According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an estimated 1.5 million married women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States who are classified as infertile, or unable to get pregnant after at least 12 consecutive months of unprotected sex. To these women, the inevitable laws of nature that work to successfully impregnate millions of other soon-to-be moms fail to work on their behalf, resulting in endless heartache and emotional trauma. But there is a silver lining: A $3.5 billion fertility services industry has evolved to help do what nature can’t.
Indeed, the CDC estimates that more than 7.4 million women in the U.S. have ever used fertility services. The problem, though, is that not all of those treatments resulted in a baby. The question then becomes, how do women determine when they’ve done all they can do?
Kathleen Andrade reached her breaking point after five years of fertility treatments, which included everything from artificial insemination to donor eggs. The constant search for the next protocol and rush to start each round took much of the emphasis from Andrade’s desired goal of having a baby and left her feeling as though she was almost addicted to the process itself. “It got to the point where I was having panic attacks, and I realized I needed help to figure out what to do next,” she says. “At some point you have to ask yourself, ‘Why do I keep pounding my head against the wall?’”
With no standard guidelines on the number of treatments women should endure and as many treatment options as women have the cash to pay for, Andrade ultimately decided to seek therapy with someone who specialized in infertility. “The one thing that stood out to me was him saying that no one will tell me when to stop, that there will always be something else to try,” she explains. “I had to make the decision to stop and ask myself when was enough, enough? It was enough. I just couldn’t ride the roller coaster anymore.”
Today Andrade finds healing through her writing; she’s written a sitcom about her infertility experiences and is currently shopping it through a production company. Though she says she’s “pretty much” made peace with her journey, she admits that there is still some lingering pain. “The hardest part of all of this was the feeling that I couldn’t give my husband a kid, that I had failed him in some way. Even though it’s irrational and he doesn’t feel that way, it still went through my head,” she says. “In some ways, I think he still holds out hope that something will happen.”
Sadly, Andrade’s experiences are not unique. According to the CDC’s 2011 Assisted Reproductive Technology Success Rates Report, women younger than age 35 were able to have a live birth 40 percent of the time, on average, with rates dropping significantly with age (the success rate for women ages 43-44 is just 5 percent). And while the CDC acknowledges that there are several factors that determine probability of success—including the clinic where the procedure is performed, the procedure used, the infertility diagnosis and, of course, age—the data shows that fertility treatments are far from a sure thing.
The journey to pregnancy is an emotionally draining one, and like Andrade, fertility and pregnancy expert Megan Gala advises most women with fertility issues to seek professional guidance. “One of the biggest ways I support my clients in moving past the trauma of loss and helping them rebuild their confidence and sense of self is in reframing the whole fertility journey,” says Gala. “I advise and coach them to ask different questions of themselves and the process. So instead of focusing on why its taking so long or what is wrong with them, they ask what areas of their lives may be holding them back. Where are they harboring fears or limiting beliefs? Where have they let go of themselves?”
And in addition to relieving psychological stress, Gala notes that in several instances, the process of releasing the pain associated with failed fertility treatments has actually led to natural conception. “Studies are showing the impact of the mind-body approach to healing and it’s impact on our physical well-being, and I’ve seen time and again women in my care and that of my colleagues being able to successfully conceive after clearing past trauma or other emotional energy stored in the body,” Gala explains. “I had one client who was literally told by her fertility doctor that it would be impossible to conceive, and after working together and looking at where she was holding herself back, she made some big life changes including quitting her job and starting her own business. She and her husband conceived naturally after years of trying and three IVF treatments with donor eggs that resulted in miscarriages.”
Certainly, though, there are many women who seek therapy and are still unable to conceive. Sometimes healing comes by redefining motherhood and considering surrogacy or adoption. “When [my patients and I] are looking at those options, I rely on the previous support strategies to help the woman really get clear on what she wants and what her options are,” explains Gala. “With those alternatives we tend to dive in more to the forgiveness and letting go aspects—forgiving herself, her body, her partner, etc.—but what we also do is work on what she can control and how she can feel a sense of empowerment, joy and connection around the process.”
Through her work, Gala has found that encouraging the mother to connect with the child’s spirit forms a mother-baby bond that generally supersedes any firmly held beliefs about how the child should be conceived in the first place. And in the end, it is this place of wholeness and contentment that she strives to help all women reach. “I help women tune back into their bodies, learn to trust their bodies and themselves and to know that they have all the wisdom inside of them to find the answers and reasons behind the struggle, really taking the approach that everything in our lives is there for our growth and learning,” says Gala. “It’s strategies like these that can really make all the difference in the way a woman views, experiences and succeeds on this deeply intimate and powerful journey to motherhood.”