If you're having a hard time coping with infertility, you're not alone. Research has shown that the psychological stress experienced by women with infertility is similar to that of women coping with illnesses like cancer, HIV, and chronic pain. Infertility is not an easy disease to cope with.
To make things worse, you may hear from friends or family that your anxiety is causing the infertility. But this is not true. While researchers once thought that stress caused infertility, more recent studies do not make this connection.
Emotional Impact of Infertility
The whirlwind of emotions that infertility brings can feel overwhelming. Sometimes knowing that your feelings are normal can help.
Some of the feelings you may experience include:
- Loss: You may feel a sense of loss for the child or children you imagined having one day. You may also feel that you're missing out on the experience of parenthood or the act of having a biological child.
- Anger and jealousy: You may feel angry at life in general. You may also feel angry or jealous that parenthood seems to come easily to others.
- Denial: You might tell yourself that you just know next month will bring a positive pregnancy test, and then, when it doesn't, feel a huge sense of sadness and shock.
- Shame: Women may feel that a diagnosis of infertility makes them less feminine, while men may feel that a diagnosis makes them less masculine. You may also feel that you are somehow less of a person if you can't have a child on your own.
- Lack of Control: You may feel a lack of control, knowing that there is nothing you can do to guarantee or know if treatments will work.
Marital or Relationship Stress
Infertility can also put stress on your relationship, with studies showing that couples dealing with infertility are more likely to feel unhappy with themselves and their marriages.
Infertility may affect your relationship in a number of ways, including:
- Sexual tension: Especially around ovulation, sex may feel more like a chore than an enjoyable way to express love for each other. Men may experience performance anxiety, leading to feelings of guilt or shame.
- Financial stress: Fertility treatment costs can quickly add up. Everything from deciding how much you're willing to pay, to coping with the financial strain or debt, can create a great deal of stress between couples.
- Fear of abandonment: Especially for the partner with the infertility diagnosis, he or she may be afraid that their partner will want to leave them to have children with someone else.
- Arguments about treatments: Deciding which treatments or options to try, when to stop seeking treatment, or when to take a break can put tremendous strain on a couple.
Ways to Cope
With the myriad of feelings surrounding infertility, good coping skills are essential. Here are a few tips to help manage and lower the stress of infertility:
Acknowledge your feelings: Holding everything inside does not help. It actually takes more mental energy to hold your feelings back than to express them. Allow yourself time to feel the sadness, anger, and frustration.
Seek support: Whether through friends, professional counseling, groups, or online forums, finding somewhere to talk with people who understand can help you feel less alone.
Practice relaxation: Learning how to relax and calm yourself can help when feelings get intense and during treatments. Acupuncture, yoga, and relaxation techniques are all possible ways to cope.
- Talk to your partner: Talk about your feelings together. Keep in mind, though, that men and women cope with stress in different ways. Women are more likely to express their sadness, while men tend to hold things inside. Neither way is wrong, just different.
- Learn as much as you can: The more you know about infertility, including alternatives like adoption or living child-free, the more in control you will feel.
Don't let infertility take over your life: Make sure you fill your life and your relationship with other things. If it seems like infertility is all you talk about together, set a specified time each day for the topic, and use the rest of the day to talk about other things.
- Keep sex fun: As mentioned above, sex can quickly become more like a chore, than a fun way to express love for each other. Try to keep things loving and exciting. Light candles, play fun music, or watch romantic movies, whatever makes you both feel good.
- Consider professional help: Many couples find that professional individual or couples counseling can help them cope with the emotional stress of infertility, and some fertility clinics insist that their patients seek counseling before and during treatment.
If you find yourself feeling constantly sad or anxious, not sleeping well or oversleeping, feeling completely isolated, or having thoughts of death and dying, then it is especially important that you speak to your doctor about your feelings.
- Quiz: Are You Depressed?
- Infertility and Depression 101
- Signs of Depression
- Reasons to See a Fertility Counselor
More on coping while trying to conceive:
- How to Cope When Trying to Conceive Overwhelms You
- 10 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself
- How TTC Affects Your Sex Life
- How to Cope During the Two Week Wait
- Coping with Fertility Test Anxiety
- How to Have a Baby When You've Been Trying for Awhile
- Take a Fertility Quiz
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Michelle P. Lukse and Nicholas A. Vacc. "Grief, Depression, and Coping in Women Undergoing Infertility Treatment." Obstetrics & Gynecology 1999 93:245-251. Accessed January 30, 2008.
Hirsch AM and Hirsch SM. "The Effect of Infertility on Marriage and Self-concept." Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing Jan-Feb 1989 18(1):13-20.
If you are having trouble conceiving, speak with someone who can help. American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Accessed January 30, 2008.
Rebecca A. Clay. "Does Stress Hinder Conception?" Monitor on Psychology. Sept. 2006 Volume 37, No. 8. Accessed January 30, 2008.
Rebecca A. Clay. "Battling the Self-blame of Infertility" Monitor on Psychology. Sept. 2006 Volume 37, No. 8. Accessed January 30, 2008.