The Psychological Impact of Infertility Treatment
Individuals who learn they are infertile often experience the normal but nevertheless distressing emotions common to those who are grieving any significant loss — in this case the ability to procreate. Typical reactions include shock, grief, depression, anger, and frustration, as well as loss of self-esteem, self-confidence, and a sense of control over one's destiny. Relationships may suffer — not only the primary relationship with a spouse or partner, but also those with friends and family members who may inadvertently cause pain by offering well-meaning but misguided opinions and advice. Couples dealing with infertility might avoid social interaction with friends who are pregnant and families who have children. They probably struggle with anxiety-related sexual dysfunction and other marital conflicts. While medical interventions offer much-needed help and hope, studies suggest that they may also add to the stress, anxiety, and grief that patients are already experiencing from infertility itself. Drugs and hormones used to treat infertility can also cause a variety of psychological side effects.
Over all, infertility interventions help about half of patients become parents, with the likelihood of success decreasing with age. Patients who learn they are to become parents may be overjoyed, but also must learn to adjust to new roles and pressures — both during pregnancy and after childbirth. Women who have suffered multiple miscarriages, for example, are likely to feel anxious about whether they will be able to carry to term. Older couples may debate whether to undergo prenatal testing such as amniocentesis. Treatment failure, on the other hand, may trigger a renewed cycle of grieving and distress. It's also important to know when to stop seeking treatment. Frequently one partner wants to end treatment before another, which can cause a strain on the relationship. Most patients need to gradually, and with great difficulty, make the transition from wanting biological children to accepting that they will have to pursue adoption or come to terms with being childless.
Everyone has feelings and emotional ups and downs as they pursue infertility treatment. Feeling overwhelmed at times is a perfectly normal response. Many patients find a way to cope on their own, or they seek support from friends, family, or one of the many infertility support groups now available in person and online. But some need additional help. If you experience symptoms like depression, loss of interest, difficulty in concentration, sleep disturbances, over a prolonged period of time, you may benefit a great deal from working with a mental health professional. If you find yourself feeling anxious, depressed, out of control, or isolated, you are not alone.
Infertility often creates one of the most distressing life crises that a couple has ever experienced together. The long term inability to conceive a child can evoke significant feelings of loss. Coping with the multitude of medical decisions and the uncertainties that infertility brings can create great emotional upheaval for most couples. Some of the therapies that are useful are counselling, psychotherapy, relaxation techniques and medication.