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Cultivating Support When Facing Infertility

How to Find and Create the Support You Need to Help You Cope with Infertility

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Two women holding hands.

You're not alone with infertility. Reach out for support.

Photo (c) Michael Hitoshi / Getty Images

As you probably know from personal experience, infertility can cause tremendous stress. You need all the support you can get, but unfortunately, you may not receive much at all, for a number of reasons. Infertility is frequently a disease of secrecy (though it need not be!), with many people hesitant to tell even close friends or family members about their problems.

Another reason you may not be receiving the support you need is because your friends and family members have no idea how to support you. Or you may feel no one understands you, so you don't feel supported even if you do have friends who know about your fertility challenges.

Having emotional support is so important that counselors often take into consideration how much support a person has when evaluating stress levels. People who feel supported—whether by close friends, family members, or religious organization members—tend to cope better.

You don't need to be alone with infertility, nor should you be. Here are some ways to cultivate support.

Join an Infertility Support Group

Support groups aren't only for alcoholics or grieving widows. RESOLVE, the national infertility association, hosts support groups around the country. The groups give you an opportunity to meet couples going through infertility, which can reduce your sense of isolation. (You're not the only one struggling to conceive!) Hearing their stories, as well as sharing your own, can be comforting, and you may be able to offer friendly advice to each other.

RESOLVE isn't the only source for support groups. Your church or other religious organization may have support groups, though you may need to speak to your minister to find out. Some fertility clinics offer groups. Also, counselors not necessarily associated with a clinic may lead therapeutic groups for couples with fertility challenges. Your fertility clinic may be able to connect you with local support groups, even if they don't host any themselves.

Connect with Others in Fertility Forums

You can receive support without leaving your house, by using the internet! There are a number of fertility forums, and because they are not limited to location, there are even groups that cater to very specific problems.

Some support forums online include:

One thing to keep in mind when seeking support online is that some fertility clinics have been known to plant people to market their clinics or products, which is pretty crazy, but sadly this does happen. Unless you know the online person sharing his/her experience, take forum based clinic referrals with a grain of salt. There are also people in forums trying to sell or buy fertility drugs (which is illegal), as well as people seeking gamete donors or surrogacy arrangements. Some of this may be done behind the scenes via private messaging. Forums are not a good place to seek out these sorts of services. It's better to stick to agencies or to fertility clinics.

Join the Infertility (IF) Blog Community

There is a large and connected infertility blogging community, one you may not realize exists until you start a blog and start seeking out fellow bloggers. With blogging, you not only can connect with other people and get support, but you also can write out your story and experiences, which can be very therapeutic.

Join Fertility Focused Mind-Body Classes

Mind-body classes focused on fertility aren't widely available, but if you're lucky to have some in your area, they're well worth trying. Yoga fertility classes are gaining in popularity, and some fertility clinics offer a hodge-podge of mind-body therapies to help you cope during treatment.

The best thing about joining a mind-body group is that you engage in a stress reducing activity while also spending time with people who understand what you're going through. The mind-body therapy helps, as does the reduced isolation.

Share Your Struggles with a Few Close Friends or Family Members

You won't receive any support if you don't tell anyone at all. Infertility is not something to feel ashamed of, though that won't necessarily keep you from feeling shame. Sharing with others that you're struggling to conceive can be frightening, but it can also provide a sense of relief— the burden of a secret lifted. I didn't tell anyone about my repeated miscarriages until I was pregnant again and afraid of losing another baby all by myself. I told a few friends, and sadly, I did lose that pregnancy. But I didn't lose it "alone" like the other pregnancies. I had a few people who could support me, which made a big difference.

Everyone handles disclosing infertility differently. Some people insist on keeping it hush-hush, maybe sharing with just one or two friends, while others tell the world. Something in between is probably best. What's important isn't so much how many people you tell but who you tell.

Teach Your Friends How to Support You

Beyond sharing your "infertile secret", you may also need to teach your friends and family how to support you. In general, most people struggle with supporting others in difficult, touchy situations. They may rush to "make it all better" by giving unwanted advice or by poo-pooing the entire situation, saying things like "You can always do IVF," or "Why don't you just adopt?"

Don't be afraid to tell your friends what you need. If they start to offer advice, politely stop them and let them know you just need someone to listen. If they say they don't know what to say, tell them what you'd like to hear. You may want to share with them articles or books that explain what you're going through or bust common myths, so you don't find yourself on the defensive.

Consider Professional Support

Counseling can offer you a great deal of support. Counselors who are experienced in fertility issues may also help you work through difficult decisions, like considering when to stop treatments or deciding to adopt or use donor gametes. Depression and anxiety are common among the fertility-challenged, which is just one more reason to see a therapist.

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