The Loneliness of Infertility
Infertility is a lonely journey. Friends and family often don’t know how to help us. We received the following question from someone who is finding this out first hand.
You must get an awful lot of questions, but you are one of the only places where I have found help and hope after recently finding out that my husband is infertile. We are heartbroken but I am finding it especially hard because our friends, since hearing our news, just haven’t seemed to understand the loss. We have a close-knit group of good friends but after the initial conversation hardly anyone has been back in touch to see how we are, or done anything to help us through. We feel so lonely and are starting to feel like we are the odd ones for being this heartbroken. Is this a common thing you hear about or am I expecting too much? Any advice is really and truly appreciated.
Of course you are heartbroken! Your dreams have been shattered and you are reeling! Sad to say, feeling alone in this struggle is amazingly common, but I don’t think you are expecting too much to want the support of your close friends. But first, consider the following.
Talking about Infertility is Embarrassing
Silly as this may sound, I’m convinced that one of the barriers to receiving support from others when you are diagnosed with infertility is that infertility involved sex, and sex is one of those topics that makes even good friends squeamish.
Talking about Male Infertility is Even More Embarrassing
If talking about infertility in general is embarrassing, you can double the embarrassment when talking about male infertility. First, there is the whole sample collection business that most people don’t want to think about. Second, male fertility is tied up in some people’s minds with manliness, thus acknowledging a man’s infertility is akin to questioning his manhood. Your friends may be thinking that they are sparing your husband embarrassment by remaining silent.
At the risk of being stereotypical, I also think that our women friends are more likely to reach out with support, especially support of the talking kind, and your girlfriends may feel like they don’t have much to say about your husband’s infertility. They can’t really identify in the way they might if it was you who were infertile. Of course, what they are missing is that infertility is a couple’s disease, regardless whether the problem is with the man or the woman.
Infertility is an Invisible Disease
Infertility is an invisible disease. It’s a disease defined by absence—the absence of children in your life. From the outside looking in, you and your husband are going about your life as usual—working, playing, going out with friends. It’s easy to miss the pain and fear… especially if you aren’t looking.
Handling Other’s Grief
One of the hardest things to do is to sit with people in their pain. The almost overwhelming temptation is to try to fix their problem. Your friends can’t fix your husband’s infertility, so it is easier to remain silent. It is so very hard to just be present and allow someone to share their pain.
Some people are naturally gifted with this ability, but I think more of us learn this skill with time and experience. You don’t say your age, but is this the first major setback your group of friends has faced? They may not have personal experience with the healing power of presence.
Following Your Lead
It’s easy when faced with adversity to fall into the trap of waiting for the other person to make the first step. Often our friends don’t know what to say and don’t know how to support us through our pain, so they wait for us to lead. We on the other hand are scared and overwhelmed, and expect them to make the first move towards support or the very least let us know they understand our pain.
This standoff is a recipe for loneliness with each side waiting for the other to take the lead.
When we are hurting that last thing we need is to have to help our friends help us, but I think you may have to show them the way. When you are with your friends, are you keeping a stiff upper lip and staying mum about what you and your husband are going through? If so, I’m afraid that if you want their support, you’re going to have to open up. When they ask casually how you’re doing, try saying something like “Not great. We are really struggling with our diagnosis of infertility.”
Find Support Elsewhere
You have every right to expect to be supported by your close friends. I suspect that once you guide them, you’ll feel more supported. But the truth is that even though they will likely step up and offer what support they can, there is nothing like the support and advice offered by those who have walked in your shoes. So, in addition of getting more support from friends, reach out to infertility support groups.
If you are lucky there will an in person support group near where you live. Sadly, however, these are few and far between and becoming more so in our digital age. Call up a local infertility clinic and ask if they know of one or check the Resolve website to see if they have one nearby.
Join an online support group for infertility. The beauty of online support is that it is available 24/7 and you are bound to find someone who is experiencing or has experienced your situation. The added advantage is that people who have worked through their infertility often stick around in these online groups and can share their view from the other side. One great online support group is the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group . It’s a closed Facebook group so that only those in the group can see the posts.
Take the time to grieve his diagnosis. Readjust your dreams of an easy conception. But when you are ready, please know that you have options such as IVF with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), donor sperm, donor embryo, or living child free.
Did you feel abandoned by your friends when you found out you were infertile? Did it get better?
Other Creating a Family Resources You Will Find Helpful
- Being Odd Woman Out: The Curse of Infertility
- Who Owns the Infertility in Your Relationship?
- Infertility: Letting Go of What We Thought Life Was Going to Be
Image credit: Andrew Jackson