My take on ONLINE Fertility Support Groups: Friend or Foe?

Fertility/IVF/INFERTILITY support groups

I remember when I first joined a new parenting support group.  A friend told me it might be helpful.  I started reading along before my first son was born and it was terrifying.  To be fair this is a completely unregulated Facebook support group.  People would blast their trauma, bad advice, and horrific things that it happened to them or their children.  I realized quickly that this was not supportive to me, this was just a more stressful and bad counsel.  

I have seen some of the stuff in the IVF for infertility support groups as well.  While I think that most of the time it is well intended or looking for validation in a group of people with similar struggles,  everybody has such different backgrounds that comparing their stories is the likes of comparing apples to oranges.  Additionally, as you should well know by now, people can put whatever they want on the Internet.  There may not be a lick of truth to it. 

 I think some of these women are trying to be helpful but often times this leads to increased stress and rabbit holes of anxiety.  Let's take a look at the pros and cons and how to make sure that you are protecting yourself if you do find help and camaraderie in a support group.

As we wade through infertility, it can be nice to have the support but can also be overwhelming to get different opinions that are not evidence-based such as when to take a pregnancy test or what your hCG numbers should be, or what your lab work looks like.  I think oftentimes we are trying to find somebody who looks like us to connect with.  Someone who feels how we feel.  Someone who has had success. I get that. 

Pros of Fertility Support Groups:

  • 1. Emotional Support: Perhaps the most significant advantage of fertility support groups is the emotional support they provide. These groups offer a platform for individuals to express their feelings openly, without fear of judgment. Sharing experiences with others who understand the challenges can be immensely comforting and validating.
  • 2. Shared Experiences: In fertility support groups, members often find solace in knowing they are not alone in their struggles. Hearing stories from others who have faced similar obstacles can provide hope and inspiration. Moreover, witnessing success stories within the group can instill optimism and motivation to persevere.
  • 3. Access to Information and Resources: Support groups can be a valuable source of information about various fertility treatments, procedures, and resources available. Members often share insights, recommendations, and firsthand experiences, helping others make informed decisions about their fertility journey, who their provider is, etc. 
  • 4. Sense of Community: Joining a fertility support group can create a sense of belonging and community, which is particularly crucial during times of isolation and uncertainty. Building connections with others who share a common goal can foster friendships and networks of support that extend beyond the group meetings.
  • 5. Psychological Benefits: Research suggests that participation in support groups can lead to psychological benefits, including reduced stress, anxiety, and depression levels. The camaraderie and understanding found in these groups can provide a much-needed boost to mental well-being.

Cons of Fertility Support Groups:

  • 1. Negative Comparisons: While hearing success stories can be uplifting, it may also trigger feelings of inadequacy or jealousy in some members. Constantly comparing one's progress to that of others can exacerbate feelings of despair and frustration.
  • 2. Misinformation: Despite the wealth of information available in support groups, not all of it may be accurate or applicable to individual situations. Members should exercise caution and consult healthcare professionals before making any decisions based solely on information obtained from the group.
  • 3. Overwhelming Emotions: Discussions within support groups can sometimes delve into deeply emotional topics, potentially triggering intense feelings of sadness, grief, or anger. Vulnerable individuals may find it challenging to cope with these emotions, particularly if they lack adequate coping mechanisms or support systems.
  • 4. Time Commitment: Participating in support groups often requires a significant time commitment, including attending meetings, engaging in discussions, and offering support to fellow members. For individuals already juggling busy schedules or undergoing demanding fertility treatments, finding time for group involvement may prove challenging.
  • 5. Limited Diversity of Experiences: While support groups aim to cater to a diverse range of individuals, they may still lack representation from certain demographics or experiences. This limited diversity can make it challenging for some members to fully relate to or connect with others in the group.

Managing Emotional Strain After Engaging in Support Groups:

  • 1. Set Boundaries: Establishing clear boundaries around your participation in support groups is essential for safeguarding your emotional well-being. Determine how much time and energy you can afford to devote to group activities, and don't hesitate to step back or take a break if needed.Look for a local support group that meets in person/ZOOM.  These are often going to be regulated and be more structured.  This can make it less overwhelming due to the sheer volume of people that may be in some of the online support groups.
  • 2. Practice Self-Care: Prioritize self-care activities that help alleviate stress and promote relaxation, such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies you enjoy. Taking care of your physical and emotional needs is crucial, especially when navigating the challenges of fertility treatment.
  • 3. Seek Professional Support: While support groups can offer valuable peer support, they are not a substitute for professional counseling or therapy. If you find yourself struggling with overwhelming emotions or mental health concerns, don't hesitate to seek assistance from a qualified therapist or counselor.
  • 4. Focus on Your Journey: Remember that everyone's fertility journey is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving parenthood. Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your own progress, goals, and resilience in overcoming obstacles.
  • 5. Stay Mindful of Triggers: Be mindful of topics or discussions within the support group that may act as triggers for negative emotions. If certain conversations or stories leave you feeling distressed, it's okay to step away or redirect the conversation towards more positive and supportive topics.

Fertility support groups can be invaluable sources of comfort, information, and camaraderie for individuals navigating the challenges of infertility. However, it's essential to approach these groups with awareness of both their benefits and limitations. Remember, you are not alone, and there is a community ready to support you every step of the way.
Also, remember this is just part of your journey, work on those relationships with your partner as well through this! Family counseling can be a great resource for setting your relationships up for success through the entire process and then through parenthood!