Mother and adult daughter walking in park under the trees

To the Mother of a Woman Dealing With Infertility

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After dealing with infertility myself and coming out on the other side, I have stood alongside many women during their own journeys with infertility. Sometimes family members, including parents, don’t really “get it.” My own mother has admitted to me that it was truly challenging to know what to say or do as she watched her daughter in pain. I wrote this piece on behalf of three friends who were really struggling with their family’s expectations of them during this time. I wanted their mothers to understand their daughters’ pain and how best to stand alongside them during this storm.

Dear mother of a woman dealing with infertility,

I write this to the mothers. But it really is for fathers, too. It’s just that mothers are usually the ones more directly involved, the ones privy to the personal details, the ones called upon when the tears cannot stop flowing. They are often the communicator to their spouse of the most recent information: a failed cycle, a failed adoption, another cycle that signifies pregnancy did not occur.

Your daughter is dealing with infertility. Or maybe it’s a daughter-in-law you love greatly.

Your role is so important in her life. She is grieving something monumental, and unless you grieved it once too, you cannot imagine the depth of this pain accurately.

In addition, her grief might also be for you. She might long to see you hold her baby and spoil her baby and hear her baby call you Grandma (or Nana or Oma or whatever other name).

And you are left wondering, questioning, pleading, begging for happiness for this wonderful woman in your life. Your prayers are rampant but feel unanswered. You want more than anything to help her in any way you can. I want to help you do this. But this will be tough love. I will not mince words. And it might be hard to hear. But please hear me.

Social media has brought other people’s personal lives hard and fast right into her face day in and day out. She might watch people announce their pregnancies, detail their pregnancies and share about the pregnancies as if she had a front row seat. Each detail of a baby’s life is photographed and splashed right in front of her face.

She might be grieving. Hard. And you must let her deal with this her way.

How do you do that?

Tell her you love her. Tell her you are praying for her if that’s something she would like. Listen. Be present. Do not offer advice. Just offer your ear. And your hugs. And your heart. Respect her feelings even if you don’t think you would do it the same way.

But more than that, you must give her an exceptional amount of grace and freedom to grieve this the way she needs to.

This is especially important if you have another child who has children or is having children. You may feel that your daughter should act a certain way. You may think she needs to be present at baby showers and christenings and baptisms and birthday parties. You may be embarrassed that she is in the bathroom crying while the gender reveal party is going on.

But you don’t feel what her heart feels.

This pain can be monumental and all-encompassing and beyond anything you could even attempt to understand. You may think she should process it differently. You may think you would have or did process it differently. That may be true. But how she is processing this is how she is processing it and it is OK.

Do not …

  • Ask your daughter if she has thought about adopting. She will bring it up when she is ready.
  • Complain about not being a grandma or nag her about having children.
  • Give unwarranted advice about treatments they are pursuing or decisions they have made.
  • Think she should be sharing more.
  • Think she should be sharing less.
  • Expect her to do things the way you think you would do them.
  • Expect her to be able to be happy for her siblings.
  • Suggest she relax or stop trying so hard.
  • Start a story with, “I know someone who…”

Instead …

  • Recognize that not being able to have a child can be the loss of a dream.
  • Pray for her if that’s something she would like.
  • Send her an email or card on a big day (like an attempt with an IUI or IVF).
  • Understand that she may want to talk about this all the time.
  • Understand that she may not want to talk about this at all.
  • Spoil her.
  • Put her in touch with other women she can talk to who have been there, too.
  • Invite her to all events but give her the option to “opt out.”
  • Read books that will help you understand.
  • Listen.
  • Tell her you love her.
  • Say “I understand” even if you don’t.
  • Hug her. (If she is a hugger.)
  • And commiserate when news is bad.

You, dear mother of a woman dealing with infertility, have the ability to serve your daughter during this time. How you choose to handle this can define your relationship for years to come. You can do this.

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Secondary Infertility: The Lonely Road No One Talks About

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“So when is the next one coming?”

I don’t know. Ask my uncooperative ovaries.

“Don’t you want to give P a sibling?”

More than anything.

“Are you and S OK? Something stopping you from having more?”

We’re fine. Except the debt and the pressure and the sadness forcing a wedge between us. Nothing says intimacy like timed intercourse and shots in the butt.

Welcome to secondary infertility. Now that I am on the other side of the phase of trying for a baby, I feel like I can finally talk about it.

I never would have thought I would have to go through it. But I am sure there are a lot of us out there who can relate. I had no trouble getting pregnant with my son P; in fact, he was a happy surprise. So a year after we had him when we stopped the birth control, and entered into what we thought would be the fun “let’s see what happens” phase, we were excited. I wasn’t defeated yet. I was positive I had no issues.

But as each month passed, I started to worry.

How many months has it been? 11? No. That can’t be right. Almost a year?

I remained convinced it just wasn’t the right timing. It was going to happen.

What month are we on now? 22? Twenty-two months? What are we doing wrong? What am I doing wrong?

Off to the doctor I went. As I sat there in the cold room, with tissue paper sticking to my nervous, sweating body, I still wasn’t defeated yet. There’s got to be an easy explanation. A quick fix. I mean, I had P! I am fertile. I am ready. I am fine.

Not fine. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is an endocrine disorder that affects one in 10 women and is a common cause of infertility in women. Not only did I have no idea what it is,  but I was informed of all the things I wouldn’t be able to do.

“You’ll struggle losing weight.”

“You may have anxiety and depression.”

“You may not be able to conceive naturally. If at all.”

Liar. I have my son. You don’t know what you are talking about. This can’t be true.

I went home. I cried. I drank a lot of wine. I cried again.

And I didn’t know who to talk to.

Over the next year, I walked the journey of secondary infertility alone. Looking back, part of that was my fault. I felt inadequate, like my body was failing us both, so I couldn’t talk to my husband. We were already going through so much. Why remind him of one more thing we are failing at. I didn’t talk to my friends. The friends who were struggling to have their first. I felt guilty. I already have my son. I am being selfish. Some don’t even have that blessing. What is wrong with you, Shelby?

I didn’t talk to my girlfriends who were having babies. Every day another Facebook announcement or a baby shower invite.

I can’t do this. I am angry. I am mad that they think I’m like them. That not having another is my choice. This is not my choice.

If you are going through secondary infertility, you may be having the same feelings I did:

Guilt. There is a stigma attached to secondary infertility that you should be grateful for what you have. You feel stuck in a state of wanting to grieve for your struggles and longing for another child all while feeling like you’re not qualified to have those emotions.

Resentment. Because I wasn’t talking about it with anyone, I built up resentment towards those around me who didn’t know the struggle I was facing. And, looking back, I know they couldn’t help me if they didn’t know the private Hell I was facing. But when you are experiencing it, all you feel is anger and resentment. Every time you are asked, “So when’s the next one coming? Time’s ticking.” It took every ounce of strength not to tell them, As soon as the shots in my ass and the hormones that make me want to punch you in the face start working. But instead, Hopefully soon.

Alone. Looking back, I wish I would have talked about it. Maybe I would have understood that this isn’t something that is my fault. I would have known that what I was feeling, although confusing and terrible, wasn’t wrong. Or at the very least, I would have known that someone else is feeling that way, too.

When you feel like your body is failing at something it should naturally do, it hurts. It aches. It is scary. It is real. And no one should feel should ever feel guilty or ashamed of that.

If you are struggling with secondary infertility, I want you to know you don’t have to struggle in silence. There is nothing shameful or wrong about it. Keeping it inside caused me more harm than good, allowing the pain and loneliness to grow and become all consuming. I was living in two-week increments, and it was not a healthy mindset to be in. If I could go back, I would have sought out support sooner. Working within a community of women with PCOS has exposed me to so many other stories just like mine.  You are not alone, and you shouldn’t feel that way.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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15 Songs That Offer Hope With Infertility

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Sitting on the cold bathroom floor with piles of pregnancy tests – none of which have a BFP (Big Fat Positive) – is gut-wrenching.

And while music can’t cure a medical diagnosis of infertility, the right song can certainly offer hope for those in the trenches of infertility.

Here are 15 songs infertility warriors should have on their playlist:

1. He Said by Group 1 Crew

So your life feels like it don’t make sense
And you think to yourself, “I’m a good person”>
So why do these things keep happening?
Why you gotta deal with them?

2. The Waiting by Jamie Grace

What will it look like?
What will it be like?
When my world turns out like you planned.
When will I get there? Feels like I’m nowhere…

3. A Thousand Years by Christina Perri

I have died every day waiting for you
Darling, don’t be afraid I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more…

4. Stronger by Kelly Clarkson

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone
What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter
Doesn’t mean I’m over cause you’re gone

5. Fight Song by Rachel Platten

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m all right song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me

6. Broken Together by Casting Crowns

What do you think about when you look at me
I know we’re not the fairy tale you dreamed we’d be
You wore the veil, you walked the aisle, you took my hand
And we dove into a mystery…

7. Trust In You by Lauren Daigle

I’ve tried to win this war I confess
My hands are weary I need Your rest
Mighty Warrior, King of the fight
No matter what I face, You’re by my side

8. Beautiful Things by Gungor

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way?
I wonder if my life could really change at all?
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found?
Could a garden come up from this ground at all?

9. Help Me Find It by Sidewalk Prophets

If there’s a road I should walk
Help me find it
If I need to be still
Give me peace for the moment..

10. Wake Me Up by Avicii

Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can’t tell where the journey will end…
So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn’t know I was lost…

11. The Climb by Miley Cyrus

The struggles I’m facing
The chances I’m taking
Sometimes might knock me down,
But no, I’m not breaking…

12. I Won’t Give Up by Jason Myraz

I won’t give up on us, even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love, I’m still looking up…

13I Will Wait by Mumford & Sons

But I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down
Know my ground
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you

14. Overcomer by Mandisa

You’re an overcomer
Stay in the fight ‘til the final round
You’re not going under
‘Cause God is holding you right now
You might be down for a moment
Feeling like it’s hopeless
That’s when He reminds You
That you’re an overcomer…

15. Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield

Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten…

What songs have helped you cope with an infertility diagnosis?

Image via YouTube – Natasha Bedingfield

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To Those Who Say 'Oh, You're Still Young' When I Talk About My Infertility

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“Oh, you’re still young.” – A comment I have become familiar with, as part of a couple struggling with infertility for the past four years. People use this comment like age has anything to do with our infertility issues.

The young can struggle with infertility.

During an ultrasound, in between the poking, prodding, and small talk, the nurse asked me how long my husband and I had been “trying” for a child. My response: almost four years. Her reply: “Oh, you’re still young,” as if time will help our problems and a few more years will cure our issues.

All I want to tell her is that it’s only going to get harder for us!

“Oh, you’re still young.” – To you, being young means plenty more time to try. What do you think we have been doing these last four years?  I’m not getting this ultrasound because I’m young or because I enjoy them.

We may be young, but we still have our issues. Is four years not a significant time of waiting already? Is my four years of struggling less important because I’m young? And there still may be a chance that our next doctor visit could inform us that we have no chance. How is our youth going to help us then?

Being young has nothing to do with our problems. When you have an issue like ours, time will not help you and time will not fix you. We literally have to pay for a chance at a miracle, with no guarantee it will work. Possibly, we will do this more than once.

“Oh, you’re still young.” – My mom likes to tell me this, and she likes to say “Just give it time, it will happen, have faith.” No, that’s not how this works.  

Our infertility has no cure. You wouldn’t offer up more time as a cure for any other disease, so why would this cure our issues?

The options are figuring out what options you still have available to you, what you can afford, and what you have working in your body, before it’s too late and your biologic clock stops ticking. Time is not on our side.

I like to think of infertility as a Venn diagram, with three factors involved toward the goal: the sperm, the money and the eggs. As long as you have at least two of those, then Miracle Baby just might be in your future, but even then, it’s not a guarantee.

If you have money and healthy sperm, then possibly surrogacy, adoption, or egg donors can help your future. If you have healthy eggs and enough money, then possibly a sperm donor or adoption is in your future.

If you have healthy eggs and healthy sperm, then you’re probably not struggling with infertility, and you’re probably not reading this. And if you’re lucky enough to have all three factors working for you, then you fall into my Fertile Myrtle category, and I am very, very happy for you! I would never wish infertility on anyone.

venn diagram about fertility

As you can see from my colorful Venn diagram, age and time are not factors, and being too young is never systemic of the disease. I could be in my 40s and struggle with the same issues of infertility. I could be in my 30s and struggle with the same issues of infertility. And I can be in my 20s and be struggling with the same issues of infertility. Yes, things like menopause are a guarantee, but every female will go through that, and not everyone will deal with infertility. Time is not on our side.

Just because we are young, it doesn’t mean we are cured with enough waiting or a few more years added.  Time is not on our side and age isn’t our problem. Being young does not guarantee fertility, in fact, it’s the exact opposite.

In just two years I will be 30. I know, you’re thinking I’m still young, right? Consider this: if we don’t conceive by then, then my egg reserve will have already been dropping, with roughly only 12 percent remaining, with quantity and quality declining in those following years. Time is not on my side. Not only do the eggs diminish, but the risks for problems, like miscarriages, become more prevalent. So, with more time, along with male fertility factors, we will have to worry about female fertility problems, too.

Couples like ours aren’t struggling with an age issue — we are struggling with a medical issue, a poor prognosis from medical doctors.

So, before you offer up “Oh, you’re still young,” please think about the four-year struggle this “young” person has already endured.

Please think about the years this “young” person has to look forward to.

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When People Allowed Me to Grieve About My Infertility

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People make allowances for all sorts of grief.

Compassion is often our first and most natural response when it comes to bereavement and loss, especially loss we can give a name to. Something discernible that from the outside is easy to understand. Easy to put into words.

Infertility is a loss of staggering proportions.

To those of us who experience it, it can be incomprehensible. Bewildering. Mind-numbing. Yet it is not an easy loss to define. Nobody died. There is no funeral to attend. No one sends flowers or sympathy cards.

Even to the ones who suffer this loss, it can be challenging to find the proper words to describe it.

What have we really lost? What words can we use to do justice to this thing that knocks the air from our lungs?

It isn’t loss that has a name or memories or a number of years attached to it.

We are mourning something intangible — what never was and what never will be. Because of this, it can also be difficult for others to grasp.

While most people would agree it is sad to not be able to have children, the idea of feeling desperation and wild crippling grief could seem dramatic, excessive and even weak.

I came to think that the most common response to infertility was: “At least it isn’t …”

To be fair, these “at leasts” weren’t meant to be hurtful, but they did breathe distance into some of our relationships. A part of me understood that these phrases were meant to reassure me, and that people genuinely wanted to help me to put what I felt in perspective. But at that early point in my journey, I was still reeling from the pain and shock of it.

It wasn’t perspective I sought — that came later — it was understanding.

I needed someone to sit down and hold my hand and say, “I’m so sorry, this must hurt so much. I’m here for you.”

There were some who did exactly this, and it was safe to grieve before them. They spoke with love and compassion, and the very fact that they allowed my grief to exist was healing.

Unfortunately, more often, the unintentional message I heard was that of my sadness being undermined, made less by the words “at least.”

How could my personal pain possibly measure up against all the greater tragedies in the world?

So I would sit there, my eyes cast down. Twisting my fingers together. Nodding my head apologetically because how could I disagree with such logic?

Yes, at least I wasn’t dying.

Except I was.

I would catch myself feeling as though I should apologize for all my sadness and anger, for daring to be so bold as to let my heart shatter and my world fall apart over this. Apologize for all this hurt my heart couldn’t contain.

I would bite back all the words I wanted to say. The hurt and desperation I thought I might be able to share with someone. I recall feeling complete dismay that others couldn’t see how this loss to me felt like grieving an actual death.

I didn’t have a child I was mourning, but in my heart I was mourning every child.

I cried rivers over the little boys and little girls who would never have my smile or my husband’s eyes. I began to have dreams of stumbling down a difficult forest path leading to a pitch black lake where a child was floating face down in the water. The grief I experienced in this dream echoed my grief in real life — indescribable and haunting.

I hurt endlessly, and on top of all this, I felt like the worst sort of failure because I wasn’t able to just slap a smile on my face and convince myself that at least it wasn’t worse.

For myself, at the time, and others in the process of going through this, it is the worst. It just is.

There is nothing trivial about grief over infertility. I believe a person can grieve the loss of their dream of a biological family as honestly and deeply as someone else can grieve the loss of a child or parent or partner or their health.

There is no “at least” when it comes to the breaking of the human heart, and there is no need to try to measure one person’s pain against another to see who is worthy of feeling grief and who isn’t.

If you’re in a similar situation, you probably know already that no grief ever fully disappears, but I want to tell you from eight years down the road from this pain that one day these wounds that now feel so raw and open will heal. They will still pulse with pain every so often, but you will be restored to yourself and left with the truth of who you are.

The truth is things will change and you will change. It won’t always hurt the way it does now. I promise you that you will find your way.

I’m going to leave you with one “at least” that I hope makes a difference: That in this pain that feels so solitary, at least you’re not alone.

Versions of this post originally appeared on The Huffington Post and Everyday Feminism.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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Wendi and her husband, John

What to Do (and Not to Do) for a Friend Dealing With Infertility

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One thing that has truly been on my heart during our journey through infertility is educating people about the condition.

Many have asked my opinion on what you should or shouldn’t say to someone struggling with this. (I am speaking largely to women here because I receive these questions/comments more often from women.) So here is my short and sweet guide.

The Basics:

A couple will eventually resolve the infertility problem in one of three ways:

  1. They will eventually conceive a baby.
  2. They will stop the infertility treatments and choose to live without children.
  3. They will pursue an alternative way to parent, such as adopting a child or becoming foster parents.

It is important for you to understand that each of these three “routes” offers excitement, pain and heartbreak in their own way. I have friends who have either chosen or been forced down each of these different paths. It is important not to pressure them down any of these roads. Option one can be racked with worry and fear after the amount of time and money invested. Options two and three can be very difficult choices.

The Don’ts:

Here are some things I believe you should not say to someone struggling with infertility. If you have said any of these, don’t feel bad. One of my dear friends was struggling with infertility before I was diagnosed, and looking back, I said every one of these things to her. I apologized, and thankfully she understood I meant well. Having been there, I know people do mean well, but I also believe the more educated you are about this, the better.

  • Don’t tell them to relax. This is very rarely the problem for people with infertility. While stress can be a problem, it is often not the main issue. Stress is usually an issue that is quickly rectified.
  • Don’t minimize the problem or say worse things can happen. Don’t say it really isn’t a big deal and shouldn’t bother them that much. Of course there are worse things that can happen. Any life-changing event could be worse, but it doesn’t change how much it hurts.
  • Don’t say they aren’t meant to be parents.
  • Don’t ask why they aren’t trying in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF is expensive and isn’t an “easy” decision.
  • Don’t play doctor. Don’t give medical advice unless you really know what you are talking about.
  • Don’t be crude. This should be obvious. Making jokes about “Do you need a lesson?” is just mean.
  • Be tender when making a pregnancy announcement. The general rule here is to not make your announcement in a public place with your friend experiencing infertility in attendance. Instead, send them a card or an email and allow them to digest it privately first. Remember they are happy for you, but they might also be jealous because of their own frustrations.
  • Don’t complain about your pregnancy to your children. Obviously there are things to complain about with infertility, but it is a wise move to find other adults to confide in regarding these problems.
  • Don’t push adoption (yet). The general rule is to not bring this up unless they bring it up first. This is a very wonderful and tender topic, and if/when they are ready, they will share.
  • Don’t start any story with “I know someone…” or “I had a friend who…”. These stories often feature the exception, not the rule. The biggest culprits: “I know a friend who went on a vacation then had a baby” and “I know who friend who got pregnant right after they adopted.”
  • Don’t tell them that if they adopt, they will probably become pregnant. According to Resolve, the National Infertility Association, studies show the rate for getting pregnant after adopting is the same for people who do not adopt
  • Don’t question their decision to stop treatments. Again, it’s a personal decision. Encourage them in whatever direction they choose. If they want advice, they’ll ask.
  • Don’t say, “I hope this works for you because being a parent is the best thing ever.” I have heard this on more than one occasion — shocking? Yes. Painful? Yes. I know they mean well, but it is hard to hear.

The Do’s:

If your friend (or an acquaintance) brings up their infertility with you, they probably want to talk to you about it. From that point on, the conversation is usually welcome. Start off by saying, “If you don’t want to talk about it, it’s OK, but how is everything going?” Most of the time, once a couple decides to share, they will want to talk about it. So now that I’ve explained what not to do, here is what I believe you should do:

  • Remember their “calendar” and send an email or card on a big day.
  • Put them in touch with other people “in their situation.” (Ask them if they want to be contacted or do the contacting.)
  • Let them know you care. Cards or thoughtful acts are appreciated.
  • Remember them on Mother’s Day. This is a very painful day for my husband, John, and me. We choose not to go to church and instead plan a fun day away from all the mothers with flowers. You could simply send a nice card saying you are remembering them on that day, like you would on the anniversary of a loss. My friend Deanna had her kids (my godkids) sent special “God-Mom” cards on Mother’s Day one year. This was a wonderful thought.
  • Attend support group meetings with them.
  • Invite them to all events but understand they may opt out of events that might be painful (baby showers, baptisms, etc.).
  • Invite them to special child-free events whenever possible.
  • Give them poems or even books you think might be helpful — try to find another friend who has experienced infertility to give a “stamp” of approval on the book. (I have a great list!)
  • Offer to go to appointments with them if their partner is unavailable. (Thanks, Lesley!)
  • Recognize that not being able to have a child can be the loss of a dream for some people. They will move through stages of grief, which may include a time when they question their faith. However, I believe they can cycle through this with love and prayer.
  • Read books that will help you understand what your friend might be going through. I strongly recommend “Water From the Rock” to understand the grieving process those with infertility go through.
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