Have infertility issues taken over your life? So much so that you question
your sense of self, the nature of your relationship with your partner, your
families, your friends? Has infertility come to symbolize failure and caused
you to reevaluate values and goals you previously felt to be intractable? Has
it colored how you view the world and feel about life?
If you're like the 10% of couples who want to have children and can't, the
answer to the above questions is probably yes. Whether the culprit is male
infertility, female infertility or "unexplained infertility" this 1997 updated
reprint of Gay Becker's Healing the Infertile Family can help. Written in
fluid non-technical language and liberally enhanced with case examples, this
University of California medical anthropologist brings perspective, insight
and calm to a topic that can seem lacking in all three--especially when you
and your partner are caught in the firestorm of infertility.
Once the dream of naturally creating your own family doesn't go according to
plan and disrupts the natural order of your lives, where do you turn? Couched
in the context of cultural and gender expectations and stereotypes, Becker
walks us through the process of de-stigmatizing infertility, of reordering and
redefining our values, goals and perspectives. She skillfully uses a frame
borrowed from lifecycle developmental theory which suggests that it often
takes a crisis in our normal course of socio/cultural/psychological
development to help us grow. And often help us grow up!
For many couples the struggle with infertility is just such a crisis. Along
with the expected and normal developmental tasks we face throughout the
lifecycle (leaving home, marriage, birth of children, parenting, etc.) which
often create enough stress to shake our sense of normalcy, infertility is an
unexpected stress that rocks the foundation of our identity. And poses
further questions: What does it mean to be a childless woman or man? Who will
we be without children? What is it like to adopt? Will our relationship
The stresses triggered by infertility often cause us to blame our partners or
retreat into depression, withdrawal and victimization. More hopefully, they
also trigger an examination of self that can lead you both to explore new and
challenging ways of being together, creating a relationship and family you'll
both define in new ways. Becker's research suggests that most couples come
through the process with mature and strengthened relationships, regardless of
how they've redefined family.
Becker offers a balanced view of the effects of infertility from the
perspective of both genders. While it is a myth that infertility is a woman's
issue, much of medical practice remains focused on women in terms of emotional
support and actual medical treatment. Especially around the issue of
emotional support, men are often ignored or forgotten. This is sometimes due
to preconceived attitudes among medical providers. However, it is primarily
the case because men face the stigma of "male infertility" with much denial,
avoidance, fear and ignorance reinforced by cultural and gender stereotypes.
For example, powerful cultural messages suggest it's our duty to reproduce
and that it should be easily accomplished. If we can't we'd better not go
public with that information, or seek help with the problem. Trying to "go it
alone" only contributes to feeling isolated and disconnected from your partner
It's hard to overemphasize the importance of men becoming an integral part of
the process from beginning to end, regardless of how their involvement is
perceived by the medical establishment or any particular healthcare provider.
Go to medical appointments with your partner, ask questions regardless of how
naive they may appear, read, join a support group with your partner. Above
all, learn to acknowledge and express whatever feelings may be present.
Healing the Infertile Family is a hopeful guide for those lost in the maze of
infertility. It's a tale easily and well told about a difficult issue which
brings much distress to many people. Oh yes, what's the answer to the
question posed above: Where do you turn when things don't go according to
plan? You turn toward each other. And if that's hard, you ask for help and
support to guide you to the solution that works for you both. No one is to
blame in this process. Be easy with one another and persevere.
I have read this book after a 4 year journey with my wife through unexplained
infertility and can recommend it in hindsight as a great source of validation
for what we both experienced. I only wish I'd read it at the beginning of our
process as a source of insight and reassurance.