1. You know someone struggling
The numbers are staggering. 1 in 8 will struggle to conceive. 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in a loss. 1 in 160 deliveries will in with a child born still.
Let these numbers sink in.
You know someone affected by this journey, whether or not they speak about it publicly. They are your friends, your family and the person sitting next to you at church or at work.
2. Know your sex ed
When a man’s sperm meets a woman’s egg it forms a zygote, this is a fertilized egg. If all goes well the cell will divide and become a blastocyst around 5 days. If the blastocyst implants into the uterine wall it becomes an embryo. Around 8 weeks we have a fetus.
For some of us, sperm meets egg in a petri dish with a lot of help from doctors and is then transferred to the woman’s uterus in hopes of a healthy baby in 40ish weeks.
We are not picking eye color or height, we are simply working with our medical team to bring the healthiest baby possible into this world.
3. There are many reasons one has an infertility diagnosis
Infertility is a disease that can be the result of several medical conditions. However, many of us will never know what is the cause of our infertility or our losses, we fall into the unexplained category.
It is not as simple as eating right, not drinking or smoking, taking better vitamins or going on vacation and relaxing.
Some of us will never know what it is like to get pregnant easily or ever or carry to term without medical intervention. This, in and of itself, is a huge loss.
4. There are many stages and levels of treatments
There are multiple steps, surgeries, procedures and tests we must go through for a diagnosis and our treatments. Some will need medications, some injections, some embryo transfers, some surrogates and donors.
Each journey is very different, and yet, very much the same.
5. It is expensive and most of the time insurance does not cover it
Infertility treatments can range anywhere from $3,000-15,000 per round depending on the level of treatment, medications and procedures.
Insurance coverage is currently only mandated in 15 states. Which means most of us are taking out loans, borrowing from family or having to put our treatment on hold until the money is saved up (which in and of itself is a cruel joke, the longer we wait the lower our success rate usually).
Telling us to just try again is like pouring salt into our already open wound, unless you’d like to loan us approximately $15,000.
6. It is harder than you can imagine
The waits are endless. The medications, tests and procedures are painful, both physically and emotionally. The financial stress is crushing. The pressure on our relationship more than some can withstand. The emotional ups and downs worse than a lot of life roller coasters.
We end up living our lives by ovulation tests, two week waits and monthly cycles. It is difficult to be happy or take a deep breath even when the test is positive because many of have suffered through the worst case scenario.
7. We need to talk about it
But we struggle to know how. Our shame, guilt and fear of not being understood keeps most of us in silence. We are also scared of what you will say and fear opening ourselves up to more hurt.
Please ask us but with love and empathy in your heart, not judgment or even curiosity. We need support and the best thing you can say is, “How are things? What can I do?”
8. Some of us consider them babies others consider them embryos, both are losses
Each ovulation, each test, each procedure and every embryo is a chance at a growing family. And every time it does not work dreams are shattered and hearts break.
9. We don’t need your solutions, quick fixes or pity
We need your empathy and compassion because then we don’t feel so alone in it all.
Telling us to “just adopt”, “just try another round”, “just relax” or pitying us invalidates the difficulty of the journey, the losses we suffer throughout it and disconnects us even more than we already feel as people who want to be parents but can’t seem to be.
10. There is more than one version of the happy ending
We all ultimately define our own happy ending.
For some of us treatments will work someway and somehow. For others we will move on to build our families through adoption. For others we will accept a childfree not by choice life.
None of these happy endings means we are fixed from our struggles to conceive and losses but rather means we are forever changed and always healing.
11. There are more decisions than you ever imagined involved in the journey
Which medical protocol? Which medications? Which clinic and doctor? Medicated or unmedicated cycle? Do we move on to full In Vitro Fertilization? How long do we wait until we try again? What do we do with extra embryos? How do we feel about using a sperm donor? Or egg donor? Or adopting an embryo? What about surrogacy? How much money do we spend? How long do we try? Who do we tell? How much do we tell? Is there anyone else like us?
It is endless, difficult and makes you evaluate everything you though you knew about yourself, your partner and the world.
12. It is no one’s fault
No matter the medical diagnosis, we are in it together. Asking us whose fault it is that we can’t have a baby is not helpful.
In this same realm, please don’t tell us this is God’s plan or that we must not be meant to be parents or the baby must not have been healthy or was only a fetus.
We are already punishing ourselves enough, please don’t do it for us.
13. This journey is riddled with grief
The loss of babies. The loss of the freedom to get pregnant easily and build our families without the help of sterile rooms, countless doctors and nurses, petri dishes and medications. The loss of the blind happiness that everything will work out and be okay.
The loss of what could have been and wondering for the rest of our lives.
Grief is forever.
14. Compassion and empathy are all we really need from you
You don’t have to have gone through what we are going through to get it. The only experience required to practice empathy and compassion with us is knowing what it feels like to be scared, anxious, sad, angry and powerless.
Sit next to us, hold space and walk through this dark with us, please.
What else would you add?
Justine Brooks Froelker is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (based on the research of Brené Brown) working in private practice. She is the author of her book and blog, Ever Upward, and an advocate for breaking the shamed silence of infertility and loss and fighting to recovery thereafter. She also writes for The Huffington Post, St. Louis Health & Wellness magazine and appears regularly on the morning television show Great Day St. Louis.
Justine lives in Saint Louis, Missouri with her husband Chad and their three dogs Bosco, Gertie and Gracie. She enjoys her childfull life by spending time with friends and family, practicing creative self-care, laughing (sometimes at herself) and building butterfly gardens on her acre of land, which has made her an accidental monarch butterfly farmer.