Updated: Nov 17, 2019
"You had one job to do and you can’t even do that right”. My thoughts as I stared at the 10th maybe 12th negative pregnancy test. It’s what I had been thinking just about every day for the 2 years prior as I questioned why the one thing I had been hoping for, praying for, hadn’t happened for me. What I would come to learn in the months and years later is that infertility is a common issue among women however, black women rarely spoke about it. Data from the National Survey of Family Growth indicates that black women are almost twice as likely to experience infertility as white women however, we are less likely to seek medical help to get pregnant. (National Health Statistics Report #73 January 22, 2014). In the black community there is a shame attached to several things and a woman being unable to have children is one of them. Black women seem to be given the title or role of mother at birth. Even the nicknames we commonly give our little girls like “ma-ma” or “little mama” unknowingly root a sense of responsibility to take care of others and bring life into the world. So, what do you do when you struggle with fulfilling a role that was assigned to you? What do you do if you don’t want to become a mother, or if you’ve tried but can’t? Who do you turn to when it seems that all the women around you are getting pregnant effortlessly? What do you do when you’ve been told that you are good at so many things, but you continue to fail at the one thing you’ve told yourself you were created to do? You’re often left feeling helpless and hopeless.
According to the National Infertility Association "infertility is the inability to get pregnant after a couple has had one year of unprotected, well-timed intercourse, or if a woman has suffered from multiple miscarriages and she is under 35 years of age". "1 in 8 couples struggle with getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy". (2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth, CDC) Women who have spent any amount of time trying to “make a baby” suffer from mood swings, changes in appetite, weight gain or weight loss, and difficulty sleeping. They struggle with having poor self-image, they may isolate themselves from others, and at times they question their faith. “Trying" to get pregnant is a very personal, lonely, and unpredictable experience, so it’s important to feel like you can depend on the people closest to you for support.
To the friend, family member, or acquaintance of the woman who does not have any children (or who only has one child), here’s how you can help. Don’t say things like: “when ya’ll gonna get started, and “what ya’ll waitin’ on, or “girl, when ya’ll gonna have another one? Making these statements (as well intentioned as they might be) only minimize what your friend is experiencing, and it may also trigger her feelings of frustration, sadness, anger, and shame. If your friend does share with you that she is dealing with infertility, try not to say things like: “well God knows best”, or “don’t worry, it will happen when the time is right”. If your friend is a believer her faith has taught her that God does know best so in her mind she may be struggling with the idea that God may think that it’s not best for her to have a baby of her own and that the time will never be right. She is already comparing her life to the life of the women around her and thinking “what makes the timing right for them and not right for me”? Know that it’s not your place to problem solve. You don’t have to have all of the answers and your friend won’t expect you to.
So what should you say? How can you help? Well, I’m glad you asked! Try asking: how can I help support you, or would you like to talk about how you are feeling; and if you are just dying to know how your friend feels about having a baby of her own try asking: “do you want to have a baby someday”? Yes, it’s that simple.
Having a friend who is having a difficult time getting pregnant does not mean that you need to hide the happiness you experience when you get the news that you are going to have a baby. It also doesn’t mean that your friend who is struggling to conceive won’t be happy for you. It just means that you will have to be sensitive when you share your news. Your happiness may be clouded with your feelings of guilt, anxiety, or even sadness for your friend however, sharing your exciting news before your friend finds out from others, talking to your friend about your uncertainty to share that you are pregnant, and giving your friend some space if she needs it can actually strengthen your relationship. Although your friend may be suffering silently, your thoughtfulness and support will be exactly what she needs from you during what might be the most difficult time in her life.
To the woman silently dealing with infertility: you are not alone! The most important thing you can do for yourself is seek the best professional medical treatment you can find and share your struggle with those closest to you so that you can receive the support you need.
Striving for Progress NOT Perfection, Christalyn
For mental health and emotional health support visit: www.carolinacounselingconsultants.com Instagram: @carolinacounseling Facebook: Carolina Counseling Consultants
Sources: CDC - The National Center for Health Statistics https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/24467919/ and The National Infertility Association https://resolve.org/infertility-101/what-is-infertility/fast-facts/