by Iris Waichler, L.C.S.W.
People who are undergoing infertility put all their energy into having a healthy baby. Those who are lucky enough to have a healthy child may find that they still may have some anxiety or unanswered questions as they adjust to parenthood. Becoming a parent through infertility treatment or adoption presents new challenges for these parents. Issues like disclosure arise. Decisions about how, when, and if you tell your child how they became a part of your family must be carefully considered. You may have additional eggs or embryos that are being stored? What do you want to do with them?
I found myself becoming a new mother later in life. I was 45. I found it very difficult to connect with young mothers who did not share my infertility experience.
Our life experience and the way we became parents felt worlds apart. I was thrilled to be a new mother but also wanted the companionship and support of other women who had similar experiences. I felt alone and isolated.
I contacted an infertility organization and they put me in touch with 2 women who lived 2 blocks away. They both were in their forties and like me had a child through egg donation. One of the women had decided to start a Parenting after Infertility (PAI) group. She invited me to come to their next gathering. It was a life changing moment for me.
There were about 10 women in our group. Many had children through egg donation and some had kids through adoption. My daughter was about a year old when we first started. The moms spoke the same language, had similar life experiences, and were eager to talk, share ideas, support each other, and have our kids come together and build friendships. Eleven years later we still get together. Many years ago I remember hearing my daughter call our playgroup the group with moms who had old eggs. I guess she was right about that.
Groups are not for everyone. There was a woman in our original group who was not comfortable talking about disclosure or embryo freezing. She chose to leave. In the earlier days of our group there were many infertility related topics we discussed. One of our members had triplets and just getting too and from our playgroup involved a lot of planning. We were like a swat team when she arrived each of us grabbing a diaper bag or a child to help her get into the house. It was a lifeline for her. Those of us who have stayed in the group have remained close friends and have helped each other through the terrible two’s, the loss of our parents, and balancing work and parenting. We are about to face the teen years together and already are exchanging ideas. We use the group as a chance to socialize as adults and have the dads come too. This was great for the guys. There is a local gym where the kids can go and it was cheaper than a babysitter to have them stay there and play while we went out for dinner.
Our children have grown up together and those that are egg donor babies now know other kids that have come into the world the same way. As parents we feel grateful that they will be peers and friends and can talk about issues like finding their biological parents some day if they choose to do that. The parents in our group have discussed that topic as well. The kids growing up together has normalized their being egg donor babies. We have several kids in the group whose parents did both domestic and international adoptions. One of our parents had done an open adoption; another had done a closed adoption. There are kids from different ethnic and racial backgrounds in our group as well. We continue to share our resources, friendship, and support though these many years.
I am a licensed clinical social worker and have led many different types of groups throughout my career. I have personally seen what a powerful experience a group can offer its members. You need to decide for yourself if participating in a PAI group is an option you would like to consider. Perhaps you would want to start a PAI group of your own. If you find a group of people who share your goals and are open to talking about what direction you take your group it can be a powerful, transcending experience for all involved.
There are several ways to try to get a parenting after infertility (PAI) group started. You can begin by contacting The American Fertility Association or your local RESOLVE chapter, like I did, to see if they know of any groups in your area. Your fertility clinic or doctor may be aware of groups. If you are planning to start a group you can let local fertility clinics know to make referrals to you. Another option is to contact your local family building therapists and find out if they are aware of any existing PAI groups. They may also know of potential candidates for your PAI group.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of the award winning Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.