If you’re struggling to conceive, talking to friends in the same boat may help you cope

Guest post by Kathryn

By: dragonflaiiiCC BY 2.0
I live in a small town far away from friends and family. We’ve made new friends there and I keep them in the loop due to my open-book personality. My closest friends that I write to know about my struggle to conceive a child, but when we returned to the city for our summer school holiday, my struggle suddenly felt like a big secret.

I didn’t want to tell people we were struggling to conceive because a) I do not want advice, b) I do not want platitudes and c) I do not want anything except sympathy on this topic. Then talk to me about other things in life, I’m still me. I didn’t tell my Bible study group because I was afraid of hearing things like “God grants us the desires of our hearts,” “Just relax about it, it’ll happen in God’s timing,” etc.

I thought I was coping all well and good with not being pregnant, but the other day I spontaneously burst into tears without warning. I was a bit embarrassed about it. When do you tell people you’re having trouble conceiving? When is the natural time to bring that stuff up? I don’t know, and I’m sick of feeling like it’s a secret. So here it is: we’re having trouble conceiving.

My partner James and I have been trying to conceive for about nine months, unsuccessfully.

For those who don’t know, this is how a typical cycle for me looks like. I get my period, we wait for about a week then start trying, then we wait for about two weeks, then I get my period again. This is what it feels like. We start trying and that’s good and fun. Then we start waiting. I notice that something about my body is ever-so-slightly different and wonder if it’s because there’s now a baby in my uterus. But no! Don’t start hoping, self. It probably won’t happen. But it might! But it probably won’t. But it might!

For two weeks. Then my period is late by a day, or I’ve miscalculated when it’ll start and things are a little more hopeful/exciting. Then I get my period. I’m a little disappointed but hopeful for the next cycle.

But that slightly-sad-yet-hopeful conclusion changed one day about six weeks ago. A very awesome friend announced her pregnancy and my reaction was off the planet! I was weepy and depressed for about a week from it. I hated being intimate with James and it was affecting my job.

We decided to take a cycle off from trying, and that was good — really good. Then I got offered a classroom teaching position for next year and we’ve decided to stop trying until April to give me a break from trying to conceive and so I can finish out the school year.

The baby wave is starting amongst friends of mine. There have been four announcements in two months on Facebook. Each time I feel a little sad that it isn’t me. I am happy for them and I wish them all the best, but it is still hard for me. I don’t want to be the kind of person who hides friends on Facebook or blocks baby-related Pinterest boards to avoid triggers… yet, that is what I’m doing.

I love my friends, but I need to not cry all the time.

If anyone feels like they want to make life easier for someone they know is struggling to conceive a child, this is what I’d suggest: please tell them if you’re also trying to conceive. When they hear happy news from you, it won’t be a shock — and they will have already been emotionally on-board with your pregnancy.

For me personally, I feel much less isolated knowing someone else who is in this struggle. A friend’s sister has been trying for a while now, and even though I’m not close with her, I am hoping and praying and anticipating her one day, maybe, finally, falling pregnant. I feel like we’re in the same boat and I’m actually glad there’s one other person in the whole world struggling with this as I am.

I wrote about our struggle on my blog, and the reception was incredible. People shared that they’d been trying, personal struggles of their own, that they’d be thinking of me. No one gave me well-meaning but awful advice. Some people who now have tiny children shared that it took them years of trying to get to that point and they sympathised with my struggle. All up, it has been a positive experience and I’m glad I put myself out there.

Comments on If you’re struggling to conceive, talking to friends in the same boat may help you cope

  1. My husband and I have been trying to conceive for 16 months now, and I’ve just started to tell people, and it has helped me a lot too–I still get plenty of comments (“So, when will *you* start having children?”) that generally upset me to much to respond with more than a shrug and “some day,” but in those times when I’m not weepy about it, it has helped to talk about it.

  2. Been there. When I wrote a piece for Offbeat Mama, and another for a national newspaper, I was amazed at the response I got from friends — and even strangers I had never met. There are more of us out there than you think. I was commended by many friends for going ‘public’ with our story, many of whom wished they had my strength/bravery to be open and honest about what we were going through.

    Now that doesn’t mean the sadness, frustration, anger, and all those other emotions go away when you find out how many kindred spirits there are out there (and all those emotions are natural and are OK — let yourself feel them rather than pushing them aside, and do what you need to so you can look after yourself, even if it means avoiding baby showers or blocking friends’ photos on Facebook) but it is reassuring. It’s a tough road, the one fertility-challenged couples face.

    I wish you all the best in your quest for pregnancy and offspring.

  3. I’m personally in the camp of “tried for about two years and now have a six-month-old boy”. Those two years were brutal, though. I was fortunate to have one friend who began her own efforts to conceive around the same time as me, so we could commiserate, though it took her even longer (she’s now due any day). One thing I discovered with our shared struggle is that not only does each experience differ emotionally (duh), but my own emotions, and hers as well, seemed to ebb and flow in unexpected ways. There were weeks where I’d be distracted by the rest of life and would almost forget (almost), and then there were too many days and nights when I felt consumed by feelings of inadequacy.

    I wish I could promise you that it’ll work out, but no one knows that for sure. All I can say is, I feel your pain. And on a more optimistic note: just because it didn’t happen right away, does NOT mean it can’t or won’t. Only that it hasn’t yet.

    Sending fertile (and peaceful) thoughts your way…

    • I hear you on the ebb and flow. I’ve just started my new job and I’m quite happy and invested in that. But come school holidays and when we start trying again (we’re on a break right now), so too will the longing and pain start again.

  4. OMG this is SO me! This really shouldn’t be a secret because so many people (statistically) have issues with infertility these days. We really need to come out of the closet as it were, and support each other and let people know that we are trying and having no luck so that they are more aware of it. Until it happens to you, or you know people personally, it is so much more abstract and you think it’s not the problem that it is.

    • There have been people with fertility issues since there have been, well, people. It’s just that society in general has frowned upon it for many years, if not centuries. In the Middle Ages, for example, if a couple couldn’t successfully conceive any children, it was ultimately considered the woman’s “fault,” even if the fertility issues could have possibly come from the man’s side.

      Now times have changed and it seems to me that more and more people are being open about their struggles to conceive. I have never been pregnant, but I have a really good friend who is sub-fertile and has been trying to conceive for almost 4 years. She has had so many miscarriages now that she pretty much expects to have one the next time she gets preggers. Nevertheless, it has been quite an eye-opening experience listening to her about her struggles to conceive, and I commend her for being so brave for sharing her story. If I ever go through a similar ordeal, I know exactly who to talk to about it.

  5. My husband and I have been trying for a 16 months as well. It became so bad at one point that whenever the pastor would mention God healing someone’s barren womb in church and granting them a child I would burst into tears. I too became afraid of talking about it because I was tired of hearing ‘well you need to pray more’ or ‘it’ll happen when it happens’ or ‘take a break and then it’ll happen’ and all that other advice from people who had never had problems with their fertility and didn’t really understand.

    Thankfully I have two friends who have had issues with their fertility. Talking to them about it really does help; it’s nice to know that I’m not alone and I’m not the only one who feels this way. Through their help, I’ve been able to get past a lot of my anger and depression over it.

    • I love my church, but it can be a real pickle going sometimes. Isn’t there a saying somewhere about church being perfect except for all the people?

      I’ve found Psalm 13 really helpful in my walk with God. It tells me that even the Psalmist gets angry at God and that’s ok. Having my feelings validated by the Bible (as opposed to stamped on by other Christians) was a huge step in getting over my feelings.

      • I think even the most pious Christians get pissed at God every once in a while, even if they don’t want to admit it. And I agree that some verses in the Hebrew Scriptures are especially helpful when it comes to expressing your feelings about anything.

      • it is a stupid source (the tv show Reba…), but there was this episode with a preacher on it, and his character told Reba that “God is big enough to handle you being mad at him” or something to that effect. It has stuck with me- I am angry at God a lot these days, but comforted knowing and understanding that He knows and understands, and will still love me when I am no longer angry.

  6. we tried to conceive for 3 years. I had 7 miscarriages. it was terrible. I cried with every one of my friends pregnancy announcements, and in 3 years at age 29-32 there were many. some people had more multiple kids in that time frame. it was so hard to be happy for someone else but so so sad for me. i am so grateful to now have 2 little boys, the first one just turned 2 and the younger one is 6 months now. for me, a trip to the fertility dr cleared it up quickly. we were pregnant before the end of the month.

  7. My partner and I are three years deep into our struggle with infertility and I found both this post and the video Ariel shared so inspiring. Dealing with infertility is a daily battle; I literally have not gone a single day without thinking about it or mourning the future I thought I’d have. I read recently that women dealing with infertility suffer from grief and sadness similiar to those coping with terminal illness or chronic pain disorders. On top of that, as women I think we are conditioned to feel ashamed of our “lady problems”. But I’ve decided that today is the day I say “Fuck it” and stop hiding this huge, challenging part of my life. Because damn it, it isn’t something I should be ashamed of or something I should hide. As much as I wish to have even one friend to share this grief with, I never will if I’m not will to step up and talk about it. I am and I will… and hopefully I will inspire someone else to talk about it the way this inspired me. boom.

    • I laugh in the face of lady problems!! HA!

      And by that, what I really mean is telling menfolk (primarily my husband, but also manfriends who happen to broach the topic in my presence) all about lady problems. Periods, hormone cyces, menstrual cups, fertility, bras, etc. I figure that if it’s a woman problem, it’s an everyone problem! Screw the patriarchy!! Tell people your lady problems! *burns bra* (not really *gives bra a hug*)

      To one single manfriend o’ mine, I told him that if he wants to never have children and keep having sex with women, then he ought to know something about how to avoid it that doesn’t stop at using a condom.

      More power to you!

  8. I hope you will find peace with the situation, and thank you for sharing it with us.

    When I was going through the intense grief of not having a baby (for different reasons than infertility), it helped to write and talk about it. Hundreds of people responded to my blog posts and other writings about it; many were or had been infertile, many were experienceing it for other reasons like life circumstances, no partner, other health problems.

    It turned out to be so, so common yet so misunderstood. I agree with snarktopus — it ain’t just “lady problems,” and it can help to speak out. But only when you’re ready. Like in your post…

  9. Yes yes yes yes yes. This could not have come at a better time for me. Found out yesterday on Facebook that a friend is pregnant with a honeymoon baby. I’m over the moon for her. But I’ve been crying off and on ever since about how unfair this babymaking lark is… Ugh. I love your advice on letting people know that you’re trying to conceive. That way people will know (hopefully) to be a bit more sensitive, and you might pick up an ally or two!

  10. I have my first appointment with an infertility doctor next week. We’ve been trying for a year now (although we’ve only been married for 3 months). I find that I often want to talk to people but then I don’t want to be a debbie downer. I recently went to a friend’s baby shower and had her sister, also a friend, inform me she’s pregnant now too. Then two days later another friend announced she was. I love my friends but now every time one of them gets pregnant , I want to punch them. I’m constantly torn between telling people (so they’ll stop saying horrible insensitive things like “at least you aren’t knocked up!”) and keeping it a secret because it’s so personal. I don’t think things like this should be a secret and yet, I just can’t tell people.

    I don’t get excited anymore. Every month my husband is excited and I won’t let even a shred of hope creep in. It’s an easier fall when you aren’t built up quite so high.

  11. My husband and I have been trying for a couple years now, and I also have a cousin who is due next month, but also struggled. We did a lot of commiserating, which helped a lot. I am also a big advocate for answering the “when are you 2 going to have kids?” with an abbreviated version of why that has not been so simple.

    • ha! I was making a new friend just yesterday and she asked me this question. Cue big talk about this struggle! I don’t like hiding things in my life, so I tend to spiel when asked 🙂

  12. *Hugs* Your silent struggle is shared by legions of silent sisters. I am one. My Hubs and I have been struggling with this for years. We haven’t ever used any barriers/drugs/etc to prevent accidents before we were actively looking to conceive. We thought – hey, if it happens it happens. That went on for 10 years (I was 19-29), almost 5 years ago right before our wedding we started trying: first with the calendar method, then the ovulation sticks, then with Clomid and sticks, and now we are not trying at all. So much of this struggle has affected our intimacy that I am not even in the mood anymore.

    I haven’t ever said those things aloud, though I have been hounded by family and well-meaning friends about our childless state for over a decade. What is saddest of all is when my best friend and then my sister guessed at the trouble then offered to be my surrogates. I know I could be thankful, but it only makes me want to scream and kick them out of my house. I am entering my mid-30s with such frustration at this single part of myself.

    After a ton of “what’s wrong with me” nights and days, going on almost 5 years now, I am going for one more ultrasound before I decide if IVF is worth the drugs and process, or if it will further kill my libido and tarnish my relationship further. *wiping tears* Wow. That admission was hard.

  13. It took my partner and I 2 years of trying every 48 hours on the clock and 2 miscarriages to finally successfully conceive. We’re still dealing with my infertility though because both my primary doctor and OB have said if this pregnancy doesn’t work out, we won’t be able to try again. It’s a tough road but I’m glad I don’t have to face it alone.

  14. 29 cyles, ug. It was awful. We tried everything. It definitely did help to talk to people, but at times, like when someone would say it took them all of 6 cycles, I would want to scream. People would try to sympathize, but would ultimately give unwanted/inappropriate advice and I’d tune them out. I did have a couple poeple who where sypathetic without the advice and that was nice. We ended up doing invitro fertilization (IVF) and I’m now 23 weeks pregnant with twins, so our story has a happy ending, but I still cringe when I hear about someone getting pregnant accidentally or saying to “relax and it’ll happen”

  15. Ulg. We’re on this roller coaster right now, and it sucks. Period. SEX! Waiting…period (sad face). In a cruel twist of fate, I was a week late just before Christmas, allowing us to get our hopes up. And then got my period CHRISTMAS DAY! I’m right there with you, watching friends and coworkers get knocked up on their second month of trying. So happy for them, so jealous it’s hard to function sometimes.

    • Ooooooh, that’s sucks! Sympathies in your direction 🙁

      We had a holiday with my parents-in-law and was due over that week. My brain kept thinking about how awesome it would be to tell them in person instead of over the phone 3000kms away. But alas, period came. It was more disappointing because my brain kept thinking of that scenario instead of preserving itself from hope. Stupid brain!

  16. I was recently told by my doctor that I might have problems with conceiving, but the only way to know for sure is highly invasive testing, or just try and see what happens. We are only about 6 weeks in. I’m trying to stay cautiously optimistic, but I know it’s probably going to be a long time before anything happens.

    I haven’t told very many people because I’m not sure I can deal with all the questions and the bad advice…

    • You gotta do what’s right for you. I set my boundaries really early in the dialogue, so there were no stupid comments made. I was pretty nervous of bad advice too 🙂

  17. thanks for sharing 🙂 has anyone ever made a non-pregnancy announcement?

    i keep thinking about posting something online but then worry about the responses i’ll get. i’m torn between wanting the world to know my struggles and then keeping them out of it. at this point, only a few people know we’ve been trying, but almost none know for how long (12 months at this point)

    i’m 25, soon to be 26 and hate hearing “oh you’ve got time…” so i’m frightened that may happen too

    ps: my younger sister is due to give birth in May to her 3rd accidental. 🙁

  18. This is me, too! Nine months this month and just starting to get into the “testing to see what’s up” phase. I so agree with your call to community. I’ve found the Taking Charge of Your Fertility (http://tcoyf.com/) online community to not only be my bible of empowering, natural fertility info, but the buddy group I’m in is beyond amazing. So many ups and downs on this road and I’ve been blessed with a group of non-judgey, commiserating, cheerleading comrades. It has definitely inspired me to remain open about our journey with our real-life friends and family, however difficult with babies popping out of my friends left and right. Come what may, hubs and I are sure to need all the support we can get. Thanks for this Kathryn and Offbeat.

    • I want to second the plug for this website and the incredibly empowering, useful book on which it is based, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Wechsler (http://www.tcoyf.com/buytcoyfbook.aspx). I feel this book should be given to all women at puberty–I thought I was pretty well educated about the female cycle and body, having grown up with Our Bodies, Ourselves and other such literature, but there was a bunch of stuff I didn’t get until I read this book.

      For women who are still figuring out whether current difficulty getting pregnant is a serious infertility problem, this book could really help, or for women who are narrowing down causes of infertility. But again, I would have benefited from it at puberty, and I recently went back to it for help figuring out whether I am going into early menopause.

  19. I feel this way too, but I feel I cant tell people because I am young (21) and everyone keeps telling me I should wait to have kids. I have medical issues (endo & pos) which also makes it hard for me, and i would really like to have children now before it gets worse. People almost make me feel ashamed for wanting kids at my age. Me and my husband have been trying for a little over a year and its very hard not talking to anyone about it and pretty much keeping it a secret. I’m glad to know they’re are other people going through what were going through though. Thank you for your post!

    • My fiance and I certainly aren’t trying yet, but we plan to start trying to have our own kids as soon as we have our own health insurance, and I’m currently 21. I feel a lot of the same pressures – that it’s inappropriate or crazy to think of having kids at my age, even though I feel a truly strong desire to be a mother. My close friends are not even in long-term relationships and think it’s a little “out there” for me to want to get married, let alone to think about having kids. It’s hard to not have friends to talk about it with.

  20. Thank you so much for posting this. It has been needed tonight *go get another tissue**dab tears*. We have been trying for 2 and a half years. We are almost the last of our friends and family to not have children. Some folks know how much trouble we are having, and they say the inevitable “just relax,” “in God’s plan” “it will happen.” They mean well, but it doesn’t stop my heart from breaking every month.

  21. I told a lot of people we were trying to get pregnant. When it didn’t happen after 6 months (I was 36 at the time) I told people we were seeing a Reproductive Endocrinologist. When Clomid and IUI didn’t work, people knew. I had several people taking care of me at my house the day of my egg retrieval (thank goodness, because I passed out on the toilet from pain). And I had a ton of people to tell when we finally got that positive pregnancy test. I really think it’s the only way I got through everything. I also met some people through IVF that I knew casually, but never knew they were having infertility issues. That really changed my perspective in a way. When I saw someone who was pregnant, I didn’t look at her as “another pregnant lady who’s not me”, but I looked at her as someone who might have had fertility issues. I didn’t know what her story was!

    I ended up pregnant only 6 months after our wedding, but we had been trying for 18 months. There are a lot of people who probably assume it was easy for us.

    I was really surprised when we had a hard time getting pregnant. I come from a line of super fertile people and had been charting for years. I knew I was ovulating and that everything was okay. Turns out it was sperm issues that made our conception difficult and IVF was pretty much our only option. In some ways that made it easier for me, but harder for my husband. After doing a lot of research I learned that the stats for infertility are something like 35-40% female factor, 35-40% male factor and 20-30% unexplained. They’re also starting to think that “unexplained” infertility and issues like multiple miscarriages may be due to sperm issues, like the DNA integrity of the sperm. The more research I did the more angry I got at the patriarchy because so much of the intervention focuses on the woman’s problem, or doing things to the woman and there’s barely anything they can do for male factor issues!
    We combined Western Medicine with acupuncture and supplements and were luckily successful on our first round of IVF. The embryologist was impressed with the improved quality of my husband’s sperm to the point that we’re hoping with starting acupuncture and supplements earlier we might be able to have a second baby with less intervention.

  22. I’m there with you. The toughest part for me are the thoughtless comments. My in-laws demanding a grandchild announcement at x-mas, my sister-in-law mentioning that she is ready for her second before we’ve had our first, my mother stuffing pregnancy tests in my stocking, all of our well-meaning friends telling us they can’t wait to meet our children and what great parents we will make. None of it helps, and it makes me feel like crap. What burns me up the most is they make it sound as if I’m the one who needs convincing. Nothing could be further from the truth!

    We’ve just started letting people know that we have been trying and that the road has been a bit bumpy. It helps, but sadly some people are going to be insufferable no matter what. =)

  23. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. I don’t know you, but I love you and I wish you all the luck in the world. We can do this. Yes we can. And we will.

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