How counselling can help you through your fertility journey

For most couples, a diagnosis of infertility can create one of the most stressful and difficult life crises. Working with a professional psychologist during the fertility journey will provide coping skills to deal with the emotional upheaval, the uncertainty and the many medical decisions and procedures involved, and can help transform this distressing life crisis into a time for positive personal growth.

In this article, we consider some of the usual responses that couples experience following a diagnosis of fertility and during the treatment journey; find out how this stress is impacting you and your partner; and discover when counselling becomes essential as well as where to find professional assistance.

The emotional component of infertility

A diagnosis of infertility has an immediate and significant impact on a couples’ psychological well-being. They are suddenly faced with one of life’s most distressing situations. Most couples experience significant feelings of loss, as well as great emotional upheaval. Anxiety, depression as well as feeling out of control or isolated are common experiences as couples face the uncertainties and challenges that comes with infertility.

Coping with the multitude of medical decisions and procedures during fertility treatment also creates emotional ups and downs. Feeling overwhelmed at times is understandably a normal response that is common among fertility patients.

The expertise and experience of a qualified psychologist that specialises in fertility will enable and empower couples to cope better with the emotional aspect of infertility and its treatment.

For this reason, fertility counselling is an important component of fertility treatment at Medfem Fertility Clinic.

Is the physical and emotional stress of infertility impacting you?

You can determine if the physical and emotional stress of infertility is impacting your emotional life by taking Medfem’s Infertility Stress Test below. Simply answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to each question below.

* I am not optimistic that I will fall pregnant soon. Yes – No
* I’m afraid I may never give birth or hold a pregnancy. Yes – No
* I feel very discouraged and sometimes think I am just going through the motions. Yes – No
* I feel like a failure because I’m unable to become pregnant or carry a pregnancy. Yes – No
* I find that I feel sad when a friend or family member tells me that they are pregnant. Yes – No
* I avoid friends and family members who are pregnant or have babies. Yes – No
* I find that I feel sad most of the time. Yes – No
* I don’t feel the support I need from my partner. Yes – No
* I don’t feel the support I need from my family and friends. Yes – No
* I feel like my life is on hold. Yes – No
* I feel like I am being punished. Yes – No
* My sex life is suffering as a result of infertility. Yes – No
* My sleep is disturbed by thoughts related to infertility. Yes – No
* My relationship with my friends is not as good as it was as they do not understand. Yes – No
* I’m having difficulty making decisions regarding our infertility options. Yes – No
* My anxiety levels are higher than they were before infertility. Yes – No
* I’m often hurt by comments like “just relax” that minimise the difficulty of infertility. Yes – No
* I am ashamed to discuss this with friends or family. Yes – No

If you answered yes to five or more of these questions, infertility is impacting your emotional life negatively and a counselling session with a qualified psychologist specialising in infertility will make a significant difference.

How can counselling help? Dealing with emotions…

A professional psychologist with experience in infertility treatment can help a great deal by assisting individuals and couples to learn how to cope with the physical and emotional changes associated with infertility, as well as with the demands of infertility treatment. A good therapist will assist you in sorting out emotions and feelings, help you to communicate with others more clearly and strengthen already present coping skills while helping you to develop new coping strategies.

For some couples, the focus may be on how to deal with the emotional upheaval, including learning how to control the inevitable stress, anxiety or depression. Patients that are taught problem-solving strategies in a supportive environment are better able to work through their grief, fear and other emotions so that they can find resolution.

How can counselling help? Making difficult decisions…

For other couples, the focus of counselling may be on how to choose the right fertility treatment or when to begin exploring other family building options.

During infertility treatment, couples are regularly faced with making crucial and tough decisions that often involve complex options.

For example, you and your partner may be at a treatment crossroad, deciding whether to continue with a certain treatment or to try a different approach; or perhaps you need to choose between different treatment possibilities. It may be that you are considering third party assistance such as egg donation, sperm donation or surrogacy, each of which involve various issues to take into account. Or perhaps you are considering exploring other family building options, such as adoption.

Discussing the various options with a counsellor who has decades of experience with infertility will allow you to explore your feelings about each option; facilitate clarification of your thinking and assist with better decision making.

When is it essential to get help?

While all couples on a fertility journey can benefit immensely from professional counselling, there are times when counselling becomes a necessity.

A consultation with a psychologist is crucial if you and your partner are having difficulty communicating, or if you each have different beliefs and ideas about which direction to take. Similarly, you may be having difficulty coping with your partner’s response. Because the fertility journey is undertaken by a couple working together to achieve a common goal of a family, it is crucial to address the issues in the relationship caused by infertility before important decisions are made.

Furthermore, certain feelings, changes in behaviour and symptoms can be red flags for serious emotional stress that impacts your quality of life and require the assistance of a professional psychologist.

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), if you experience any of the symptoms detailed below, especially if they persist over a prolonged period of time, it is crucial to seek professional assistance.

These include high levels of anxiety as well as depression that doesn’t lift over time. It also includes persistent feelings of pessimism, guilt or worthlessness, and feelings of bitterness or anger that do not abate.

A change in your sleep patterns may also be a red flag, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, waking up unusually early in the mornings or sleeping more than what is usual for you. Similarly, a change in your appetite or an increase or decrease in your weight can be a warning sign, as is the increased use of drugs or alcohol.

Many fertility patients have trouble thinking of anything other than infertility, but this could become a significant problem, especially if it also accompanied by difficulty with concentration, or a diminished ability to accomplish tasks, or a loss of interest in usual activities.

Other red flags that assistance is required includes strained interpersonal relationships with your partner, your family, your friends and even colleagues, as well as social isolation.

Certainly, if you have any thoughts about death or suicide, it is imperative to speak to a psychologist immediately.

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 Rodriques, our resident psychologist who specialises in infertility and has decades of experience in helping couple cope with the stress of their infertility journey and is available for private consultations.

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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