Coping with Infertility
One in six couples will experience fertility problems and it seems that the range of treatment options is enormous. So how do you cope emotionally, as you progress through the maze of information and decision-making that seemingly goes hand-in-hand with infertility?
A diagnosis of infertility can result in complex emotional responses. These feelings are often very powerful; even quite overwhelming. These responses are a normal reaction to a stressful situation, because a diagnosis of infertility is a life crisis representing a clear threat to a couple’s hope and dreams of having a baby.
There is no right or wrong way to cope with an infertility diagnosis, but couples will often describe a quite similar emotional experience. Initially, the response is often one of disbelief, hoping that the tests might be wrong: “A mistake must have been made”. Many people need time to adjust to the information, and some will need a second opinion to help confirm the diagnosis.
Many couples will feel very isolated by their infertility. They can even feel isolated from each other, resulting in a negative effect on communication, and sometimes a sense of lost intimacy. There may be feelings of guilt and resentment, and some couples will fear that unless they become pregnant, their relationship will have lost its purpose. Many couples feel isolated from their friends and wider family. Some may even feel they are unable to share this news with their normal supports. This might be particularly true if they feel that everybody around them is having children, and enjoying their families, while they have been left behind with their infertility.
For many, infertility represents feelings of loss: of hope, of a planned pregnancy through “normal” methods, of control over their bodies, and even a loss of self-image. For some individuals, their infertility will seem to diminish or take away their sense of womanhood (or manhood).
Anger and frustration are other common emotional responses. Many individuals feel angry they are unable to have children as easily as those around them. They may be angry that they require these additional tests, and treatments. This anger might be directed at themselves, and result in their asking questions like: “What is wrong with me?” or “What have I done to deserve this?” The anger may also be directed outwardly, at each other, at friends, or even treating professionals. Unfortunately, this can eventually compound the existing feelings of isolation.
Being diagnosed with infertility and commencing treatment can be a very frightening time. For some it brings real fear that they might never be able to have a baby and many feel lost of guilt that they are spending money on something that feels hopeless or unattainable.
Loss of control
Finally, many couples feel that they have been “left in limbo”, and that despite all their best efforts to commence their family; they do not know when, or if things will work out. Not surprisingly, individuals can be left feeling helpless and like they have lost control of their own lives.
For some couples, the overwhelming emotional experience will be one of grief. Most couples gain recognition for the grief that they feel when they have had a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. But there is little recognition that for couples undertaking fertility treatment, they may be experiencing grief for a baby that hasn’t even existed yet.
So what are some effective management strategies for coping?
- Continue to talk to each other: about how you are feeling, and about the fears that you hold. It is really important through the infertility experience to nurture yourselves and your relationship. Find time for each other and allow yourselves to acknowledge that you are hurting but that you care for each other.
- Express your feelings and emotions in ways that are comfortable for you. Lots of couples say that they don’t want to talk about their feelings because they will further burden their partner. However, in order to ensure that the intimacy and connection in your relationship is not damaged by the stress of infertility, it is really important to keep on sharing at an emotional level.
- Keep yourself informed. Get as much information as you can about your diagnosis and the recommended treatment. Access the internet, read books and talk to health professionals who can provide you with the information you need to stay informed, and hopefully more in control of what is happening to you.
- See an infertility counsellor. A counsellor can be an excellent resource to help you understand the information you are receiving, and what the implications are for you. They can help you to place information in the context of your life and relationships.
- Build on your existing strengths and coping strategies. Know what helps you to feel better during difficult times, and do more of it! Whether it is gardening, painting, catching up with friends or enjoying long walks, ensure that you spend time doing things that help you to feel strong and positive.
Having an IVF cycle can be stressful, particularly if the cycle is unsuccessful or disappointing, and as part of your treatment cycle you are entitled to a counselling session with a psychologist affiliated with Assisted Conception Australia. If you wish to take advantage of this, please phone ACA on 3394 4108 between 8am and 3pm. Nursing staff are available Monday to Friday from 6am to 3pm if you are experiencing psychological distress. At other times you can call your fertility specialist or see one of the doctors in the Accident and Emergency Centre at Greenslopes Private Hospital.
Clinical Health Psychologist