Are you or is someone you know facing infertility? We spoke with Deborah Issokson, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist specializing in reproductive health issues, to find out her most important advice for women facing infertility, and how family and friends can be supportive. Dr. Issokson maintains a private practice, Counseling for Reproductive Health & Healing, in Wellesley and Pembroke. She’s also a member of the ritual creation team at Mayyim Hayyim Community Mikveh and Education Center.
What’s your first piece of advice for women facing infertility issues?
Seek out medical consultation. This can help you figure out whether you want to pursue medical tests that may lead to a diagnosis that would explain the reasons for your infertility. Obtain second opinions and ask questions so that you feel clear about your particular situation. Understand that sometimes, even after testing, there may not be a clear diagnosis and you may be told you have “unexplained infertility.” Infertility work-ups can feel stressful and anxiety producing. The next step will be deciding what, if any, treatments or interventions you want to pursue. Seeking out emotional support in the form of individual counseling or a support group can be helpful in conjunction with medical care.
What are some common emotions for women facing infertility with their second child? What are some suggestions for dealing with these feelings?
Frustration, surprise, bewilderment, anger, sadness, grief, ambivalence. There is also guilt sometimes, a feeling of, “Well, I should be grateful to have one healthy child. Why am I pushing my luck?” There may be a need to revise one’s image of family, a re-thinking of what constitutes a complete family. Talking with other families, either in person or online, can be helpful as a way of having your feelings and reactions validated, and as a way of exploring the different paths families have taken when faced with secondary infertility. Again, it can be helpful to enlist the help and support of a therapist. Pursuing infertility treatment, which is time-consuming, intrusive and sometimes physically uncomfortable, can feel quite different when you are already parenting a child.
What’s the best way for family and friends to support a woman dealing with infertility?
Be supportive without being intrusive. Don’t try to fix the problem, don’t compare her/their story to others you’ve heard and don’t try to ascribe meaning to her/their infertility. Do ask how you can be helpful, and let the person/couple know you are available to listen, provide childcare or give rides. Finally, take your lead from the person/couple experiencing the infertility.
What resources are available to women locally?
Resolve of the Bay State is the local chapter of a national organization whose mission is to provide consumer support for those struggling with infertility. They provide a directory of medical and mental health providers who specialize in infertility issues, as well as host multiple support groups and conferences. They are also a source of information regarding reproductive technologies and options, insurance coverage for infertility treatments and adoption resources. Mayim Hayyim Community Mikveh and Education Center has several immersion ceremonies that can be used by women experiencing infertility. Immersing in the mikveh can be a powerful ritual to help women transition in and out of various fertility treatment cycles. For counseling services, women may also contact Jewish Family & Children’s Service.
Also, on Sunday, March 27, Mayyim Hayyim will host “Telling Our Stories: A Workshop with Memoir-Artist Phoebe Potts,” co-sponsored by Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Potts is the author of “Good Eggs,” a comic-book memoir about her experiences with infertility. The workshop will encourage participants to express themselves through drawing and/or writing to tell their own stories. The workshop will take place at Mayyim Hayyim, 1838 Washington St. in Newton, from 6-8 p.m. There’s a fee of $18, and registration is via mayyimhayyim.org.