The common term is “infertility,” a condition defined by a year of actively trying to conceive without success.
A single label cannot capture the varieties of experience that could occur in that one year. A couple may have conception followed by miscarriage. They may be going through “work-ups” or “interventions” such as IUI (intrauterine insemination), or egg harvesting or embryo transfer or adoption planning or maybe none (or all) of the above.
The fertility journey isn’t a straight line for a lot of families. And the term “infertility” is often experienced by women as a painful, pejorative label.
When a woman embarks on a fertility journey that is not a straight line, she may be struck by the shocking lack of information in the general public about fertility in general. She may be surprised that so few people know how to relate to a less-than-simple pathway to parenthood. She and her spouse may be shocked at their own reactions to an unanticipated sequence of events. Many people want to keep their fertility status private, not wanting to become a topic of discussion, and sometimes even feeling shame or some associated emotion along with the longing and sadness and anger.
We need to open up space around fertility the way that we’ve started opening up space around postpartum issues. Women’s reproductive well-being is one of those topics about which everybody seems to have an opinion but few have facts or helpful information. Fertility support groups can help. When women talk with each other openly about the complexity of fertility, everybody can benefit. Women whose path is long or arduous can feel supported. Women who have had losses can acknowledge them with others who understand. Women (and men) can find a forum where they can say some of the things that feel most shameful, such as expressing anger about others who get pregnant easily or who are pregnant without desiring it. They can acknowledge anger at the universe or at their families, or even with each other, in a space where everyone knows that anger is just anger, and it isn’t an indicator that you are a bad person or that you wish others harm.
Finding a place to talk can be easy or it can be hard. The Canadian fertility support organization, fertility matters, has information about local support groups. Online support can be found via Resolve, a US group that helps people with pregnancy loss and fertility issues. They even have a group for people who have decided to stop their fertility journey and choose childlessness. That can be a big help: as hard as it can be to talk about your fertility journey, it can also be hard to talk about the decision to get off that road. Supportive folks who have walked that way can help.
Wherever you are on your fertility journey, I send my regards. The everyday courage of the average family often goes unnoticed. For women and for men who are on the twisty, bumpy, difficult road of fertility matters, I acknowledge your courage and I honour the process that keeps you true to yourselves as you find your way.