In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, I’m encouraging anyone who’s struggling with infertility to speak up and get the support they need. If you know someone who’s could benefit, please consider sharing this article; you may not know how to help them, but pointing them to resources and letting them know you want to help will be appreciated.
Infertility is often a lonely and isolating time. It’s unexpected, often coming from out of the blue. But it doesn’t have to be like this. There are groups around that can help you deal with the predictable emotional roller coaster of feeling scared, worried, disappointed and sad.
You may have considered looking for a group. You may have even located one, in your neighborhood, city or even online, but something has gotten in your way of joining. Hopefully reading this article will encourage you to think about the value of joining an infertility group.
Acknowledging the issue of infertility is often the biggest barrier to seeking help. The word itself may at first be scary, And then there's the fear and shame, which help maintain the loneliness and isolation so many experience. We often think we should be able to handle whatever life throws at us alone. But that's simply unrealistic. We are social beings and rely on others for many reasons.
You may feel uneasy about sharing your dilemma with others. You may be fearful of hearing others’ stories. But here are four reasons why I hope you will consider joining an infertility support group. The old adage, "Joy shared, twice the gain, sorrow shared, half the pain,” rings true for me every time:
1. EXPAND YOUR COMMUNITY
Infertility is often a lonely and isolating time. Whether you join a group expressly for women, or one for couples, you can expect to meet others who are in a similar situation and can relate to many of the struggles you're facing. Living in isolation can leave us feeling like we're the only ones who feel a certain way. Joining a group helps to validate common worries and emotions that individuals and couples face who are experiencing infertility.
2. LEARN COPING SKILLS
Infertility often goes hand in hand with depression and anxiety. Learning how to manage difficult emotions and life challenges associated with your infertility diagnosis is often another benefit to joining a group. Infertility is a crisis and a reproductive trauma, yet most people focus exclusively on medical interventions to reach their goal of having a baby. The emotional impact of infertility is often neglected until the distress is greatly impacting their day-to-day life and relationships.
So what if I told you that learning new tools could help decrease your symptoms of depression and anxiety like stress, worry, sadness, grief and loss? Did you know that deceasing these feelings could have a positive impact on your fertility? Many professionally led support groups teach participants a combination of Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Mindfulness skills. Here’s how these skills can help you:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), an evidence based treatment for both depression and anxiety, is based on the understanding that our thoughts influence our emotions, but that our thoughts aren't always accurate. CBT teaches us how to challenge our thoughts to make them more realistic.
- While Mindfulness has been a big buzz word for the past 5-10 years, many are still confused with the objective. Being mindful is about paying attention, slowing down and becoming aware and noticing your thoughts. By slowing ourselves down on a regular basis we become skilled at approaching difficult moments in a more thoughtful intentional way. Simply slowing down and mindfully approaching stressful situations can have an important ripple effect benefit you in a multitude of ways.
3. LEARN FROM OTHERS
It is said, "Knowledge is Power." The treatment of infertility is often diverse and complex. Educating yourself as to the wide variety of treatment approaches and options is important. A support group may open your eyes to new options and opportunities.
4. FINANCIAL SAVINGS
It's no surprise that infertility treatments can be costly. You're doing everything you can to have a baby and it adds up: consultations with reproductive endocrinologists, acupuncture treatment, appointments with a naturopath, testing, procedures to rule out contributing health issues... And this is all before any costs medications or other assisted reproductive technology are accounted for.
So how does joining a support group save you money, you're wondering. Research shows that women struggling with infertility for 2-3 years have double the rate of depression than their peers without fertility complications (Domar, Broom et al 1992). The good news is that decreasing depression has proven to increase rates of conception by 50%. Joining a group can provide you with new skills to help you to cope coping with difficult emotions and challenges in relationships that often accompany infertility.
A group isn't necessarily a cure all, but it's more cost effective than ongoing individual therapy. By bolstering your support system and learning new coping strategies you may improve your mood and decrease the likelihood of needing an individual therapist as you proceed on your journey with infertility. Participating in a group is not a substitution for individualized care, but if sought early, it may decrease the need for more individual therapy.What do you think, could a fertility support group be right for you?
If you’re thinking that a group might be for you and you’re in the San Diego area, you can learn more about the groups I run here. I meet with all new group members before our first group to learn more about you and to make sure it’s the right fit. Give me a call if you'd like to learn more. If you’re outside of San Diego, you can find local fertility support groups through Resolve, the National Infertility Association, and Psychology Today.