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Published April 01, 2012, 11:30 PM

Day 2 of InDepth Infertility: The emotional toll

FARGO – A slideshow of mothers and babies flashed in front of the congregation. Trapped in a center pew, Heather Bjur slumped into her husband’s arms and cried. It was another reminder of everything Bjur wanted and couldn’t create. For women dealing with infertility, Mother’s Day, a baby shower, baptism or dedication – like the one at Bjur’s church that day – can be difficult to face.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

For more info

An eight-session infertility support group meets at Valley Christian Counseling Center. For more information, call Heather Bjur at (701) 232-6224.

FARGO – A slideshow of mothers and babies flashed in front of the congregation. Trapped in a center pew, Heather Bjur slumped into her husband’s arms and cried.

It was another reminder of everything Bjur wanted and couldn’t create.

For women dealing with infertility, Mother’s Day, a baby shower, baptism or dedication – like the one at Bjur’s church that day – can be difficult to face.

“While you’re happy for those people, it makes so evident the void in your life,” says Bjur, who struggled with infertility for nearly two years before giving birth to two sons, who will turn 4 and 2 this summer.

Now Bjur, a marriage and family therapist at Valley Christian Counseling Center, has started an infertility support group to help women deal with the guilt, anger, stress and chronic loss often associated with infertility.

Bjur carries in her wallet a blue sticky note with two statistics: Women undergoing fertility treatment have levels of depression comparable to patients with AIDS or cancer. Half of women undergoing fertility treatment say it’s the most upsetting experience of their lives.

But often women feel they can’t share their struggles with friends and family because it’s so personal, Bjur says. People who haven’t been through it don’t understand, and all the medical jargon can be difficult to explain.

She hopes the support group she started can be a time for women to decompress, and for her to impart some of what she learned through her experience.

Bjur didn’t plan to have children, but after two years of marriage something changed.

As soon as she told her husband she wanted to have a baby, her menstrual cycle went “wacky.”

It took 20 months, two doctors and a bevy of tests, some invasive, to determine her infertility was caused by a hormonal imbalance, Bjur says.

She feels fortunate that was all it was, but “that doesn’t make it any less painful.”

“I felt a betrayal, like my body had betrayed me,” Bjur says. “It made me struggle with my faith. What is (God) trying to tell me?”

Infertility can become a preoccupation for women experiencing it. “When you’re in the midst of this, you go into Target and all you see are the 20 pregnant women,” Bjur says.

This preoccupation can lead to depression. There’s a sense of unfairness, and no control over the situation.

Bjur says a root issue is a woman’s belief that her body was made to conceive and bear children.

“When that doesn’t work, it throws our view of everything,” she says.

Relationship strain

Infertility can change relationships with friends, especially those who have kids. It can also cause marital issues.

There’s often resentment or blaming of the one spouse. Infertility treatments can be expensive, causing financial strain. Sex becomes a scheduled chore rather than a spontaneous act, Bjur says.

Tawny Dahlen of West Fargo says four years of infertility took a toll on her marriage.

The fertility medication made her feel like she was going crazy, she says. There’s the monthly let down when treatment doesn’t work.

Her doctor told her and her husband, Paul, the experience would either make or break their marriage.

“For a while it was really rough,” Dahlen says. “We were so focused on one goal, and that was to have a baby. When she did get here it’s like, ‘She’s here, now what? What do we focus on? We had to try to refocus on each other again.

“Now we’ve come out stronger in the end,” she adds.

Their daughter Aubrey was born in 2006 after a successful round of in vitro fertilization.

In 2009, as Dahlen prepared to undergo another round of IVF, she found out she was pregnant. Daughter Avery was born April 3, 2010. Doctors told her the natural conception was a one in a million chance.

Letting it out

Angela Spokely is a registered nurse who works at the Reproductive Medicine Institute, a Sanford Health facility in south Fargo. She sees the emotional effects of this physical problem.

Many people don’t tell their family, friends or employers, she says, which can create difficult situations given the intensive time demands of infertility treatments.

“Sometimes we’re the only ones who check on them and say ‘How’s it going? Where’s your stress level at? How are you as a couple? How much more can you endure?’ ” she says.

Spokely says there is a sense of failure among people experiencing infertility. She also sees a lot of blaming.

“I’ll generally stop them right there and say it takes two of you. You’re in this together,” she says.

Couples who communicate and are on the same page about their wishes and their feelings about the financial, ethical and religious components of treatment are able to better handle ups and downs, she says.

Spokely wishes infertility was more out in the open. She says couples who have someone else to talk to, such as a friend, colleague or family member who has experienced infertility, are able to ask questions and not feel so alone.

“If they have some kind of support group, they do well,” Spokely says. “They do better than people who keep it to themselves.

“The worst part is to keep it bundled up inside.”

Dahlen also suggests people talk to someone, or even just write in a journal.

“I held my anger and depression in for a long time and a therapist told me not to do that,” she says. “Once I let it out and started to talk about it, it has helped greatly.”

• Sunday SheSays looked at the medical factors and treatments of infertility, including natural treatments.

• Today we look at the emotional toll infertility takes on couples.

• Tuesday we will look at the financial impact of infertility.

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