Coping with Infertility
Infertility can impact many aspects of a woman's overall health beyond her reproductive system. When a woman or couple struggles with infertility, it can cause emotional distress and lead to mental health-related issues, such as depression, anxiety, loss of identity, or poor self-esteem.1-3 All of these factors can take a toll, and greatly impact emotional well-being. Coping with infertility can be a lifelong process, and one that takes time and care. Below are several mechanisms that may be used to cope with infertility, and can be used by individuals or couples.
Allow yourself to feel
Many strong and overwhelming emotions can accompany infertility. Some of these include feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy, jealousy, anger, fear, and stress, among others. When coping with infertility, it's important to allow yourself to feel these emotions and address them head on. It may be easy for others who don't understand what you're going through to encourage you to move on or to provide reasons why what you're going through isn't as bad as you feel. While the motives behind saying things like these are usually pure, and others want to help you feel better, these statements can be belittling and frustrating.
Infertility is not an issue that can be pushed to the side and forgotten about. For many, it will impact them for a long time or these feelings may never fully go away. It's okay to take the time you need to explore and investigate these feelings and allow yourself to fully experience them. However, if you or your partner is struggling with these feelings to the point where they are impacting your overall emotional well-being, it may be a good idea to check in with a support group or mental health professional.
Build your support network
In addition to seeking the support of a mental health counselor or other mental health professional, your support network can be grown in the form of support groups that are online like ours or in-person. Your provider may be able to recommend some in-person options for you in your area. Support groups are a great way to meet and talk with other individuals in the same situation as you. Some of the stories that others in your support group share may provide you with hope, answer questions that you are having, calm your fears, or make you feel less alone.
In addition to joining a support group and seeing a mental health professional, some individuals may find it helpful to let close family members and friends in on their infertility struggles. It is completely up to you to determine, who, if anyone, you share this journey with, however, having allies in your life that know what's going on and can provide you with support daily may be helpful. Of course, it's important to check in with your partner or spouse (if applicable) before telling others outside of your relationship what is going on, to ensure that they are alright with your circle being expanded as well.
Reestablish or maintain intimacy
If a couple struggling with infertility is still actively trying to conceive, intimate moments may become more of a chore or a calculated process rather than an expression of closeness or love. It is important to continue to foster a sense of intimacy that is just between you and your partner, and without any goals in mind other than to show you care about one another. Some individuals struggling with infertility may not want to be intimate on a sexual level at times, especially if they are experiencing overwhelming emotions or stress. However, it's important to remember that intimacy can take on many forms, beyond sex. Surprising your partner with a heartfelt letter, cooking their favorite meal, or doing an activity that they love with them are all ways to be intimate.
Take care of your physical and mental health
When we get overwhelmed or are experiencing strong emotional distress, it's easy for us to let our physical and mental health fall by the wayside. Practicing regular exercise, getting enough sleep, drinking adequate amounts of water, and eating a well-balanced diet are all ways to fortify our bodies and prepare them to take on whatever lies ahead. Taking care of our physical health affects our mental health as well.4,5 Some lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight and balancing your diet properly may even increase a woman or couple's chances of conceiving.6
Explore treatment options, if desired
If you have not yet seen a specialist about your infertility, it may be time to consider visiting a reproductive endocrinologist, or other fertility specialist. These providers may be able to help pinpoint the cause of your and/or your partner's infertility, and provide you with treatment options that may increase your chances of becoming pregnant. There are treatment options including lifestyle changes (like diet and exercise, as mentioned previously), fertility medications, intrauterine insemination (also called artificial insemination), in vitro fertilization (IVF), and more. Although there is no one-size-fits-all treatment option, different interventions may be of aid in specific situations. In some cases, individuals may choose to forego treatment and pursue adoption, or may choose not to pursue any options at all. Each couple or individual's choices are unique to them and are completely valid.
It is also important to consider that fertility treatment options may require time investments and be financially costly. Setting realistic financial limits and guidelines for yourself and/or your partner may be necessary in order to avoid the stressors that can come along with significant debt.