August 30, 2021
Infertility Support: Pain, Stress, & Coping with Therapy
Written by Clara Jennison
Infertility is a hopeful parent’s worst nightmare, but it’s an unavoidable truth for some of us.
There isn’t much you experience that is more strange than this. For men and women, infertility usually just equates to pain, and we aren’t here to convince you of anything different.
Hopefully, we can give you some therapist-approved ideas for moving forward and being kind to yourself as you go through this chapter.
We are going to talk about things like:
- The Tendency for Blame
- Things That Make It Worse
- The Mental and Emotional Impact
- Coping with Self-Care
- When You Need More
- Infertility Counseling & Hesitations
The Tendency to Blame
When you go through infertility, it’s normal to blame. There is a similar process in grief. The issue is that blame is completely unproductive.
You might be blaming yourself, your doctors, or your partner.
- “If only I had started sooner.”
- “I should have made different choices.”
- “Why didn’t they refer me to a specialist sooner?”
- “Why have we wasted so much time?”
- “You weren’t sure about having children until it was too late.”
These are common emotional experiences, and you aren’t crazy for feeling this. It’s a part of your grief for what could have been.
It’s important is allow yourself to feel what you feel and move from one emotional stage to the next. But be careful.
These feelings will only bury you deeper in pain, multiply, and bury you some more. Give yourself space to feel them, but also be aware that these are feelings and may not necessarily be the truth.
Well-Intended, But Oh So Painful
You are in pain, so much pain. And it’s horrible when people you love say things that overlook that pain.
It’s not like you need them to get down in the dumps of your pain with you, but maybe they could just NOT do these things:
- Not acknowledge what you are going through by avoiding the topic or acting like their question has no weight.
- Talk incessantly about how cute the children in their life are
- Blame you with comments like, “If you weren’t so stressed, it might take work. You just need to relax.”
- Tell you random stories about things they heard worked in magazines or online.
- Any advice, ever
We love our people, but sometimes those very same people can be very unaware of other people’s pain. And often, this stuff is meant with the best of intentions, but it doesn’t mean they should just do it.
Every person is different and requires different types of emotional support. Maybe, you just want to talk about it until you are blue in the face or maybe, you want to leave it where it lies and process it in your own time.
However, you go about this; you need to be supported. The best thing to do in these situations is to let those around you know what you need.
It’s okay if you can’t go to baby showers without bawling, just like it’s okay to go to the park with your friend and her kids. Let people know what you need.
More often than not, they are willing to try.
If You Know Someone…
If you are a friend or family member of someone struggling with infertility, acknowledge what they are going through and ask how you can help. Having clear communication is always the best idea.
Try something like: “I know this is a really difficult time for you, and I’d like to support you in every way I can; I’m just not sure how. What would feel supportive to you?”
Be understanding and let them go through this at their pace. If you were in their position, that’s likely all you would need.
Ultimately, infertility is a loss, just like death. It’s excruciating and includes common grief responses such as anger, depression, and blame in every possible direction.
You might feel angry and have thoughts such as, “why does it seem so easy for everyone else?” Whether there is a miscarriage or not, infertility is experienced the same as we would experience death.
When you’re a young child, you imagine what your future will be like. You assume that one day perhaps, you’ll have a job, a house to live in, and a family of your own.
Maybe you don’t think about it too much, or maybe you have more specifics in mind; regardless, you at least imagine yourself having children as part of that family. When you experience infertility, you lose that fantasy in many ways.
What you have always “known” is gone. This is true even if you’re experiencing secondary infertility. Perhaps you always imagined having a sibling for your child.
To make matters more complicated, shame is also part of the emotional equation. Whether you feel shame because you can’t “provide” for your partner or because of decisions you have made, shame can complicate the grief response you feel.
For those that haven’t experienced miscarriage, the pain can feel greater because others don’t understand your loss without the loss of something tangible. It can make your experience feel even more isolating.
The Impact of Infertility
Infertility impacts many key areas of your life, which further adds to the emotional strain. It also impacts your relationship with your spouse in more ways than you can count.
You’re both experiencing such emotional stress and are both more likely to feel irritable, depressed, or angry. You might even feel resentful, pressured, or just be at a different point in the process than your partner.
You may also approach the situation differently.
Some people tackle infertility full-on, researching everything they can and implementing strategies, while others would rather not address it at all. Others simply have the opposite approach as their spouse, which can be a source of conflict.
Infertility impacts your relationships with your family and friends. You may find that the support you thought was there suddenly isn’t.
You may feel that those who care about you don’t seem to understand what you’re going through. It may seem like you’re out there on your own dealing with this.
You may avoid baby showers, events with kids, or even talking about how wonderful everyone else’s children are. Facebook can become a trigger.
It takes time, but this will pass, just like most aspects of the grief process, as long as you work through your emotions and allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling.
And none of this is to mention the financial impact. Depending on your decisions, infertility certainly has financial implications, which can pose an additional strain.
Why Infertility Can Be Devastating – Emotional Impact
The inability to have children can be one of the greatest challenges that a person or couple will ever face. The effects can be:
It can place tremendous stress on a couple’s relationship and on their relationships with family and friends.
On a physical level, the experience of being examined and tested so often is embarrassing, exhausting, and very expensive. Medications often have side effects, and You may require daily injections.
Surgery is often necessary, and sometimes several procedures are needed. As the process continues over months and years, the couple’s privacy is invaded time and again, physically and emotionally.
One or both partners learn to put aside their feelings as they lie on the examining table and have more fluids taken or sperm for the tenth, twentieth, or fiftieth time. At the same time, family, friends, and coworkers are waiting to see if this month will bring the good news that everyone yearns for.
The couple gets used to hearing, “Anything new?” with an expectant smile. They also hear comments like, “Maybe you should take a month off and just relax,” or “A vacation would do you good.”
You might have even heard the old “that sounds like a good problem. At least you can have fun trying.” Insert eye roll here.
Everyone Is Pregnant
To make it even worse, throughout this experience, the couple regularly hears of others who have become pregnant. In fact, it sometimes seems as if the whole world is pregnant.
These experiences often make the infertile person feel like a failure. The feelings come up each time there is a treatment failure or when another friend announces a pregnancy.
After each expensive procedure or cycle of treatment, when it doesn’t take, the disappointment turns to devastation. Many infertile people become depressed and anxious.
The strain in the marriage and among family members sometimes becomes unbearable. The self-esteem of one or both partners plummets. They often feel lonely, sad, and angry.
After a long series of disappointments that the couple endures, it can cause a sort of numbness, and depression can result.
A Medical Issue
If one partner has a medical problem causing infertility, they often feel guilty and may even offer the other a divorce. It’s not that they want a divorce, they don’t, but they feel they’re trapping their partner in something they didn’t sign up for. It’s a horrible feeling.
And if divorce isn’t offered, the infertile person may fear that the other partner will leave the relationship. A hesitancy develops because they are afraid to scare off their partner, making people feel emotionally distant and avoid intimacy.
Some people cut themselves off from friends and family. “It’s easier this way.” They look for ways to avoid attending social gatherings and family events, fearing that they will be subjected to discussions about pregnancy, children, or infertility.
Socializing with friends and family who have children or who are pregnant is a particularly painful challenge. Sometimes these feelings are intensified, especially for women, because they may be taking large doses of drugs that can affect their emotions.
Infertility’s Impact on Mental Health
The jury is still out as to whether psychological stress actually causes infertility. However, all evidence does point to infertility being a major source of stress.
Research finds that, for women, infertility-related stress is not unlike the stress they’d feel when dealing with a serious illness or chronic pain. For men, infertility puts them at risk of a mixed bag of mental health issues.
The following outcomes are common regardless of which partner is infertile:
- Sexual problems
- Loss of self-esteem
Needless to say, two stressed-out partners can escalate into a range of other conflicts and concerns. How could it not?
How Stress Impacts Your Mind and Body
- Chronic aches and pains (including headaches)
- Skin problems
- Sleep disturbances
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Increase or decrease of appetite
- Digestive issues
- Weakened immunity
- Low energy
- Loss of libido
- Irritability and anger
- Self-medication/substance abuse
5 Ways the Stress of Infertility Can Affect Your Mental Health
The pressure comes from internal and external sources. It may be society imposing its standards on you. The origin might be something very intrinsically human. But either way, couples dealing with infertility often display self-sabotaging signs like this:
1. Feeling Inadequate
Procreation is something every adult human can do, right? To be infertile is to be less than and all across social media, you see photos posted of growing families. What does that make you? Your sense of self-worth is in jeopardy.
2. Fear of Being Judged
People tell you they’re rooting for you. They wish you the best and say “You’ll be such a great parent.” Meanwhile, you don’t trust it. You believe they — and everyone else — are judging you for this failure.
3. Relationship Insecurity
The infertile partner feels guilt and may fear being rejected. Why would someone want to stay with a partner who is damaged goods? Even if they reassure you, that nagging insecurity grows.
4. Social Isolation
Some couples choose to withdraw rather than deal with even well-meaning questions. The last thing you need is a reminder. But then again, everything seems to remind you of infertility.
Any or all of the four tendencies listed above can put you on the path to depression. Infertility is all you can talk about. This fixation causes you to lose interest in activities you once enjoyed. Exhaustion seems to be your default setting.
Coping With the Stress of Infertility
Let Go of the Past and Blame
There is nothing you can do to change previous attempts at pregnancy. Right here, in the present, you have the power to shift your focus. Be mindful and give yourself a break you deserve.
Take Care of Yourself
A powerful counterbalance to any kind of stress or fixation is self-care. Stick to a daily routine that involves:
- Exercise and activity
- Healthy eating choices
- Regular sleep patterns
- Relaxation techniques
Schedule Regular Mental Vacations
You and your partner can have a regular date night. Or perhaps you’ll meet up with others and do something purely fun and light-hearted. Get out of your routine to help break the cycle of rumination and obsession.
Find Infertility Support Groups
Whether in-person or online, it helps to connect with others who understand your situation. You’ll be validated and supported.
Check out our Women’s Issues Counseling.
Do Not Underestimate the Danger of Stress
With so much of your focus on infertility, you may downplay your stress symptoms. To help resist this temptation, reach out to a mental health professional.
You can go alone or as a couple. Either way, counseling will go a long way in providing balance, hope, and healing. It all starts with a phone call and a consultation.
Signs You Need Infertility Counseling
If you feel stuck in any of the emotional stages, you could benefit from greater infertility support. Exploring what you’re feeling with a professional can help you cope with infertility and move through the many emotions you might experience.
You might get stuck in anger. Anger is a normal emotional response to infertility.
When it goes on for a long period of time without you moving forward, it can indicate that you’re stuck there. You could get stuck in sadness or depression.
You might find yourself not feeling motivated, having less energy, or having strong emotional reactions unsuspectedly. You may not necessarily feel sad to be stuck in this stage.
Rather, you might just notice feeling more irritable and stressed.
If you find yourself struggling with feelings of shame or inadequacy, infertility counseling can be important to help you redirect attention to your situation in a helpful way. Infertility counseling can help you navigate the many decisions you may be faced with as you move through infertility, whether on your own or as a couple.
You both might want to talk with an objective third party to help you reach a middle ground or decide on your next steps.
No One Expects to Be Fertile
No one expects to be infertile. Most people think they’ll grow up, marry, and have kids, just like everyone else around them.
So when a couple learns that they are infertile, they are often surprised at how devastated they feel. After all, they reason; they don’t have cancer or a deadly disease (in most cases); it’s just infertility.
Most couples gradually come to realize that it is a distressing experience. Many eventually seek the help of a team of professionals, realizing that it is a good idea to create a support network and take advantage of the available help.
When one or both partners start to feel the impact of infertility, it can be a good idea to seek the services of a mental health professional, especially one who has experience working with the issues of infertility. Since these issues are so complex, it is important to find a counselor who has experience and training in dealing with the impact on individuals, couples, and families.
Individual & Couples Counseling for Coping
Seeing a qualified counselor is especially important at any of the following points:
- When you begin a new phase of your treatment
- After a course of treatment has failed
- When you are faced with difficult decisions about treatment
- When you are thinking about options such as surrogacy, egg or sperm donation
- When you are considering stopping medical treatment
- When you are thinking about adopting
- When one or both of you have troubling feelings that won’t go away
- When you experience strained relationships with your partner, friends, or family
- When you avoid being with others because of the infertility
Although a mental health professional cannot influence the outcome of the medical treatment, they can help the couple get through the process by helping them communicate better with each other and gain support from family and friends.
Try Some Infertility Support Groups
There are many different options available depending on your preferences. Infertility treatment centers and adoption agencies often have support groups available to members going through their process.
Some churches offer infertility support groups. There are also “secret” Facebook groups or infertility boards available, and some therapists also offer infertility support groups.
The benefit is that everyone in the group understands what you’re going through; they’ve been there and known the pain, frustration, and ups and downs.
Contact Us for Infertility Counseling
If you are going through infertility, contact us in Houston to get the support you need through the process. To get started now, give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online. We look forward to helping you!
Recommended Reading List for Coping with Infertility
This book is the paperback equivalent of a sensitive, comforting, warm hug: there for you when you’re feeling alone and like nobody else gets it.
In this book, Eric Rosswood discusses the hurdles faced by LGBTQ couples during family-building and goes into depth on adoption, foster care, ART, surrogacy, and co-parenting.
Having Your Baby Through Egg Donation is a comprehensive guide for those who are thinking of, or pursuing egg donation, as well as for those who are already parents through egg donation.
Explaining Third-Party Reproduction to Children:
Egg Donation: www.parentsviaeggdonation.com (or PVED.com)
General Infertility Support: www.resolve.org
Embryo Adoption: National Embryo Donation Center
Here is a discussion of infertility Rachel had with Blog Talk Radio: coping with infertility.