Mothers around the country received the special treatment they deserve recently with the celebration of Mother’s Day. But for millions of women facing infertility, the holiday can be a painful reminder of what they are missing.
Dr. Alison Zimon, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at The Providence, RI Center, an affiliate of Boston IVF, admits that although it has become more common for couples to seek fertility treatment, there are still emotional struggles these couples – especially the women – face.
“I think awareness of infertility treatments and acceptance of treatment have increased,” said Zimon during a recent phone interview. She has personally seen an increase in the volume of treatment over recent years.
But just because treatment is becoming more common, it is not any easier to go through, especially during the spring and holidays such as Mother’s Day.
Zimon said springtime brings young buds on trees, children playing outside, maternity dresses and other reminders of new life.
“These are reminders to women suffering from infertility that they don’t have that yet,” she said.
Sharon Cardoso understands the struggle firsthand. She and her husband Kevin tried to get pregnant for two years with no success.
“We figured out we were unable to get pregnant naturally,” said Cardoso, who lives in Pawtucket.
Cardoso began treatment at Fertility Solutions, but when her doctor and a number of the workers moved to the Providence office of Boston IVF, she followed.
“Once I met them, I knew there was no one else I would want to use,” she said.
After two years of fertility treatment and only one cycle with Boston IVF, Cardoso welcomed her son Elias, who is now 11 months old.
“The cards were right, and we got pregnant on the first try,” said Cardoso.
She is now more than three months pregnant with her second child, thanks once again to Boston IVF.
Cardoso truly values not only the physical and medical support provided at the Providence office, but the staff that works there.
“The girls in the Providence office, they’re just so fabulous. Every time I felt like I was going to give up, they kept pushing. They wouldn’t give up faith,” said Cardoso.
When she did finally get pregnant, she remembers one worker crying.
“That just shows the character of those who work there,” she said.
That made the decision to return for her second pregnancy easy. “It was the only option. We knew we wanted to have a second child. After working with the office in Providence, they are such beautiful people. They really became friends of mine. If I saw them on the street, I would give them a hug,” said Cardoso.
Although Cardoso is now experiencing the love of her 11-month-old and the joy of an easy second pregnancy, she remembers the struggle she went through with infertility.
“It’s hard. It’s very hard. Every time other people got pregnant, we would be so excited, but still mourn it,” she said. “It’s something you can never, ever describe. You feel that even people who have been though it don’t understand. Emotionally, you just feel like a complete failure every time.”
“Infertility is not easy to deal with,” said Zimon. “I think, in general, people take for granted that some mothers on Mother’s Day might be suffering.”
Mother’s Day often brings questions from family members as to when a couple is going to start a family.
“It’s the sadness of the loss, but it’s also very isolating. Often, people don’t feel they can talk with people about it. People don’t tend to tell family, friends, co-workers,” said Zimon.
Zimon encourages her patients to take part in the Mind and Body program offered through Boston IVF. It provides counseling, stress management and other complementary approaches for woman seeking treatment. There are also connections to support groups, and ties to support around Mother’s Day.
In fact, Zimon pointed out the Sunday before Mother’s Day is known as National Infertility Survival Day, as a reminder to women struggling to become moms that they are not alone. While Zimon knows that the success rate of fertility treatments is high and most couples that come through her office are successful at becoming pregnant and having a child, she understands a struggle still exists.
“The minority don’t get pregnant,” said Zimon, saying between 75 and 85 percent of patients get pregnant by their third cycle of treatment. For the 15 percent that might still be struggling, there are other options, such as surrogates or adoption.
According to Zimon, an indicator of fertility issues is if the couple has been trying to get pregnant for a year and the woman is under 35, or if the couple has been trying for six months and the woman is over 35.
Despite an increase in the volume of those undergoing fertility treatments, causes of infertility are widespread and often unknown. Zimon is able to test patients for physical issues within the uterus such as scarring or polyps, diseased or blocked fallopian tubes, abnormal sperm or issues with eggs. She said she sees almost all of these issues in her practice.
“It could be any number of things, and often is unknown,” said Zimon about underlying causes for infertility. “Also, as age goes up, chance of age-related issues increases.”
An unknown cause of infertility can be frustrating, but Zimon says it doesn’t have to be.
“You don’t have a specific problem,” she said, meaning there is no treatment they can’t try. “There isn’t a barrier we can’t get over.”
There are also things women and couples can do to be proactive about fertility.
“If you’re ready to start a family, get your health under control,” said Zimon. She encouraged people to strive for optimal health by exercising, eating healthy and stopping smoking and drinking.
Zimon also recommended women take pre-natal vitamins pre-conception. They can help women obtain good pre-conception health.
“Many people don’t know that,” she said.
But the biggest piece of advice Zimon had was not to delay if there is a problem.
“If you’re not getting pregnant, don’t wait. We’d rather them get into that treatment sooner rather than later,” she said.
So what can be done to alleviate the stress and sadness that couples face when it comes to infertility?
“Even more awareness would be helpful,” said Zimon. “Family members think it is something the woman is not doing right. If more people knew it is not usually anything that can be prevented [that would help].”
As for women considering fertility treatments or having difficulty despite treatment, Zimon encourages them to keep trying.
“It is very successful, and it is very likely they will be able to have that baby they’re hoping for,” she said.
Cardoso would give similar advice.
“Don’t give up. Just keep trying, and find that one true friend who will support you and help you through it,” she said. “As hard as it is, when you feel like the world is caving in, don’t give up and don’t give up faith. God has to make certain things happen in the world. He picks the strongest people to go through this.”
To contact Boston IVF’s Providence office, call 369-7822 or visit www.bostonivf.com/The-Providence-RI-Center.html.