Happy Mother's Day! (cringe)
Mother's Day — you might wonder why a woman would cringe at that. Maybe she recently lost a child or suffered a miscarriage. Maybe she misses her mother. But often, it's because she's experiencing infertility. Mother's Day can be incredibly difficult for women experiencing infertility. Fifteen years after my own experience, my wishes on Mother's Day are to help women celebrate the day, not struggle through it.
Even if you have never experienced infertility, you probably know someone who has. In the United States, 6.7 million women 15–44 years old have problems getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term. And 1 in 6 women 25–44 years old have used infertility services.
Infertility is an intensely personal and complex journey. It's both physical and emotional. How can you support your friends this Mother's Day? Just understanding what they're going through can be a big help.
The Physical Experience
The physical experience of infertility is one where you scrutinize every feeling and bodily twinge. But mostly, infertility treatments are sticky. You stick thermometers in your mouth or ear. A nurse sticks your vein. The doctor sticks an ultrasound probe inside you. Oh, and lots of needle sticks for giving medicines.
Pop quiz: A woman is experiencing infertility. This time she uses injections for the medications. She has a hormone injection in her abdomen at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. She also gets an injection in the muscle of her thigh or hip at the same time. How many syringes does she need for a 12-day treatment?
If you answered "ouch," "yuck," or "too many," you are correct.
Scheduling your life around infertility treatments is a nightmare. I hope there's an app for that now. I remember a calendar full of appointments and specific times for medications. It depends on how open you are about the process, but you probably don't want that schedule made public, so keeping your calendar becomes a covert operation.
Here's another pop quiz: In two minutes, create the most original code words for the following calendar notes used frequently by women during infertility treatment: injection in belly, sperm collection in the office, planned intercourse, pregnancy test, egg retrieval, due date if this works [please God, let it work!].
The Emotional Experience
One of the biggest challenges is dealing with other people's reactions, as well as your own. One of the most important lessons that I learned was that it was possible to be genuinely thrilled for my newly pregnant friend and disappointed for myself at the very same time. That's just one example of conflicting, confusing, and sometimes crazy thoughts. Here's another: It's not crazy to want to go into the lab and hug the tank where the embryos are, right? Right?
Pop quiz: "I'm so emotional — it must be the hormones!" How would you react if this were said by A. a pregnant woman; B. a woman aging into menopause; or C. the woman experiencing infertility?
As a friend or family member, I know it can be hard to know what to say or how to help us. Don't be afraid to ask us what we need, and let us know you care. Just being there to talk is one of the kindest things you can do, especially on a day like Mother's Day.
If you are experiencing infertility or it's a part of your past experiences, what would you like people to know? What can friends and family do to support and encourage you? Share this post with the people in your life, and tell them what you need. With your help, we can spark a dialogue online, at home, and in our communities.