I had a chance to interview Christine and Aaron Kahan, who recently wrote a book called Navigating the Road of Infertility, recounting their four-year emotional roller coaster including respective surgical procedures, a devastating failed attempt to “Foster to Adopt” two little girls, and a failed round of In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and sadly another miscarriage this past month.
The Kahans, both educators and strong child advocates, are speaking out to discuss their personal experiences surrounding their infertility struggles and the gross problems within the foster care system.
1. Your journey has encompassed a variety of failed attempts to have a child. How have you dealt with personal questions from people who aren't close to you?
We have been an anomaly in this area as we have dealt with all questions with gut wrenching, open honesty no matter who was asking. The interesting thing about this approach has been that the people asking really then don't know what to say. After two miscarriages and being open about those in the same fashion as our infertility struggle, people have tended to avoid questions because they did not know what to say or how to offer support within that loss. You can see in their eyes though that they want to ask so normally we will bring it up in order to have the open discussion. If not the topic lingers creating a very awkward foundation. People struggle with so many emotions during Infertility. Putting on a facade that everything is ok is not an additional challenge they should have to go through.
2. Sometimes family can feel entitled to ask more than you're willing to share - how can you be sensitive to both your relationships with them and your own privacy?
This is interesting because I have a very small family while my husband's family is very large. Most recently after a devastating second miscarriage I was asked if I would be going to one of the cousin's baby showers. I felt like I wanted to scream at the lack of insensitivity. After all, I had been extremely open about my struggle and the grief that followed losses of two babies. The cousin had no expectation that I would be there. But instead I just reiterated as calmly as I could the reasons why I wouldn't be there. I then found myself at the large holiday family gathering having to make small talk and navigate situations that could trigger trauma such as newborns or small children playing reminding me of my two foster girls I had lost. The inability for family members to understand how those situations might be painful coupled with their tendency to ignore the reality of the pain we had been through and altogether avoiding asking us about the topic was indescribable. So before casting them all off as unsupportive and insensitive, we try to consider their perspectives. I think it stems from not understanding because they haven't been through it or not knowing what to say. There is also the generational perspective of infertility where it just wasn't discussed as it can be a very uncomfortable topic.
To be sensitive to your relationships with them you have to consider their personalities. If there are family members you want to have the honest discussion with who are open then educate them. If there are situations that are too painful for you, give yourself permission to avoid them knowing that the people on your family may have no understanding in what you are going through. It is really all about your own comfort level. As I was talking to some family members at the most recent gathering who had the courage to inquire how I was doing, I was amazed when one aunt had the insight for how difficult it had been for me to even be there. And as a result of that conversation, I feel closer to her than I ever did before.
3. Why is infertility such a hidden topic, and how can the stigma around infertility be eased?
Fertility is so sparingly spoken about for a lot of reasons. For one thing, generations ago when the population was really just a fraction of what is today, having a baby was expected. This includes pretty much all countries and cultures. Find a mate, be fruitful and multiply. It was then to be considered that, if you couldn't have a baby, there was something wrong with you. Society would ostracize those who could not bring to term. However, as time has progressed our species has blossomed into billions upon billions of people. Now, many, many times more couples (1 out of 6) are suffering through this painful and heartbreaking process. The more couples enduring fertility treatment speak of the realities and heartbreak of the process, the more of a network of such people will be woven. It is only then that we will be able to move beyond the time of the infertility taboo.
4. What are some challenges particular to male partners dealing with infertility struggles?
The struggles, when talking about male infertility, are quite real. In my experience the social and mental issues with this particular problem aren't often thought about. The guy isn't the one getting stuck with needles on a morning basis. The man isn't sitting in that chair with his feet in stirrups as a doctor probes their belly. However, a much over looked fact; the man if he is a supportive partner, will have to be there. He is the one that has to put a (figurative ) metric ton of steel metal into his girlfriend or wife's belly. The guy holds his gals hands as the doctor performs their procedures. The men in these relationships are good, determined men. However they are looked upon in a much more forgetful light as if their emotions are not as important throughout this process. The male perspective is also overlooked in miscarriage. Although we males are not in the spotlight on the table we also endure the spectrum of emotions but are not able to as openly show it due to society's image that we must remain strong and silent,
5. How can people be sensitive in offering support to those dealing with infertility?