Elizabeth Westermann, LCSW
To share, or not to share your struggles with infertility. It’s a topic that comes up frequently to those who are experiencing a relatively common challenge. One in 8 couples in the United States have difficulty conceiving, yet infertility is often a topic that people choose not to talk about. In a survey conducted by Merck and Co. in 2010, they found 71% of the women surveyed said that infertility makes them feel flawed and 50% of men say it makes them feel inadequate. Some women admit that being infertile causes feelings of inadequacy because they are not capable of doing the most natural thing a woman is made to do. From a young age, the role of mother, caregiver and nurturer is engrained in their minds. And for many women, having children is one of their most important and valued goals they have set for themselves in life. Well for many, life does not go along according to plan.
So is it embarrassment, shame, or the family secret of infertility that is causing women to stay silent? The Merck study found that about 61% of couples stated they do not disclose their fertility struggles with friends and family. More than half admitted that it was easier to tell people they are not planning to have children instead of tell them about their infertility.
So, not talking about infertility is a choice many women and men make. And that’s OK, it’s really an individual choice. But… what are people are missing by staying silent?
Finding a group of women and men who are walking the same infertility path can be empowering. Through support groups, women and men can find mutual understanding, trust and empathy that gives them relief from the emotional stress of infertility. They find they are not alone. Talking about your journey and sharing with others can empower you to move forward in your journey to parenthood and help others along the way. Your experiences, accomplishments, and even humorous stories, can be understood by only those who are going through the life crisis of infertility. By participating in a group, you quickly realize your feelings are normal. Many women report that the common bond and connection they have with others in the group continues outside the group setting. Friendships and lasting bonds are established that often extend long after the group comes to an end. What could be better than having an ongoing source of support through your infertility journey?
Groups also provide another venue for gaining information about infertility treatments, options and alternative pathways to parenthood. Infertility can become an all-encompassing diagnosis and couples feel powerless. The more information and knowledge you have, the more empowered you become to make decisions and move forward. You will not only find information that is helpful to you, but you will also be giving others helpful information about your experience. Information is power.
Breaking the silence brings you into a huge community of people who have found their strength in numbers and have made a positive difference in each other’s lives.
What about talking to family and friends who are outside of the infertility world? It is challenging for couples to figure out what information they are going to share with their family and friends. Comments and unsolicited advice can be hurtful and frustrating to hear such as “relax and you’ll get pregnant”, or “if you adopt you will get pregnant”. Many couples feel comfort if their family and friends simply listen, be supportive, and not offer advice.