Having personally gone through 5 years of infertility before having my children through a gestational surrogate, I understand that the IVF process can take a toll emotionally, physically, financially, and just overall consume one’s life. At times, you can feel like you are the only person experiencing difficulty having children, especially in light of social media where your feed may be filled with your friend’s baby pictures, first day of school, etc. It can be unbearable at times. In fact - according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (“ASRM”), which a leading organization in assisted reproduction for information, advocacy and standards, the emotions experienced with infertility have been compared to other major life events such as death of a family member or separation and/or divorce. However, you are not alone. Not by any stretch of the means. As a Florida surrogacy lawyer who works with people struggling to have a family every day, and personally once I shared my story of infertility, it almost seems that more people are touched by infertility than by people who conceive in the “usual and customary” manner. When going through the assisted reproduction journey as to the emotional resources, here are a few suggestions to help:
Finding a Therapist Who Specializes in InfertilityMy IVF doctor suggested I seek counseling during my treatment to assist with the emotional toll the process took on me. For goodness sake - there were appointments that I was so choked up in tears I could hardly speak to the doctor to complete a consultation. Years later after the journey I experienced, I will never forget how hard the process was, in large part, the emotional challenges. Not just for those suffering from infertility, but for anyone going through surrogacy, egg/embryo or known sperm donation, the best practice in the industry is for the intended parents and donor to seek counseling to make sure everyone is qualified to move forward with the process. To find a qualified mental health professional, you want to make sure you see someone that has experience with infertility and third party reproduction, as applicable. According to the ASRM, in selecting a mental health professional, it is recommended to interview more than one person, ask them for their credentials as well as their experience with infertility issues and treatments, and make sure the therapist has:
- a graduate degree in a mental health profession
- a license to practice and/or state registration
- clinical training in the psychological aspects of infertility
- experience in the medical and psychological aspects of reproductive medicine
Infertility Support GroupsI discovered the gem of peer lead fertility support groups during my infertility struggles which is a really incredible option for some people. Getting together with a group of people in a protected setting helps alleviate the painful fear that you are alone in what can be a despairing process. Resolve, the National Infertility Association, is a nonprofit organization with the only established, nationwide network mandated to promote reproductive health and to ensure equal access to all family-building options for men and women experiencing infertility or other reproductive disorders. Across the country, Resolve offers free peer lead infertility support groups that offer incredible support to those in need and empowers people with the education needed to better traverse the minefield of the ART world. The organization’s website is a wealth of knowledge for those interested in learning more about assisted reproduction and infertility with articles, videos, fact sheets, interviews, and links to other resources. To find a Florida infertility support group organized by Resolve, visit Resolve’s website.
Helping a Friend Struggling with Fertility ChallengesAccording to the book I co-authored published by the American Bar Association titled, The ABA Guide to Assisted Reproduction: Techniques, Legal Issues, and Pathways to Success: Infertility is a disease. Foot-in-the-mouth is also an ailment that friends and family need to be mindful of when talking to those struggling with infertility. Someone going through infertility can be extremely sensitive to even innocuous comments, even as simple as telling them to relax. It is important to be mindful of what you say when speaking to someone you know who is going through ART procedures. There are many things not to say to someone experiencing infertility (i.e., complaining or bragging about your pregnancy or telling them there are worse things that could happen to them). Yet it is challenging to know what to say to someone going through this process and does require consideration. Let’s face it; some people are more sensitive than others. However, isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Infertility advocate and former ART patient Marisa Horowitz-Jaffe compiled a list of things to say to someone experiencing infertility that is collected from her own experience and from other women who have also suffered with infertility.
- “I don’t know exactly what you are experiencing, but I’m here to listen and support you in whatever way I can.”
- “How can I be a better friend to you during this time?”
- I really wish people would have acknowledged the difficulty of the process rather than simply glossing over it. For example, it would have been nice to hear: “I know this is a tough situation/process/time and I am here for you.” Something simple and not too dramatic, but heartfelt, nonetheless.
- I would have liked to have been asked about the treatment/process without the listener becoming incredulous about how much I had to endure and how "they could never have done it." Basically, just listening would have been good.
- Sometimes there isn’t anything you can say that won’t offend or hurt someone going through infertility especially if the person is pregnant or has children. Sometimes you just have to listen.