Supporting those struggling with infertility during the holidays
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - For those struggling with infertility, the end of a year can act as a benchmark; a time to look back and think about what wasn’t accomplished.
According to the CDC, 6.1 million women in the U.S. have trouble getting pregnant or staying pregnant.
Kristin Dillensnyder of Blythewood struggled through holiday after holiday wondering if she’d ever be called “mom.”
“I felt like I was struggling to reach the goal of becoming a mom and having a child and doing everything I could, but it wasn’t working,” said Dillensnyder.
Infertility affects one in eight couples. So, the chances you know someone struggling is common even if they don’t tell you what they’re going through.
“It can feel sort of isolating,” said Dr. Johanna Von Hofe, an infertility physician with Prisma Health. “My patients can feel sort of alone when they go through the evaluation and treatment for infertility. And I think just not knowing who it’s safe to talk about this with while you’re struggling internally or with a partner with something that’s unexpected and hard, just makes infertility difficult in general.”
After multiple rounds, injection after injection, and handfuls of pills and supplements, Dillensnyder says there were sometimes answers that were hard to come to terms with.
“It’s not the kind of thing, like with school where you read the books, take the test, and get to the end goal. It’s a numbers game, sometimes,” Dillensnyder said. “I would share with friends, but the challenge was that none of my friends had experienced it firsthand.”
Fast forward and Kristin is now the mom to four-year-old Grace. She’s also become an infertility coach working to change the mindsets of women struggling to conceive.
“Thank goodness because of social media and Instagram and TikTok, there’s a lot more people having the conversation,” said Dillensnyder.
Von Hofe says infertility is a medical condition and a common one at that.
“I think sometimes that’s the barrier that folks need to overcome,” said Von Hofe. “It doesn’t make you strange, it doesn’t make you different. This is a common diagnosis, this is a medical diagnosis, and there are a lot of ways to treat it.”
If someone tells you they’re struggling to conceive, there are right and wrong things to say, according to Kristin and Dr. Von Hofe. IVF journeys are taxing on relationships, social life, and finances. Let alone the hormone injections that Kristin refers to as making women “hormotional.”
“Most people, when they do say the wrong thing, it might be the one thing that sets you off,” said Dillensnyder.
But, there are ways you can be an encourager and support to couples struggling with infertility:
- People going through infertility aren’t looking for advice; they’re looking for validation. Responding with “I’m sorry” or “How can I help?” is a full sentence, Kristin says.
- If someone tells you they are struggling, think of it as an honor. “Patients don’t often share their struggles with others. So, if someone has shared their struggles with you, feel honored,” said Von Hofe.
- If you prefer to do something in response, bringing over a meal or sending a thoughtful note or gift is plenty. Pineapples are the symbol for infertility, and Kristin points to a necklace she wears every single day that was gifted to her by a dear friend during Kristin’s journey. It’s a pineapple that shares a message of hope.
- Respectfully mind your business. Dr. Von Hofe says asking about family plans, whether you know someone wants children or not, is not appropriate. Kristin says asking about plans will not make success happen any faster.
If you are struggling with infertility, especially through the holiday season:
- Know that you are not alone. “If you’ve been trying to conceive for a year with a regular menstrual cycle and you’re less than 35 and you have not gotten pregnant, then you actually meet the criteria for diagnosis of infertility,” said Von Hofe.
- Know that it is okay to not celebrate holidays if it would be triggering to you. “Seeing a brother or a sister who has a new pregnancy or a new baby could be hard when it should just be something that’s joyful,” said Von Hofe. “Or knowing that 2021 was the year that you thought you’d be pregnant or have a baby is something that can be hard as we’re approaching the end of the year.”
- Counselors, psychiatrists, and support groups are there to help.
- Seek help from a physician if you think you may be having issues with fertility.
If you think you may be experiencing infertility, experts recommend seeking help from your general physician, internist, or OBGYN as quickly as possible to be diagnosed and find a treatment that works for you.
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