Dr. Gramma Karen: Daughter-in-Law is Obsessed with Getting Pregnant


My friend, Mora, shared a troubling situation with me, and I would like your advice.

Mora is concerned about her daughter-in-law, Julia. She says Julia, who is in her late 30s, is obsessed with getting pregnant. She has had many tests done and goes into wracking hysteria every month when she gets her period. Family members on both sides are very concerned for Julia and her husband, Connor, who is Mora’s son.

According to Mora, this dysfunctional obsession has been going on for over eight months and has taken over Julia’s life. The family fears it is damaging hers and Connor’s marital relationship. Mora is hoping to find some low cost or free help for Julia. Your thoughts?

Julia and Connor are not alone: they fall into the category of one in eight American couples experiencing infertility, a total of 7.3 million couples. Julia may become one of the 1.1 million women who will undergo treatment this year.

It is not surprising that Julia and Connor are experiencing heightened emotions. Based on the results of a study of couples dealing with infertility sponsored by the pharmaceutical company, Schering-Plough, (now merged with Merck), “Seven in 10 (71 percent) women said that infertility makes them feel flawed, while half of men (50 percent) say it makes them feel inadequate… Infertility can also have a negative impact on a couple’s relationships with family and friends. More than 6 in 10 couples (63 percent) say they get tired of people asking them how the process is going, or offering suggestions on how to conceive.”

It can be difficult for those who have never dealt with infertility to empathize with the reaction of “wracking hysteria” that Julia shows each month when she gets her period and realizes she is not pregnant. As Linda D. Applegarth, Ed.D., director of psychological services at the Perelman Cohen Center of Weill Cornell Medical College, points out, “Having difficulty getting pregnant can cause as much grief as losing a loved one, but it’s different. It is chronic and elusive. There’s a fear that life will be eternally empty. Some feel a sense of damage and brokenness; it goes to the heart of who they are. The result [can be] dread and shame.”

As summarized by Resolve – The National Infertility Association, the infertility experience can be profound, involving many hidden losses for the individuals, their loved ones and society as a whole, including:

  • Loss of the pregnancy and the birth experience;
  • Loss of a genetic legacy and loss of future contributing citizens to the next generation;
  • Loss of the parenting experience;
  • Loss of a grandparent relationship;
  • Low feelings of self-worth;
  • Loss of stability in family and personal relationships;
  • Loss of work productivity;
  • Loss of a sense of spirituality and sense of hope for the future.

As a resource, Resolve provides comprehensive information, including a section your friend might find helpful in learning how she and other family members can best support a couple dealing with infertility. It is called “Infertility Etiquette,” comprising a list of DOs and DON’Ts.

For example, common advice to these couples from well-intentioned family and friends often is “just relax.” This advice is counterproductive because it can make the woman feel like she doing something wrong. As pointed out, infertility, defined as unsuccessful in becoming pregnant after a year of trying, may be a physical or medical problem that goes far beyond relaxing.

You mentioned that your friend is looking for free or inexpensive resources for her DIL. Resolve provides extensive support resources, such as in-person meetings, as well as online support, and Trying to Conceive Meet Up groups. Because your friend and her DIL are New Yorkers, they may be specifically interested in NYC Fertility Support/Resource Group; it currently has about 100 members.

I suggest that you share the above resources with Mora so she and her family can better understand what Julia and Connor are going through. Mora can let her DIL know that she has been learning as much as she can about infertility and that she has a new appreciation for how distressing and emotionally challenging this situation is for couples trying to conceive. Her empathy can go a long way to help this young couple feel understood and supported.

Further, Mora can tell Julia that as part of her educating herself, she has come across several resources that might be helpful to Julia and Connor if they are interested in locating in-person and/or online support. She can list these resources in an e-mail and then leave it up to her DIL and son whether to pursue them.

She can let them know that she wants to be available to them in any way they need her help; she can reassure them that she will not be asking them how things are going. Rather, they can choose to initiate with her any interactions related to the infertility they are dealing with. In this way, Julia and Connor may take comfort in knowing they are loved and supported, and they do not have to worry about uncomfortable questions and unsolicited advice. They will know they can share whatever they want about their situation, when and if they feel the need.

Finally, Mora can communicate with other family members what she has learned and share with them specific resources she has found particularly helpful, e.g., DOs and DON’Ts for family members. Mora can let other family members know the decisions she has made going forward: that is, based on what she has learned about infertility, she invites other family members to consider following her lead of educating themselves, developing empathy, letting the young couple know loving family members are a background resource, and that they will leave it up to Julia and Connor to initiate any sharing or updates, should they chose to do so.

Urge your friend Mora to give her daughter-in-law compassion, empathy, and kindness. Mora, in turn, may be able to help other family members do likewise. Enveloping Julia and Connor with compassion, empathy, and kindness may prove more helpful to this couple then anything else those who love them and care about them can do for them at this time.

Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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Visit AskDrGrammaKaren.com to learn about Dr. Gramma Karen’s book,
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen:  Helping Young Parents and Grandparents Deal with Thorny Issues

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