Joining an infertility support group can be a great way to cope with infertility. Finding support when dealing with infertility is important, but not always easy. Friends and family can provide some support, but even the very best of friends can’t truly understand what you are going through without having experienced infertility personally. A support group can provide a place where couples can meet and speak with people who do understand.
RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide “timely, compassionate support and information to people who are experiencing infertility,” maintains a network of regional chapters and affiliates intent on providing local support for people coping with infertility. Run primarily through volunteers, RESOLVE support groups are available throughout the United States.
How RESOLVE Infertility Support Groups Help
Penny Joss Fletcher, a marriage and family therapist specializing in infertility and adoption counseling, understands the need for infertility support from personal experience. After experiencing an early miscarriage, Penny attended a professional education meeting on the topic of infertility patients and their emotions. At the meeting, she heard about RESOLVE from a colleague, and decided to look into it.
“Although I had a lot of therapist friends who tried to be supportive (and knew how to be empathetic), they had never experienced infertility themselves,” explains Penny. “Sitting with a group of women who may have said the same things as my therapist friends but who I knew got it, was totally different.”
When Penny first found a RESOLVE support group, she was just beginning her journey with infertility and infertility treatments. She benefited from the experienced members inside information on the world of infertility, but the emotional support was most important.
“I learned a lot about what my options were for future treatment, which gave me a lot of hope. But mostly, it was a place I could go to every week and talk about what it felt like to be ‘out of the loop’ by not being pregnant and not being a mom yet.”
Penny also says that it helped relieve stress in her marriage. “My husband was kind of tired of hearing my sadness and disappointment, but these women weren't! It took the pressure off of my husband to be my only emotional support.”
How the Support Groups Work
RESOLVE offers two kinds of support groups –- therapist led, which is the kind Penny attended (and now leads herself, as a counselor), and peer networking groups. The peer networking groups typically meet once a month, and are led by someone with experience with infertility, but not necessarily a professional.
The therapist-led meetings are more formal, typically meeting once a week, and include a fee for attending. They are led by a professional counselor, but they aren’t group therapy. The counselor is just there to help facilitate conversation and help maintain healthy boundaries in the group. Groups are either for women or couples, and are limited in size, to provide enough time for everyone to talk.
Groups typically meet for 12 weeks, with different topics assigned for each week. Penny explains, “Topics for a general infertility women's or couples group typically include stress reduction, self-care, anger and depression, dealing with family and friends, impact on the couple's relationship, medical options, third-party reproduction, adoption, and childfree living. Sometimes groups form and focus on specific topics like adoption or third party reproduction.”
Even though the groups meet formally just once a week, women or couples in the group are encouraged to get together outside of the group setting. “I encourage the participants to connect with each other during the week between meetings,” says Penny. “I really want them to become friends!”
How to Find a Local Support Group
To find out if a RESOLVE support group is available in your area, visit the RESOLVE website to find out which region you belong to. Each region has a website, where information on support groups is available.
Some women struggle with the idea of joining a support group, but if you can get past your reservations, you’ll be glad you did.
“Many times, women just starting in treatment don't want to join an ‘infertility’ group because they are just sure they will be pregnant next month,” explains Penny. “But I encourage even those just starting out to participate so that they get the support and information they need from Day One. If they do get pregnant, they then can stop participating in the group if they want. I've had women who have been in treatment for years finally participate in a support group, and they often say they wish they had done it sooner!”
After five years of trying to conceive, including one failed IVF cycle, Penny and her husband adopted an infant. Years later, she still keeps in touch with the people she met during her support group.
“After our 12 weeks of group with the therapist were over, we all continued meeting for the next 3 years until we all had at least one child. And we still get together about once a year (14 years later), and some of us and our kids are best friends!”