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Many people are caught by surprise when they plan to have a baby... and it doesn’t happen.


Often, everything else in life has gone more or less as planned, and this is the first time they’ve faced a major road block. With lots of other things, a person can work hard and expect a given result—graduating with a certain degree, which leads to a specific job, for example. But then a person finds that the harder she tries to conceive, the more it doesn’t happen, which is incredibly frustrating.

I’ve been leading a support group for women going through the experience of infertility for 8 years. I’ve learned many helpful ways couples cope.

Be gentle with yourself.

Struggling with your fertility is hard. Really hard.

So this is a good time to focus on self-care. It might mean letting yourself cry if you are disappointed to get your period. It might mean getting more rest or downtime, journaling or treating yourself to something in which you wouldn’t normally indulge. You get a pass on going to baby showers if they’re too stressful.

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People may or may not understand, but you can explain in a carefully worded fashion that you are happy for the other person, but because of your sadness over your own situation you simply can’t attend baby-focused events right now. You also get a pass on your emotional reactions to others’ pregnancies.

Almost every woman I’ve ever worked with has asked, “Does it make me an awful person that I got upset when I heard she was pregnant?”

Of course not. It makes you human. You had a reaction that gives you feedback about how much you long to become pregnant.

Nurture your marriage.

Trying to get pregnant, especially if it’s a struggle, is hard on a marriage.

Men can start to feel that “You don’t really want me, you just want my sperm.” Having to perform on cue can take the romance and fun out of sex.

Try to remember the things that you most enjoy as a couple, and do them. It’s wonderful if you can share with each other how you’re feeling throughout the experience, but it’s also important to talk about things that aren’t baby related. You each are going to process and respond to every step along the way differently, and that’s okay. Take away the pressure of thinking that you both have to feel exactly the same way.

Share with others, but choose wisely.

Sharing with others is a personal decision, and what’s right for one may not be right for another.

Some people know that they do better with having others to talk to. Sharing often leads to a revelation that the other person has struggled with fertility, too. Other people are more private. Honor what feels right to you. You can also choose how much to share.

You can say that you are having a hard time conceiving, but not share the details of every test and procedure done, essentially saying, “We’ll let you know when we have good news to share.” (Otherwise, you might find yourself saying, as one woman did in my group, “It feels really strange to have my father-in-law ask me if I got my period yet!”)

You might also want to share this article in order to cut down on responses that are well intentioned but hurtful. Give people clear guidelines about what you would like from them.

Consider joining a support group.

Women who come to group frequently mention that others in their lives just don’t “get it” and there is a huge comfort in talking with other women who are on the same journey. Not only do they understand the emotional stress and strain, but they also understand the medical terminology and procedures. Friendships that last well beyond the experience of infertility are often formed because of having gone through such an intense thing together.

Learn what you can from the experience.

This may seem a bit on the Pollyanna side, but I believe whenever you are in a hard situation, it makes sense to ask yourself what lessons you can extract from the experience that will help you down the road.

Loss, disappointment and coping with the unknown are, for better or for worse, woven into all of our lives. If you can learn what strategies are helpful for you, you come out a better person because of what you’ve been through. One woman said she felt that she was a better mother because of her infertility experience. Another said that she’s learned to cut others slack, because she has no idea what difficult thing might be going on in someone else’s life.

Consider what grounds you and makes you sane, and do it.

Relaxation exercises and meditation can be enormously helpful.

Maybe you enjoy acupuncture or feel your best when you go to church or pray. It could be as simple as taking a walk outside in nature, getting into an exercise routine or taking part in a hobby or activity you love. It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that it helps you feel calmer and better, and that you do it regularly.

Remind yourself that this is a time-limited experience.

I have yet to have anyone 85 years old still coming to group! Eventually, you will come to your resolution. You will become pregnant, adopt, use a surrogate, or embrace living child free. This particular part—the agony of wondering if, when and how you will become pregnant—is awful, but it will not last forever.

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