National Infertility Awareness Week runs April 19-25. The week is sponsored by RESOLVE, a reproductive health advocacy organization. Visit their website to find a list of events nationwide.
God has settled me in the home as a happy mother of two, but my journey to parenthood wound through 9 years of infertility treatments, frustration, anxiety, isolation and a host of other emotional challenges. While I always expected to marry and raise children, it was never a major goal. Heck, I met my husband during my free-spirit streak (my 20’s) in Cancun.
Four years later, we jumped a broom and at some point expected to procreate.
When the first three years passed with no success, I didn’t pay much attention. I was still young and indulging my free spirit. I did, however, notice the plethora of growing bellies around me increasing. By 30, a reproductive specialist looked at my x-ray and surmised I would likely need in-vitro fertilization to have children.
I heard him say “test tube baby” and I cried like one.
There was something wrong with me. Confronting the reality that one of life’s basic abilities is out of reach impacts everyone uniquely. No stranger to challenges, I was used to taking the path less traveled. So I went to work. Researching treatments. Understanding insurance options. Working with specialists. For many years nothing worked.
I kept much of the struggle inside. My husband had a tough time appreciating the shame and guilt. I routinely dissolved into a mush of blubber and sobs with each new infertility confirmation. All the while fending off the ever constant, “When are you going to have children?”
My answer was always, “We’re waiting on the Lord.”
For the record, that’s probably the worst thing to ask a childless couple. I get it – just don’t. Find another ice breaker.
Part of my journey included becoming comfortable with and open to a number of family building options. I stopped letting that horrible phrase (test tube baby) cause me to fear assisted reproductive technologies. During a trip to Rwanda, my roommate – a nurse and a fellow believer – helped me appreciate that God would bring children in the best way He saw fit. Whether through natural birth, adoption, or reproductive technologies. I had to stay hopeful and not let discouragement fester. Remembering versus like Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will grant you the desires of your heart.” (ESV) helped tremendously.
I also had a chance to share my struggle, through an interpreter, with Rwandan sisters and brothers who prayed for me in a way only my heart could understand. It was a beautiful experience, but I still couldn’t get pregnant.
Although 7.3 million women and couples experience some form of challenge conceiving in this country (or 1 in 8), infertility can leave one feeling extremely isolated. As women delay starting families, fertility challenges are increasing. Women over 40 will start to experience a decline in the quality of egg production. According to ASRM , male factor infertility impacts couples in 40% of cases.
This journey can push women into a state of depression. I avoided baby showers, birth announcements and dedications like the plague. Looking back, that may not have been the best approach. I found it easier to cope with the constant reminder that I was “flawed”. Organizations like RESOLVE and Fertility for Colored Girls exist to combat those negative self assessments and the tendency for women to withdraw; suffering in silence.
I spoke with Rev. Dr. Stacey Edwards-Dunn, founder of Fertility for Colored Girls, to talk more about resources available to all couples and some of the events her organization provides this week and beyond.
The emotional challenge is tough. Fertility treatments are also very expensive. Only 15 states ensure coverage for fertility treatments through insurance. Depending on the treatment used and medication required, costs can run from $5000-$15,000 per cycle. Pregnancies rates are still only 20-30% successful.
I personally had 2 rounds of IUI and 3 cycles of IVF. One IVF cycle resulted in a pregnancy, but ended in a miscarriage. During a break from treatments, I unexpectedly found out I was pregnant spontaneously. However, at 5 months my daughter Casey was born too early to survive and is now in Heaven. The next few years were particularly difficult, filled with a lot of anger, questions, and dark thoughts. As hard as it was (and still is) to see other children her age grow and develop, we didn’t give up.
Our journey has ended (so far) in two wonderful blessings. While my children weren’t a product of assisted reproductive technology, I know in my heart I would not have cared if they were. Not one bit!
1. Intentionally find or create a support group that will respect your journey.
2. Forgive insensitivity from others. You may have to limit your exposure to certain individuals for a time. It may be difficult for others to relate if they haven’t lived with infertility.
3. Continue to engage in activities that bring you joy.
4. Educate yourself. Seek an accurate, expert diagnosis. Work with a professional to create fertility plan of action.
5. Avoid forums that encourage wallowing in misery. We don’t need any help being down. Surround yourself with groups that practice encouragement and extend hope.
6. Stay (or get) healthy – physically, mentally, and spiritually.
7. Get it out. Don’t stew in negative emotions.
8. Latch on to sources of hope. I watched Joel Osteen constantly because I found he was one of few pastors that ever mentions infertility. He regularly points out what the bible teaches on the topic.
9. Check your negative self-talk.
10. Be a source of encouragement or assistance for someone else.
Remember, 7.3 million women experience infertility. Locate a group or event during National Infertility Awareness Week as a reminder that you are not alone.
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