Infertility: Struggling Toward ParenthoodBy: Jacqueline Thompson Graves
We all know someone who struggled to conceive. Statistics say one out of eight couples of childbearing age in the U.S. experience infertility - 7.3 million people which equals the combined populations of Alabama and Mississippi. I have three very close friends who were never able to have children. Many others I know underwent testing, treatments, successes, miscarriages, adoptions and even a surrogate pregnancy where one sister carried a baby for the other sister and brother-in-law. You know these people, too. Different couples, slightly different circumstances, all wearing the same pained, defeated expression. Whom do they talk to when they are hurting? Many times even their doctors wave a hand in the air and say, "Just keep trying" as if pregnancy is only one more encounter away.
Kate Badey expresses it well when she says she wishes she had known "it would take more than a romantic dinner and a bottle of wine to make a baby." Badey, chair of the recent 2010 Atlanta Family Building Conference, says the well-intended advice of family and friends to "just relax" doesn't help for couples experiencing the pain of infertility. The conference, which took place May 1st at the Cobb Galleria Center, focused on options for couples featuring 18 educational sessions. (Next year's event takes place during National Infertility Week, the last week in April 2011.) Infertility, defined as the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after a year of attempts, or six months if the mother is over 35 years old, affects about 13% of the childbearing population. Although attendees received information and over $50,000 in free adoption, merchandise and infertility giveaways, Badey says the best takeaway was intangible. "It was hope," she smiles. "If a couple wants children, there are a lot of methods. I believe the conference can spark a conversation at home to help make their dream come true."
Although it may seem like accepting a future without children is the only option for couples like my friends, there are many paths to building one's family. Diagnosing the cause is a first step. New medical technologies are improving nature's conception process. Donor eggs and sperm, medication to enhance the fertility process, insemination and more doors are open to those trying to have a child. "Our keynote speaker said the process was not a ladder of options to keep climbing when each subsequent rung failed, but that a couple should sit down and look at all the options in the very beginning in light of their resources," Badey shares. Options include adoption, foster care, choosing a childfree life and more.
An important factor is the psychological support given by others struggling with the same battle of infertility. Rather than empty words to "keep at it", support groups offer knowledge of infertility issues, the realization you are not alone in your pain, a safe place to express real emotions without judgment and strategies for coping.
Carol Fulwiler Jones, one of the speakers at this year's RESOLVE conference and National RESOLVE board member, helps people deal with the emotional side of infertility. "I call infertility the 'secret medical heartache'", Jones says. "People who can't conceive feel so much guilt over it." Jones, a licensed marriage counselor specializing in infertility, has spent 20 years speaking, writing and helping people along their infertility journey. "I think one of the worse things you can say to someone is 'just adopt and then you'll get pregnant' as if it's all in their head."
Chances are good you know someone dealing with the pain of infertility. Visit our Online Exclusive for eleven ways you can be a good friend to someone dealing with the pain of infertility, as well as more information on RESOLVE and Carol's book.
Thank you to Kate Badey and Carol Fulwiler Jones for their input into this article. Many of the ideas here are theirs, expressed in my own words.
If you are affected by infertility, what can you do next?
1. Research and find a good infertility doctor. Seek a referral from your own gynecologist or urologist rather than heading to an online chat room for info.
2. The husband needs a semen analysis. About 30% of the time the infertility is an issue with one of the partners. 10% of the time there is a combination of problems with both partners, while 20% of infertility cases have unexplained causes. Once the diagnosis is completed, the couple can move forward with possible treatment options for their specific situation.
3. Discuss your budget. Although some options are more affordable, one IVF (in vitro fertilization) cycle, for example, can cost $12,000. Don't assume your insurance will cover anything, since most in Georgia do not pay for infertility treatments. Don't hesitate to do some shopping. The economy has helped push down prices in this area, just like everything else.
4. Find ways to stay connected to each other so your relationship does not center on your inability to conceive. Keep fun in your relationship. Carol Fulwiler Jones suggests you agree to spend 15 minutes each week discussing the infertility so it does not creep into every conversation or become the center of your universe.
5. Be creative as you deal with your circumstances. Jones says if the holiday parties are more than you can stand, skip them and enjoy each other's company at home by the fire with a cup of cocoa or go see a movie together. Shop online and avoid the mall filled with Santa, laughing children and toys. Just aren't up to a family Christmas scene complete with questions and expectations? Book a cruise instead.
6. Contact RESOLVE. Explore the information on their site and consider joining a support group. Look for a support group here: http://www.resolve.org/support-and-services/support-group/georgia-support-groups.html
7. If one or both of you become depressed or have difficulty coping, consider a counselor who specializes in infertility. Ask your gynecologist or infertility doctor for a referral or visit the website of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine to locate a therapist. http://www.asrm.org/
© 2010 Jacqueline Thompson Graves
Contact Jacqueline at email@example.com.