by Marga Vaquer-Rhodes

When I first said to my husband, “It takes a village to conceive a child,” he jokingly responded, “That’s a lot of people in bed!” Of course, what I meant is that community support had made it much easier — and actually, possible — to conceive our first daughter after six years of trials and tribulations.

I met my husband later in life, and our journey to conceive started two years later. I always “knew” I was meant to be a mother, and my longing to conceive and carry a child grew ever stronger as our relationship deepened. Unfortunately, the miscarriage of a healthy baby boy sent me down a spiral of grief and interventions. Despite the pain and vulnerability, I opted to share my heartbreak with others, and was able to experience the healing power of community holding us through our grieving process. It was only when I shared my story that so many other women came out of the woodwork with reports of miscarriage. Reaching out brought exactly what I needed: empathy, a sense of connection, and renewed hope.

A quick look at statistics sheds light on how difficult and common this struggle is. Research shows that women with infertility have the same levels of anxiety and depression as do women with cancer, heart disease and HIV. According to the National Infertility Association, one in eight couples of childbearing age in the U.S. has trouble conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association’s website states that 10 – 25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. Obviously, a woman struggling to conceive is not alone. Unfortunately, she often feels that way.

On the heels of miscarriage, going back to square one later in reproductive life was challenging. My 12 rounds of Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), seven cycles of In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), and six years of trying to conceive were excruciating, even though I applied the best coping skills and tools I had learned in my training as a psychotherapist. Once again, I decided to reach out and connect with others. I talked about my struggle with family and friends. I attended a fertility support group in a neighboring town. I heard of other women who had conceived through IVF and I called them. I started a blog and became part of many Facebook groups.

I also remember a particular time when, in the middle of prohibitively expensive treatments, we realized we simply could not go on without financial help. Asking for money was not easy, but we swallowed our pride and created a fundraising campaign online and organized a benefit concert in Santa Cruz. We were stunned by the outpouring of support: tens of thousands of dollars were donated or lent by family and friends!

As beautiful and helpful as the results of reaching out were, the experience was not devoid of challenge. I did have to learn that not all of my friends and family could easily understand my struggle. I received a barrage of well-meaning, though at times unwanted or useless advice. Sometimes I felt judged, like I was not doing it right. Try harder. Don’t try so hard. Just relax! Go to Hawaii. Get drunk. Get high. Maybe you need to accept that God doesn’t want you to have children. Why don’t you just adopt? I started to regret reaching out so much, and wondered if I should stop. Especially when you have been riding the monthly rollercoaster of hope and disappointment for a while, other people’s comments and attitudes can easily hurt your vulnerable, hopeful heart. And the additional outside pressure and expectation, real or perceived, is just one thing too many. But what to do with the stress, anxiety, loss, sadness, fear, and hopelessness? Was the answer to suffer in isolation? That seemed to only reinforce a sense of secrecy and shame, and perpetuate difficult feelings. While it can feel risky to share your journey with others, it is even harder to be alone with it.

I discovered the antidote to suffering in isolation was to choose support wisely! I found it is important to lean on a few loved ones that feel safe and supportive, and that connecting with other women who are in the same boat and understand the process from the inside out is priceless. I am profoundly honored to be able to offer such support and community in the form of a 6-week confidential Fertility Group on Thursday evenings here at Luma, beginning August 18. If you are struggling in your journey to conceive, I invite you to join in the conversation and lean on your village. You are not alone.