You’re trying to have a baby, and it’s not happening. You’ve likely been trying everything to conceive, from in vitro fertilization to scheduling sexy times to changing your diet.
Women all over the world face infertility, often for reasons unknown. More than 80 million people globally and 10%-15% of couples of reproductive age face the distressing reality of being unable to conceive a child (1, 2). Infertility transgresses socio-economic status, culture, and race. While as many men are infertile as women, some communities attribute the problem to women without evidence to the contrary (2). This is, of course, a systemic problem that deserves its own investigation.
The Emotional Effects Of Infertility
For a moment, let’s put aside suggestions for yet another conception method and any plausible biological explanations for infertility. You’ve been there, likely for longer than you care to think about. As leading therapists specializing in infertility, we have a sense of what you’re going through. We won’t claim to know because every woman and couple experience it differently. The unfulfilled desire to have a baby is as personal a struggle as it is real.
However, we do know that infertility brings up some troubling emotions that are common to many women (2). Much like a roller coaster, there is anticipation, verging on excitement. You hold your breath as you await the news. Then, the steep and familiar plunge into disappointment, despair, and hopelessness. Here we are again. The emotional effects of infertility are heart-crushing. With each new cycle, that hope ramps up again, click, click, click––will it finally happen? Will this be the month that ends this emotional storm and changes everything?
You already know the answer to that question, or you wouldn’t be reading this. How many times do you try? When do you finally let go of hope? Your family and friends may be encouraging you to forget about it for a while. They may unintentionally make you feel bad for being anxious or sad about it. It’s so easy for people who haven’t been there to suggest that there’s more to life than having a baby or that perhaps you should consider adopting (as though the idea had never crossed your mind). Indeed, many, many women report feeling alone, misunderstood, and even shamed for their very natural, enduring desire to have a baby.
What’s wrong with me?
You’ve asked yourself this question a thousand times. And the only viable answer is this: Nothing. There is nothing wrong with you, your body, or your desire to have a child. But it goes further than that, and this is where many women get stuck: there’s also nothing wrong with your response to being infertile. Many women admit to feeling a sense of loss over something they’ve never had.
All emotions are welcome: guilt, a sense of incompetence, anger, depression, grief, frustration, insecurity, isolation, disinterest in sex, and a sense of worthlessness. This is not an exhaustive list, and surely, you’ve experienced emotions you’re unable to name. Suffering mounts when we pile on additional guilt that we shouldn’t be feeling the way we are. Whatever it is, your emotional response is healthy, valid, and allowed.
Facing The Struggle
So, what can you do? Is there a light at the end of this long dark tunnel? Definitely. Whether that means you successfully conceive this month or a year from now, this hard time will pass. It may also end with you arriving at a place of acceptance. Whatever the outcome of your struggle, you will step toward a brighter horizon with an open heart.
We’ve counseled many women who struggle with infertility. The following tips are ways in which these women found relief from the storm of stress and anxiety.
Find Your Ground
Grounding yourself means connecting your body with the natural world. When your body feels like the enemy, re-establishing balance is critical. There are several ways you can do this. For many women, a regular yoga practice helps them cultivate a deeper appreciation of and connection to their bodies. There are several yoga styles to choose from, so try a few and find one that feels good physically and resonates emotionally.
Meditation is also an effective method for calming the nervous system and adrenal glands that tend to leap into alert mode at the first signs of distress. The psychological ups and downs of the journey through infertility impact your physical body in ways you may not feel at the surface level. Through sitting meditation, you can bring your awareness to your breath and all the parts of your body, one at a time, noticing––without judgment––the sensations: pressure, tightness, pain, tingling, or the absence of sensation. Try sitting for 20 minutes a few times a week, and notice how you feel after a couple of weeks.
Talk About It
The unintended insensitivity of family and friends can exacerbate your feelings of isolation. Sharing your experience openly and honestly and asking for understanding, sensitivity, and support can be the switch that delivers much-needed light to that dynamic. Most people are caught up in their own struggles and don’t realize that they’re insensitive or unsupportive.
Hearing someone say I know what you’re going through because I’m going through it too is not only comforting, it can relieve feelings of stress and isolation. A therapist specializing in infertility has a unique knowledge set and approach. They can offer sensitive intervention and tools that will help you gently confront and manage the emotional maelstrom of infertility with insight, self-compassion, and perspective. Research has revealed that regular counseling with an infertility specialist can improve women’s chances of becoming pregnant (3). It can also support the emotional well-being of those affected by infertility and bring clarity to treatment approaches and their implications (4).
Find an infertility specialist at Silver Lake Psychology
A Silver Lake therapist specializing in infertility can help. Our matching experts will carefully select a therapist for you based on your unique needs so you can feel comfortable exploring the emotional effects of infertility on you and your partner. Contact us today and take the first real step toward a brighter future.
1. The emotional-psychological consequences of infertility among infertile women seeking treatment: Results of a qualitative study.
2. Fertility and Mental Health – MGH – CWMH
3. Effectiveness of infertility counseling on pregnancy rate in infertile patients undergoing assisted reproductive technologies: A systematic review and meta-analysis
4. Responding to Infertility: Lessons From a Growing Body of Research and Suggested Guidelines for Practice