Most everyone who is considering starting their family has heard of the book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” This book is read by 93% of women who read a pregnancy book, according to USA Today. There are 18.5 million copies in print. When you are expecting, you are often surrounded by support. When you are not expecting, it may feel like no one gets it.
There are approximately 61 million married couples in the U.S. (and many nonmarried couples) trying to create a family. With 1 in 8 couples in the U.S. experiencing infertility today, that’s over 7 million couples that are experiencing infertility.
Why do couples feel so alone on the journey? Why is there no known guidebook?
Yes, there are a few books out there, like “When You're Not Expecting: An Infertility Survival Guide” and “What to expect when you're not expecting: A no nonsense discussion about infertility.” But for the most part, people facing infertility just figure it out. Most likely you tried to have a baby on your own, unsuccessfully. You got a doctor’s opinion. Now you and your partner are navigating your options. Perhaps you are open with friends and family. Or you are pursuing IUI, IVF, surrogacy, or adoption in secret.
Whether you are open or keep more private, the voices of infertility show up everywhere. “So, when are you and your [husband/wife/partner] going to have a baby?”
If you dare share that you are getting help, you may hear, “Oh, I have friends who tried that, and as soon as they started the process, they got pregnant on their own.”
Those voices of infertility do not help you to feel grounded, supported, or hopeful. They too often inform a narrative about who you are that does not serve you, or your mental health.
In your relationship and in your body (for women, primarily, but also for men), there are new factors to deal with. New ways of thinking about your family. New ways to think about sex. Unexpected expenses and financial stress. Infertility drugs, fertility appointments, holistic or other fertility pursuits: acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, yoga, and more.
Some of this journey is beautiful, and sometimes it is too much. You may laugh at the craziness. You may scream. Sometimes you both cry.
This is an experience for which you probably have had no preparation. You likely have no road map. The journey is filled with both hope and fear. You hope your partnership has the emotional strength to emerge from the infertility journey unscathed. You don’t want to give words to the fear.
How do you deal with the emotional fallout of infertility? How do you stay healthy along the way? This is where therapy comes in. Therapy to support you and your partner as you work to create your family.
Therapy provides a place to process while on the journey. Guidance from people who know the road you are on and have helped many before you find their way to peace. Whether your journey leads you to pregnancy, adoption, or the decision to live child-free, fertility counselors can help you get clarity about your choices, your values, and your decisions.
Therapy can also be a place to heal after you’ve long-since finished the journey. Whether you are now a parent or chose to stop the journey and love your life child-free.
I hope you will take the opportunity to ask yourself, "What story am I telling myself about this journey?" Choose the version of this story that extends the most self-compassion. You have the power to do this. This is one thing that you can control.
And if you don't know how, I invite you to reach out for support.
Alexa Adamo Valverde, narrative play therapist, is passionate about stories, healing from trauma, and finding our way to create our family.