Photo contributed by Kami Kosenko
Oluwajoba Ogun | Correspondent
In the past year, we have heard and seen many celebrities open up about their struggle to conceive—people like Gabrielle Union, Chrissy Teigen, Kim Kardashian and even former First Lady Michelle Obama.
According to Resolve: The National Infertility Association, infertility is a disease in which one hasn’t become pregnant after a year of trying or due to “an impairment of a person’s capacity to reproduce either as an individual or with his/her partner.”
Dr. Kami Kosenko is an associate professor at NC State and has taught courses on human and sex communication. In an email interview, Kosenko spoke about her latest work on the sources of uncertainty in infertility and what not to say to someone who is trying to conceive.
NM: What do you think keeps women from revealing things that occurred in the past?
Kosenko: Loss is hard to talk about, in general, and pregnancy loss is no different. We’ve also created a culture in which couples are expected to wait to announce their pregnancy until they’ve reached the second trimester when the risk of miscarriage drops dramatically. Given that most miscarriages happen in the first trimester, before couples have shared their pregnancy news, they might find it difficult or awkward to talk about losing a pregnancy that other people didn’t know existed.
NM: Why do you think women are now choosing this time to discuss their own personal struggles?
Kosenko: Several celebrities have been more open about their fertility struggles, and social media has given individuals a forum in which to publicly share their personal struggles.
NM: What role does social media play in this?
Kosenko: Social media is both a boom and a bust for those affected by infertility and/or pregnancy loss. On one hand, it gives individuals the opportunity to share their experiences, gather information, and get support. However, seeing pregnancy announcements and baby pictures in one’s social media feed can be difficult for those dealing with infertility or the loss of a pregnancy.
NM: What are the misconceptions around infertility?
Kosenko: One misconception is that infertility usually stems from women’s health issues. In reality, about 30 percent of cases are caused by female health conditions, and around 30 percent are linked to male health conditions. Another misconception is that a woman’s age is of little consequence to her fertility. With celebrities like Janet Jackson having children at 50 with no mention of the fertility treatments that made that possible, it’s not surprising that women believe that pregnancy after 40 is easily achievable.
NM: What is the correct conversation/type of communication when it comes to miscarriage?
Kosenko: I think many people feel at a loss when it comes to comforting someone who has experienced a pregnancy loss or fertility struggles. Based on my research, I can tell you what not to say.
First, stop asking people when they are going to have children. Second, if someone discloses his/her fertility issues, don’t offer unsolicited advice, and stop yourself before you say something like, “you just need to relax.” Don’t suggest that their infertility or pregnancy loss was fated or God’s will by using trite phrases, such as “it wasn’t meant to be” or “it wasn’t God’s plan.”
After a loss, suggesting that someone can “always try again” is dismissive, and any response that includes the phrase “at least” (e.g., “at least you know you can get pregnant”) is equally problematic.
Some of the things you can do to offer comfort and support include: treating a pregnancy loss at any stage like the loss of a child, telling the grieving party that you are there for them, saying the child’s name (and not avoiding the topic), and doing more listening than talking.
NM: If you don’t mind, could you share some thoughts on the article you’re piecing together concerning this topic?
Kosenko: I’m working on a few pieces regarding infertility. The first describes the kinds of things that you should not say to someone struggling to conceive, and I mentioned those findings in the above question.
The second article focuses on the sources of uncertainty in the infertility experience. The uncertainty associated with various aspects of the infertility experience is extremely stressful, and my hope was to identify the points in one’s infertility journey that are marked by the most uncertainty.
For example, individuals noted high levels of uncertainty during the two-week wait, the period of time between receiving fertility treatments and getting pregnancy test results.
My hope is that, by identifying these periods of heightened uncertainty, we can develop interventions that help individuals cope with the stress and uncertainty of infertility.