.
Diagnoses are different, which means the path to building a family is different for every couple. It is very easy for every infertile couple to be lumped into one category and for others to assume that what worked for Couple A will surely work for Couple B. Instead of telling your friend about someone else’s experience, focus on what your friend is talking about and learn about his or her specific experience.
4. Understand that infertility is real.
“Trying too hard” or not understanding human reproduction doesn’t cause infertility. Some causes of infertility may require medical intervention, medications, or even surgeries to improve chances of conceiving and carrying a child to full term. Some couples may never be able to conceive. A couple can be at the beginning of the road, while another is seasoned by years of disappointment. Another couple may be dealing with multiple miscarriages, while another is wondering why baby number one came so easily and number two has been a struggle. Recognize that the suffering, frustration, and anger are real.
5. Acknowledge challenges across the lifespan.
The topic of families and children comes up regularly as we give lessons and plan activities. It is important to acknowledge families come in all shapes and sizes. Additionally, it is healthy to acknowledge that life is far from perfect for any of us. Be honest about how these imperfections affect us and consider how the gospel can fortify us during these adversities.
Infertility does not have to be the “elephant in the room.” Rather, it is something that can be addressed and acknowledged with genuine love and understanding. As we consider our similarities and put forth a bit of effort, we will recognize that we have the capacity to reach out to offer—or accept—peace, comfort, and a place of belonging.
Hope in Treatment
If there’s one thing fertility specialist Dr. Russell Foulk could say to couples struggling with infertility, it is: “Infertility is a treatable condition.”
Foulk, a nationally recognized reproductive endocrinologist with Utah Fertility Clinic, says one of the biggest misconceptions about infertility is that it’s difficult to treat. “As long as you can find the factor that’s keeping them from getting pregnant, you can overcome it.” In fact, Foulk says 95 to 98 percent of infertility cases can be overcome with normal processes.
Another misconception that keeps couples from treatment is that treatment is prohibitively expensive, but with a lack of ovulation being the largest cause of infertility, most couples can be treated for $2,000 or less—a far cry from the tens of thousands many expect. “There are some people that have to do the expensive stuff, but the vast majority do not need that,” he says.
Psychologists have found that being infertile has the same psychological impact as being diagnosed with cancer, so even taking initial steps to treat it provides astounding relief to couples. “Don’t continue to suffer with it,” he says, knowing from his own experience, together with his wife, how frustrating infertility can be. “One of the things we see is a lot of relief. Once couples see what’s wrong and find a way to cure it, then it gives them hope and they know they will eventually achieve a successful outcome.”
Kerstin Daynes is the author of Infertility: Help, Hope, and Healing. She also maintains a website for LDS couples trying to understand infertility within a gospel framework. For more information, visit ldsinfertility.org.