The Emotional Treatment of Infertility
Infertility isn’t prejudiced.
It doesn’t care if you’re a man or woman, black or white, gay or straight. It’s an equal-opportunity disease that strikes in a multitude of ways.
Maybe it’s a genetic predisposition, poor egg quality due to advanced age, or a variety of medical issues – either way, it can worm its way in and wreak havoc on your dreams of starting or adding to your family.
I know all of this because it happened to me. Though, somehow, our society still hasn’t figured out how to treat individuals battling these issues. Infertility can leave you feeling alone and unsupported; it’s time for a change.
Finding Out I Was Infertile
In life, there are moments best defined by what happened before and after they occurred.
Small segments of time can be so significant they can rock us to our core.
One of my moments happened on an average Tuesday afternoon inside a quiet law firm.
My phone started ringing. I rose from the reception desk I’d been manning and walked into a nearby conference room. Nestled amongst the scent of furniture polish and paper from well-thumbed client files, my life changed forever.
The ins and outs of the conversation aren’t necessary. When it comes down to it, all that matters were the five words left resounding in my ears:
“You will probably never conceive.”
Back to the Beginning: Why Were We Struggling in the First Place?
Like so many other little girls, I always assumed I would be a mother.
There weren’t a lot of overwrought conversations or thoughts about it. I just expected one day I would decide to have a baby and so I would. The naivety of retrospect can be alarming, can’t it?
When my husband suffered a spinal cord injury in 2008, we quickly realized expectation and reality don’t always coincide.
After my husband’s accident, I poured my heart and soul into learning about the possibility of getting pregnant following a spinal cord injury. Heading into our first appointment with the Miami Project, a center working to understand and cure paralysis, I thought I had everything figured out.
Grossly absent-minded, I never gave much thought to my role in this scenario. I was so focused on overcoming my husband’s paralysis, I forgot my reproductive health was just as important.
When they started quizzing me about my menstrual cycles, however, I started getting nervous.
As someone who had long suffered from irregular periods, I began to wonder whether my own body could hurt our chances of getting pregnant.
I decided to see my gynecologist.
She performed a pelvic exam, sent me for bloodwork and a transvaginal ultrasound. These tests were the catalysts behind that fateful phone call.
Being Diagnosed with PCOS
Every year, 1 in 10 women will be diagnosed with PCOS – on the phone that day, I joined a group I had no desire to be a part of.
It’s incredible to me that certain individuals within the medical field can have such little regard for the weight of their statements. The nurse I spoke to many years ago didn’t treat me like a human being. She treated me like a test result.
She took no time to explain what PCOS was or what it meant for me.
She jumped to the worst-case scenario and pronounced me incapable of having children.
Later, at an appointment with my actual doctor, I learned this was not true. There were numerous options for me and my chances of getting pregnant were still quite high. Considering the combined fertility issues of myself and my husband, though, medical interventions would be necessary.
While this was a more optimistic stance, the content of that call burned brightly in my mind. I would carry those words with me to my first IVF appointment, to my pregnancy test, and, yes, even to the hospital delivery room both times I gave birth.
I was continually waiting for the other foot to drop and had difficulty believing I would be able to have a child of my own.
I wish I could say my poor experience with the nurse was the last time I felt unsupported. Infertility is a medical area that’s still relatively misunderstood. As with mental health, some people have a hard time understanding these issues as real medical problems.
I can’t count the number of times I was told to “just relax, and it will happen naturally,” or “maybe you need more exercise.” I’m here to tell you no combination of relaxation, exercise, essential oils, acupuncture, or good fatty foods would have solely cured our fertility issues.
There’s a lack of compassion for struggling families that can weigh heavily on a couple’s emotions and, in turn, make it even harder for them to successfully conceive.
It’s Time for Some Cultural Sensitivity
Despite my PCOS diagnosis, I am now the blessed mother of two beautiful little girls.
I received my happily ever after, but I still reflect on my experience of trying to get pregnant. I wish I could let go of how I was treated, but it’s something that continues to resonate with me.
There’s a severe lack in understanding and compassion for male and female reproductive challenges.
Telling me to “relax” is merely a band-aid for the conversation – not a real solution or effort to empathize.
Wanting for a child is one of the most dynamic desires within a person’s life. Becoming a parent is a monumental moment, and everyone who wants this should have the opportunity to experience it.
While that’s sadly not how things always turn out, we as a society need to learn better how to broach such a sensitive and important situation.
After all, when you’re dealing with one of the most significant decisions in a person’s life, a little bit of sympathy can go a long way.
About the Author
Kristen B. is a freelance writer that shares two beautiful girls with her husband, Ryan. She loves spending time with her family, reading great books, and drinking good wine.
She is passionate about supporting other couples trying to cope with infertility.