One of the most painful aspects of struggling with infertility is too little listening and too much talking on the part of people who do not understand.
When Lindsay Campbell married at 21, she had no inkling the next several years would involve long periods of infertility, miscarriages, surgeries, and long and painful recoveries. A world-renowned fertility expert in Houston finally gave her and her husband, Bruce, less than a five percent chance of having a child.
“I arranged my whole life around being a mom. I was pre-med, and I changed my major because I did not want to do anything where I couldn’t stay home,” said Campbell. “It made me second-guess decisions I had made.”
What was the worst thing about experiencing infertility? “I am a devout Catholic, and everyone around me had large families. I felt like it was almost a status symbol,” said Campbell. “People would ask, ‘How long havpe you been married?’ ‘[I would answer] Four years’ [and they would respond] ‘Why don’t you have children?’ To be so open to life, and know it may never happen was frustrating. [I] worried they wondered if I was on birth control.”
Barbara Wyman became pregnant easily with her first child and gave birth at age 24, only to suffer secondary infertility after that. She went through the typical treatments offered in the ‘80s: several D & Cs, fertility drugs, hormone shots. After going through a procedure where her fallopian tubes were cleared of blockages, she got pregnant with her second baby. After that birth, she had difficulty getting pregnant, and although she did conceive twice after that, she miscarried both times, once in the second trimester. “The one and only ultrasound I’ve ever had was to see my dead baby,” said Wyman.
Wyman, who at the time was Episcopalian, said she got no support from family and friends. “Unless you’ve gone through it, you don’t know how awful it is. And everyone felt, ‘Well you’ve got a boy and a girl; that’s enough.’”
What should family and friends do to support the infertile? “First of all, you can be a listening friend. One who prays with the friend,” said Ira Winter, Life FertilityCare Coordinator, at the Life FertilityCare Clinic in Warwickshire, England.
In fact, one of the most painful aspects of struggling with infertility may be too little listening and too much talking on the part of people who do not understand.
People with large families would joke with Campbell, saying, “You can have one of mine.” “That would really bother me. How can you even joke about that? Here I am having a hard time having a baby, and you are joking about giving away one of yours.”
“Another thing that people would say is, ‘There might be a baby out there waiting for you.’ Everyone felt a compelling need to tell me that, and I got tired of hearing it,” said Campbell who, after great difficulty, was finally able to have two biological children of her own, but again struggles with infertility.
For Wyman, the worst comments came from Catholics after she had converted to Catholicism at 45. “Some, finding out I had only two children would say, ‘That’s lucky – you were Protestant and could use birth control when you were younger’ – assuming that’s why I had only two children.
What can churches do to help those who are infertile? According to Campbell, matching expectant mothers who do not want to keep their babies with infertile couples who want to adopt would be one idea.
Secondly, Lindsay said she thinks local parishes should have infertility support groups that are pro-life, faithful to the Magisterium, and that would feature pro-life doctors as speakers. “So often, support groups are only found through a hospital, and In Vitro is the way to go.”
At one point, Campbell’s doctor kept pushing In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), and it made it so tempting to her. “It can be so hard to tell a doctor no.”
The only support group she knew of was two hours away. “I didn’t want to drive two hours for something that wasn’t faith-based. When you are going through this, you don’t want any extra temptations there.”
“It’s a lonely experience when you do not know anyone else who is going through it,” said Campbell.
Winter added that it can be helpful for people to educate themselves about Church-approved infertility treatments, such as NaProTECHNOLOGY (Natural Procreative Technology), which is a new women’s health science that monitors and maintains a woman’s reproductive and gynecological health. It provides medical and surgical treatments that cooperate completely with the reproductive system.
“Friends and family do not need to become experts in this alternative option, but they are providing a real service to the couples if they have this information available to pass on as it is unlikely, at least in the UK, that couples would hear this via their GP or gynecologist.”
“[Y]ou can help by having the telephone number and website info of your local NaPro clinic in your mobile phone directory,” said Winter. “Conversations about fertility come up in the most unlikely places, and one does not generally have brochures in one’s bag. [You could say,] ‘Wow, I heard/read about something that… you might find helpful. I was so impressed, I put their contact details on my phone. Here you are.’”