Shining the Light on Infertility Awareness Week
Infertility Awareness Week is an opportunity to bring awareness to the struggles that so many go through to create a family. SoulSpring Counselor Jennifer Alminana breaks down the stigma surrounding infertility by sharing her story!
Infertility Awareness Week
DYK….Infertility is more common than we think. Infertility Awareness Week is an opportunity to bring awareness to the struggles that so many go through to create a family. According to UCLA Health (2020), an estimated 15% of couples will have trouble conceiving. Globally, 48.5 million couples experience infertility. (Reproductive Biological Endocrinology, 2015). About 9% of men and 10% of women aged 15 to 44 reported infertility problems in the United States. (CDC, 2013 and Office on Women’s Health, 2019)
Infertility impacts entire families, including my own. Let me walk you through my story. Although it is quite painful to share, the only way we break down stigma is to tell our stories…
It is through my own journey that I’ve become impassioned to help other families struggling with infertility. Maybe you, or someone you know, may take comfort in knowing you are not alone...
In July 2019, my husband and I started our fertility journey, having no idea what the next few years would bring. Prior to this time, I had minimal knowledge about the infertility world. I knew friends and family members who had gone through fertility treatments, but none of them shared details of their experiences. For all intents and purposes, discussing fertility issues was, and continues to be, generally secretive, private, and/or taboo. (*Side note: postpartum depression/anxiety/psychosis are also topics that are often kept secret, which is for another blog post.)
I always knew I wanted to have children, but rarely thought about the details of how our family would be created. My husband and I first decided that we would stop all forms of birth control and “see what happens”. In November of 2019, I started to track my cycle using all of the recommended methods such as ovulation tracking, tracking basal body temperature (BBT), using ovulation predictor kits (OPKs), etc. I made diet changes, received bi-weekly acupuncture treatments, changed exercise regimens and more.
Through this process, I learned way more than I ever could have imagined about the human body and my own emotional, physical and psychological strength. Trying to conceive (TTC) became a full-time job on top of our actual full-time jobs. It consumed significant amounts of our headspace. We learned a whole new set of terminology related to fertility. Click here for some examples.
I used to read for fun. Now I was reading voraciously for knowledge about ways to conceive.
After 6 months of trying “naturally”, I had an appointment with my OBGYN. I got a boost of hope when she started me on medication to stimulate my ovaries. Despite my shot of hope, I was still anxious, and the Covid-19 “lockdown” of 2020 only made my anxiety worse. We consulted with a local reproductive endocrinologist and did a battery of tests, all of which came back negative for any glaring issues that would be preventing us from getting pregnant. Thus, I was diagnosed with “unexplained infertility”.
This diagnosis, to me, felt more painful than having an actual reason for being unable to get pregnant. I was healthy, my husband was healthy. How could there be no explanation for why we couldn’t produce a child? This was insult on top of injury. After consulting with our doctor and telling our parents about our struggles, we decided to move onto the next step of fertility treatment options. This was IUI, or Intrauterine Insemination. Three unsuccessful IUI cycles took us from June 2020 to October 2020. For anyone who has TTC, we all know that the waiting is the worst part!
In October 2020, our doctor shared that our best option for having a child would be IVF. IVF is a significantly more complicated medical process than trying lifestyle changes, medications or IUI. We were already struggling emotionally, physically, and financially, but at this point we were willing to try anything.
Despite a phenomenal support system of my husband, family and friends, there were many moments when I felt alone. Actually, due to Covid 19, I WAS physically alone through much of the treatment. I attended the majority of appointments by myself receiving ultrasounds, vaginal examinations, bloodwork, and sometimes heartbreaking news. My husband waited outside the office for all of it. (Love that man!)
As a therapist, I always talk to clients about being able to have competing feelings at the same time. I felt alone and at the same time I felt so loved and grateful. I felt angry and sad that we could not conceive without medical intervention, yet I also felt at peace with our decision to trust our doctor and science. My husband was going through so many of the same emotions I was, but the focus in fertility treatments is often on the woman. When the medications did not result in successful pregnancies, when 3 IUI treatments did not work, when only 1 of 12 embryos were shown to be genetically normal, and when our first transfer did not stick, my husband experienced those losses too.
Unfortunately, there are many women and couples who are not able to conceive despite all the science available. Fertility treatments are emotionally, physically, psychologically and financially draining and sometimes devastating. These treatments can also result in the most beautiful, joyful, rewarding experience of one’s life: becoming a parent! I feel extremely lucky that after many losses, countless needles, pills, diet changes, acupuncture appointments, and thousands of dollars spent, our fertility journey resulted in a beautiful, healthy, happy baby boy, Jacob Max.
It is important for me to share that I found support from a variety of places which helped me cope with the difficult feelings that came along with fertility treatments and now the challenges that come along with motherhood. I have included some of the resources that helped me along this journey and strongly encourage families to seek out support from friends, family, and the community. You are NOT ALONE, there is nothing shameful about infertility, and all your feelings are valid.
Resources for Families TTC:
“Peanut” App and Instagram account: A safe space for women to meet and find support. Use this app or check out the social media account to meet other women who are at a similar stage in life- from fertility, pregnancy and motherhood through to menopause
What to Expect: Information on how to conceive, Track pregnancy week-by-week, chat with other moms and find information on baby and toddler development, pregnancy symptoms and more on WhatToExpect.com
SART- Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology: Find facts and figures on fertility, information on accredited clinics/physicians, details on treatment options for infertility
Resolve: The National Infertility Association: Advocacy, support, and information on infertility
More Statistics About Infertility:
Infertility and infertility complications, like miscarriages, can negatively affect a person’s overall health and quality of life. Many couples who want to start a family and are unable to conceive will experience psychological and interpersonal distress that could negatively impact their quality of life.
Infertility is one of the primary reasons for divorce among couples. (International Journal of Reproductive Biomedicine, 2020)
Up to 60% of infertile individuals reported psychiatric symptoms with significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression then fertile individuals. (Clinical Therapeutics, 2014)
Nearly 41% of infertile women have depression. (BMC Women’s Health, 2004)
Almost 87% of infertile women have anxiety. (BMC Women’s Health, 2004)
Women who get pregnant via IVF have a higher chance of giving birth prematurely. (Ultrasound in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2017)
We at SoulSpring Counseling are here to help you throughout your journey. Give us a call to schedule your free consultation at (561) 463-3078.