For most people, the concept “infertility” never even comes to mind until it practically knocks them down. We take for granted our ability to reproduce, to the extent that many of us plan our families with detailed strategy, using contraceptives of all kinds until the time is “right.” Some may even go so far as to have a furnished nursery waiting for their yet-to-be-conceived baby and names chosen for each gender.
For some, the realization that something may be amiss creeps up on them slowly. Some couples try unsuccessfully to conceive for many years, never seeking help. Still others enter the conception ring armed to the teeth with information on probabilities, options, and precautions.
Regardless of the initial approach to getting pregnant, that first inkling that “there may be a problem here” can be devastating.
Adding to the devastation is the isolation that comes with conception difficulties. As with life-threatening illnesses and traumatic events, there is a painful feeling of uniqueness inherent with the diagnosis of infertility. An overwhelming sense of being alone with your troubles can lead to a distorted sense of self, a questioning of one’s very core and life. The need for community with others who understand is essential for emotional survival.
As the incidence (or least, the diagnosis) of infertility has apparently increased, so have the options for support, thankfully. One of the oldest of these support systems, RESOLVE, has grown to include many local chapters across the United States. ACCESS, an Australian organization, can link interested people with registered self-help groups and counseling. Similar helping organizations have sprung up all over the world in the past decade. Many clinics and hospitals have developed their own programs to meet patients’ needs. Some offer regular support group meetings, often facilitated by professional counselors, in addition to educational seminars. For those who hesitate to share their pain in a group setting, individual therapists who specialize in fertility issues are no longer rare. Buddy systems, whether formally organized or more casually arranged, also allow for more private interaction with someone who shares the experience.
The blossoming of the Internet resulted in a host of opportunities for people to share experiences and feelings with others. Sites devoted to parenting sprang up quickly, and some soon realized the needs of visitors who were eager to be parents but unable to achieve pregnancy. Some websites were slow to catch on — early in the Web’s history, one large parenting site required any visitor without children to register in an “Other” category, relegating childless people to chatrooms filled with flirting teenagers and single adults. Now, bulletin boards and chat groups have become so specialized that there are subcategories within the category of infertility, helping to further increase the chance of visitors establishing bonds with others.
Emotional support via the Internet can provide the same feelings of unity and normalcy as in real-life support. Some people think that conversing with someone without the benefit of seeing them is actually superior because of the lessened chance of initial judgements made through our vision, and because of the medium’s 24-hour availability. On the Internet, if someone is able to type, even poorly, chances are excellent that unconditional support is available when it’s needed. Sometimes all that you need to feel “normal” again is to hear someone else say they’re going through the same thing…