Coping with infertility is hard on any couple — and it’s not something anyone should go through alone. When it comes to dealing with any medical issue, the connections you make outside of your partnership are just as important as the bond between you and your partner.
Here's why, and how to build the strongest support network possible. But before we go through how to find support groups for infertility, here are all the reasons why you need to build a strong network if you’re coping with infertility.
Take a deep breath and repeat after us: your partner isn’t and can’t be everything you need at all times, and that’s okay.
When you and your partner are coping with infertility, it can start to feel like your relationship becomes less about mutual love and attraction and more about dependence. After all, you’re depending on your partner to help you achieve your dreams of a family, given that it takes sperm and eggs to get the job done. You’re depending on your partner to pick you up when you’re feeling down about your body, to help you deal with the stress of balancing trying to conceive with everything else going on in your life (getting that promotion, helping your mother-in-law recover after surgery, finding someone to power wash your deck, etc.).
That’s a tall order for any relationship, and sometimes the pain of coping with infertility can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Even if your relationship is in tip-top shape, combining the stress of trying to conceive with the hormone swings that can often come with certain fertility treatments creates a powder keg just waiting to explode. That might not necessarily mean the end of your partnership, but it can mean fights that reach a pitch you’re not used to, and the overall disruption of your marital bliss. Good news: it doesn’t have to be this way.
It doesn’t mean that you’re not a good partner if you find yourself getting snippy more frequently, or if you need to take some alone time to get away from it all. All it means is that you need an infertility support network to lean on when the burden becomes too heavy for two people to bear. You don’t, can’t and shouldn’t be all things to your partner at all times, especially when you’re going through this, as well. This is especially important for men to realize, as they often feel pressure to shoulder the burden for their families silently due to cultural scripts about masculinity.
When you start to lean on your infertility support network — from friends and relatives to doctors, IVF support groups, religious leaders, mentors, etc. — you redistribute some of the burden of infertility from your partner and your relationship. The result? You cease to see your partner as a sounding board for all of your woes or as a caretaker, and start to see them as, well, a partner!
You can devote more relationship time to romance and dating each other, not to mention making sure the sex you have isn’t just scheduled and purposeful, but also toe-curling and orgasmic. All of the things that keep your marriage or partnership strong take time and effort, and having a robust infertility support network can free up invaluable time and energy to do that work (and that “work” should feel like your dream job).
One of the toughest truths about infertility is that it’s one of those topics your mom or dad might not have all the answers to, even if their wisdom has borne you through countless tough times before. After all, your existence is proof that your parents were able to create a family, even if it did take extra effort — and if you’re their child by adoption, they might not immediately understand why you’d want to try measures like IVF or surrogacy before going the adoption route.
Let’s face it: infertility is a sticky topic, and even though family may have good intentions, they sometimes don’t realize when they’re saying something insensitive or hurtful. So while it’s important to include your closest loved ones in your infertility support network, they are only one component. It’s also crucial that you include people who know what you’re going through, either because they’re experts on it (like fertility doctors or therapists) or because they’ve gone through it themselves (like IVF support groups).
Seeking emotional support through a mental health specialist can be an invaluable way to help you cope with the stress and grief of trying to conceive despite infertility, but even your therapist will tell you that you need a larger network of people to lean on. A good therapist will give you important tools to use throughout the week for dealing with negative self-talk, deflecting hurtful comments and constructively managing emotional pain, but an hour-long session once a week can only go so far, especially if you need someone to vent to late at night.
Again, that doesn’t mean that seeking the help of a mental health specialist isn’t a great idea, but your therapist will be ideally be just one member of your stress-busting team.
If you’ve been trying to conceive for more than six months with no luck, it may be time to see a fertility doctor, whether that’s a reproductive endocrinologist, urologist or another specialist. Your doctor will be able to answer many of the infertility questions you might have, including what treatment options are most appropriate for your scenario, what vitamins and supplements you should take and how your diet might be affecting your fertility.
But like your partner, your parents and your therapist, your fertility doctor can’t answer every question you might have about coping with infertility. For example, you might be wondering how to reconcile your infertility with your cultural or religious beliefs, or how to cope with countless baby announcements on Facebook (helpful hint: the “turn off notifications for this post” feature is your friend).
For answers to those types of questions, you’ll need the wisdom of people who have gone through what you’re going through. You can find those in dedicated support groups for infertility, both online and in person. Not only will you be able to learn from the experiences of men and women who have also dealt with infertility, but you’ll be able to vent to people who truly understand. Just the freedom to express yourself honestly and know that your listeners get it can be an amazing feeling on its own.
RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, makes it easy to “find your tribe” and connect with other individuals coping with infertility. Simply navigate to the Resources page on the RESOLVE website, then enter your zip code in the box next to “Find a Support Group.” Click “Go,” and you’ll see a detailed pop-up list of both peer-led and professionally-led groups in your area.
Some of these groups will be very specific — for example, there may be IVF support groups, adoption support groups or PCOS support groups — and some will be more general support groups for infertility. Some may be women- or men- only, and some will be geared more toward couples seeking support together. You may be surprised at how many options you have to choose the group that’s right for you!
If you’re at all shy or introverted, the classic media depictions of support groups — complete strangers sitting in folding chairs in a circle, eyes on you as you introduce yourself and tell your most personal truths — might be more than a little intimidating. In-person meetups are great, but if you’re just starting to build out your infertility support network, online forums and Facebook groups are a fantastic way to start.
You might run a quick Google search for “IVF support groups” or “support groups for infertility” to begin your search, or you can search Facebook for private groups dealing with infertility issues. You may be able to find dedicated forums dealing with your specific situation. For example, Soulcysters.net runs a great forum for women dealing with PCOS, and DI Dads is a Yahoo Group for men conceiving through donor insemination.
The advantage of online groups is that they’re not limited by geographic location, so even if you’re dealing with something a bit more rare (for example, premature ovarian insufficiency in your twenties) or feeling like your particular situation is unique, you can find someone who has been in your shoes — even if they’re halfway across the globe.
If you’re still stuck, or want a more personalized recommendation, your team of professionals can help point you in the right direction. Your fertility doctor, after all, has had many patients just like you, and may have a pre-vetted list of support groups for infertility. Additionally, if you’re seeking emotional support counseling, your therapist may suggest a local group of people dealing with difficult life changes. Again, while your health providers can’t always be everything you need when you’re coping with infertility, they can point you in the direction of resources that can help make the process smoother.
While there are numerous resources, both online and in your community, to find support groups for infertility, some of your best allies might be right under your nose. Once you’re ready to start talking to your friends and loved ones about coping with infertility, you might find that more of them can relate to your struggle than you realize.
Don’t forget that around 12% of women in the United States have trouble getting or staying pregnant, and 7.5% of “sexually experienced” men under 45 report seeing a fertility doctor at some point in their lives. That means that there’s a good chance that you already know somebody who has dealt with trouble trying to conceive, even if they were quiet about their struggle. If you’re ready to open up about coping with infertility — and remember, this is a process, so make sure you respect your own comfort level — you may be surprised at how many of your closest friends and relatives have already gone through what you’re going through, and have priceless wisdom to impart.
Now that you know you don’t have to go it alone while coping with infertility, you can make an action plan to make the most of your new dream team. Write down a few questions you’ve been too afraid to ask your doctors or your spouse, questions you didn’t think you’d be able to find easy answers to. Make a commitment to be present at your support groups for infertility, whether in person or online, for whatever amount of time you can comfortably manage. Come up with a list of goals you want to accomplish, whether that’s feeling better about your body and self-image, having more energy to do the things you love to do or becoming closer to your partner. Finally, thank yourself for doing the work of finding your new support network.
And of course, with all these great resources ready to help you bear the load, you can do the all-important work of taking care of yourself. Remember that self-care isn’t selfish — when you feel less stressed out, more capable of prioritizing things like health and fitness and more secure in your relationship, you have more resources to give others. Take care of yourself, and you’ll be better equipped to take care of others, just the same way your infertility support network is helping to take care of you.
How did you find your infertility support network? How has it helped you through your TTC journey? Let us know by tweeting us @AstroglideTTC!
Images are for illustrative purposes only.