Infertility can be a lonely and isolating journey. There are many factors that influence our isolation, deterring us from enlisting support on the journey of infertility, and tricking us into thinking that we are alone on the painful struggle to parenthood. These are just a few:
- Our friends, siblings, and cousins start their families and “move on” to the next stage of life
- Our social circles are made up of young families and we feel like we are “outsiders” looking in on their lives and listening in on their conversations
- We don’t share our infertility due to feelings of embarrassment, shame, frustration, jealousy
- Some of our friends and family members may not agree with our plan of treatment
- We don’t want unsolicited advice, unwelcome questions, and unnecessary pity
Whatever the reasons, statistics show that 61% of infertile couples hide their struggle to conceive. And for several years I was part of that statistic. My husband and I were not comfortable sharing such a private part of our marriage.
In a very real way we isolated ourselves, quite literally depriving ourselves of a network of support and encouragement, and journeyed alone in grief and frustration. Oh sweet, hurting soul, please don’t make the same mistake I did. Please don’t underestimate the value and healing that comes from enlisting support on the journey of infertility.
A little more than three years after we began our journey to parenthood we opened up about our struggles with infertility and the decisions we’d made related to treatment. We have three “levels” of support, which we’ve identified as our “tribes.”
Our Unconditional Love Tribe
We first opened up about our infertility to the people we know love us unconditionally: our parents, our siblings, and a handful of our closest friends. Their support was overwhelming, and we were so thankful that they didn’t ask very many questions. It is the people who know us best and love us most who are given the most private and personal updates.
What I didn’t expect when we first shared with our family and close friends is that they grieved with us, and not just for us. They each have their own grief: grandparents-to-be who are waiting for that precious joy, would-be aunts and uncles who hurt for us because they love us so much, and best friends who would carry a baby for us if we asked them, they grieve with us too.
This level of love and support is intimate, and it requires deep trust and willingness to be vulnerable. Those in this tribe are the ones who ask us the hard questions and help nurture our souls.
Our personal tribe
Many of the people in our personal tribe love us unconditionally too, but we limit the details in our updates to them, and set clear boundaries in an attempt to protect our hearts. We intentionally invited them to be a part of our journey, but most decidedly on our terms. Our personal tribe consists of real-life friends and family members, and we primarily update through Facebook and e-mails.
Setting boundaries was important for us because we’d already learned that people unintentionally say hurtful things and ask questions that we feel are none of their business. My husband and I worked together to compose a Frequently Asked Questions in which we included:
- Basic details about our diagnosis
- General, yet detailed information about our treatment plan
- How they could help
- What we are not willing to talk about with them
- What questions and suggestions are less helpful than they probably think (i.e. Have you tried…? Do you want to talk about it?)
- Prayer requests specific to our journey
Setting clear boundaries was a good decision for us, and our friends and family have been incredibly accommodating, rarely crossing the boundary lines!
Our online tribe
I began sharing our story on my blog and social media right about the same time we started fertility treatments. My community was fairly small and tightly-knit, and I had full confidence that my blog readers and social media followers would be nothing but encouraging. For the most part, this is true, and I am thankful for the many “random” e-mails and messages I get with thoughtful words of encouragement and prayers on our behalf.
Since then my blog has grown and I’ve become active in several online infertility groups and forums. Modern technology allows me to be part of a tribe that I like to call “the sister-hood of want-to-be mommies.” There’s a camaraderie that provides indescribable encouragement. Connecting with other women who are currently in the midst of infertility truly helps eliminate the feeling of being completely and hopelessly alone.
You don’t have to navigate this road alone. Who will you enlist to be a support as you journey through infertility?