Tips on Coping with Infertility

Emotional stress can often put strain on a relationship

Desperate lesbian woman being comforted by her wife.
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If you're having a hard time coping with infertility, you are not alone. Research has shown that the psychological stress experienced by women with infertility is similar to that of women coping with illnesses such as cancer, HIV, and chronic pain. Men can suffer emotionally, as well.

Infertility is not an easy situation to deal with. You may feel social pressure to have kids or feel judgment from well-meaning friends, family members, or even strangers.

Some may offer tips that are not all that helpful or suggest that your anxiety is somehow to blame (not true).

Moreover, you may be plagued by feelings of inadequacy, emptiness, or failure that interfere with both your quality of life and the quality of your relationship.

The one way to help yourself is to acknowledge your feelings and identify the things that are causing you the most stress. By doing so, you can begin to build coping strategies to better overcome these feelings.

Emotional Impact of Infertility

The emotions associated with infertility come from both the inside and out. In many communities, the demand to have children is instilled at a very early age, often with a sense of urgency from those who will remind you that the "clock is ticking."

When faced with this sort of emotional stress, it is important to separate the feelings and expectations that have been thrust upon you from those you have thrust upon yourself.

One often plays to the next. In many cases, for example, couples who repeatedly fail to conceive will compare themselves with peers who have had kids and only end up fueling feelings of self-doubt and anxiety.

Worse yet, a person may direct those feelings at their partner and cast blame where there is none.

Marital distress is common in these situations and can often create the unreasonable perception that everything will be right if there is a child and everything will be wrong if there is not.

The relationship may be faced with further strain by the very process of trying to conceive. As couples are often required to schedule their sex in accordance with the woman’s cycle, the routine can sometimes become almost chore-like. Rather than becoming more intimate, the couple ends up emotionally detached.

If fertility treatments are involved, the cost can further punctuate the sense of failure a person may be experiencing, especially if the costs are putting the couple into financial straits.

Identifying Your Feelings

More often than not, the emotions associated with infertility are not caused by one thing and one thing alone. Often times, they are so tangled in the expectations and emotions from inside and outside of the relationship.

Overcoming this requires you to identify and segregate the emotions you may be feeling, whether they seem reasonable to you or not. These may include:

Once you have identified your feelings, you need to figure out what those feelings are about, where they are coming from, and to whom those fears are directed.

It is one thing, for example, to feel guilt. But guilt about what? Are they your feelings or feelings based on expectations from others? And to whom do you feel guilty? Your spouse? Your family? The future you had imagined for yourself?

By asking yourself these questions, calmly and honestly, you may be able to start segregating these emotions and share them with someone who can help.

Where to Find Support

While, ideally, the best place to find support is your spouse, it may not always be the case. The accumulated pressure you may both be feeling can sometimes make it difficult to sort out your emotions.

In some cases, you may need to consider stepping back from your fertility plans if only to allow yourselves time to deal with how you feeling about each other, irrespective of a family or a baby. It may be the temporary reprieve you need to develop coping strategies and better deal with some of the deeper questions you may have avoided.

You may also feel the need to reach out for support from loved ones, but be careful in your choice. You may find that the source of some of your negative feelings may come from those closest to you. Support groups may also be helpful, allowing you to voice feelings and thoughts you’ve been unable to share elsewhere.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help from a counselor if you and your spouse are unable to sort out your feelings. If you’ve become used to functioning a couple, each with distinct roles, it may take a professional to help you communicate with individuals again.

Ultimately, the goal to find acceptance of your own feelings and those of your partner. Whatever happens, do not let infertility take over your life. If infertility is all you talk about, it may end up being the sole defining feature of your relationship.

Once you've had the chance to relax and find a better emotional space for yourselves, you may discover that trying again doesn’t carry the same weight as before. It may be what it is supposed to be: a positive step forward for you both.

Sources:

Nagy, E. and Nagy, B. “Coping with infertility: Comparison of coping mechanisms and psychological immune competence in fertile and infertile couples.” Journal of Health Pathology. 2016; 21(8):1799-1808.

Pedro, A. “Coping with Infertility: An Explorative Study of South African Women’s Experiences.” Open Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2015; 5:49-59.

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