Infertility Struggles and Pregnancy Loss

Flowers in vase

Data suggest that one in eight couples struggle with infertility and that one in four couples suffer from pregnancy loss. With those statistics, you may either fall into one of those groups or know someone who has. Even though the conversation around fertility struggles and pregnancy loss is increasing, a veil of secrecy still exists among those affected, making it more challenging to take care of yourself or your loved ones who struggle.  

Reasons that infertility is still kept secret:

The stories of successful fertility journeys are ubiquitous, while the narratives of the struggles and losses remain scarce in comparison. Infertility may still be kept secret for the following reasons :

  1. Self-Protection – Discussing fertility struggles is emotionally draining, to begin with. Individuals may not have the emotional capacity to field others’ energy or opinions about their journey. The sheer mention of a fertility issue may be met with questions or unsolicited advice from the person who is trying to be supportive. For example, hearing “Have you tried x, y, z?” can be triggering.
  2. Shame – You may come from a community where fertility is tied to motherhood/fatherhood/personhood—i.e., defining oneself as mother/father/parent is intertwined with the racial/cultural/religious narratives that shaped how you grew up. So when the process of having a baby fails to happen as expected, you may feel a sense of shame/embarrassment. 
  3. Avoidance of strong opinions about treatments – Even though seeking infertility treatment is becoming more common, you may want to avoid those who have strong views about said treatments.
  4. Lack of education and information – Many of your informative years were spent learning how not to get pregnant. You may have learned about abstinence and various forms of birth control, which supported the underlying assumption that getting pregnant is relatively easy when, in reality, you have a 20% chance of getting pregnant each month.

The benefit of keeping these issues private is that people need time to process before they share with others. Sharing means inviting others into a delicate and emotional process that is still getting sorted out.

How Do You Show Up For Yourself? 

The journey to parenthood isn’t as easy as most people think. If you’re like many other women, you know what it’s like to be the supportive friend watching others have their first, second, and third child. You are happy for them, as you manage your pain in silence.

Establishing a self-care routine is vital during this journey. Identifying how you feel and what you need may be challenging initially, but it is a foundation for prioritizing your mental wellness.

While many differences exist between infertility struggles and pregnancy loss, one commonality between the two is grief. The inability to get pregnant, a series of early pregnancy losses, and late pregnancy loss/stillbirth are grief experiences and represent the most profound losses. 

Pregnancy loss, however it happens, symbolizes the loss of hopes, dreams, and expectations for your life that is not unfolding as you imagined. Having the framework of grief as a lens to guide your self-care may be helpful.

How Do You Show Up For Others? 

You know your loved one is struggling but worry about what to say or when. Experiencing that internal conflict is normal. If someone has confided in you about their struggle, find comfort in knowing that you and your support are trusted and valued. When you care about your loved one, you want to provide comfort and do whatever it takes to soothe your friend or family member. In these instances, I find the easiest way to acknowledge a challenging experience is some variation of the following:

  • “Thinking of you…”
  • “I am here for you…”
  • “Tell me more…I am listening…”

If your loved one is undergoing treatments and/or has experienced a pregnancy loss, saying either one of those phrases can help them feel seen. 

Be mindful that simply asking someone “How Are You?” can be triggering in the infertility and pregnancy loss communities when all you expect (or have time for) is the automatic “I’m fine” response. Maybe they’re not fine. In those instances, it may be best to say, “So nice to see you” and then check-in later when you have more time to respond.

Infertility struggles and pregnancy loss are periods of time characterized by emotional highs and lows. The impact of this journey will continue to impact many lives. Whether you need support or are playing a supportive role, knowledge and a sense of community can help you feel empowered while navigating challenging discussions.

*This article was inspired by a recent talk about fertility struggles and pregnancy loss hosted by SOFI.

Related articles: Disenfranchised Grief: A Q&A with Alex Zappala

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