Emotional aspects of infertility

Infertility is caused by a range of problems which include polycystic ovarian syndrome (POS), low sperm count and endometriosis. And whilst no-one would argue about the physical causes of infertility it is easy to overlook the emotional aspects as well.

Infertility can take on toll on your health, relationships and emotional well being.

If you stop to think about it, fertility and the ability to have a baby is one of the most important decisions a couple will make. Choosing to start a family is a life changing decision and one that both of you must be fully committed to.

If one half of the couple is ready but the other isn’t then you need to sit down and discuss this or decide to wait until both of you are ready. Starting a family is not a date ‘set in stone’ so only make this decision when you are ready and not because of pressure from others.

External pressures

It is difficult when friends or family start asking you ‘when are you going to start a family?’ but whilst this is an exciting prospect for them it can put you under undue pressure. And, not to mention, rather annoying as well.

The best thing to do in this situation is to state calmly and firmly that you will be starting a family when you are ready and not before. It is not for anyone else to decide; it is you and your partner’s decision only.

You will find that people don’t mean to be cruel or pushy with their remarks: they see it as a normal part of a relationship as well as a good topic of conversation but it can become wearying after a time. Especially if it is your mother doing the asking!

Most mothers are excited at the thought of being a grandmother and love the idea of helping you with the baby but if you feel a bit overwhelmed, a tactful word in her ear can help.

The same applies to friends: your friends may think that they are being helpful but their remarks, however well intentioned, can seem a bit insensitive. Just tell them that you will let them know when you are starting a family.

And what also makes things difficult is when you see friends with their babies, which then makes you feel inadequate or resentful. You may feel that you are isolated or unable to discuss your feelings but talking about this with other couples in a similar situation can help. Another option is to talk to your GP who can advise about infertility treatment.

And most importantly, talk to each other.

The other problem is that if you become too stressed or uptight about this then it makes it harder to conceive. It then becomes a vicious circle: you are tense about this and try too hard which makes intercourse difficult which then becomes a chore rather than a natural event and so on.

It seems to be that the more you concentrate on trying to conceive the harder it gets. If you can relax and let nature take its course then the greater the chance it will happen.

Whatever your current situation, you will be experiencing a range of emotions which go hand in hand with infertility. These tend to be a series of stages which start with questions, then realisation, and finally, a search for answers.

Emotional stages of infertility

The first stage starts with either of the couple asking themselves questions such as ‘what is wrong with me/him/her?’, ‘what has gone wrong?’, ‘why me?’, what if I can never have children?’ and ‘am I sterile?’

This can happen if you have been trying for some time but to no avail. You eagerly anticipate every cycle with the hope that this will result in pregnancy but nothing happens. As time goes on you can go from this anticipation to a state of misery or depression.

The overwhelming emotion is that of fear. Fear of not being able to conceive. Fear of being infertile. Fear of never being able to have children. And fear of losing your partner or your relationship breaking up.

This perceived lack of control can then lead to recriminations.

Realisation is where you think that the problem of infertility could lie with you (or your partner). Women are usually better at
admitting this than men who tend to see this as an admission of failure. They may see this as a slur on their masculinity or a statement of inadequacy.

The real issue is what to do next. If the problem appears to lie with the man and he is reluctant to seek medical advice (as many men are) then all sorts of negative feelings come to the fore. Anger, guilt, frustration, blame and jealously are just some of those emotions.

This then leads to arguments, many of which are overblown or destructive.

Men and women react differently to emotional situations so it is important that each of you realise this. Men are considered to be bad at expressing emotions so let him decide when he is ready to talk rather than pressurising him to do so.

Conversely, the man has to realise that his partner is not just being irrational: many women are naturally maternal and being unable to conceive is seen as a failure as a woman.

If both of you feel that you cannot discuss this rationally then counselling may be an option. Many fertility clinics offer this service so think about using it.

So what’s the answer?

Communication is the answer. Talk to each other, talk to anyone else you know is going through the same thing and talk to your GP.
Get as much support as you can. Find a local support group as these can invaluable in terms of help and advice. Plus they are full of people who are in a similar position to yourselves so will understand what you are going through.

Visit our links section for details of useful organisations and support groups.

Talking to your GP is advisable, especially if you are under 35 and have been trying to conceive for a year or more.

And speak to him/her if you are aged 35 or over and have been trying for a baby for at least 6 months. The risk of infertility does increase once you reach the age of 35 as a result of the ageing process so tests will be required to determine the causes.

Visit our section on What is Infertility? to learn more about age and fertility.

The hardest thing about this is the realisation that one or both of you is infertile. This can be devastating and difficult to accept but it needn’t be a permanent state of affairs. You may, understandably, feel that you have had a ‘death sentence’ as regards your ability to start a family but rest assured there is help available to you.

Medical advances in the field of assisted reproduction have been successful for countless numbers of people so you have a good chance of being one of the lucky ones.

There are numerous fertility treatments such as IVF, IUI, GIFT, ZIFT, ICSI and Donor Insemination. These all help with joining the sperm with the egg (or eggs) and have a variable success rate.

This may sound disheartening but successful conception depends on a variety of factors which include your age, your health and the cause of your infertility. Other factors include the duration of your fertility problem and the number of eggs in your ovaries (women).

If you are a woman aged 40 or more then be aware that the success rate decreases at this age.

If you have managed to conceive in the past then this will increase your success rate.

The emotional roller coaster continues even when you seek medical help. Once you have spoken to your GP then you become in effect, the property of the medical profession. You will be subject to tests, appointments, treatments, schedules etc and not to mention the huge investment in terms of both time and money.

It will be stressful as well as both physically and mentally exhausting. You will feel as if you have handed over control of your reproductive systems (and your lives) to white coated experts but with no guarantee of success. And as time goes on the tests become more intimate and costs start to mount.

It can be difficult; you will feel as if your body is not your own and that the whole world knows your business. Sexual intercourse becomes mechanical and something that has to be done rather than spontaneous and fun.

And, there can be a sense of shame at having to seek help.

However, fertility clinics, doctors and other healthcare professionals are there to reassure you. They will be professional yet sympathetic to your concerns and even though they have ‘seen this before’ you should not feel as if you are just another infertility case.

It helps having a support network close to hand. This can consist of close friends and family members who can empathise with you and provide a sympathetic ear where needed. Support groups can help as can online support via discussion groups and forums.

If you have both realised that there is a problem and that it needs to be addressed the next step is to see your GP or visit a fertility clinic. They will ask you how long you have been trying and will ask you to persist with this if it has been for less than a year.

But if you are over 35, have had a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or damage to your reproductive organs then your GP will recommend treatment after 6 months of trying.

If your GP thinks that there is a fertility problem then he/she will conduct a thorough medical examination before referring you for tests.

These tests can be carried out at a fertility clinic or a hospital.

Once you have received the results of these, your GP and hospital/fertility clinic staff will discuss treatment options with you.

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