How to build your own network of support during infertility

It goes without saying that we need emotional support when struggling with fertility. Studies have shown that women with infertility have similar psychological trauma symptoms to that of women with cancer or cardiac conditions. It makes sense given they are all serious medical conditions - yet in many cases, women facing fertility challenges choose not to share their struggle with anyone outside of their partner.

More often than not, unfortunately, when they do share with friends and family they are met with judgement, callus advice to “just adopt” or “relax”, or an insinuation that the woman did something to cause her infertility. (There’s a whole separate post about the gender bias that assumes the woman is at fault; male factor accounts for an equal percentage of infertility in couples.)

The first year my husband and I were “trying”, he was the only other person who knew of it - and we rarely discussed the elephant in the bedroom. I dragged my feet on starting with the basics of temperature checking or ovulation prediction kits because of an offhand comment my gynecologist had made about those being tools “of a fertility patient.”

The stigma. Its entrenched. Deeply.

After a year I was on edge; we’d been using the ovulation kits for awhile and saw nothing but tears and menstrual blood month after month. After a visit to my doctor and a monitored cycle, we finally got a positive pregnancy test. We told our immediate family just before the miscarriage.

I told a few friends that I’d had a miscarriage and soaked up their love and support.

Yet, I left out the part about the year of trying that preceded it.

We moved to IUIs and IVF and still kept them a secret. The emotions built: stress, fear, disappointment, envy, despair, and more - each one uglier and more uncomfortable than the prior.

I felt emboldened by her knowledge, experience, and compassion. I walked a bit lighter afterward. And, just like anything that comes with that type of endorphin rush - I wanted more of it.

If you’ve been reading closely, you may have caught on by now that my Big Turning Point in my fertility journey came after our second failed IVF cycle. Lots of things went into that but a major part was a conversation I had with a good friend - who had gone through IVF and had a beautiful family as a result. I knew of her experience and finally worked up the nerve to ask if we could have coffee.

During that conversation, I felt the first sense of relief that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the hopeless case I thought I might be. I didn’t do anything to cause this struggle and - someday, somehow - it would end.

While it took a much longer time for me to fully embrace and believe this, hearing her story, her words of encouragement, laughing about the crazier parts of the process, and marveling at the insensitivities we encountered was soothing.

I felt emboldened by her knowledge, experience, and compassion. I walked a bit lighter afterward. And, just like anything that comes with that type of endorphin rush - I wanted more of it.


In the US, 1 in 8 couples struggle to get or stay pregnant; 7.4 million women have ever received infertility services. And, a couple ages 29 - 33 with a normal functioning reproductive system has only a 20 - 25% chance of conceiving in any given month.


Looking back, I would have done things differently. One of the regrets of my journey is that I waited so long and limited myself to a very few support options along the way.

In an effort to save you similar isolation and heartache - and to help you get to a place of empowerment and rest faster - here are some suggestions for creating your own helpful, robust, network of support:


  • Recognize that infertility is a medical condition. You did nothing to deserve or cause it. It is quite common: in the US, 1 in 8 couples struggle to get or stay pregnant; 7.4 million women have ever received infertility services; and - as my doctor explained in one of our early meetings, humans actually aren’t all that efficient at reproduction. Per the National Women’s Health Resource center, “A couple ages 29 - 33 with a normal functioning reproductive system has only a 20 - 25% chance of conceiving in any given month.” (Source)
  • Commit to working with a professional care team that believes in your ability to reach your goal. What I mean by this is - don’t put yourself in a position where you feel your doctor doesn’t believe you can get pregnant. It is one thing to be realistic and another to be pessimistic. I went through treatment with two REs; both looked at the same numbers. One told me there was no chance, and the other one told me it would be difficult but that there was reason to believe it could happen. It was that second one who helped us conceive our two boys.
  • Rely on your partner - to an extent. He is also having an experience of this struggle and communication is key to helping you both get what you need. But he probably can’t fulfill all of your support needs. Read more tips on keeping your relationship strong here.
  • Choose what you tell, when, and to whom, in your standard circle of friends and family. You may or may not be able to rely on your circle for helpful support. This doesn’t mean you don’t love them and they don’t love you, nor are you lying if you choose to stay quiet. Consider their view and possible reaction as well as what you really need from them to make your decision. Then, once you share your journey, it may help to manage expectations regarding updates. As an example, I told friends and family that I would share news when I had news to share - but I appreciated if they didn’t ask otherwise.
  • Don't underestimate the wisdom you have within. It is ok to spend some time with your thoughts and emotions. The introspection can be enlightening and give you strength. Many times, the answer to your next step, the fuel you need to keep going, the hope you have searched to find can be found in moments of quiet self-reflection. There are lots of ways to connect and quiet your heart and mind - find what works for you. Give yourself time to think and allow your heart to lead you.
  • Find a neutral person or people to talk with. This outlet is just for you - your sounding board. Someone who will stand for you, who can listen without judgement, who may or may not offer advice but one you leave a conversation with feeling lighter and hopeful. For me, this was my friend who I poured my heart out to initially and then, later, my acupuncturist. This support person could also be a coach, therapist, pastor, or similar. Due to the helpfulness of neutrality, a best friend, parent, or spouse may not be able to fill this role.
  • Get connected to peer support. There’s something so hopeful and helpful about knowing you aren’t alone - and physically seeing and audibly hearing that from a live person in a similar situation. Social support has shown to reduce stress, feelings of stigma or depression, and increase feelings of knowledge and empowerment. (SourceSource; and Source) Some good options to find this are a mentor or a support group.

It is this last part I feel I missed out on the most. It seems so natural to seek out support - as humans we are built to make connections. “Oh thank goodness - it’s not just me” can help you laugh off a crazy commute, problem that seems unsolvable, or difficult encounter. For the big things, we quickly turn to friends or mentors to share fears about relationships, jobs, aging parents, and other life challenges.


So why not now?

There are maybe lots of answers you have to this question. Stigma, shame, fear of being the “worst” case, fear of being the “best” - but learning just how long or how difficult the road ahead might be. General shyness or a reluctance to share too much among strangers is another reason.

I hear those concerns and they’re valid. There’s probably a long list you could write up right now of all the reasons a peer support group won’t work for you.

But, I challenge you to write a corresponding list of the ways in which it could: validation, information, empathy, compassion, camaraderie, shared burden, a release valve, someone to ask when you wonder, “is this normal?” See how long the list can get before you dismiss it. And maybe - it will outweigh the fears.

To this end, I’ve created the Fresh Start Program. It is an 8 - week guided course to help women find their way back to themselves and a new approach their fertility plan. Each week is focused on a component of emotional health and well-being to help you regain your footing and approach family building with optimism, confidence, and positive energy. But the part that makes this special is that it will be a shared experience between you and a small number of your peers: women who are also walking a challenging path to their family and want to improve the route. I’d love for you join us.

Erin McDanielComment