Article prepared by: Judy P. King, LCSW, BCD
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
As I grow older, I tend to reflect upon memories from my past, as I am sure we all do. I reflect upon my early childhood and how all I ever wanted was to be married and have a family. The course of my life made that dream one which was challenging to obtain. At the age of 18, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). I can recall leaving the OB/GYN office after he told me that it would likely be difficult for me to get pregnant and that I should always see a doctor who was familiar in working with patients with PCOS. My heart sank as I felt like my dream of marriage and a family was not to be. After all, I figured first who would want to marry me knowing that I might not be able to have children and secondly, just knowing that I might never be able to give birth to a child of my own. There went the dreams of having a loving family, right out the window, it seemed.
Time has a way of passing, as do the years. I did not marry until I was 32, not because I did not want to, but to put it simply, I did not find a mate until that age. Luckily when I married, I married a man who was a professional that understood and accepted me with my diagnosis of PCOS. Since we married so late in life, I was 32 and my husband was 38, we started right away to try and have children. After 5 years of trying, we had decided that it simply just wasn’t meant to be. Five very long years passed, then surprisingly I discovered that I was pregnant. Unfortunately, at 12 weeks I had a spontaneous miscarriage and lost the child that we both had so desperately wanted. As I processed my grief, life continued to move on. To our surprise less than 6 weeks later I was pregnant for a second time and this pregnancy gave us our “Rainbow Baby”. At the age of 37, I was finally a mother. I share my story because I know and can sincerely relate to the yearning that one feels when they want something so desperately, as well as the disappointment that one feels when you lose the very thing that you are hoping for. This is my fertility story.
The issue of infertility is unfortunately a common issue not only for women, but for men/partners as well. The desire to have a family is reinforced for most people from the time we are children and historically used to be a necessity for basic existence in the agrarian society. For those with a spiritual belief, it can often be seen as “God’s purpose to go forth and multiply”. But what happens when you try to get pregnant and simply find that you are having a difficult time conceiving? For most, feelings of inadequacy, feelings of grief and for some, even feelings of shame tend to set in. You then begin to explore every avenue possible to give you what you desire the most – a child.
The good news is that now we do have so many options for achieving the goal of conception medically through new research and medications/procedures, but for some this goal is still not physically or even medically possible. The search often then turns to adoption or foster care and now even surrogacy. However, these options are often very expensive and become unattainable for many individuals. For many the “Trying to Conceive (TTC) Community” consists of Facebook pages, endless websites, Instagram accounts and even memes that reflect the high interest in sharing of information and experiences. Not to mention how the Pineapple has become a unique and unusual pictorial representation of the Infertility struggle.
Why a “pineapple” you might ask, and so did I. The pineapple symbol gained attention within the fertility community through the website of two social media influencers who both became mothers using in vitro fertilization (IVF). Tracey Bambrough and Sara Marshall-Page founded an IVF community website and fertility magazine (ivf.babbble.com). To the two of them, it was a symbol to break the silence and normalize the conversation about infertility, which is so desperately needed. The two started selling pineapple pins at the end of 2016 and as they say, the rest is pretty much history. Now there are online stores that feature the pineapple in items ranging from jewelry, t-shirts, dresses, socks and even leggings. One fertility specialist in San Francisco reported that about 75% of the patients who arrive in her office for their IVF procedures wear something with a pineapple on it. How cool is it that a community that once suffered in silence has found hope and community in a symbol?!
The search for the answer to have a viable family can not only be emotionally devastating, but financially draining as well. Unfortunately, I have no easy answer to the issue of infertility, but I can say that it is a journey that you do not have to take alone. Talk about your feelings, your hopes, your dreams and process the losses of missed birthdays, family-centered holidays, Christmases, athletics, college and even the eventual marriage and children of the child that you do not have. Talk about and explore the struggles of your search for both a pregnancy and a child. For it is only through expressing what is in our hearts that we can accept the reality of what is in our life today. To gain a sense of community and social support, be sure to check with your health care provider to see if there is a group that may be meeting for individuals struggling with infertility and join it.
If you can’t find a support group, I have listed several books below that may be helpful to you as well. Bibliotherapy can be an asset when you are in talk therapy as well as when talk therapy is not available. Understand that your journey, although unique to you, is one which is all too often common to others as well.
Suggested Readings on Infertility (Not an Exhaustive List)
Get a Life: His & Hers Survival Guide to IVF by Rosie Bray and Richard Mackney
How to Make Love to a Plastic Cup by Greg Wolfe
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
It Starts with the Egg by Rebecca Fett
Unsung Lullabies by Janet Jaffee, PhD, Martha Diamond, PhD, & David Diamond, PhD
IVF: A Patient’s Guide by Rebecca Matthews
Wanting Another Child: Coping with Secondary Infertility by Harriet Fishman Simons
Savvy Woman’s Guide to PCOS by Elizabeth Lee Vliet
To help facilitate this discussion further, I will be starting a VIRTUAL 6-week bi-weekly process group for individuals struggling with infertility on Sunday evenings starting at 5:00 p.m. beginning later this month. I would be honored for you to share your fertility journey with me by joining our group. To Register, please call the office at 901-232-1956.
Judy P. King, LCSW, BCD
Licensed Clinical Social Worker