Ask Sahaj: I have fertility issues. My family keeps asking about a baby.

Q: I am experiencing fertility issues and don’t know how to explain this to my family. I feel like I am failing at the most basic thing. It doesn’t help that so many family members are asking me about my baby plans. I want to be a mom, but I don’t know what to say to my family. Help please!

– Anonymous

A: I am sorry you are experiencing fertility issues. I understand how you may feel like your body is betraying you, but I want to say: You are absolutely not a failure. It can be really hard to want something and feel like you’re not worthy of having it. But, I repeat, you are not a failure. Your worthiness is not defined by your fertility.

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I sense an internalized stigma that you are struggling with. This stigma can reinforce those beliefs that you should be secretive about or feel ashamed of your struggles. I definitely encourage you to explore these feelings and to reflect on where the narrative “my fertility issues equal failure” came from. This can help you deconstruct this as a core belief about yourself and build self-compassion.

Ultimately, you get to decide who to tell and who to open up to about these struggles (and to what extent). Not everyone deserves to be privy to this information, regardless of their relationship to you. Family members asking about your plans to have a baby can feel intrusive, even if they are coming from a place of excitement and love.

If you decide you’d rather not share your struggles, you can set firm boundaries like, “I appreciate that you’re curious about this, but I would rather not talk about it.” Or you can prepare yourself for being around certain family members in other ways. This might be stepping away to practice deep breathing or having topics on hand to change the subject altogether. Or you may even have an agreement with your partner or a friend to talk right after being around your family.

You could consider the pros and cons of telling your family what you’re going through so they can start to show up for you in ways you need. People don’t know what they do not know. So, if others don’t know they are hurting or upsetting you by asking, then they can’t correct their behavior. For example, maybe if certain family members knew, they’d start understanding why you aren’t showing up to family events – like a baby shower – rather than taking it personally. Or maybe by letting someone, like a cousin you’re close with, know, you’ll have an ally in addressing this issue when your nosy aunts and uncles always ask.

If you decide you do want to share your struggles with your family, you should consider what kind of support, if any, you want. Do you need more understanding for why you’re less available these days? Do you want them to check in more on you or help with everyday tasks if you’re undergoing treatment? Would you like people to respond a certain way or not respond a certain way? Do you want to avoid the topic altogether? By having this information, you can teach loved ones how to be there for you during this hardship, hopefully deepening the relationship you have with them.

If you do open up to your family, know that many people who have no exposure to fertility struggles can be ignorant about the issue. You may have to wade through misinformation and unhelpful feedback to educate loved ones. While this shouldn’t be your responsibility, you can decide what you have the capacity for. Thankfully, there are lots of resources online these days for folks supporting loved ones with fertility struggles.

Navigating fertility issues can be an isolating and emotional journey. Having support and community during this time can be very important; if it’s not family, maybe it’s friends, or it’s finding community in support groups online or in your local area. If the shame, anxiety, or depression from these struggles significantly impact you, I urge you to consider seeing a professional.

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Sahaj Kaur Kohli. Photo Twitter @SahajKohli

Sahaj Kaur Kohli is a mental health professional and the creator of Brown Girl Therapy.

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