According 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:
- Trouble sleeping
- Feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, and/or shame
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decrease in or lack of energy
- Feeling numb
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)
- 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.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006-2010). FastStats: Infertility. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/fertile.htm
- 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.
- The National Infertility Association (2014). Emotional aspects of infertility. Retrieved from http://www.resolve.org/support/Managing-Infertility-Stress/emotional-aspects.html
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