A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine was diagnosed with infertility.
It wasn’t easy for her to hear the news. But what made it even harder was how unprepared she felt for it. She said it seemed as though the weight of infertility had just fallen on her shoulders without any warning.
She told me that her mind was overflowing with questions. How could this happen? Why did this happen? What am I supposed to do now?
She didn’t have any answers, but what she did have was a lot of emotions. She felt anger and confusion towards the universe, and herself, for not being able to give her husband the one thing he wanted most: a baby.
She wondered how many other people were facing a similar situation, not knowing what their next steps should be. I also found myself wondering what I could do to help as someone who hasn’t had to personally deal with infertility.
According to a study, 1 in 4 couples in developing countries are affected by infertility, and about 48.5 million couples experience infertility worldwide.
Infertility is somewhat of a taboo topic, yet it affects millions of couples and individuals all over the world.
Society likes to sweep it under the rug, which makes it even more difficult to process. Whether you’re personally experiencing infertility or want to better empathize with a loved one who is, it’s important to understand why it can occur in the first place.
What can cause infertility in women
- Ovulation disorders
Ovulation disorders occur if a woman’s standard monthly cycle is broken and an egg isn’t released from the ovaries. These may lead to irregular periods, or no periods at all.
This occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce the required amount of hormones for proper metabolism and tissue growth in the body. Hyperthyroidism causes irregular patterns in both ovulation and menstruation, which may lead to infertility issues if untreated.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a condition that causes hormonal imbalances in the body. This syndrome can also cause irregular periods and weight gain around the abdomen. According to a study, women with PCOS are 15 times more likely to experience infertility than women without PCOS.
Women with diabetes have an increased risk of developing infertility. This is because they have higher levels of insulin in their blood, which can affect ovulation and egg development.
- Cancer treatments
Some cancer treatments can affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant. These include chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cervical cancer, or surgery for ovarian or endometrial cancer.
How does infertility affect mental health?
Infertility can have a profound effect on one’s mental health.
Many women struggling with infertility equate the diagnosis to failure. Not being able to become pregnant can make it feel like they are less feminine, or that they are disappointing their partners. It may seem as though their hopes and dreams have been taken from them if they have always considered parenthood as part of their future. These feelings of failure, insecurity, and uncertainty can grow into more serious conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
It’s vital for women dealing with infertility to be kind to themselves. It’s perfectly normal to experience and accept negative emotions at first, but you’ll need to be careful so they don’t permanently penetrate your mind. Avoid blaming yourself and know that you’re not alone. As hard as it is, you’ll can begin to consider infertility as a temporary roadblock in your journey towards parenthood.
Take plenty of time for self-care, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if negative feelings begin to take over.
How to empathize with those experiencing infertility?
External love and support is also crucial for the healing process of those experiencing infertility. It can be a very isolating experience, and we are taught to not think about it too much. Here are some ways we can break the stigma and support our loved ones.
- Be compassionate
Make sure your loved one knows that you’re there for them by supporting them however they need it. Infertility is a delicate topic that everyone approaches differently. Let them know that you’re there if they want a shoulder to cry on, or if they want to do something completely unrelated to feel better. Don’t be afraid to ask how they’re feeling, but also don’t try to take over or ‘fix’ the situation for them. Only they will know what they are comfortable with.
- Listen without judgment
When someone is experiencing infertility, they often feel like no one understands what they’re going through. Try not to jump in with advice or suggestions right away. Instead, let them talk about what they’re going through. You’ll show your loved one that they aren’t alone and their feelings are valid by listening without judgment.
- Don’t ask unnecessary questions
Don’t ask potentially intrusive questions like “why don’t you just adopt?” or “do you know why your body won’t let this happen?” These questions will likely make them feel even more frustrated with the situation—and possibly guilty for not having made their decision yet. Instead, let them take the lead in the conversation. They will ask you for your thoughts and advice when they are ready.
- Be supportive
Tell them that you support them in whatever decision they decide to make. Remember that all their options are valid, and the decision should ultimately come down to your loved one and their partner.
You don’t have to feel helpless when someone close to you is struggling with infertility. We hope the above tips have helped you understand infertility and empathize with the many people who suffer from it.
Together, we can create an inclusive community of support for anyone who wants to become a parent but is struggling to do so.