Guest post by Tracy Gilmour-Nimoy, M.S., LMFT, PMH-C
It’s National Infertility Awareness Week, which means your social media feed has likely been filled with facts, quotes, and personal stories surrounding fertility. If you’re one of the “lucky ones” (and I hope you are), you might not have an understanding of the nuances associated with fertility challenges, or how to support others who are desperately trying to conceive (TTC).
Before we get started, let’s go over some basic facts:
- Infertility is a medical term/diagnosis
- It is given after 1 year of TTC to a woman who is under 35 years of age, and after 6 months of TTC to a woman who is 35 years or older
- 1 out of 8 couples will experience fertility challenges 1
- There is a 15-25% rate of fertility in any given month, not accounting for any fertility or health challenges 2
- The Natural fertility rate (ability to get pregnant without medical intervention/assistance) is around 20% 3
- Infertility Causes are 30% due to female factor, 30% due to male factor, and 40% unknown 4
If you didn’t know already, you’ve probably just realized that not only can it be pretty challenging to get pregnant outside of infertility, but it can be especially difficult if there are fertility concerns. Furthermore, you’ve probably done the math and realized that statistically, this means you likely know multiple individuals who have previously struggled and/or are struggling with fertility, whether they have chosen to disclose this to you or not.
One of the biggest challenges with supporting those who are having a difficult time TTC, is how we are taught about fertility from a very young age. Our sex education is quite lacking, and tends to veer on the side of minimal facts and ample fear. From a young age, women are taught that pregnancy can and likely will happen if they are sexually active. For many women, pregnancy will be actively avoided and prevented for years, without having an understanding of how their body works, or how to support fertility.
Increased education, discussion, and understanding is of course something we should strive for as a standard for all individuals. This would help to reduce the false sense of security and hope that many experience when family planning begins, due to lack of awareness. Because when individuals hope, long, and actively try for pregnancy that doesn’t come easily, when they get labeled as 1/8 (like me), this can have a huge affect on mental health.
Fertility challenges are not uncommon as we reviewed earlier, they are simply uncommonly talked about—there’s a difference. For those dealing with fertility challenges, this stigma is felt deeply and can lead to increased shame, guilt, isolation, and often times, suffering in silence.
Here’s a quick overview of the emotional, physical, and financial toll TTC can have:
- Constant 2-week wait (ovulation & pregnancy testing)
- TTC sex is different than “fun sex”
- Witnessing friends/family getting pregnant/having babies and feeling triggered by this
- Pressure from others asking/wondering why they don’t have children
- Negative feelings and thoughts about self and relationship (ex: shame, guilt, irritability, depression, anxiety, “why can’t my body do this,” “what’s wrong with me”)
- Certain medical treatments can impact mood (hormonal shifts)
- Can create stress within couple
- Tracking ovulation, body temperature, taking vitamins, timing sex
- With fertility treatments, there are often medications, hormonal treatments, and surgeries/procedures
- Many times, individuals learn about underlying health conditions they were previously unaware of
- Can be physically painful and taxing
- Ovulation and pregnancy kits are costly, and are required frequently
- Fertility appointments, treatments, and medications are very expensive and are usually partially, if not entirely out of pocket
So now that we have a better understanding of what infertility can look like, let’s talk a little about what we can do differently. Below you’ll see two charts I created as a quick guide of what to do (and not to do) to better support those impacted by fertility challenges. This list is based off of my personal experience with infertility, my professional experience as a therapist, and connecting with many others who are also impacted by infertility. But as with all things, the best way to truly know how to support someone, is to ask them directly. If you or anyone you know has needs different than what I have listed, those needs are equally important and valid.
There is nothing you can do to “fix” someone who is dealing with fertility challenges, because to put it simply—they are not broken. We do not need platitudes, unsolicited advice, or to have our feelings, thoughts, and experiences dismissed. What we do need is to be in the company of others who get it. We need people who honor and respect our boundaries, wants, and needs. This type of support will help us to feel loved, supported, and a little less alone, as we attempt to continue to play the trying game—an exhausting, all-consuming, expensive, overwhelming game that does not guarantee a healthy, living child. So, if you know someone who is playing the game, I challenge you to think not only about what you can’t or shouldn’t do, and what you can do.
Tracy Gilmour-Nimoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Perinatal Mental Health Professional. She has a group practice in San Diego, CA, where she specializes in working with individuals who have experiences of trauma, depression, anxiety, reproductive mental health, perinatal mental health, grief, loss, life transitions, and relational challenges, to name a few. In addition to her love of mental health, Tracy is an avid reader and writer. Her articles have appeared on her mental health blog and other public forums, such as Scary Mommy and Share Infant & Pregnancy Loss Support, and she is currently working on her memoir. She writes about varying mental health topics as well as her personal experiences of infant loss, grief, and trauma. To learn more about Tracy, visit her website and connect with her on Instagram @TGNtherapy.
1 Postpartum Support International 2021 accessed at www.postpartum.net.
2Nazario, B. (2020, February 19). Thinking about getting pregnant? How to prepare for
pregnancy. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/getting-started-on-getting-pregnant#1
3Amy@catalysthcm.com. (2021, February 04). Infertility stats you should know. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.fertilityanswers.com/13-stats-know-infertility/#:~:text=The%20natural%20fertility%20rate%20is,will%20have%20to%20try%20again.
4R. (2020, September 25). Infertility FAQ – RESOLVE: The National INFERTILITY ASSOCIATION. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://resolve.org/infertility-101/infertility-faq/