Couples experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss often begin to feel like the walking wounded. Not only are they coping with feelings of loss and frustration — a pervasive sense of “why me?” … not only are they facing medical risks and complications associated with infertility treatments, pregnancy and miscarriage … not only are they finding that family and friends don’t understand what they are going through … but on top of all that, their own loving relationship may be strained, as they struggle to make sense of their situation and to resolve the many difficult questions confronting them.
Such couples need all the understanding and support they can get. Traditional counseling — individual, couples and group counseling — can be a tremendous help, as couples struggle to come to terms with their disappointment and losses. Feelings of failure, anger, resentment and loss can be explored in counseling. Mediation can offer help as well. Not as a substitute for counseling, but rather as a supplemental source of support. Provided the mediator is knowledgeable about and sensitive to the special stresses, questions and concerns facing the couple in this situation, mediation can help the couple move forward, providing them with a safe, comfortable, confidential forum for reducing conflict and making considered choices together.
Here are five ways mediation can help:
In mediation, the couple will identify areas of agreement and disagreement, and they will identify those areas of disagreement they particularly need to address in order to move forward. Perhaps they are having trouble agreeing on whether to keep “trying” or to adopt; perhaps he likes a particular domestic adoption program while she is more taken with a program handling Latin American adoptions; or perhaps one of them wants “time out” while the other wants to move ahead quickly. Because mediation is a practical, agreement-oriented process designed to help people move beyond conflict, mediation can help the couple work together to create a pragmatic, realistic plan that works for each of them individually while preserving and strengthening their relationship. A mediated agreement can assist the couple in addressing and distinguishing short-term and long-term issues; in finding common ground; in reaching compromise; and in determining the best use of available sources of support.
Focusing on the future:
Mediation is an inherently future-oriented rather than past-oriented process. This makes mediation a good forum for the couple on the road to parenthood asking, “What do we do now?” When there is conflict over the answer to this question, the couple may feel as though the future will never arrive. Mediation is about addressing the future. When the subject of past loss is raised in mediation, it will be acknowledged but will not become the focus of the session. The couple will be encouraged to discuss past losses in counseling and to use mediation time for reaching agreement on what to do next.
Making informed choices:
Mediation is a process that emphasizes the need to make informed choices. Couples experiencing infertility and pregnancy loss are faced with choices that require considerable information-gathering. One couple may be exploring In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) programs and costs. Another may just be starting the intensive process of researching adoption programs. Mediation can help couples make a practical plan for gathering and sharing information so couples feel less overwhelmed. Once information is gathered and shared, mediation provides an effective forum for sorting through information and using it to reach mutual agreement.
Discussing finances: In mediation, couples are encouraged to discuss financial concerns that may be adding to their stress. The mediator can assist the couple in determining whether they need to obtain additional information regarding program fees, insurance and other costs. As part of the mediation process, the couple can make a plan for obtaining the information required, including consultations with third party professionals who can advise them on financial issues. The mediator’s practical orientation and emphasis on informed decision-making are well-suited to assisting couples in resolving disagreements relating to finances.
Preserving relationships: Mediation is designed to resolve conflict while preserving relationships. Progressing at a pace in tune with the needs of the couple … a pace that is right for them … the mediation process will encourage the couple to communicate constructively, to respect each other’s perspectives and to keep shared goals in mind as they sort through their differences. The couple, while making practical choices, will preserve and even strengthen their bond.