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The moment you discover through self-analysis or diagnostic tests that you are infertile, it can feel like whiplash. It jars you. Even if you suspect you are experiencing infertility, there is something about actually hearing the word or admitting it to yourself that makes it so much more real – and scary.
Your world feels as if it has collapsed right in front of you. It’s the “unknown” coupled with the possibility of unfilled hopes and dreams that cause the most disappointment and pain. Your next thoughts? “Will I ever have the family I envisioned?” And, “Why me?” Hearing the news is definitely something you will never forget or ever fully heal from.
An infertility diagnosis may stem from an issue with the woman, man, or both. A combination of factors typically leads to infertility.
But, being diagnosed with infertility can be both a blessing and a curse. How? Well, knowing why you and your partner have been struggling to get pregnant can help you plan for the future. It can guide your next steps for starting your family. However, it can also be a crushing blow to your self-esteem and self-confidence, your hopes and dreams, and sometimes even your relationship. It’s heavy – and hard – and complicated – and emotional.
That first step
The good news is that you can heal and move forward with your life – with or without a child. But, first, you must allow yourself to grieve for the loss of your original hopes and dreams (getting pregnant fairly quickly and easily or getting pregnant at all and carrying the baby to term). In other words, feel the disappointment, cry, and mourn, but don’t stay in that place forever.
Once the disappointment starts to ease up a little, sit down with your partner and think about your future. Do you want to try again, research other options, or forego having children altogether? A lot of factors go into making this monumental decision so take your time and really communicate with your partner about what you think and how you feel when it comes to having children.
The ultimate goal, however, is to pick yourself up and plan your next steps. Healing and deciding what to do next will not be easy or quick, but discovering you have infertility after struggling for more than a year is the first step in your journey towards healing.
What is infertility?
Simply put, infertility is the inability to conceive a baby.
If a couple has not become pregnant within a year of actively trying, or if one or both partners are over the age of 35 and have been unable to get pregnant within six months, they are usually diagnosed with infertility. If this is the couple’s first child, it is considered primary infertility. However, if the couple has conceived and carried a child before, it is considered secondary infertility.
Infertility also applies to couples who have suffered recurrent miscarriages (three or more losses). For many struggling couples, the only sign of infertility is an inability to get and stay pregnant to term.
Approximately 13% of American couples are unable to conceive after trying (frequent, unprotected sex) for over a year.
What happens next?
Once you discover you are infertile, you’ll probably want to know exactly what is causing infertility. In some cases, testing will help determine the true cause. But, in other cases, the culprit may be lost forever. When the origin of the infertility is unknown, it is referred to as idiopathic infertility. Approximately 30% of infertility cases are unexplained or idiopathic.
Still, determining the cause or even possible cause or causes of infertility can help a fertility specialist develop a treatment plan for you. Most doctors will try to treat infertility with less invasive fertility methods – i.e. tracking ovulation, changing your diet, getting more exercise, and starting Clomid, a medication used to stimulate ovulation and increase progesterone, if possible. If that doesn’t work, he or she may move on to more invasive methods such as IUI and IVF.
Did you know that approximately 88% of infertility cases can be treated using ‘standard’ fertility treatments (i.e. a change in lifestyle and habits, medication, and/or reproductive surgery). Only 3% of couples experiencing infertility require advanced fertility treatments like IUI or IVF.
What are my options?
Thinking about the options when you are struggling to get and stay pregnant can be depressing, disappointing, and overwhelming. Immediately after discovering infertility, you may feel helpless, hopeless, and/or defective because you are unable to start the family you want – the way you want to. As a result, your future may seem bleak.
The good news is, this is rarely the case. You have options such as fertility treatments, surrogacy, foster care, and adoption. There are many ways a couple can create a family. So, if you want to have a baby, don’t give up hope. Research your options instead. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find!
Here are four options for infertile couples:
- Fertility Treatments
- Naturopathic Medicine – Yoga or Acupuncture
- Surrogacy, Foster Care, or Adoption
- Remaining Child-Free
Talk to other couples suffering from infertility
Talk to other couples who are also suffering from infertility. It will help to know that you’re not alone on this journey. The truth is you can learn a lot from those who are experiencing infertility and those who experienced it in the past. They can teach you how to cope with your inability to get (and stay) pregnant.
Talking to other couples can also help you learn about other options – i.e. fertility treatments, surgery, surrogacy, foster care, or adoption. If you decide to forgo having kids, talk to child-free couples (due to infertility) about how they healed and were able to move forward.
Make a plan
Once you’re ready to move forward, you’ll need to plan your next steps. Do you want to keep trying to have a biological baby or are you open to other options, such as foster care or adoption? And, if you have had trouble carrying a baby to term, have you considered surrogacy? Do you have the funds needed to explore alternative ways to have a baby? Or, do you want to wait or forgo having a child altogether? What steps do you need to take to move forward?
These are important and heavy questions that need to be thoroughly discussed with your partner. It is important to research all of your options before deciding on your next steps and making a plan to move forward.
When you are grieving, it can be hard to focus on yourself and practice self-care – but it is essential if you discover you have infertility and want to move forward. So, make time for yourself – i.e. go get a massage, splurge on something you’ve been wanting for a while, spend time with your support system – your partner, close friends and family. Attend local infertility support group meetings or join an online group for couples struggling to get (and stay) pregnant. Go on a romantic vacation with your partner, etc.
Do things that make you feel good. Take a time-out to focus on your own wants and needs. But, if things become too overwhelming and heavy, lean on your partner because he or she is on the same journey as you – with you.
Read more on this topic
If you are interested in learning more about infertility and moving forward, check out the following articles: Moving Forward After an Infertility Diagnosis, Moving Forward When Infertility Treatments are Unsuccessful, and When You Can’t Have Kids – Options for Infertile Couples.
About the Author
Dr. R. Y. Langham
Ph.D. in Family Psychology
Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
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