National Infertility Awareness Week is April 20-26, a week in which many of us in the infertility community commit to sharing our stories, spreading awareness, and bringing much-needed attention to the disease that affects an estimated seven million Americans.
But some who carry this burden – who walk this journey, do so silently, quietly, and mostly alone. Infertility is an isolating journey, and many choose to walk it alone. Their friends and family members are often left with unanswered questions, wondering what to say, how to help, and what it’s like. And they wonder why? Why will my loved one not let me be a part of this journey?
Every journey is different, every heart shatters into unique pieces. I can only share from my own experience, but perhaps my own struggle will shed a glimmer of light onto the struggles that others face as they walk this lonely journey.
Why We Keep Quiet About Infertility
1. Making a baby is (usually) a very private experience
We are keenly aware that most couples are able to create new life together without an audience. Babies are made in secret, in those intoxicating moments of love and passion. When a couple experiences infertility, those secret moments of passion are often replaced with gut wrenching moments in a doctor’s office, with doctors, nurses, and receptionists taking a gander at charts and medical tests and all things that once were private. Passion is replaced with frustration, love is sometimes overshadowed by fear, and what once was sacred and private becomes another statistic. We feel that invasion of privacy so deeply.
My husband and I battled infertility for a couple of years before we ever opened up about it – even to family. Clinging to what semblance of privacy we could, we guarded the sacred moments between husband and wife, even the ones in a sterile, cold doctor’s office. We tried to protect our hearts by keeping private those things we inherently know are supposed to be private.
2. You have questions, but we don’t have answers
Infertility introduces a crushing number of questions for which we rarely have answers. My husband and I were diagnosed with unexplained infertility, so we quite literally had no answers for most of our questions. Not having answers to our own questions is brutally painful, and not being able to answer your questions has its own pain and frustration too.
We know you have questions, and we know that most of your questions come from a place of love and concern. You want to know how we’re doing, but most days we really don’t know. You want to know if we’re okay, but sometimes (most of the time) we aren’t. You want to know how to help, but really, you can’t. You want to know why we don’t have babies, so do we.
For many, it is easier to journey silently and alone than it is to give the same answers (or lack thereof) over and over again. The “I don’t knows” and fragile facades of “I’m okay” wear us down and remind us of the never-ending heartache.
3. We feel our barrenness in our souls
I speak here as a woman of faith battling infertility. Christian couples facing infertility often feel barren within their soul. We question God’s plan, we wrestle with God’s will, and in our darkest moments we doubt God’s love for us. After all, God’s Word is clear that children are a blessing from God; so we wonder: is lack of children a curse from God?
Every Christian couple who battles infertility will do so on a spiritual level. Some will do so much more gracefully than I did. My faith was shaken to its core, and I often wrestled with God out of anger and rage. It was ugly and my heart was raw. And for a long time I was unwilling to be vulnerable with my friends and family about my bitterness and anger. Most of us don’t want to air our spiritual dirty laundry for others to see.
Perhaps you are the loved one of a couple facing infertility. Remember that they are on a journey of grief, and there is no wrong way to grieve. I hope you know that you are a much needed source of strength and encouragement. You have the ability to offer comfort, even when you don’t know what to say. I challenge you to value their privacy, to honor the way they have chosen to journey the path of infertility, to do what you can to protect their hearts.
Do you silently struggle with infertility? What are your reasons for staying quiet?
All of these reasons plus a few others.
Not wanting to deal with the reactions and advice of others, which are, unfortunately, often unhelpful is a primary one for me.
Oh yes, this was a big one for me too! When we did open up about our journey, we received so much unwanted advice. We finally established very clear boundaries with our friends, coworkers, and family members about what was and was not okay to talk about. 🙂
All of these reasons, but the main reason is because I have no one that I can talk to. People don’t understand, and dismiss my struggle as self made, or foolish. You see I already have children, 4 actually. And they are amazing children. However, for over 2 years now my husband and I have been trying to get pregnant to no avail. I’m fine. He’s fine. I’m told it’s “secondary infertility”. Or basically, unexplained infertility. I have friends that struggle with infertility and have no children of their own. My own struggle is “obsurd” to them. And basically, not real, since I have children. To my friends that have children, never struggled with secondary infertility, dismiss the pain of this struggle as well because, “isn’t 4 enough?”. Personally, my husband and I love children, and want more. Many more if we could. Though, the most painful reason why I don’t share my struggle is because 9 times out of 10 I get this response, “You already have 4. Shouldn’t you be a little more grateful you have children already?” This reply comes from both people with children, and those without struggling with infertility. Both get upset with me when I’ve tried to share my struggle. And then lastly, those within my faith (Christian) are reasons I don’t share. On one side I get ridicule because, “you want MORE? Are you crazy? Are you trying to be the next Duggar’s?” then on the other side my pain is dismissed because, “If it’s God’s will it will happen.”
I’m so sorry for your journey of secondary infertility. I can imagine that must be such a difficult place to be because of how unique your situation is. I wish people could understand how hurtful their responses can be, and I wish that sometimes there were actually things to say that bring real comfort. It’s so tough, isn’t it?
I could have written your response, as I experienced secondary unexplained infertility after having 2 children and I felt like my heart was going to break. I too experienced the same responses as you did and as a Christian woman sought christian counselling in the depths of my despair, which not only made things worse ( they told me in essence that God didn’t have to or want to bless me anymore and I should get over it) , but nearly destroyed my faith as my whole concept of God was brought into question. If chatting further would help, please ask moderators for my email as I would be more than happy to chat.
God bless you ( yes I hung in there with God and KNOW he is a generous and loving father who wants to give his children good gifts! )
This is lovely, but I do think that it doesn’t include one important reason: Feeling like a failure. Whether it’s the man or the woman, having an operating reproductive system seems like a badge of pride. When yours is broken, you feel like a failure. I know I have sometimes. It still doesn’t keep me from responding when people ask when we’re going to have a baby by saying “well, I’m having fertility problems right now” and enjoying the horror on their face. 🙂
All of the reasons listed in the article and in the comments. Our first baby was a complete miracle, between Clomid cycles and after a consult for IVF. Our secondary infertility we shared with family and close friends and select people at our church because we also asked for prayers. I added the caveat at that time, however, for people to please not ask how we’re doing; if it was good news, we’d share and, if it was bad news, we wouldn’t want to discuss it. While they all knew of our struggle, however, I didn’t discuss the whole situation with anyone, really, because, those close enough that I actually could’ve shared with, how do you tell them how your soul aches with God-given longing, how heartbroken you truly are. What good would it do, I thought? It wouldn’t alleviate my own pain and would only cause them so much to know exactly how painful the situation truly was.
I agree with all you said and also resonate with a lot of the comments. However there is one more aspect. When getting your husband to have sex is like pulling teeth, it’s a really silent battle and valley. Mine also really wanted children, but he has so much sexual brokenness from his past that it has wreaked havoc on our marriage. How can you discuss that one? By God’s sheer grace we have one by our third IUI and a second by the “one shot” try each month. While our struggle with infertility was real and diagnosed as unexplained, the sex part was a huge struggle, too. I’ve since learned through a Christian marriage blog that what is clinically called a sexless marriage is a bigger problem for women whose husbands don’t want sex than we realize. It’s a silent struggle even more silent than infertility. You can read more at http://www.onefleshmarriage.com.