When Infertility Support Sites are Anything but Supportive

I wanted to title this post “When Women Attack,” however thought that might be a little too sensational.

I shared yesterday’s blog on one of the “support” sites for infertility and a few women unleashed their wrath. At first it really upset me, and then I realized it was just their “stuff” resulting from their own internal struggles.

Some women on the site were upset feeling that because a study was published showing that stress does not affect IVF success rates, I was off my rocker to suggest that stress impacts fertility in any way, and therefore was “perpetuating a myth.”

For anyone interested, I am posting my reply below; I have not included theirs out of respect for their right to privacy on the site.

My hope in responding to these women was to help anyone reading it better understand how to critically evaluate research, and that there is minimal research currently out there on the “stress” debate when it comes to infertility. One study is really meaningless, other than to tell us that we need to do a whole lot more studies.

Yet, I suppose that is not the point of this post. This is the second time when women have “attacked” me on these sites because their opinion differed from mine.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all about sharing different viewpoints and engaging in a respectful dialogue about those viewpoints. Yet, that’s not been my experience with these women, nor the others I have seen go after other women in their posts.

At first these attacks really make me angry. I am not one to back down or be bullied; however there are other women out there who will, and who could be very hurt by these women.

As women on this path together, struggling together, aren’t we supposed to be supporting one another? Aren’t we here to lift one another up, rather than tear each other down?

I suppose these sites are a microcosm of life in that one person’s insecurities and pain can easily be dumped onto another with sharp words that somehow make the person doing the dumping feel better for their “sharing.” I simply find it sad that these women have no better way to share themselves, most especially on a “support” forum.

Forum Post Response:

First, please stop. This post was not put up here to welcome attacks when your opinions differ from mine.

Second, I am currently finishing my dissertation, after which time I will have my PhD. Thus, I am extremely well versed in research. I also teach a college course called “Survey of Research Methods.” As such, if I had more time I would outline here the way to critically evaluate research, which has nothing to do with believing the most recent, well-published media hype in non-scholarly or non-peer-reviewed journals.

Third, studies can be conducted to show pretty much anything. A few questions that informed consumers of research might ask are: (1) Is the study/tool valid? (2) Is the study/tool reliable? (3) What was the sample population, and how large? (4) What is the p value? (5) What other confounding factors may have influenced the results?

Researching stress, especially as it affects fertility, is extremely hard to do because there are so many factors; just the simple question of how a researcher defines and measures “stress,” is not simple at all. In addition, in these studies: What were the women eating? What did they do for a living? How were their sleep patterns? What was each woman’s specific diagnosis before the study, and how did that diagnosis impact their chances of IVF success? There are many, many, many questions. Maybe it wasn’t the “stress” per se, rather their eating habits resulting from stress.

Finally, this post had nothing to do with beating ourselves up, or perpetuating a myth. The best researchers, and informed consumers of research, will seek out any and everything they can that supports the opposite viewpoint that they hold. Might I suggest doing a literature search on both sides of this debate? For example, in one study researchers found that women who participated in five to 10 mind-body sessions over 10 weeks (which reduces stress and calms the mind and body) had a 52 percent pregnancy rate, compared to 20 percent in a control group (Journal of Fertility and Sterility, April 2000). Again, we need to ask the same series of critical questions about these findings. All one, or two, or three studies indicate is that we need to do more research. Currently there is not nearly enough research on either side of the debate. As such, I would invite those of you with closed minds, to open them back up. There is still much to learn.

My viewpoint is that physical stress DOES impact our bodies, including our fertility. I have a hard time believing that all of the studies (and here there is a lot of research) showing stress can be a confounding factor in heart disease, digestive disorders, etc. don’t support a hypothesis that stress could impair fertility. And again, I am not talking about emotional stress; I am talking about physical stress (e.g., working two jobs, exercising to the extreme (which many studies have linked to amenorrhea-period stopping), going to school, taking care of an ailing family member, etc.).

Yes, the headline of this post cited a statistic, which is no doubt what many of you reacted to. Yet, I find it unfortunate that you missed the entire point because you were stuck on that statistic.

My point is this: we as women can be under extreme stress in our lives, aside from fertility challenges. We are pulled and pushed in many directions and our bodies are under stress from all the constant “doing.” For me, addressing that is not about punishing ourselves, rather about loving ourselves and better caring for ourselves. To me, this is the bottom line.

You all have a right to your opinions. I do however ask that you share them in a respectful way, as well as an intellectually honest one.


  1. Kudos! I also find it very sad that women lash out at each other, knowing that we are all going through this same situation, simply because we view certain aspects of our fertility differently.

    I answered on a board once that had asked if we believed that insurance should cover fertility treatments. I answered I did not believe so, and I left it at that. Immediately, someone snapped at me that I must already have children to say something so insensitive and heartless, and that I should keep my opinion to myself. I had to reply that she knows nothing about me, very obviously, and may need to check herself before attacking other women in the same boat as she simply because we have different opinions.

    I am sorry that you have experienced the wrath of other women. And the wrath of hype. I see so much desperation on these sites, with women clinging to whatever messages they can get, especially if it tells them what they want to hear, and I feel like it’s a room of women spinning and freaking out. Sigh. It makes me sad, so I have to get off the forums often.

    BTW, congrats on working toward your Ph.D. and THANK YOU for sharing your insight into PEER-REVIEWED literature and research – which is where I, myself, find hope. Not in the crap I find on ezinearticles.com or about.com. I might as well go to yahooAnswers to ask for a cure if I’m not looking for real information. 🙂

    And amen – how can stress NOT impact our bodies. As you pointed out, no one in Western Medicine disputes the impact of stress on our hearts, cardiovascular, digestive systems, and more… and your own story punctuates your point.

    Hugs, thank you, and I’m sorry for this crazy long reply! Haha!

    1. Thank you so much for your support! I am sorry to hear that you had an attack of your own-yowzas.

      I try to remind myself that these women, as you state so well in your comment, are in a place of pain and desperation and therefore sometimes strike out at the messenger when they don’t like the message. And I agree with you whole heartedly about the support sites, they can be great, but also dangerous. If I remember correctly you blogged about them once as well. I just wish there were more positive messages about healing and hope and moving forward, and fewer spirals downward into the abyss. We all have those moments when we feel low, I just fear about feeding those moments so we get stuck in them–and about supporting desperation with (as you state so well) YahooAnswer information or the one study that was hyped by the NY Times, without really even understanding it.

      You always make me laugh (your comments or posts). Thank you! I know for a fact that does my health good 🙂 Thanks Ashley Sue.

  2. Good for you. You shouldn’t let people attack you that way. I must say that was a great response back to her comments.

    Personally, I visit your blog for support, guidance, and fellowship through this difficult circumstance. Even if I didn’t agree with what you say, which hasn’t happened yet, I would still show you respect as a person just trying to help others. I am not sure why people feel the need to be so combative. I guess that is life and we just need to be accepting of all people.

    1. Thanks Dacia, I love having you “here” with me, and I also love visiting your blog (which I just recommended to another woman yesterday). I feel like we are all sisters out here navigating these unchartered waters. I love learning new things and getting different thoughts and perspectives, just not when they come in an attack. I think this woman is in a lot of pain and I was the easiest target to strike out at. I actually feel sad for her because I believe under all that anger is a whole lot of sad.

      1. I agree. I fight against the anger that wells up inside me sometimes. I am sure you are right and I know she is probably hurting really bad. It is a very difficult circumstance to navigate, let alone doing so gracefully. I am so glad for your support and thank you for recommending my blog. That means alot to me. 🙂

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