Infertility: Asking For Your Needs
Are you sick and tired of your family asking, “When are you going to have a baby?” They are completely oblivious to the months your have been trying to get pregnant. They have no idea that you and your husband have already been to three appointments with a fertility doctor. They have no idea you were diagnosed with infertility. Are you ready to share with them? Do you imagine they can give your support? Or maybe you are considering sharing simply because you do not want to have the same conversation, and every time they ask this seemingly innocent question, you feel dead inside. It is easy to get angry and upset with them, but the reality is at this point, they simply don’t know you are struggling with infertility.
Wondering about how to share with them about your experience of infertility so that you might actually get the support your want? There are things you can do to help talk with them about your journey.
Even though it seems like talking with your family about infertility is a very scary conversation, the pain of those questions are much worse. It is important that you find a comfortable way to let your family know what you are going through. Finding healthy support through a painful event is one way we cope in a positive way with trauma. But first you need to help them help you. One way to do this is through disclosing your diagnosis. For example, you may say:
Danny and I really want to start a family, but we have been struggling with infertility. We are being treated by a fertility specialist who has diagnosed me with endometriosis.
We have something to share with you. We are struggling with infertility. We have wanted to start a family for a while and had a hard time sharing our difficulties with anyone. We just want to let you know what we have been going through.
It is also important to educate your family about infertility. Let them know that couples are diagnosed with infertility when they have not been able to conceive a child for a year or have not been able to carry a child to full term. Share with them that this could be due to a number of factors. If you are aware of what is causing you or your husband’s infertility you can share this with them. If not, let them know you are still working with your medical team to understand the cause of your infertility. It is important to let people know that the cause of infertility is not always apparent. If you feel comfortable you can also discuss with them the different diagnostic or medical treatment options you are pursuing. The terminology of infertility can also be very complex. It is okay to not use medical words and explain what is happening in language people will understand. For example:
The diagnosis of infertility is a couples’ diagnosis because we are both affected by it. John is experiencing oligospermia which is the medical word for having a low sperm count. This means that there a fewer sperm to fertilize my egg, making it more difficult to become pregnant.
After you discuss with your family the basic information about infertility, diagnosis, and treatment it is helpful to share with them what this diagnosis means for you. For example, you could say:
I have been having an emotionally tough time with the diagnosis which has caused me to isolate myself from you.
This has been a very painful experience for us and we both are looking for support through this difficult journey.
The next part of the conversation is to educate your loved ones about your expectation of them. What do you need from them? Sit down with your husband and figure out three things that would be important for your family to provide you with during this time. Below are some general suggestions that may be helpful when thinking about what you need from your family.
1. Tell them what you need.
It is important to be clear about what you need from your family. This includes such things as the issues related to whether or not you feel comfortable talking about your infertility experience, how you feel most comfortable discussing painful events with your family, and what type of support is most beneficial to you and your husband. For instance, you may say:
I appreciate all the support that you and dad have been providing us. I want you to know that it feels really good when you ask questions. I know that you are worried about saying the wrong thing. Please be yourself and I will let you know if the conversation becomes too difficult.
This experience has completely caught me off guard. I feel like a complete emotional rollercoaster. I was thinking that it would be really helpful to me if you would be available to talk after my fertility appointments. It makes me feel calmer to know that I can pick up the phone and call you.
If you do not tell your family about the support you need they may provide the wrong type of support. Your family may choose to make the problem invisible by never bringing it up. This may not validate your experience and make you feel more alone. Your family may talk about it too much, which could make you feel sad or stressed. Each person handles trauma differently. It is important to understand what you need during a difficult time and verbalize that to the people you love. They may do it right the first time or they may need a few reminders.
2. A critical step in this conversation is to set clear boundaries.
Remember just because you are sharing now with them does not mean that they have permission to ask more questions or bring this topic up. The point of your sharing is to increase their attunement to your needs. There are physical and emotional boundaries that you may need to set. Examples of setting boundaries are:
That was a great question you asked but I do not feel comfortable answering it today.
I appreciate all of your support. What I think would feel the best to me is if you ask questions whenever you want or if you notice I am acting aloof for you to check in with me. I like knowing that you are invested in me. And with that being said, if it’s too much trust that I will let you know. I am taking this entire infertility process day by day.
I am sorry, but I will not be attending Daisy’s baby shower. Our fertility treatment will make it really difficult to make it to that event this weekend. If we are able to make it, can we call you and let you know.
Setting these boundaries may be hard or make you feel awkward, but they will ultimately help you deal with difficult situations. You may have days where it is difficult to go somewhere, celebrate a holiday, and get excited for a baby shower. This is okay. The journey of infertility presents people with many unknowns. You will have to let your family know that because of this experience you may not be able to engage in things they way you did before. You may be tired because of treatment. You may have to stay in to have sex with your husband or wife because it is that time in your cycle when you are most fertile.
3. Find out how your family is feeling.
Remember that friends and families have their own struggles, worries and excitements. Find out what their needs, hopes, and desires are at this time. You may want to explore what they need from you to feel connected. Healthy relationships are a two way street.
4. Lastly, remember to be compassionate with them (Yes, you need to treat them with compassion in order for them to provide you with what you need.)
They initially asked you baby questions because they care. They are invested in you. This is YOUR family and or close friends. They love you. It is most likely very difficult for them to see you going through such a difficult experience. Many of them say stupid things not because they don’t care, but simply because they have never struggled with this issue before. As you open up the dialogue about your struggles with having a baby ask them if they have any questions for you. Ask them what they need during this time. Infertility is a couples’ diagnosis, but families are as equally invested. This experience of your infertility could be very hard for them too. They may need to grieve the idea of having grandchildren or your sister may grieve the loss of nieces and nephews. Your friends may have always imagined having all the kids growing up together.
An important question to ask yourself is how can you engage friends and family in a way that is comfortable for you, where are your limits? What are their needs? Trust that this is a beginning to a long dialogue that overtime will break the distance and isolation that you may be currently experiencing. Lastly, remember you have had the opportunity to sit with this issue of infertility longer than they have. They too may need time to process and reflect on their feelings.
If you find yourself really struggling with talking with your family about your experience with infertility, feel free to reach out to one of the counselors at The Center for Growth/ Sex Therapy in Philadelphia by calling 267-324-9564.