Infertility is a Life Crisis.

If you didn’t know that, you may be one of the approximately 90 percent of persons who conceived a child and carried it to term without considering what could have happened if your reproductive system or that of your partner’s hadn’t worked.

The other approximately ten percent of the population struggles with infertility - the disease of their reproductive system or systems. According to RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association’s website, forty percent of the time the infertility is male factor and forty percent of the time it is female factor. The balance is combined or unexplained. A couple is considered infertile if they have one year of well-timed intercourse without conceiving or if the female has suffered multiple miscarriages.

Attempts at family building through assisted reproductive technologies or adoption can be a roller-coaster ride of hope and loss and hoping again. A couple with infertility often faces heartbreak, multiple decisions, financial and emotional stress and misunderstanding from those persons closest to them.

Their heartbreak comes from realizing that they, unlike their peers, are not simply going to make love and end up with a baby within a year or year and a half. They may be shocked to learn their otherwise healthy bodies don’t work in a way they had always expected them to work. Their dreams of control – planned pregnancy, perfect timing, maybe the desired number of children spaced just so – are gone. In some cases, the dream of “carrying on the family genes” may also be limited or gone if the couple faces sperm, egg or embryo donation or adoption to achieve their family.

At every turn, the couple with infertility faces questions. When do we advance to the next level of treatment? When do we consider adoption? What about the option of living childfree? How will the treatments impact our finances? How will the financial strain impact our marriage? What if we, as a couple don’t arrive at the same conclusions at the same time? What if one of us is ready to adopt and the other isn’t? What if one of us is ready to try another IVF cycle and the other isn’t? What if...

Fortunately there are compassionate persons and informational venues that can help, starting with medical professionals. In my experience, medical professionals who specialize in reproductive issues do so because they have the heart to want to help couples achieve pregnancies with successful outcomes. RESOLVE: the National Infertility Association’s web site gives information about treatments for infertility as well as how to link with local support.

During any kind of crisis, persons often turn to family and friends for emotional support. While friends and family members may understand and know how to respond to other kinds of crises such as cancer, heart disease and death, they may not know how to support the couple with infertility.

Each couples’ experience with infertility is unique because each couple is unique. However, based on my years of counseling couples with infertility, there are some things couples typically want their support persons to know.

For example, don’t try to “fix,” minimize, or take away the couple’s feelings. Anger, sadness, anxiety and frustration are normal reactions to the crisis of infertility. Try to listen without judgement. Some decisions regarding infertility are very difficult to make and may even involve going against one’s religious affiliations. The couple will explore whatever options they deem reasonable. Be patient as the couple may pass on going to baby showers or christenings. These events may be far more painful for the couple than you may imagine. Most of all, remember that what the couple wants is normal. They want to be parents. It is the process to get there that may be exceptional.

(First published as Stephanie Hittle’s Health Care Today column and used here by permission of the Dayton Daily News.)

Disclaimer: Information provided on these pages is general in nature and should not be used in place of individual counseling.