Infertility is a medical condition that is known to touch every aspect of one’s life. From the way you feel about yourself to your relationship with your partner and others, to your overall perspective on life, a diagnosis of infertility can be profound. Infertility can also be particularly stressful in that it creates a great deal of uncertainty and emotional upheaval in a couple’s daily life.
The emotional responses to infertility are complex and at times are so strong they can seem overwhelming. It is important to acknowledge that these feelings are normal. For the individual and their partner, it can be a life crisis which represents a threat to their hopes and dreams of achieving a family. The infertility diagnosis is a shock and at first may even be denied. There is no ‘right’ way to manage, when faced with the devastating news of infertility, but there are some common emotions that most couples face, including loss, jealousy, denial, shame, isolation, and anger and frustration.
As overwhelming as your situation may seem there are ways to reduce your anxiety. Coping is not easy and because the emotional responses to infertility are complex and extend over a lengthy period of time, it is important to recognise that you and your partner may cope differently, expressing feelings differently and at different times. The following are some coping strategies to help you to focus and cope with all that you have to contend with, while bringing a calmer perspective to your life.
- Acknowledge how you feel. It is vital to understand that what you are feeling is completely normal. The diagnosis of infertility and subsequent months of tests and procedures can be emotionally, physically and financially draining. The lack of control you may experience may feel unbearable. Acknowledging it’s ok to feel sad is a good start.
- Express your feelings. The more you express yourself the easier it can become. Express yourself in words, tears, or write your feelings down.
- Seek counselling and support. As you deal with the impact that infertility can have on your life it will help to have a support structure who appreciate what you are going through, and can listen to and understand your fears and concerns. An infertility counsellor is an excellent resource in assisting you to understand the information and the implications this has for you, to put it in the context of your life and relationships, and to assist you to develop appropriate coping strategies. A counsellor will also let you know that you are not alone in coping with such a life crisis.
- Allow yourself to grieve your dream. Normally when we grieve others are there for us, to validate our feelings and confirm our continued self-worth. You may need to explain your hidden grief, if it is important for you to be validated by others. Since unresolved grief can be a major source of anxiety, you’ll have to go through a period of mourning in order to feel better again.
- Communicate with your partner. Infertility and the treatments involved can take a huge toll on a marriage, often causing unspoken resentment or feelings of inadequacy, tension, and sexual pressure. It can also create or exacerbate marital conflict. You and your partner may cope very differently and at different times. Find time to talk about it and decide if it’s conflict within your relationship or if it’s created by your infertility experience. If you feel that the stress of this journey is causing a rift in your relationship then it may be time to seek professional help. An infertility counsellor can help you to regain your footing as a couple and help you to move forward again together. If you can survive this crisis together, you can handle just about anything.
- Gather information. Read books, talk to your doctor and counsellor, join a support group and talk to others on a similar journey. Staying informed and knowing your alternatives will help you to alleviate the stress of uncertainty. Knowledge often reduces the fear and anxiety that contribute to stress. Become familiar with the tests and procedures you will have. If you have questions, please be sure to ask your specialist or nurse to explain anything you may not understand. We know that you are receiving a lot of information and that at times it may seem confusing. Remember that we are here to help.
- Ask for help. Find someone you trust and ask them to help you. That can mean anything from listening to you to rides to medical appointments, phone calls in the middle of the night or just having a quiet dinner together. The empathy and objectivity of a good friend can help you understand and deal with the intense emotions associated with infertility. Strength and perspective can also be gained by sharing your experiences and feelings with others in the same situation. It helps to know that you are not alone.
- Take Care of Yourself. Be gentle and kind to yourself. Don’t neglect your overall health; be sure to eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. Indulge yourself occasionally. Give yourself permission to take a break, to look after yourself. Find time to have fun, read books, do nice things for yourself, buy things, meet new people, take exciting classes.
- Educate those who matter to you. Friends and family members often seem insensitive and say or do things out of their ignorance, discomfort or feelings of helplessness. Educate them when you are strong enough. Those who are close to you may try to offer unsolicited and unwelcome advice. The best thing to do in this situation is to explain that you have enough advice and simply need someone to listen and try to understand.
- Keep sex fun. Sexual intercourse can quickly become more like a chore when you ‘have’ to do it, rather than a beautiful way to express love for each other. Try to keep your intimate moments loving and exciting. Light candles, plan fun music, give each other a massage – whatever makes you both feel good.
- Say no to baby-focused activities. You have every right to give yourself permission to decline invitations to baby showers, christenings, birthday parties etc. if these gatherings are too painful for you. To avoid hurting anyone’s feelings be sure to send a gift such as a gift certificate – this will also save you from having to make a painful trip to a baby store.
- Find ways to reduce stress. Don’t forget about the activities and hobbies you once engaged in that helped you to relieve stress. This could be scrapbooking, reading, light exercise, spa treatments, going to the movies – anything that helps you to unwind and relax a little.