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- Validate the pain. We all know how bad it feels when we share something painful with someone and they act dismissively – quickly telling you about something they have lived through that was much worse, or alternately, telling you it is no big deal. Not being able to conceive is akin to a major loss – similar to the death of a love one, or the loss of a relationship. For the time that it is experienced, it is the loss of a dream, an imagined lifetime relationship, a role, and an identity. Unlike the other losses mentioned, it does not exist at one finite time. Instead, the loss is re-experienced every month at the time of menstruation. Instead of trying to tell a woman “Relax, it’ll happen”, acknowledge their feelings by saying something like “That must be really hard for you – I’m sorry. Do you want to talk about it?” And if they do, ask open-ended questions like “How is that affecting you” to avoid making assumptions or judgments.
- Avoid giving advice. Infertility can be caused by a great many things – there are both male and female factors, sometimes a combination of the two, and sometimes the cause is totally unknown. Female-factor fertility issues account for about 40% of infertility cases and within that 40% the issues leading to fertility challenges are numerous – ovulatory failure, endometriosis, infection, fibroids, and many more. What this means is that no two women are exactly the same and thus no two approaches to addressing infertility will be the same. If you know someone who got pregnant after vitex or trying acupuncture, it doesn’t mean it will work for the next woman. Be sensitive and avoid telling a woman what she should be doing.
- Encourage them to “Be their own expert.” All too often when women have trouble conceiving they end up swept into a medical system that is very dismissive of women’s deep intuitive knowledge. I frequently find that my clients have a sense of where the problem lies. Encourage your friend, loved one or colleague who is struggling with fertility to tap into his or her own gut instinct. Ask if they have a hunch what the problem is. If they have difficulty knowing the answer, encourage them to seek out resources or professionals who will assist them in relaxing and tapping into that inner wisdom.
- Facilitate the right kind of support. One of the things most women who are struggling to conceive feel is a sense of loneliness and isolation. Reproductive function is a very private topic for the majority of women and as such it is easy to end up feeling alienated from friends, colleagues and family members. The stress of isolation can lead to depression, relationship strain, and further health issues. Thus it is paramount that women struggling to conceive receive support. It is important that the support come in the form of good friends who will say the right things (as above) and/or from professionals who are experienced at validating the challenges while also focusing on solutions and hope. While forums and online infertility support groups can be helpful, they can also increase stress and contribute to a feeling of helplessness. For this reason, thoughtful, professionally mediated support – whether group or private, is preferable.
- Give Permission. One of the most difficult things for women to do when they are struggling to conceive is to be around other women who are pregnant or have young children. If you know someone who is struggling to conceive, try to be sensitive when sharing news, and give permission to your friend (better yet, encourage them to give themselves permission) to skip baby showers and other similar events that might be triggering or painful. As discussed in point one, feeling unable to create the family you desire is a huge loss and these types of events just serve to underscore what is being missed. While it will be impossible to avoid pregnant and new mothers entirely, it is possible to reduce the number and intensity of events that will be most painful.
by Kim Sedgwick
In the last few months Amy and I have had the pleasure of running a number of postpartum sexuality workshops for new mothers. To get things started, we ask the women to brainstorm some of the challenges of maintaining a fulfilling sex life when you’re a new parent. As you might imagine, the issue of ‘time’ is the most common obstacle. While many of the suggestions we offer are specific to new motherhood, our favourite piece of advice is something that can be applied to all couples who are struggling to find time for sex:
Scheduling your sex life may not sound particularly romantic, but the reality is that it is the most romantic thing you can do. Why? We plan for things we value. If we want to make sure something happens, we set aside a specific time to work on it. The reality is that we’re never going to get through our entire “To Do” list. We can’t always have a spotless house, an empty inbox, a gourmet meal on the table (and the list goes on)!
It just isn’t possible. Every day we consciously (or unconsciously) make decisions about what we value by choosing what we put at the top of our priority list.
So, if you and your partner would like to spend more intimate time together, here are a few suggestions to help make it happen:
Create date nights. At the beginning of the month, pull out the calendar and choose a few nights to spend together. Some couples like to alternate who makes the plan, while others prefer to plan together. The key is that you have set the time aside – whether it’s an hour, a night, or a whole weekend.
Choose the right time. Reflect on when you’re most likely to be relaxed and ‘in the mood’, and schedule accordingly. For instance, many couples have ‘before bed’ as their default time for sex. However, it’s easy for one (or both) of you to be tired. If that’s the case, try having sex at another time of day when you’re more likely to feel alert and connected.
Communicate your desire beforehand. This will this help to clarify what you’re both looking for (the tone, the type of activities, etc) and make it more likely for you to both get want you need. Plus it will also help to build excitement!