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What I Think You Should Know About Infertility

This week is National Infertility Awareness week, so naturally I wanted to bring some awareness to what Jk and I have been going through. When I get an idea for writing, it lingers in the back of my mind. Festering and combining itself into words, concepts, and strings of thoughts until finally it is ready to come out. These thoughts happened to form at 3:30 in the morning while I was sound asleep. Like an alarm they rang and demanded my attention until I put aside sleep and typed them into the notepad of my phone. As a side note–why are phone lights so blazingly bright in the dark? Huge apologies to my husband.

I don’t claim to be an expert. All I know is what I’ve experienced, what has been shared with me, and what I’ve read online (always a solid argument). Here are some questions I’ve been asked about infertility and what I think you should know:

Who is affected by infertility?
According to what I've read, one in 8 couples experience infertility. Since coming out of the infertility closet, I've been contacted by several strangers informing me of what they are going through, but even more surprising have been the messages from couples my husband or I have known for years. These are couples who have had experience with PCOS, miscarriage, infertility not yet diagnosed, endometriosis, infertility linked to health problems, some abnormality of the male or the woman's reproductive system. Every variety and combination of factors that have forever branded them with the heartache of infertility.

People from all facets of my life have shared their stories with me: grown women I knew from my childhood, successful women my age, girls I knew from my days in Young Women's. There is a good chance that several people you know have experienced or will experience infertility.
How can an infertile couple have children?
In the past I thought that fertility was something that you had or didn’t have. Like the best representation of infertility was a fragile woman in the Bible with an empty womb whose body was entirely unable to carry a child. It turns out that infertility has various degrees of severity and and not just among women. In our case, I am able to have children, but my husband has low sperm count & morphology. This doesn't entirely rule out the chances of pregnancy, but it significantly lowers the probability. It seems that the case with most couples is that they are not entirely 100% infertile, but the odds are not in their favor to conceive without some assistance.

These varying degrees of infertility are why you hear about a singular family with children conceived in different ways: conceived naturally, through IUI or IVF, and/or received through adoption. If a couple wants many children but does not want to wait years, they might go through a procedure for one child and adopt another. And this is my dream for our future: children brought to us from all avenues, if possible. There are so many ways to create a family.

I was most surprised to receive messages about the infertility from couples who had children. Without insight into their personal lives, it seemed they had effortlessly conceived; when in reality, they had endured months of trying with no success, doctor's appointments, and other trials I was completely unaware of. While many of those who message us have struggled and come out the other side of infertility, several are still in the midst of their trials.

How can you know if you will be infertile? 
As far as I can tell, there are a variety of ways in which individuals and couples have found out that they struggle with infertility. I have heard a few stories where the woman knew before ever getting married that she would have difficulty getting pregnant. In some cases she has been told by a doctor, in others she is just aware that her health may result in complications. Women can be affected by things like PCOS, endometriosis, weird chromosomes, Lyme disease, and so much more. However, sometimes the couple has no idea that they will suffer with infertility until they have been trying for several months with no success. This is how it happened for us. After a few months, I began to worry there was a reason we weren't getting pregnant, but I wanted to be patient. The months dragged on as we expected to be expecting. At 10 months, I knew that something was wrong, despite being told by an infertility doctor that we needed to give it more time. When we finally reached our year mark, we needed to find answers.

Why is infertility such a big deal?
Infertility is capable of inflicting grief just as any traumatic event might. I've been told that infertility cannot be as difficult as losing a child or never marrying. Maybe that is true. But maybe that’s not the point. All I know is the feeling that comes after 486 days of weeping and pleading with God to give you a baby only to find that you are still empty. All I know is the impossible trial of digging deep within yourself to find joy for couple after couple who rejoices in pregnancy while you are still made to wait. And I know the grief that infects your mind in perfectly ordinary moments of everyday life, causing you to break down crying in the shower (or wake up in the middle of the night to write a blog post). I don't know much about child loss or life without a spouse–but I do know about heartbreak that beats on you until you can't breathe.
At the end of the day, what do you say to someone going through infertility? 
Hint: It’s not "Be patient" or "Keep trying" (even if those things are true). I recently came across Emily McDowell Studio, a company that makes empathy cards with honest tag lines for difficult situations. I love the idea that even if you don't know what to say, you can say something. Personally, what helps me is knowing that someone is there for me. I don’t expect advice (in fact, oftentimes advice comes across as wildly insensitive); I think most people struggling with infertility just want to feel validated and supported. I love what the prophet Alma said about followers of Christ; they should be “willing to mourn with those that mourn [...] and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8). Infertility is no exception.

Here are some suggestions for what you can say to comfort someone struggling with infertility:
I am here for you.
I am thinking of you.
I am sorry for what you are going through.
Even if infertility is something that you will never experience, there’s a chance someone you know will be affected by it. Know that infertility is real and not an overreaction. Be sensitive in what you say. And to those struggling with infertility, know that you are not alone.

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