Mara Kofoed was not always hopeful about having kids. When she first started trying for children in 2004, and learned that she had fertility issues, her life seemed full of fear and anxiety. She worried she'd never have children.
Kofoed is one of the 7.4 percent — 2.1 million — of married women aged 15-44 who are infertile, according to the Center for Disease Control. Infertility is defined as trying for pregnancy for 12 consecutive months without success. The study also shows 7.3 million women in this age bracket, or 11.8 percent, struggle with impaired fecundity, or the diminished ability to have children. While there are multiple medical options and remedies for women and men struggling with infertility, there is also a nationwide push toward often neglected emotional and spiritual treatments.
Effective treatments vary for intertility, said Corey Whelan, program director for The American Fertility Association. Because of this, she said, couples who have not been able to have children should become informed about their specific condition and find a specialist to meet their needs.
"It's very, very important to tell yourself the truth and find out what works," Whelan said. "Don't sit in the anxiety for too long. The emotional toll for infertility is really extreme."
Whelan has seen how lack of education and the perpetuation of inaccurate facts can close doors for women trying to have children. For instance, Whelan said she has known of many women who assume they can prolong their fertility with a healthy lifestyle. While the converse is true — obesity and unhealthy lifestyles will hurt someone's chance for pregnancy ?— healthy habits will not lengthen the biological clock. Since 20 percent of women have their first child after the age of 35, according to the CDC's National Survey of Family Growth, Whelen said it is important for them to realize their decreased chances of impregnation, even in spite of good health. Whelan also said women who are older than 35 should consult a specialist after six months of unsuccessfully trying for pregnancy.
Kofoed became educated fairly early after discovering her infertility and has tried several types of infertility treatments, from medical — in vitro fertilization (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI) and acupuncture — to holistic — Chinese herbal teas, body talk ad organis, gluten- and dairy-free diets.
Regardless of the treatment they seek, Danny Kofoed, who married Mara in 2010, suggests women and men seek emotional and spiritual healing in addition to the medical. He said often those who are struggling with infertility feel as if they deserve to feel miserable and for whatever reason are hesitant to seek out emotional and spiritual healing. However, the Kofoeds have realized bodies will respond negatively to spiritual and emotional trauma, and spiritual and emotional trauma will, turn, negatively affect the body.
Kristin Hodson began the Utah-based Healing Group, where women can go to receive education and therapy.
"Oftentimes people come to us and they feel they get validation," Hodson said. "They come feeling like they are crazy because they are not told about the stress and the psychological impact and they walk away feeling validated in the amount of stress and anxiety they feel."
People define themselves through infertility, but that is not all there is to a person.
"Infertility may be a part of you but it's not all of you," Hodson said.
Kerstin Daynes is a facilitator for both Utah Infertility Awarenesss and ldsinfertility.org, both forums to help increase awareness of resources available for those struggling with infertility. She also runs a support group as a means of creating an infertility support network. Daynes seeks out sponsorships so families and those struggling with infertility can attend for free. This support group is something that's never been offered in Utah before to this extent, according to Daynes
"It's kind of a silent disease," Daynes said. "I think when you deal with such an intimate part of a couple's life, on one wants to talk about it."
Part of Daynes' motivation to begin these programs came from her own struggle with infertility. She and her husband had been trying for children for three to four years and had stopped treatments when she became pregnant almost seven years ago. Before this, she and her husband felt isolated in their struggle — they had tried all recommended treatments unsuccessfully, they were childless and no longer newlyweds living in family-based community and culture.
"We felt like we stood out like sore thumbs," Daynes said. "I was just feeling so alone in my struggle,"
Because of this, she wrote a book to be used as a resource for others: Infertility: Help, Hope, and Healiing. In an effort to increase awareness she began hosting an event in Utah in 2010 where experts including endocrinologists, doctors and people from the community come to network and be the recipients and givers of both education and support. The event has grown from 150 attendees in the first year to roughly 300 people for this year's event, held most recently in April.
Find Where You are Fertile
In addition to connecting with resources and others in the same situation, Daynes also suggests women should shift their focus from their infertility to their areas of fertility — ways in which they are successful, growing and experiencing happiness.
"Find life in other realms," Daynes said.
Still childless, Kofoed now views infertility through a new lens. She is grateful for her infertility, she said, in part because she is able to apply the lessons she learned to other trials, including divorce from her first husband. She has since remarried, and she her husband Danny approach life with the similar mindset that external situations do not dictate happiness.
"I feel love for my unborn children, so that inspires me to handle this trial with the most strength, the most love. I'm doing this out of love for them and that is powerful," she said.
Mara and Danny Kofoed jointly maintain ablogaboutlove.com, a site they started in September 2011. Daily posts from the Brooklyn residents about feeling sexy, emails between Danny and Mara sent while they were dating and pictures of great getaway cabins are interspersed with motivational thoughts on what makes life worthwhile. Not what you would expect from a blog with the main purpose of offering support for those struggling with infertility, but the Kofoeds have garnered quite a following and hope to increase their readership in an attempt to help others through similar trials. The Kofoeds approach life with the mutual goal of controlling what they can: in this instance, their outlook on life.
"Circumstance is really irrelevant," Danny Kofoed said. "I can't actually control whether or not we have a baby but I can control how I react to it."