The Quiet Struggle of Infertility

Infertility doesn’t discriminate. Any woman may find herself struggling to fall pregnant or unable to stay pregnant. It is painful to endure and wreaks devastation on her life. Her partner faces the same struggle. The vision of a family the couple has created has been irrevocably shattered.

Every month, the miracle they’re praying for fails to materialize, and they are left feeling empty and disappointed. They begin to think that pregnancy is the only key to happiness in their lives. Each month without a successful conception brings them further down.

Why do so many couples keep their infertility a secret?

A couple might announce their intention of wanting to start a family. However, they set about doing so in private. Conception is shared between two people in the ultimate act of intimacy. A couple will choose to keep it between themselves. When their efforts do not yield the expected result, a sense of despair follows.

For many couples, saying it out loud makes it a reality. So, they choose to keep it private. They fear several things.

  1. Unsolicited advice

If they open-up about their problems, it’s possible someone is going to tell the couple to ‘just keep trying’ or seek IVF treatment. They don’t take into consideration that the IVF cost might be beyond the couple’s financial means, and that repeated trying isn’t working.

  1. Insensitive remarks

There’s always that one person who will make an insensitive remark and deepen their pain. Nine times out of 10, it’s not deliberate, but what they say will hurt nevertheless.

Being told at work that you’re lucky you don’t still have to go home and look after your children is an example. This type of remark is hurtful because all you’d like to do is return from work to a child to look after.

Some people don’t know what to say at all. Like people who don’t know what to say after you’ve lost a loved one, they won’t know what to say about infertility. Having someone you’ve shared the problem with say nothing is equally as painful as having them say something insensitive.

  1. Gossip

A lot of couples fear that if they speak about their infertility struggles in confidence, it won’t be kept a secret. Soon, the news will spread like wildfire. The couple starts to imagine that everyone is pitying them and that they’re a topic of conversation when they’re not around.

  1. Shame

Women are taught that they’re not real women unless they’ve had a child. Men are taught that they’re not real men until they’ve impregnated a woman. It is now up to them to share the painful truth as they see it at that moment. They have failed to fulfill their purpose as husband and wife.

Even though they understand mentally it’s not their fault; it’s a natural tendency to feel ashamed as if they’ve done something wrong.

There is a great feeling of isolation that accompanies infertility. Many couples choose to endure it alone. While they might feel justified in doing so, they’re causing more harm than good. Sharing their problems may involve the risk of negative responses, but they’re losing out on potentially positive support.

The couple might find it easier to manage the situation if they have a support network. Instead of relying exclusively on each other, they have other people’s perspectives and understanding.

Feeling like they’re the only couple struggling with infertility is a mistake. More couples than they might imagine are fighting the same battle. Sharing their feelings and supporting each other is not only therapeutic, but it is a step on the path to healing.

About the Author
Rachel Brenner is a Professor of Jewish Studies. Her research focuses on Jewish Literature and has published dozens of scholarly articles and book chapters.
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