The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Infertility
The desire to have children is for most people innate and only a matter of time. The drive to have children is unique to each individual and is driven by factors both in and out of our awareness. We are influenced by family, friends, society and cultural norms and traditions. Whatever the fantasy or myth, for most of us there exists a basic human need to procreate and leave an aspect of ourselves behind when we are dead.
Many teens and twenties are preoccupied with avoiding pregnancy at all costs; therefore facing problems with fertility later on in life can be very distressing and shocking. It can evoke feelings of anger, inadequacy, and failure. Many experience a sense of emptiness, of not being whole, of being abnormal. Lots of men and women ask themselves, 'why me?' 'What have I done to deserve this?' It can challenge a woman's self-esteem and feeling of femininity, and a man's sense of masculine identity.
The impact on relationships is huge as both partners struggle to understand their individual thoughts and feelings as well as each others. Women often describe feeling guilty that they cannot provide partners, parents, friends, even siblings with the much anticipated, wanted and expected offspring, fearing that those relationships will be lost to them in the process. Men often describe feeling helpless and angry that they cannot 'fix' the situation. In other words their need to protect and provide is threatened.
Infertility treatments, as much as they are seen as invaluable and are widely experienced as being sensitive and individually tailored, are also experienced as being physically and mentally intrusive, invasive and painful, full of their own anxieties, hopes and fears. If there is to be no pregnancy then the sense of loss and grief and the sadness experienced by both men and women can feel insurmountable.
Each individual's experience is unique. However working with women facing such difficulties it would appear that a number of coping strategies universally seem to help:
- Finding a supportive network is imperative. As one client described: “But the one thing I have found invaluable is the support network I have around me."
- Professional talking therapies provide a neutral, non judgemental environment where a woman's individual story may be told and heard empathically.
- Joining support groups helps with the isolation. Feeling not alone in the process provides a certain normality and feeling of belonging.
- Accessing good medical care and information helps individuals make informed choices. The more active a person is able to be the more they will experience a sense of control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation.
- Knowing that what you're feeling and thinking is normal and ok.
- Keeping a mood diary or journal helps to externalise feelings and goes some way to protect a person from further psychological distress, anxiety and depression.
- Physically looking after oneself and making way for other more pleasurable pastimes soothes and helps to reconnect with other aspects of one's life.
It is always helpful to think of expression as the opposite of depression. By 'letting out' rather than 'pushing down' our feelings, we give them somewhere to go. Seek support and realise that you are very much not alone.
Useful support group websites: