About Infertility

"I can't understand why everyone else can get pregnant so easily, but I have to work so hard to become a mother. I feel incredibly alone and don't understand how life can be so unfair."
Infertility

Key Takeaways

  • Infertility is an emotional experiene for individuals and couples who are trying to conceive.

  • Couples experiencing infertility may experience high levels of stress and are at risk for depression and anxiety. 

  • Therapy is a beneficial intervetion alongside medical treatments to help individuals and couples experiencing infertility cope.

What is Infertility?

Infertility is the experience of having difficulty getting pregnant. It is diagnosed when a couple is unable to get pregnant after trying to conceive for at least one year. Infertility can be caused by factors related to either the female, male, or both. In nearly 20% of couples with infertility, the cause is unknown. Infertility affects approximately one in eight couples.

The Emotional Impact of Infertility

Infertility can be an incredibly stressful and overwhelming experience. Couples dealing with infertility tend to experience higher levels of anxiety and depression. The emotional toll can impact their marriage, intimacy, and outside relationships with family and friends.

Infertility can be emotionally challenging for many reasons:

  • People may feel responsible for their difficulties getting or staying pregnant, which can cause feelings of guilt and shame. 
  • Fertility treatments can be overwhelming and costly. Women undergoing fertility treatments may feel the emotional impact of hormones and side effects from medications. 
  • Couples may have a hard time agreeing on decisions and dealing with their stress, which could lead to conflict in the relationship.
  • The experience of infertility is uncertain, which could cause feelings of helplessness and depression.
  • Couples may distance themselves from family and friends. They may find it especially difficult to be around children or pregnant women or to answer questions about their fertility.

Surveys and studies on the emotional impact of infertility have found that couples may feel as depressed and anxious as people dealing with physical conditions like cancer. Women tend to have a harder time coping with infertility, but men are affected too, especially if they are deemed to be the cause. Women who have a history of depression are also at higher risk of depression during fertility treatment. 

Can stress cause infertility?

Infertility certainly causes stress for many couples, but the question of whether stress can cause infertility is less clear.

Research does show that high levels of stress are linked to infertility. There is not enough evidence to say that stress is a cause of infertility, but there does appear to be a connection between the two. This highlights the importance of stress management when trying to conceive. Stress may not be the cause of infertility, but if a person is experiencing high levels of stress, there are benefits to taking measures to reduce it.

 

Treatment

Over the last few decades, the number of treatment options available for infertility has increased significantly. Experts recommend a combination of medical and psychological treatments. Medical treatments focus on helping you conceive, while psychological treatments focus on helping you cope with the stress of infertility. 

Medical treatments

If you’re experiencing infertility, you should seek help from both an OBGYN and a reproductive endocrinologist, which is a doctor that specializes in fertility. Your doctors will conduct a thorough examination, which includes testing of one or both partners to help determine the cause of infertility. The type of treatment that your providers suggest will depend on several factors, including the cause of your infertility, your age, how long you have been trying to conceive, and your personal preferences. An in-depth look at the different options available for infertility is beyond the scope of this article, but some common medical treatments for infertility can include:

Medications

Fertility medications may be prescribed for men or women. Medications for women can help balance hormones and stimulate ovulation. Medications for men can increase sperm count, production, and quality. 

Surgery

Surgery to improve fertility may be performed on men or women. Men may benefit from surgery if they have a sperm blockage. Women may benefit from surgery if they have endometriosis, uterine fibroids, uterine abnormalities, scar tissue, damaged or blocked fallopian tubes, or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). 

Intrauterine insemination (IUI)

This procedure involves injecting sperm into the uterus during ovulation. IUI can be done using a partner’s sperm or donor sperm.

In vitro fertilization (IVF)

IVF is a form of assisted reproductive technology (ART), which is a medical procedure where an egg and sperm are fertilized. During IVF, eggs are removed from a woman’s ovaries and fertilized with sperm in a lab. One or more embryos are then implanted into the woman’s uterus.IVF can be done using your own or donor eggs, as well as your partner’s or donor sperm. A fertilized egg can then be implanted into your own uterus, or a surrogate’s uterus. A surrogate, also known as a gestational carrier, is a woman who can carry a pregnancy for you. 

Psychological/emotional treatments

If you’re having a hard time coping with infertility, you may benefit from seeking therapy. Some studies have found that reducing depression, anxiety, and stress can increase your chances of a successful pregnancy. You may benefit from therapy or counseling if:

  • You’re experiencing negative emotions, such as depression, anxiety, or anger that are difficult to manage.
  • Your emotions are impacting your health, work/school, relationships, or other areas of your life.
  • You are resorting to unhealthy or dangerous ways to cope, such as abusing drugs or alcohol. 
  • Your emotions are impacting your sleep or appetite.
  • You have thoughts of suicide or harming yourself. 

Depending on your needs, individual, group, or family/couples therapy may be beneficial:

  • Individual therapy allows you to meet with a therapist one-on-one to work on your specific concerns. During individual therapy, your therapist can introduce you to skills to cope with the stress of infertility.
  • Support groups for infertility give you the opportunity to meet with other women or families experiencing the same thing. They can help you to feel less alone and provide an opportunity to give and receive advice and support.
  • Couples therapy can help partners who are having trouble navigating infertility together. It can be particularly helpful for couples who are having difficulty communicating with one another and coming to an agreement about how to handle infertility. 

 

Coping with Infertility Stress

Many couples who experience infertility find themselves experiencing high levels of stress. They may also experience difficult emotions like grief, sadness, and anxiety. For this reason, it is important to take care of your physical and mental health. 

Do things that make you feel good

When you’re going through infertility, it feels like your whole life is focused on getting pregnant. It can be hard to remember that you are a person with your own needs too. The problem is that when we’re so focused on something to the point that we neglect our own needs, it can lead to stress. Taking measures to reduce your stress will help you feel better and approach your infertility with a greater sense of emotional control. One way to take care of yourself is to do the things that bring you pleasure. Whether you love spending time with friends, reading, or walking in nature, it is important to make time for the things that you enjoy.Relaxation strategies can also help you cope with stress around infertility. You can use techniques that have worked for you in the past or try new ones. Some ideas include a few minutes of mindful breathing (i.e. sitting comfortably, focusing on your inhales and exhales, and trying to let your thoughts go) or activities like yoga and journaling.

Manage unsupportive comments

When you are experiencing infertility, you may have loved ones, doctors, or strangers make hurtful comments. They may ask you when you are going to have a baby or tell you to “just relax.” When faced with unsupportive comments or unwanted questions, first take a long deep breath. Next, acknowledge your feelings about the comment or question. Do you feel angry or hurt? Then, take one action to cope with these feelings. You can let the person know that you’re not comfortable answering the question or express to them how the comment makes you feel. You could also vent your feelings to another supportive person. 

Connect with others

Infertility can be an incredibly lonely experience. Connecting with other people experiencing similar struggles or other non-judgmental and understanding individuals, like a therapist, is important. You can also find support through an infertility support group. Postpartum Support International (PSI) and Resolve, a part of the National Infertility Association, offer listings of local and online infertility support groups.  

Help is only a click away

Infertility is an incredibly difficult experience for couples. Individual and couples therapy can help families going through infertility cope with their emotions and improve communication. 

At Phoenix Health, we support parents at all points of their reproductive journey, including those experiencing infertility. Schedule an appointment with a mental health specialist and start feeling better today.

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