“When someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million empty words.” –Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis
Samantha was invited to her nephew’s birthday party but was struggling when she thought about going. She knew she didn’t want to miss her nephew’s birthday but she also had anxiety when she thought about the questions that would come her way like, “You are such a great Aunt! When will you have kids of your own? You guys have to get on it! You’re not getting younger!”
Julie’s long-time friend, Heather, was pregnant and having a baby shower. Julie had just been through a miscarriage and couldn’t bear to celebrate her friend’s baby, even though she loved Heather like a sister. She didn’t want to cry during the event and have the attention put on her.
Do these stories sound familiar? If you haven’t been trying to conceive for a while or you haven’t been diagnosed with infertility, you probably think these examples are outlandish. But, I hear stories like these all the time from many of my patients. The pain with infertility is so deep that it can hurt even when those closest to you are celebrating happy moments.
I recently read an inspirational blog post by Bobbie Thomas about what happened when she revealed her IVF journey to not only her friends and family but also the public. The same day I read this, I had a male infertility client tell me that being open about their male factor infertility made him realize that so many people have similar fertility issues. He wasn’t posting about it on Facebook or shouting from his rooftop but he was engaging in real, honest conversations with his peers.
There is a true lack of empathy and understanding when it comes to fertility issues (and miscarriage), in addition to a lot of shame. Last year I polled my Facebook fans asking them what frustrating things people have said to them when they revealed their fertility story. Do these sound familiar?
You just need to relax! Just have lots of sex!
Why don’t you just adopt? There are so many kids that need parents.
Oh, I was a fertile myrtle! My husband just looked at me and I got pregnant.
Being faced with unsolicited advice and comments like these would stop anyone from talking about it. However, have you noticed what happens once multiple people start speaking about their fertility struggles? All of a sudden someone says, “My buddy at work has been going through that and he is having a hard time.” or “I had a miscarriage too. I understand what you are going through.”
According to Keiko Zoll, who runs an incredible website all about this topic, the infertility voice is not just about one voice – it is about the collective voice. As a practitioner, I believe the collective voice is also important in the process of making positive change towards insurance coverage for infertility services. According to Rachel Hoffman, an Alternate Family Consultant in L.A., “I think the infertility community has an opportunity to change public policy and insurance law by ‘coming out’. In the 1980s, AIDS was a death sentence. By the early ’90s, it was a manageable chronic disease. That’s because AIDS sufferers demanded change and stopped at nothing until they got it. Shame and secrecy are our enemies. Infertility is not a private, individual problem – it’s an epidemic that affects 26% of Americans. We can begin by demanding that insurance companies cover it as the health problem it is.”
So, where to start? What would happen if you picked up the phone and revealed to someone what you have been going through? What would happen if you said, “I really just need you to listen and to be there for me. Can you check in with me to see how I am doing? Offer a hug?”
What would happen if you shared this blog post with someone? I encourage you to find your voice today.
Liz Richards is a licensed acupuncturist and clinical herbalist with over a decade of experience treating fertility patients with natural medicine. She is the clinic director and owner of Blossom Clinic and author of Nourishing Fertility: An A-to-Z Guide, a patient-centered e-book filled with her best fertility tips and advice.