Updated: Aug 24, 2020
This post is based on an Instagram Live interview with Riverbend Clinician and Reproductive Mental Health Specialist Nikki Walther. Join us for Riverbend Therapy Chats each week on Instagram Live (@riverbendtherapy) as we discuss mental health topics and answer your questions.
If you’ve been keeping up with my blog or social media lately, you know I’m very excited about the Women’s Empowerment Group I’ll be starting in three weeks. But it’s not River Bend Counseling’s only group! During this week’s River Bend Therapy Chat on Instagram Live, I talked with Nikki Walther, LPC, our other clinician, about the Infertility Support Group she will be starting in September.
The group will be a space for women who are experiencing or have experienced infertility to share their stories, feel known and heard, grieve, and connect with others who have walked a similar path. It will also provide tangible resources and skills to help you cope. Nikki, who has both personal and professional experience with infertility and specializes in reproductive mental health, has long dreamed of leading an infertility support group.
I started our Therapy Chat by asking Nikki a simple question: Why is an infertility support group needed?
She started with this simple fact you might not know: Infertility is incredibly common. One in four couples experiences a miscarriage, and one in eight has trouble conceiving, which is defined as trying to conceive unsuccessfully for a year if you’re 35 or older, or six months if you’re younger than 35. Infertility is so common that if you haven’t lived through these things, you likely know someone who has.
But you might not actually know who in your circle has. Despite how common infertility is, we just don’t talk about it. Perhaps you don’t know how to support a friend experiencing infertility. Perhaps you feel like bringing it up is taboo. Perhaps you just don’t know how to tell someone when you’ve lost a pregnancy, or have stopped sharing your fertility journey because you’re tired of platitudes. The fact that we don’t talk openly about fertility struggles makes them incredibly isolating, further compounding the real pain of infertility.
If you have lived through the grief and heartache of infertility, or are living through it now, you deserve to be seen and held in your grief by a compassionate and supportive community of people, each on their own fertility journey but walking a shared path. Nikki’s Infertility Support Group, which starts on September 10th, will be a space for this fellowship and solace, for sharing stories and talking about the things you might not be talking about elsewhere—grief, guilt, anger, fear, feeling like your body has betrayed you—without wondering if the person you’re talking to is tired of hearing what you need to say.
A goal for the group is for it to not only be a space in which you can share your story, but a place in which you can gain strategies, resources, and tools to help empower yourself and move through your specific fertility journey. This won’t look like “here are the things you need to do…” or “if you just follow these 10 steps….” Instead, Nikki will share meaningful tools you can apply to coping with infertility as well as to all aspects of your life. You’ll learn how to own your story, build resilience, manage stress, connect to your partner, relate to others, and practice self-love and self-care.
To get a preview of what the group will be like, Nikki and I dove into this question from a River Bend Therapy Chats viewer: “Is it OK to not be able to show up for my pregnant friends in the middle of my infertility story?”
Nikki’s answer? “I want to give this person and everyone permission to set boundaries around what you can and can’t do.”
She then explained that a change in a relationship or loss of a relationship—while painful and unfortunate—can be a big part of walking through infertility. After you’ve experienced pregnancy loss, while you’re struggling to conceive, or are in the middle of your Nth round of IVF, spending time with your friends who are pregnant or are parents might just be too painful—and that is OK.
Healthy boundaries are always an important part of any relationship, but you might have to set different ones when you’re experiencing infertility. Maybe that looks like asking your friend, “I’d love to hang out, but can we steer clear of talking about your pregnancy? That’s going to be hard for me right now.” Or maybe it looks like saying, “I really love you and I’m so happy for you, but I’m in a really hard place right now and our friendship might look different over the next few months.”
More broadly, Nikki talked about something that I’m a big believer in: We don’t have to just accept whatever support we are offered. We can give our loved ones a blueprint for how we want to be supported.
For instance, if you’re trying to conceive through assisted reproductive technologies like IVF or IUI, perhaps you’ll feel most supported if family and friends let you share updates at your own pace, rather than asking you how the process is going. Maybe you want your loved ones to proactively reach out on dates when you’re having a procedure or will get test results. Or perhaps you want to designate a trusted person to be your “point of contact,” fielding questions and helping you share news. The Infertility Support Group will be a place for you to explore and learn how to communicate your unique needs for support.
Those topics are among the many that Nikki will dive into in a small, safe, communal setting over the course of her eight-week Infertility Support Group. The group is for any woman affected by infertility—whether you’re walking through it now or faced it a decade ago. It will meet every Thursday from 6:30-8:00 p.m. MT, beginning September 10th and ending October 29th. The goal is to meet in person with social distancing and other safety practices in place, but the group will meet online if needed. It costs $40 per session, with discounts available for payment in full.
Sign-ups are open but space in the group is limited since we want to keep it intimate. For more information, please see the Groups page on the website, watch this week’s River Bend Therapy Chat on Instagram Live, or fill out an interest form. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have, so drop us an email, or contact us on Facebook or Instagram. And stay tuned—in the coming weeks we’ll be exploring more topics the Infertility Support Group will cover, both on Instagram and here on the blog.
How will you find support and community on your fertility journey?