The Value of Support

By Joann Paley Galst, Ph.D.

AIA has been a life saver. Its an excellent information exchange and provides wonderful support groups. What a pleasure to be with a group of people who know you and your problem instead of discussing diaper rash.
The group exceeded our expectations. We established wonderful relationships with the other couples.
They were real people - and we all loved one another and gave each other time and respect. We shared our sadness, but no pity.
I feel more confident since joining the support group. I am not alone anymore in my fear and frustration.
The group helped my wife and I get our lives back on track instead of floundering... Were more confident about ourselves and feel were making the correct decision on the direction were headed.
This is a small sample of the comments individuals and couples make after attending an AIA support group. Right, you might think. It might help them, but why should I join a support group? Let me try to provide some information that can help you make the decision for yourself.
Support groups can reduce your sense of isolation. Despite the fact that one in six couples experience infertility, most of us feel quite alone in our struggle. When you begin a support group, you will look around you and see other attractive, intelligent, successful, resourceful people - just like you.
The feelings that infertility often creates (i.e., depression, loss of self-esteem, anger, envy, and shame) can lead us to withdraw and distance ourselves from others. Often we retreat into social isolation because we find the fertile world painful. When you join a support group, you will learn you are not alone, that others feel the same way that you do, and have struggled to cope in their own ways just as you have. The common bond of infertility creates an almost immediate sense of empathy and safety.
As the weeks go on and the bonds between you and the other group members get stronger, you may start to look forward to attending groupa place where you feel you can be open and honest, a place where you are accepted as you are, a place where you feel safe.
Support groups can help normalize your experience for you and your partner. Women experiencing infertility often feel that they are going crazy from the experience, and their partners often too readily concur. A support group, particularly a couples group, can help a woman realize that her feelings are normal and her reactions typical. A support group can help her partner understand her feelings as well as find additional sources of support for him as he experiences their infertility. It can allow both partners to feel good about themselves as they experience personal acceptance within the group.
Support groups can instill hope. Useful information is often shared among group members about treatments, doctors, facilities, and coping mechanisms. A sense of helplessness and hopelessness is not conducive to seeking out the best medical treatment available to you, weighing the various options available to you for family building, or making important decisions for yourselves. Hope can help foster the realistic optimism necessary to do effective problem solving and decision making.
Support groups give you the opportunity to both give and receive. Sometimes we feel so emotionally depleted from battling our infertility that we start to believe we have nothing left to give to others. Finding that little bit of concern, caring, and empathy for others within your heart is a welcome reminder of your own humanity. There is no better antidote to feelings of vulnerability and helplessness then knowing you can count on a group of people to support you through disappointment, failure, or other setbacks& and knowing that others can count on you.
Support groups can provide useful information to you. From others you can learn information about something you are about to experience. In a support group which I led, one member facing surgery learned some helpful questions to ask her doctors from a fellow group member that actually helped her both in preparation and recovery from her surgery. Information is empowering.
Support groups tend to encourage assertion in their members. Learning how to manage your infertility and taking active charge of your treatment in collaboration with your physician can enhance your feeling in control and actually improve the quality of the treatment you receive.
Numerous investigations in other medical fields such as internal medicine, oncology, and dermatology have demonstrated the value of support groups in combating diseases. At the University of Massachusetts, Jon Kabat-Zinn demonstrated a better response to treatment in psoriasis patients participating in support groups. David Spiegel, at Stanford Medical Center, in his landmark study found that patients with metastatic breast cancer who participated in a support group lived on average twice as long and had a better quality of life than those with breast cancer who did not (all had received the same medical treatments). In several uncontrolled studies, Alice Domar at Harvard Medical School has demonstrated that stress reduction support groups were beneficial in reducing depression, anxiety, anger, and fatigue in infertile women.
As the introductory quotes demonstrate, members often report leaving a support group with a growing sense of well - being and empowerment in dealing with their world, sometimes even with concrete suggestions and plans of how to do so. Laughing together at the bizarre experience of engaging in sex on schedule, having husbands give wives shots under extremely awkward and potentially embarrassing situations, or selecting donors off the internet creates a normalizing sense of community.
Come join an AIA support group. We list in our newsletter each month the various groups that we offer. Our support groups are led by experienced mental health professionals who have had experience with infertility themselves and who help facilitate the group interactions. Our support group co-directors, Sara Barris , Gloria Demby , and myself will be happy to answer your questions, share information about our groups, and help you find the right support group for you.
In conclusion, I think the following quote very beautifully conveys the value of AIA  support groups: Who can so softly bind up the wound of another, as he who has felt the same wound himself.   Thomas Jefferson

Joann Paley Galst, Ph.D. is a psychologist who specializes in issues of infertility and pregnancy loss in New York City. She is a board member of The American Infertility Association, do - director of their support groups.


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