The Trauma of Infertility: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving

Couple hugging and holding handsAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States 6.7 million women between the ages of 15 and 55 experience either problems getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. That is more than 10% of women in this age range. Chances are you or someone you know has experienced or will experience challenges related to fertility.

Infertility often has biological causes, but the emotional effects can be especially devastating for a couple trying to conceive. The National Infertility Association discusses these emotional effects, which may include:

In addition to these symptoms, I have noticed the people I work with in therapy experiencing the following:

  • Increase in anxiety and stress levels (especially when going in for fertility treatments)
  • Depression (worse when infertility is persistent)
  • Frustration
  • Worry
  • Negative impact on intimacy (physical and emotional) in the relationship

Infertility is traumatic. In addition to depression symptoms, it is quite common that couples experiencing infertility will experience anxiety in response to certain situations or triggers (such as seeing pregnant women, pregnancy tests, babies on TV or in person, etc.). They may experience intense emotion around certain times of the month, particularly the times near ovulation and when a period is due. Going in for fertility treatments may become very triggering and anxiety provoking, particularly if previous interventions failed. Sadness and grieving are common, particularly around holidays and other important life events.

When someone is experiencing infertility, negative beliefs about one’s inadequacy or defectiveness may come up. Both partners may question why their bodies are not functioning like seemingly everyone else’s, especially when those around them are having babies, apparently without any trouble.

If there has been past pregnancy loss, other triggers for anxiety, depression, and intense emotions may come up, including the date a baby was due or times of year associated with the loss. Triggers can seem unrelated or random but still have a profound effect on the emotional reaction of the people going through this difficult situation. For many, infertility feels like riding an emotional roller coaster of anticipation, worry, sadness, grief, and anger.

When someone is experiencing infertility, negative beliefs about one’s inadequacy or defectiveness may come up. Both partners may question why their bodies are not functioning like seemingly everyone else’s, especially when those around them are having babies, apparently without any trouble. People struggling with this issue may question their value and their self-worth can take a major hit, resulting in magnified depression and hopelessness.

The stress and trauma that result from infertility can also have a negative impact on a relationship. Because both partners experience their own challenges in infertility, they may be more prone to snapping at each other, taking things personally, or feeling disconnected.

There are steps people who are experiencing the emotional complications of infertility can take in order to cope and eventually thrive through this major life challenge.

1. Seek Professional Assistance

A mental health professional can help address the symptoms one is likely to encounter when experiencing difficulties related to infertility. Coping skills, trauma work, and couples counseling are just a few of the areas a therapist can help someone to work through to make this difficult path more bearable.

When working with people with infertility issues, I often utilize eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy to address negative beliefs about worth and defectiveness. EMDR has also been helpful in addressing and reducing disturbance related to fertility treatments, pregnancy loss, and worries about the future. When trying to get pregnant and while pregnant, stress management is essential in helping the body to be at its best to conceive and carry a baby.

2. Give Yourself a Break from Social Media

Social media can be wonderful, but they can be triggering for someone who is going through infertility. People love to make pregnancy and birth announcements through social media. Someone experiencing infertility may be much more sensitive to these announcements, as they can feel like a reminder of the pain that person is bearing.

If such announcements are triggering, give yourself a break and stay off social media for a while. Work with a therapist to decide when and how you will begin to engage in social media again. Working through some of the trauma and practicing coping skills regularly can help reduce the triggering effect of social media.

3. Acknowledge and Feel Your Feelings

Emotions are meant to be felt. One of the main jobs of an emotion is to alert us that we need to pay attention to something. Emotions can do what they are supposed to do only if we are willing to acknowledge and feel them.

The human body and brain are very good at working through difficult material when we stop avoiding emotions and allow ourselves to feel fully. A therapist can help with learning to tolerate and regulate emotions.

4. Celebrate and Enjoy the Little Things

Infertility can consume your life. From your thoughts to your time to your emotions and your relationship, it seems that there is not an area that infertility does not impact.

With your partner, find reasons to celebrate life. Engage in fun activities that you wouldn’t or won’t be able to do while pregnant or with a newborn. Try to soak up the moments of joy, calm, and fun as they come up. Seek out new hobbies or activities you have wanted to try. It is important to find joy and meaning in life, even when you are going through a difficult time.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006-2010). FastStats: Infertility. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/fertile.htm
  2. Dunkel-Schetter, C., & Lobel, M. (1991). Psychological reactions to infertility. In A. L. Stanton and C. A. Dunkel-Schetter (Eds.), Infertility: Perspectives from stress and coping research (pp. 29-57). New York: Plenum.
  3. The National Infertility Association (2014). Emotional aspects of infertility. Retrieved from http://www.resolve.org/support/Managing-Infertility-Stress/emotional-aspects.html

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Anastasia Pollock, LCMHC, therapist in Midvale, Utah

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Brandy

    Brandy

    June 22nd, 2015 at 9:00 AM

    This has been a difficult thing for my husband and I to live with because we wanted children of our own together. I had two from a previous marriage and he does too, but we wanted one together and we can’t get pregnant. We have taken in a foster child and are going to adopt him but it is still hard knowing that our dream of having a child together is pretty much over.

  • Kerra

    Kerra

    June 22nd, 2015 at 3:16 PM

    I would love to have IVF but can’t afford it and my insurance won’t cover it. It sort of feels like we are at the end of the road except for adopting and that is sort of sad to know that this is never going to be a possibility for us to have children.

  • corinne t

    corinne t

    June 23rd, 2015 at 7:56 AM

    Something like this which can be so devastating to begin with can be even harder if your family does not understand what is happening or they make no effort to understand the hardships and the pain.

  • Stephanie B.

    Stephanie B.

    June 23rd, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    Infertility is such difficult challenge for woman and couples to have to go through. Its hard for others to relate to or understand. Having a support group and helpful resources can make a difference. I invite you to check out my blog, I cover topics regarding TTC, Infertility and offer advice and helpful information. Hope you find it useful! vcrmed.blogspot.com

  • Les

    Les

    June 24th, 2015 at 2:51 PM

    i truly believe that the inability to have a child together drove my wife and I apart. We had always had some problems but thought that the journey to have a baby together could help. I know that that was probably a ridiculous idea to begin with but if we were struggling before we really has problems after the lack of success. We went our separate ways and the only good thing that I can say now is that I guess I am glad that we were never able to conceive together because with or without a child it would have never worked between the two of us.

  • Bryant

    Bryant

    June 25th, 2015 at 11:38 AM

    and I know the hormones that you have to take make you feel terrible

  • bella h

    bella h

    June 26th, 2015 at 7:18 AM

    Do you think that there will ever come a time when the pain of knowing what I can’t have won’t hurt quite so much?

  • lynn n

    lynn n

    April 12th, 2017 at 4:02 AM

    Yes it will lesson. I found meditation n relaxation techniques helped me alot. I had to realise that instead of saying “Why me?” I had to ask “Why not me?” I had to see that that infertility was random: ie, that if every woman in the world who wanted a baby had one, over population. So this is natures way. Not personal. Hard for me. Also threw myself into my career n helping others as much as I could. Am 72 now. Still get a pang when I see my friends with grandkids, but hey, it passes! I’m alive n happy! All the best in your journey!

  • Jeff

    Jeff

    June 27th, 2015 at 3:37 PM

    The quest to have a baby can become all consuming for many couples. It is hard to focus on the marriage anymore when there is so much at stake and yet that should always come first in your life.

  • Lindsey

    Lindsey

    June 28th, 2015 at 8:05 AM

    It can be filled with emotional roller coasters, so much hope and disappointment that are on an ever revolving turn table.

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