Coping with the stress of infertility


Infertility is a medical condition that is known to cause a great deal of stress, affecting every aspect of a couple’s life. A diagnosis of infertility can have a profound effect how partners feel about themselves; and about their relationship with each other, as well as with their family, friends, and even strangers; and deeply impact their overall perspective on life.

Fortunately, there are proven strategies for dealing more effectively with this stress which can be used to help you and your partner cope during this trying time. In this article, Mandy Rodrigues, our resident psychologist at Medfem Fertility Clinic, shares tips for implementing these strategies.

Infertility is a particularly stressful condition, because it creates a great deal of uncertainty and emotional upheaval in a couple’s daily lives. Most couples expect without any doubt that they will achieve a pregnancy easily when they decide to start trying. When this doesn’t happen, their hopes and dreams of achieving a family are threatened, and it can create a life crisis. In addition, the diagnosis of infertility and the subsequent months of tests and procedures can be emotionally, physically and financially draining.

The emotional responses to infertility are intense and complex, and often extend over a long period of time. Some common emotions that most couples face include shock, denial, loss, devastation, jealousy, shame, isolation, anger and frustration, which can become overwhelming.

There is no ‘right’ way to manage these emotions, but some of the strategies that have helped thousands of couples deal with infertility over the last few decades may be helpful to you.

1. Take good care of yourself

* It is important to acknowledge how you feel and to realise that what you are feeling is completely normal. It is OK to feel sad, angry or any other emotion that arises.

* Express how you feel in a way that works best for you: in words, tears or songs, or writing in a journal. The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the more it benefits you.

* Allow yourself to grieve. Unresolved grief is a major source of anxiety, and you have to go through a period of mourning to feel better again.

* Be gentle and kind to yourself and take care of your health: eat healthy and nutritious meals, exercise in a way that is enjoyable, get plenty of rest and sleep and spend time outdoors. Indulge yourself on occasion!

* Revisit the activities and hobbies you once engaged in that helped you to relieve stress. Take time to have fun, read books, spoil yourself, meet new people and learning new and exciting things.

* Empower yourself with information. Staying informed and knowing what alternatives you have will help alleviate the stress. Knowledge and understanding often reduces the fear and anxiety caused by the uncertainty and contributes to stress. Read books and visit websites, talk to your doctor and counsellor, and become familiar with the tests and procedures that you may have to undergo. If you have questions or if there is anything you feel you do not understand, be sure to ask your specialist or nurse to explain, or explain again. There is a great deal of information to process and many medical terms that may seem confusing. Your fertility team is there to help you.

* Reach out for support. It helps to know that you are not alone. Join a support group and talk to others on a similar journey. Strength and perspective can be gained from sharing your experiences and feelings with others in the same situation.

* Ask for help from someone you trust. Help can mean anything from just listening to you to driving with you to medical appointments, to taking your phone calls in the middle of the night or to just having a quiet cup of tea together. The empathy and objectivity of a good friend can help you understand and deal with the intense emotions associated with infertility.

* Seek counselling. 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 help you realise that you are not alone in coping with such a life crisis.

2. Be considerate to your partner

* It is important to recognise that you and your partner may cope differently, expressing feelings differently and at different times. Allow your partner to express his/her feelings in the way that is most appropriate for him/her.

* 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. Find time to talk about it and decide if the conflict within your relationship is created – or only intensified – by your infertility experience.

* Get professional help if the stress of your infertility journey is causing a rift in your relationship. 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.

* Find ways to reduce stress together. This could be getting a couples’ massage or spa treatments, going to the movies or seeing a show at the theatre – anything that helps you to unwind and relax a little.

* Keep sex fun. Having sex 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 music, give each other a massage – whatever makes you both feel good.

3. Maintain your relationships

* Help others to help you. Friends and family members often seem insensitive and say or do things out of their ignorance, discomfort or feelings of helplessness. They may try to offer unsolicited and unwelcome advice, or say things that seem hurtful or thoughtless. Help them to help you in a way that you can appreciate. One way to handle this situation is to explain that you have enough advice and simply need someone to listen and to try to understand.

* Say no to baby-focused activities if these gatherings are too painful for you. You have every right to give yourself permission to decline invitations to baby showers, christenings, birthday parties and the like. You can do so in a polite way to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings and be sure to send a gift such as a gift certificate, which will save you from having to make a painful trip to a baby store.

Where to get help

When the stress of infertility is affecting you, your partner, your relationships and your life, we invite you to come and meet our team of fertility specialists at Medfem Fertility Clinic, including Mandy Rodrigues, our resident psychologist who specialises in infertility and has decades of experience in helping couple cope with the stress of their infertility journey.
Simply click here to book an initial consultation or contact us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.

We look forward to meeting you!


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