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Over the past fifteen years, I began to see in my practice a growing number of clients with fertility problems. They came to me with complaints of depression, anxiety, troubled marriages, feelings of isolation and sadness. With time, their story was revealed: at the core of it all was infertility.
Gradually their stories of frustration, discouragement, and grief would unfold -- months of disappointment, roller coaster emotions, surgeries, miscarriages, and uncomfortable treatments that left them doubting their own identity as a woman.
They began avoiding settings where they would see children and babies. Shopping malls, holiday gatherings, family reunions, and church, all once pleasurable, were now painful reminders of their childlessness.
Perhaps most distressing was the pain experienced in the face of unwitting comments and questions from family, friends, even strangers.
As time went on, they found themselves increasingly isolated with grief, shame, and deep disappointment in a body that failed to provide the most valuable gift life can offer — a child.
That is when I began an in-depth study into the field of infertility counseling, - textbooks, seminars, ongoing education and membership in organizations like Resolve and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. I facilitated groups of individuals and couples going through infertility; worked with medical support staff serving this population, served on the panel for a UT doctoral student’s dissertation on assessing psychological and gender responses to infertility; and most recently served as guest speaker at a conference in Austin, Texas, “Re-conceiving Hope.” My topic was “Reproductive Trauma: Signs, Symptoms and Strategies to Help.”
Today, I have devoted a significant part of my clinical practice to walking this path with the people who come to see me. They seek help coping with the trauma of infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths, and the treatments themselves, powerful medications with difficult side effects, injections, surgeries, and painful procedures. All can be forgotten quickly if they result in a healthy pregnancy, but when they don’t . . . Then there are decisions whether to keep trying, or not.
In addition to providing therapy for these individuals, I conduct the screening consultations prior to third party assisted reproduction technologies with couples or single individuals seeking pregnancy. I conduct psychological evaluations with anonymous egg donor candidates, known egg or sperm or embryo donors. And I meet with groups comprised of intended parents and their donor or gestational carrier family.
Through the many encounters I have had with people struggling with infertility and the donors and gestational carriers dedicated to helping them, I have come to appreciate the depth and the drive of the human spirit to create life, and am honored to serve as one part in that amazing and painful journey.