How To Cope With Infertility
First of all, know that you are not alone.
If you’re one of the 12 percent of women having trouble getting pregnant or staying pregnant, then you probably already know the statistics.
You know that 9 percent of married women are infertile, and you’ve probably been told over and over again that fertility declines after the age of 35. By 40, your natural chance of pregnancy is less than 5 percent per cycle. And then there are the other truths that are hidden behind those statistics. The hardship that infertility has on a relationship, as well as on your own mental health, self-esteem and self-worth. There’s also the financial burden, and the toll that comes along with it.
“Infertility is emotionally taxing for a number of reasons,” says Elena Welsh, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles who specializes in women’s issues. “Because the process inherently involves wanting something desperately but having little control over how or when it happens, it is very common for this dynamic to trigger difficult emotions and thought patterns, including sadness, shame, jealousy, comparison and anxiety spirals.”
We spoke with therapists to learn more about coping mechanisms to help with infertility.
Be open with your partner
Amanda Fludd, a licensed social worker and mother of two who suffered through four miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy that almost took her life, says her spouse was supportive, but she withdrew from the relationship emotionally. The constant loss was painful to speak about — even with the person who was sharing the grief.
“The process can strain aspects of communication and connection in a relationship because it’s such a unique and personal experience,” Fludd says. “As I tell clients, ‘We are creatures that need comfort, so be open with your partner about how to support you emotionally and physically, even if you don’t have the words to describe your internal experience.’ ”
One of the biggest relationship issues regarding fertility is when partners are mismatched in terms of their desire for children, Welsh says. If some partner is more invested in the outcome, she may start to feel alone or emotionally distant from her partner throughout the process. That’s why it’s especially important to be open and to communicate your feelings, she says.
When you first learn that you can’t have children the way you dreamed you could, the first thing to do is to allow yourself time to grieve, and it’s OK if this news feels emotionally crushing, Welsh says. Journal, talk to someone you trust, listen to your favorite sad song, and allow the emotions to come and be. When you’re ready, it can be helpful to begin to explore some of the many other avenues or paths to becoming a parent to decide if any of these journeys are the right step for you. “If you don’t take the time to grieve the loss of what you thought would be, there will be less room to explore what could be,” she says.
Do something physical
Fludd suggests engaging in activities that take away some of the stress and pressure, such as running, yoga, nature walks or even visiting with a fertility-based therapist. “It produces a physical environment for success because it addresses the emotional and physical strain of trying to have a child,” says Fludd, who visited an acupuncturist, ran and spent time in online support groups. She tried hard to redirect her mind from the unhelpful Will this ever happen? thoughts, and channeled her energy to physical things, because that worked for her naturally.
Instinctively, you may feel like retracting. Instead, show up and talk about your feelings, Fludd says. Talk to your partner, but start first with support groups of like-minded women who get it. Fludd joined many pregnancy-loss and fertility groups when she started her journey, and she shared more with them than she had shared with anyone else in her life. “There was no judgment, and they got it,” she says.
Cling to your support system
Infertility can make you feel like you’re not worth anything because you can’t make it happen for yourself and for your partner, says Giuseppe Aragona, M.D., a general practitioner and family doctor at Prescription Doctor. “You may push your partner away because you fear they will not understand the burden you carry,” Aragona says. “But you have to remember in this moment that support is what you need. Without it, you will not be able to get through this in a stable way, and it may lead to negative consequences.”
As you continue on the infertility journey, you want to be mindful of letting the process consume you, Welsh says. “This is very natural, but because this can be a long journey for some, it is important to make space for the rest of your life to continue,” she says. Welsh encourages clients to still find time in their lives for other interests or relationships to maintain a sense of balance.
It’s also important to maintain awareness of the quality of your thoughts. It can be easy to get stuck in repetitive thought patterns about your infertility and fears about the process and outcome that can be emotionally draining. When this happens, Welsh suggests writing your worries on a piece of paper or sharing them with a loved one or friend — and then trying to distract yourself if you’re still struggling to move on or to concentrate. You don’t want to repress how you’re feeling, but you also don’t want to get sucked into thought patterns that aren’t helpful.