Infertility is something that, in the past, was rarely talked about. Now, with the advent and growth of social media, I think people are starting to talk about it more openly, sure, but the fact remains: infertility affects more people than the number of individuals who are willing to openly discuss it. In fact, there are things no one will tell you about infertility that I'm gearing up to tell you today, because there's no need for those who are struggling to do so in silence.
I've been walking this infertility road for more than five years, and my husband and I have taken a different route than most. Instead of embarking on the prescribed in vitro fertilization (IVF) path, we chose to move 4,000 miles away from our home to adopt. We jokingly referred to it as the path of most resistance, essentially starting a new life in a new city in order to grow our family. Still, it turned out to be the best path for us, and relatively easy despite the move and adjustment.
Even though I have become a mom through adoption, which has healed a lot of hurts caused by infertility, we are still technically on this infertility journey. It is still, in a lot of ways, quite sad and unbelievably difficult. Here's a little primer on why it's one of the toughest things many people deal with, usually behind their cheerful Instagram photos and the happy Facebook posts.
It's Emotionally All-Consuming
Even if you haven't experienced infertility yourself, it's easy to assume the entire journey is emotional. However, I'm not sure you can fully grasp how emotionally all-consuming it is until you're in it. Something about the primal desire to start or build a family makes it so gut-wrenchingly emotional.
Plus, when you so badly want the person you love to experience parenthood and have everything they've ever wanted, those emotions intensify.
It Can Make You Irrational
I had a lot of friends and family happen to get pregnant, some intentionally and some surprisingly, right when we were in the most painful initial phase of infertility. In my head and my heart, I was very, very happy for them but I couldn't separate my own jealousy or envy from that happiness. It took me years of practice, as bad as that sounds, to not cry uncontrollably when someone told me they were pregnant. Before we adopted our daughter, I got to the point that I could publicly hold myself together when faced with any kind of pregnancy/birth news, and I'd let myself have all my other emotions in public. That was a big step for me.
It's Not Always About You
Infertility is complicated, and it's not always due to a "problem" with the woman. Sometimes it's about the man, and sometimes it's a combination of issues with two reproductive systems. When you're speaking to someone about their infertility journey, most likely they aren't going to want to explain who has the "problem," so don't ask.
Sometimes It's Physically Painful
This isn't the case for me, but I know a lot of women for whom their infertility problems are also the source of a lot of physical pain in addition, too. Insult, meet injury.
It's Mentally Exhausting
I found that in addition to the emotional exhaustion, my brain sometimes was just overwhelmed trying to figure out our best options or work out what our odds were for one route versus another route.
Treatment Options Aren't For Everyone
When you're talking to someone about their infertility journey, you can't always assume the options available are possible for everyone. Regular old IVF doesn't always work with male factor infertility, so sometimes it takes something like intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) instead. Likewise, you can't assume that everyone who has infertility problems wants to undergo treatment. Just because your cousin's brother's wife had IVF and it went well, doesn't mean I want to undergo treatment or that it will automatically work out well for me.
Adoption Isn't For Everyone
Adoption very much was the right choice for my husband and I, but just because someone's going through infertility doesn't mean they're suited to adopt. If you know someone who is trying to grow their family, foster care isn't always a good option to suggest, either (and I say that as a huge proponent of foster care and a former foster parent).
There Might Not Be A Solution
I hate this one. I really do, and it haunts me whenever I think about how hard holidays like Mother's Day are for my friends who want so badly to be mothers. For some couples, IVF doesn't work and intrauterine insemination (IUI) doesn't work and adoption doesn't work. For some couples, there is no "just be patient, it will work out." For some couples, not having children might be their reality, and it might be the greatest sadness of their lives.
It Can Give Anyone Anxiety
I've never had problems with anxiety before, but infertility and the possibility that someone might announce their pregnancy at any point, gave me so much anxiety I started avoiding any situation where I could be surprised. I was paranoid that someone would tell me they were pregnant, or even tell me that someone who wasn't there was pregnant, and I'd burst into uncontrollable tears.