April 23-29 marks an important week in the infertility world, as it is National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW). I know there’s a lot of months and weeks out there for so many great causes, and this one is near and dear to my heart, as it’s a wonderful time for people to start talking, begin uniting, work towards educating others about what infertility is, all it entails, and who it effects. I am a blessed one – as our story has been public for many years and we have an amazing community around us following along, asking great questions, listening when we need it, and walking through the highs and lows with us.
Let’s get real about infertility for a minute: Infertility affects 1 in 8 couples. Now, we throw numbers and stats out a lot in today’s society that they can begin to lose their power. But think about it. If you are sitting in a room with 16 of your girlfriends, there are 2 of them who are likely personally affected by infertility or secondary infertility. This reality doesn’t care what job you have, how much you want to be a parent, your income, race, or social status. It breaks the hearts of all parties involved and leaves many left wondering why me? Why can everyone else around me have 1, 2, 3, 4 kids and we can’t? Infertility may be woven into female diagnosis, male factors, or simply unknown reasons. It weaves in emotions like fear, shame, confusion, depression, heartache, physical and emotion ailments, jealously, brokenness, sorrow, anger, and immense grief.
When you are struggling with infertility, it isn’t a part-time battle. It wrecks your world, day in and day out. You are constantly caught off guard with triggers, whether it’s observing a mother and child at the store, watching tv and catching a precious, but heartbreaking Pampers commercial, passing a pregnant women in the parking lot, or receiving (yet another) baby shower invitation. Some couples choose to share their stories and other couples keep their battles private, suffering silently and feeling the immense need to constantly put on the “happy face”.
Now back to NIAW. RESOLVE is the association that manages this week ahead and the theme this year is “Listen Up”. (You can read all about their intentions for the theme in this link.) When I first heard the theme though, my mind didn’t jump to the need for legislature to listen up (although that is important). It didn’t jump to the idea that insurance companies or fertility specialists need to listen up, although again, important factors. My brain immediately recognized the importance of those around us – our intimate community – needing to listen up.
In a battle as tough as infertility, it is critical that we have the support of those around us – those who support us and those who are struggling themselves. Isolation will create only that, feelings of being alone. And with a statistic as staggering as 15% of couples struggling, you are anything but alone.
If you are reading this today as someone who has never been touched by the struggles of infertility personally, thank you for taking the time to increase your knowledge. As you go through life, it’s inevitable that you will cross paths with someone who is struggling with infertility and your desire to build your awareness is critical. Be willing to listen to them. Don’t force them to talk, but don’t minimize their emotions and feelings if they do choose to share. Do not use your time to offer advice. Telling someone that this is part of God’s plan, or that they need to relax and take a vacation, or that if they tried this herb/supplement/doctor/exercise/adoption agency, is NOT helpful. What this does is cause them to feel more blame, like they have caused their infertility, or are being punished for something, and despite your best intentions to offer them hope, will push them back into desiring to put up a wall and stop talking. JUST LISTEN. Validate how hard this must be. Be interested, not uncomfortable, with what they have to say. Check in on them. Ask what you can do to help. Pray for them. Without your willingness to enter into the mess with us, we feel abandoned by those we care about.
If you are reading this today and are newly diagnosed with infertility or are quietly struggling without sharing your story with anyone, know how truly sorry I am for you. Your heart is breaking and I wish there was something I could do to make it easier. Take the time you need to grieve. It’s okay to be scared and unsure of what’s ahead. Find a good doctor and be open with them. Sadly 91% of couples struggling with infertility wish they would have talked to a doctor sooner. Don’t be afraid to reach out – it’s your doctor’s job to listen and help. I encourage you to find someone to talk to – in real life or through social media (like instagram – it’s the best community out there!). It’s a painful journey and without someone that can process with you and listen, the suffering will become unbearably heavy. I wish I could come wrap you in a blanket, offer you a cup of tea, sit across from you on a cozy couch and just listen. You deserve the right to share your emotions without judgment or opinions.
And lastly, to those of you who are public, who share your story loudly and ensure that others know about infertility, thank you. Thank you for advocating and being the voice of many. Thank you for bravely sharing your story. Thank you for putting yourself out there and opening yourself up to stupid comments, statements and stories. Don’t give up hope – keep up the good work! Because of people like you, there are others listening in who may not have otherwise. You matter and you are valuable no matter what your family looks like. Take care of yourself, offer yourself grace, and don’t allow yourself to become defined by your diagnosis. Try not to personalize the well intended “help” someone offers. Use it as a chance to help them hear what you are trying to say.
If you are reading this today, I challenge you to take a moment to pray for someone you know who is struggling. Perhaps there is no one that you know – in which case, can I offer up some of my friends to you to be prayed for? There are so many, but this week my heart is praying for C, E, J, C, C, K, S, J, K, C, N, G, A, and A. Pick a letter – God knows who they are, and pray for them. Each letter represents a couple still struggling, big time, with infertility and bringing a little one into their family. Your prayers matter. Pray for a healthy pregnancy to come their way, pray for healing of their bodies from diagnosis’s and illnesses, pray for wisdom for them as they navigate their treatment options, pray for peace to flood their hearts, pray for their spirits and their joy to be refilled, pray for their faith to be strengthened, pray for their marriage to withhold the stress of this struggle, pray for the medical team working with them and pray for those in their life that support them.
Ironically this year, Josh and I are celebrating NIAW with new lives coming into our family in the next 5-6 weeks, yet the reality remains that because of my diagnosis of PCOS, we will always be a part of the 1 in 8. My heart lies closely with those who are in this “club” with us and yet still, we know a number will never define us. We are not alone in the fight that we face, or the celebrations we have ahead. We are grateful for our Lord who stands with us in it all and fights for us, and for the most amazing community around us who have gone through so many ups and downs with us. You all make the difference, you matter, and you are a gift.