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Coronavirus Pandemic Creates More Uncertainty For Those Going Through Infertility

The ART of Infertility
Baby on the Brain!, by mixed media by artist Jill Levario. It's part of "Living In Limbo: Expressions of Infertility," which shows how creative expression can help capture what it's like to deal with infertility from people all over the U.S.

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed experiences for everyone, including new families. A lot of stories have been shared on what it’s like to be expecting, or how labor and delivering a baby during a pandemic has changed what experiences parents can share. The pandemic is also impacting infertility patients and those in the process of adoption.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine recently released new guidelinesthat recommend canceling infertility treatments and cycles. Many domestic and international adoptions also remain prolonged with the additional challenges of working around home visits in the age of social distancing. This can put even more stress on people who have been dealing with an already long, expensive, arduous, and at times isolating journey.

"For those who are currently cycling or in the cycle, they’re trying to make every effort to figure out essentially how to continue on with that cycle so it doesn't have to be canceled. But it’s becoming difficult, and depending on where you live regionally within the U.S., that can be a challenge as well," notes Maria Novotny, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research focuses on communication and infertility.

April 19-25 is National Infertility Awareness Week. It highlights that anyone — no matter background, sexuality or economic status — can struggle with infertility. With greater awareness, stigmas and barriers that hinder building families can be changed.

Credit The ART of Infertility
Visualizing Conception, by artist Raina Cowan.

Novotny also runs the organization The ART of Infertility, an arts organization that curates exhibits  featuring patient artwork about recurrent reproductive loss. During National Infertility Awareness Week, the organization usually installs an exhibit. The exhibit is still happening, just virtually due to COVID-19. "Living In Limbo: Expressions of Infertility," shows how creative expression can help capture what it's like to deal with infertility from people all over the U.S.

"We like to say in the infertility community that we're really good at waiting, but this is a little bit more agonizing adding that additional weight," says Novotny.

Some studies liken the infertility experience to that of going through cancer treatment or even being diagnosed with AIDS. It's an invisible disease, which can also make it an isolating experience unless people choose to share their struggles with others. 

"Finding that supportive network around you is really important when you're going through infertility. And I think now especially with the pandemic when we're all isolated, finding out what your online or virtual support can be or look like is essential to coping with that additional stress," says Novotny.

Social media can be triggering for people in the infertility community. If you're not ready to disclose anything to a larger network of people, Novotny recommends creating a safe account where you only follow infertile bloggers or people in your community. RESOLVE also has a variety of virtual support groups and advocacy work, both locally and nationally.

Credit The ART of Infertility
It Wasn’t Supposed to Be an Office, by artist Brooke Kingston.

If you're not ready to speak with others about your infertility experience, Novotny recommends art therapy. That includes reflective writing, poetry, coloring, taking photographs on your phone or writing a letter to a friend to help them understand the invisible trauma you're experiencing.

"If you just can't talk to people about what it's like to have a cycle canceled at this moment ... doing some sort of artistic creative expression to kind of allow your body to express what it's feeling can be really useful in terms of coping," explains Novotny. 

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.