Every month when I got my period, I’d sadly say, “no baby this time.” To which my husband replied, “we will try again, and it will happen in time.” Time ticked away and I became more and more obsessed and consumed with trying to get pregnant. We tried timed intercourse (which is having sex during my most fertile time of the month), we tried natural fertility enhancers (like herbs and medications), we tried “just relaxing.” Nothing worked!
After many months of trying without success, we entered the most tumultuous time of our married life - fighting to have a baby. Shame and guilt riddled us both, and we were paralyzed at the inability to get pregnant. Infertility reared its nasty head in my marriage and held us captive in its grips for three years. Three long years of tears, blame, disappointment, and guilt.
I remember hearing from others, “just relax”, “what are you doing wrong”, “when will the baby arrive”, and other such statements that only made me feel more shame and guilt. On the outside, I laughed and smiled at these comments, and just answered, “we are trying”. They are well meaning, but these comments are hurtful and make us feel more shame and guilt. I call these comments, reproductive microaggressions.
Similar to microaggressions which are “brief, commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults to the target person or group” (Sue et al., 2007, p. 273), reproductive microaggressions also infer judgment. Reproductive microaggressions communicate that not being able to conceive is a personal fault or inadequacy, and a disappointment. Somehow you are not like the rest of us, who can easily get pregnant. Feeling ashamed and guilty for a medical condition implies that somehow it is our fault for not getting pregnant. But it is not our fault, it is not my fault that I can’t get pregnant! Infertility is not a choice, it’s a tragedy!
Infertility effects at least 1 in 8 couples. Infertility is the invisible, yet a prevalent medical issue of our time that affects thousands of people across cultural and ethnic lines. Infertility does not discriminate, and male infertility is on the rise. Having infertility hits at the core of what it means to be a woman and procreate. For many of us, having a family is central to our sense of self and cultural way of being. For me, as a Latina woman, I was willing to do anything necessary to have a child because not being a mother felt meaningless.
After one emotionally and physically intense year of fertility treatments, including intra-uterine artificial insemination (IUI) and in-vitro fertilization (IVF), we conceived our first and only pregnancy. I gave birth, after a high-risk pregnancy leading to a hospitalization for eight weeks, to a boy and a girl. They were born prematurely and stayed in the neo-intensive care unit (NICU) for four weeks before coming home. They are now thriving eight-year-old twins.
Achieving our dream of a family did not come easy for my husband and I. I struggled for many years to make sense of this atypical (but not abnormal) family-building journey. Why me? Why was it so hard? Being infertile was a shameful secret that I kept locked up. I didn’t want to face the medical diagnosis of infertility. I was in denial, and if I spoke about it, it would become real and I would have to face it. I didn’t want to appear weak or unworthy. Then one day, I made a decision. I had a choice to make, I could continue living with shame and regret or I could live with pride and joy. I chose the latter.
I now realize that being infertile is part of who I am that I no longer hide. It defines my life’s purpose. Infertility shapes all the clinical work I do as a mental health therapist and advocate. I still struggle to make sense of why me, why has my body betrayed me, and how do I make sense of what this means for me as a Latina. Infertility never ends. However, having this experience has connected me to a vibrant community of people who fight to have a baby.
Dr. Anna Flores Locke is an international award-winning writer, mental health counselor, and educator. She holds a doctorate in counseling and is a licensed professional counselor in multiple states, including Puerto Rico. Dr Anna owns Charlandra Counseling Services, a virtual infertility and mental health counseling center; and is an assistant professor at Nyack College in New York City. She is an active leader in the American Counseling Association and author of “Body Betrayal: Living and Understanding Infertility” and “Introduction to 21st Century Counseling”. She lives in New Jersey with her family. She is available for seminars, consulting, and speaking engagements. Learn more at www.charlandra.com and connect at firstname.lastname@example.org