As a young doctor, I quickly learned that some medical conditions were considered taboo. Infertility is a one of those conditions, and couples often suffer in silence. Even though there are many online communities for chatting with others who share their diagnosis, this is often done from the privacy of their living room and under pseudonyms.
When infertility is a secret from close friends and family, walls go up and what the couple needs most – support and true connections – are blocked out. Loved ones may unknowingly and unwittingly inflict more emotional pain as they ask seemingly “normal” questions or make statements that are meant to be kind, but have the opposite effect, such as “all I want for Christmas is a grandchild,” or “stop working so hard and have kids already!”
Slowly, infertility is coming out of the closet, and it’s my opinion that it can’t be soon enough. Like any other affliction, emotional support from friends and loved ones may help with infertility treatments. Hugs and love cannot fix the problem, but they can help with disappointment when a treatment is not successful. Supportive friends can assist with managing medications or appointments. Being honest with your boss allows you to easily visit your doctor, rather than sneaking away or calling in sick on the day of a procedure. Co-workers can pitch in and help decrease the stress of a full workload when you are undergoing intensive treatments.
Nowadays, we recognize how important it is for a woman’s health to have friends rally around to support her in times of medical hardship. Having a meal train, someone to drive you to doctor appointments, and generally surrounding yourself with people who encourage you to take breaks and go easy on yourself is an important part of wellness. I often encourage my patients to get a massage, take a bath, relax, and live in the moment. Worry is a wasted emotion; instead it is important to be mindful of all that you have. A positive emotional state is key.
As a diagnosis, infertility can be as stressful as a serious illness. It can crush self-esteem and may affect feelings of self worth. Infertility is life changing and sometimes it is for the worst, affecting marriages and other relationships. It is important to remember that it is not your fault. Fertility treatments are medical treatments for a diagnosed condition and are not merely elective procedures. And infertility can cause real emotional, physical, and psychological pain. Its by-products can affect your home life, work life, and important personal relationships. And it should not be suffered in silence.
While medical treatments are important, being open and honest with friends and loved ones about infertility is essential. And the opposite is true, too – be aware that your closest friend, coworker or cousin may be suffering in silence, too. Everyone should be mindful of what they say to childless couples, as the cause of them not having children may not be a choice they’ve made, but a medical reality.
And finally, the advice I tell my infertility patients is to embrace the diagnosis and see it as a challenge to overcome and conquer. Consider it a wake-up call to treat yourself more lovingly. Get educated about biology. We can modify our destiny, but we may not always have complete control over it. Still, it’s just an obstacle, and have faith you will find a path to the other side – what is right for you and your family.
Education, honesty, and awareness are the first steps to banishing the taboo forever.
Please share this sentiment with friends and family so they can learn to be more mindful of your condition.