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The Emotional Impact of Fertility Challenges - and Tips for Processing Them


For some women, ever since they were young, they have been dreaming about their chance to become a mother. But when the time comes for a woman to conceive, the anticipation and emotional turmoil can feel unbearable. The emotional intensity often increases in a woman when she reaches her mid thirties, as the ability to get pregnant continues to become more challenging. She might feel an overwhelming sense of despair when she realizes that the more time passes, the more fertility rates decrease.


Societal pressures have not helped. Women were raised with the idea that they will become mothers one day. Even if she never thought about becoming a mother before, it is rare to meet a woman in her late 30s who doesn’t at least question her own fertility. Society is often to blame for this unbearable amount of pressure women feel when they hit their late-30s.


Common self-talk might sound something like, “What if I haven’t found a partner yet? What if I’m unable to conceive? It’s all my fault! I should have tried sooner. I should have thought about this earlier while I was in my 20s.” These and many others are common doubts, fears, and feelings of shame that consume the mind of those who learn of their infertility or diminished chances of getting pregnant. The media, family, and society can intensify the pressure a couple might feel to get pregnant. A woman might feel overwhelmed by the inescapable time clock that ticks inside her and this can chip away at her self-confidence, feelings of self worth, and sense of purpose.


Fertility challenges affect women and their partners in different ways. When a woman finds out she does not have a choice to have a baby, she might feel empty inside, as though she has something wrong with her or that she is not enough. Partners often take on the role of support system during this process. If the problem is related to a man’s biology, as in low sperm count, then the man might feel shame or suffer from similar emotions of low self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy. During this process, partners of any gender might downplay their own feelings and repress their emotions, which can cause further turmoil within the relationship.


Babycenter dot com offers resources on how to cope with the emotional ups and downs of fertility challenges. Below are some common tips from clinical counselors on how to cope with these challenges.

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Recognize that a fertility problem can be a crisis

Acknowledge that a fertility problem might be the most painful problem you and your partner will ever have to face. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling an overwhelming sense of loss, stress, or despair. These are normal feelings for any couple to bear and counseling and therapy can help.


Identify and share your feelings

It is important to feel supported when feeling whatever it is that comes up for you during this trying time. Talk openly to someone you trust or take out a pen and paper and start writing your feelings down. If you can, share your feelings with a trusted family member or friend. It helps to let your guard down and know that you will be comforted when you do.


Don’t blame yourself

Negative thought patterns can impact a person’s mind and make matters worse. Try and resist the temptation to bear all the blame and listen to the way you talk to yourself in your head. Is it supportive and forgiving? Or are you blaming yourself and feeling ashamed? Notice these things and remind yourself that your fertility challenge is not your fault. Yakov Epstein, a psychologist from Rutgers University stated, “Instead of berating yourself, look forward to how you are going to manage the situation.” It is crucial to forgive yourself and focus on the present moment and what you can do.


Work with your partner as a team

Working with your partner is absolutely necessary to overcome these challenges. Don’t blame your partner for your problems. Instead, pay attention to what your partner is going through and work together to find ways to share the burden. "If you’re taking care of each other emotionally, you can unite to fight the problem," says Katie Marosek, a licensed clinical social worker who has worked with couples with fertility challenges for over 20 years.


Educate yourself

The technologies behind infertility treatments are changing all the time. It is important to stay educated to make the most informed decisions. Talk to other people who are going through the same challenges and join a support group. Read up on the most recent research and talk with your doctors about the latest advancements.


Set a limit on how long you’re willing to try

Start the conversation early with your partner about how far you are willing to go to get pregnant. You will feel more in control of your life if you have a clear idea of when you are going to stop trying. For more on making the decision to stop treatment read here.


Decide how much you’re willing to pay

In vitro fertilizations (IVF) averages $12,400 a cycle.” And you may need to have more than one to get pregnant. Develop a financial plan with your partner and a budget to cope with the financial burdens of treatments. Start with your insurance company. Find out how much they cover. Keep a budget and stay on top of your finances with your partner. Have a plan B because nothing with regards to fertility treatments is certain.


Get support from Professionals and other people with fertility problems

Shame, isolation, blame, and loss are common emotional states that only escalate by society’s failure to recognize the grief caused by infertility. Find other couples who are going through the same problems so you can feel heard. Talking to people going through similar struggles helps validate your feelings and reveals to you how widespread it is. Support groups, counseling, therapists who understand the medical issues of infertility are all ways to get help.


Help others help you

Educate your family and close friends on the issues you are facing so they can better understand what you are going through.


Say no to baby-focused activities (if that is helpful for you)

Give yourself a free pass to avoid certain social activities if they are too painful for you and your partner. If there are baby showers or kid's birthday parties, don’t be afraid to say no and send a gift in the mail instead.


Balance optimism and realism

Staying hopeful and optimistic about the outcome is good and it is also important to know the facts. About one third of all women undergoing fertility treatments are unsuccessful in having a biological child. It is helpful to combine optimism with factual information when coping with the hardships that come with fertility challenges and going through multiple rounds of treatment.


Take care of yourself by pursuing other interests

Look for other ways to occupy yourself throughout this difficult time. Learn a new hobby, take a workout class, a dance class, or get a massage and treat yourself. Make an effort to do things that will take your mind off fertility treatments for awhile. Go outside and take a hike, and then go to a comedy show with your partner; laughter after all, can be the best medicine.


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