Infertility is a disease that results in the abnormal functioning of the male or female reproductive system. It is the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after one year of trying for women under 35 or after six months in women 35 and older.
Infertility has no boundaries of socio-economic status, race, ethnicity or religious affiliation. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, infertility impacts one in eight couples of child-bearing age. About 11% of women in the United States between the ages of 15 – 44 have difficulty becoming pregnant or staying pregnant, regardless of their marital status. About one-third of infertility is attributed to the male partner, one-third to the female partner and one-third to a combination of problems in both partners or is unexplained. Over seven million women in the U.S. have received some type of infertility services in their lifetime.
Secondary infertility occurs when a man and woman do not conceive within one year of trying, although they have conceived at least one child in the past without difficulty. Secondary infertility occurs as frequently as primary infertility. According to statistics compiled through the CDC, 11% of couples who have at least one birth child experiences secondary infertility. That breaks down to approximately four million couples in the U.S.
Someone experiencing infertility may feel as though their life is on hold. It is an unanticipated loss made more painful by a couple feeling they have lost control over their hopes and dreams for the future. A life that may have been well-planned may seem out of control.
Infertility is a life-long issue and does not simply go away once a couple decides to adopt. The door of infertility is one that is never fully closed.
Families must go through the grieving process to deal with the grief associated with infertility. The pain is similar to the grief experienced from losing a loved one, but it is unique because it is a recurring grief. Infertility is an invisible loss.
Losses Associated with Infertility
Infertility triggers losses on so many different levels. Each person in the couple may feel the same loss at a different time than their partner or may experience different losses.
These invisible losses may include the
- Loss of the pregnancy and the birth experience
- Loss of the potential birth child – the “dream child”
- Loss of the opportunity to parent
- Loss of the continuation of the genetic family line
- Loss of status within one’s family or community of friends
- Loss of control
- Loss of a grandparent relationship for their own parents
- Loss of stability in family and personal relationships
- Loss of a sense of spirituality and sense of hope for the future
A couple dealing with infertility may also experience
- Unrealized expectations
- Feelings of failure and guilt
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Rejection, scrutiny
- Withdrawal from the process
Other family members and friends often do not realize the extent of the grief experienced by a couple who is dealing with infertility. It impacts the entire family, not just a couple or individual. It is important to acknowledge these losses.
A family dealing with infertility will eventually resolve the issue in one of three ways:
- They will eventually conceive a baby.
- They will stop infertility treatments and choose to live without children.
- They will find an alternative way to parent by adopting a child or becoming foster parents.
Some families may take years to accept their situation and reach a resolution.
More information about infertility, including support groups, can be found at Resolve: The National Infertility Association website at www.resolve.org.