Couples coping with infertility find support at the Utah Infertility Resource CenterApr 13, 2023 10:14AM ● By Peri Kinder
Utah Infertility Resource Center Board Chair Brooke Walrath (left) and UIRC Executive Director Shelli Mecham attended the 2023 Nonprofit Day on the Hill at the Utah State Capitol, to bring awareness to the thousands of couples struggling with infertility in Utah. Photo courtesy of UIRC
It’s a question couples are often asked. “When are you going to have children?” While this inquiry seems harmless, it can be triggering and hurtful for couples struggling with infertility.
The Centers for Disease Control states that 19% of married women (up to 49 years old, with no prior births) will be unable to get pregnant after one year of trying. Infertility brings up all kinds of emotions, from shame to failure, but the Utah Infertility Resource Center (1565 E. 3300 South) in Salt Lake City offers support.
Founded by Camille Hawkins in 2015, UIRC provides connection, resources and hope to an underserved community.
“With infertility, it feels like your body’s broken and you're deficient somehow, but why do we feel that way about infertility but not other medical diagnosis, like diabetes?” said Shelli Mecham, UIRC executive director. “We want to give people their privacy yet we also want to be supportive. With all the challenges in this community, and the pressure to have a family, we have supportive people who want to help.”
Sometimes that support comes through helping couples navigate the hard conversations with friends and family, and creating strict boundaries around privacy. Learning how to work through feelings of judgment, shame and self-blame is also addressed.
Sara Mecham, UIRC marketing manager, said there’s lots of unintentional shame that makes it hard for couples to deal with family members.
“We should be able to have a boundary and be able to say that’s none of your business,” Sara said. “There’s that give and take of how you want to have your story represented, if you do want to share it. The more we get people to share their stories, the more it will help others do the same and help overcome the stigma of it being a hushed topic.”
While many believe infertility is a woman’s problem, Mecham said that just isn’t true. One-third of infertility issues are caused by the female body, one-third are caused by the male body and one-third are a combination of both or from unknown causes.
Men’s emotional needs around infertility is a big concern for those at UIRC. Men-only support groups give men a supportive environment to share their experiences and feelings.
Mecham’s son and daughter-in-law went through their own infertility journey before delivering a baby through IVF several weeks ago. She saw the struggle her son had as he longed to be a parent and start a family.
“In our culture, men have to be stoic and hold it all together and support other people,” Mecham said. “We don’t have women-only support groups but we do have men-only support groups.”
UIRC also offers professional counseling, advocacy and free education consultations that allow couples to ask any questions they might have. Quarterly night-out events bring the community together so people can meet other couples going through the same experience.
National Infertility Awareness Week is April 24-29 and UIRC will host a week-long event with different activities happening each night. Visit UtahInfertilityResourceCenter.org for more information.
UIRC Facebook groups have several thousand people connecting with each other every day. They get advice and find access to resources and programs to make their life easier. That social connection is valuable for couples as infertility can cause isolation and loneliness.
“You see people cheering each other on, supporting each other, empathizing with each other, offering support and offering advice about what they went through,” Sara said. “There are thousands of people experiencing this and it’s not just you. You’re not alone. It’s not your fault that it’s happening.”
A man or woman will go through different stages of grief at different times. When a couple learns they don’t have to be on the same page, they find ways to respect and support each other. Setting boundaries, creating a practice of self-care and trying not to isolate will help couples work through infertility in a healthier way.
“We want to be able to help folks feel that support so they can go through the treatment or they can adopt that baby,” Mecham said. “You’ve got a community around you to help you fulfill your dream to be a parent.” λ