Infertility is one of the most emotionally painful things a woman and couple can experience. Unfortunately, it’s fairly common, affecting about 1 in 10 American women.
The medical definition of infertility is the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse, or six months if over age 35. Whether it’s infertility in women, infertility in men, or an inability to conceive due to an unknown cause, 12-13 out of 100 couples have trouble conceiving in the United States.
Infertility can be either primary, which describes the inability to conceive one’s first child, or secondary, which means the inability to conceive after previously giving birth.
Since so many people struggle with months and years of waiting and disappointment when trying to become parents, their mental and emotional health can inevitably suffer. Yet the mental and emotional side effects of infertility are often only mentioned as an afterthought.
But when you’re dealing with infertility, the uncertainty and sense of loss can be heartrending. Every month, or every medical intervention, presents a tantalizing combination of hope and fear. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions, and there’s no way to avoid it as long as you are still hoping to have a baby.
Don’t endure this struggle alone. Infertility can wreak havoc on your emotional life and marriage. Some couples can weather the emotional storm, but their relationship could still use some shoring up. Let’s discuss why counseling for infertility can be helpful for you and your marriage.
Infertility and Mental Health
As we’ve discussed, infertility doesn’t only impact your body, your future, and your wallet. It also affects every other aspect of your being, from your mind and heart to your relationships and everyday life.
Indefinite Waiting and Uncertainty
According to the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health, infertility has been associated in studies with anger, anxiety, depression, marital problems, sexual dysfunction, and social isolation. These conditions were found to be a result of the struggle with infertility.
Other studies have suggested that depression rates are much higher than average in infertile couples. And some researchers have found that these effects are temporary. Still, that doesn’t make depression easier to handle when you’re experiencing it.
In one study reported by Harvard, half of the women surveyed at a fertility clinic reported that this time in their lives was the most difficult they’d ever experienced.
When you’re struggling with infertility, not only are you dealing with waiting and uncertainty but with the related stressors that come into play:
- Side effects of infertility treatment and any medication you’re taking.
- Financial stresses from the enormous expense of infertility treatments and/or testing.
- The stress of the decision-making process – should you attempt medical interventions? What kind? How many? For how long?
WebMD reports a study that found over half of women and a third of men at five Californian fertility clinics experienced symptoms of clinical depression during the process. Moreover, 76% of women and 61% of men reported symptoms of clinical anxiety.
One of the most difficult parts of handling grief, loss, or personal struggles is knowing how to respond to other people’s insensitive but possibly well-meaning comments.
When a couple struggling to become parents hear comments such as, “I wish I had that problem,” or, “Have you thought about adopting?” or, “Just stop trying and it will happen,” this can compound the pain immeasurably. People asking questions about when you’re “finally” going to have children can make the situation even worse.
Having a mental game plan for handling these types of comments and questions can make it much easier to know how to respond in the moment.
Coping with Pregnancy Loss
Many women struggling with infertility conceive, only to suffer one or multiple miscarriages. Pregnancy loss amplifies the emotional pain of infertility to almost unbearable levels. The grief can be intense and oftentimes hidden from other people, rendering it even more isolating.
Infertility and Marriage
So far, we’ve touched on the way infertility struggles can affect a couple’s relationship, but let’s explore that topic a little more, and consider how Christian counseling for infertility can help a couple walking through this difficult time.
How Infertility Affects a Relationship
Very Well Family offers examples of common struggles infertile couples experience in their relationship:
- Sexual stress. When the sexual relationship is focused on attempting to conceive, dysfunction can surface quickly.
- Disagreements in decision-making. Should you tell other people? Should you attempt medical intervention, and if so, at what point? These topics aren’t just automatically agreed upon, and they’re emotionally fraught.
- Fears about whose “fault” it is. Medically, infertility can sometimes be pinpointed to one person in a couple, which can make the emotional aspect even more painful, leading to misplaced guilt or shame, resentment, or anxiety about your partner resenting you.
- Misunderstandings. People cope with stress and grief differently. If your spouse tends to shut down, or is more emotional than you are, frustration and misunderstanding can compound your struggles.
Couples Counseling for Infertility
When a couple is affected by fertility issues, couples therapy can help improve communication and may make it easier for the couple to make decisions that work for both partners. Sometimes partners may disagree about the best course of treatment or one partner may feel hesitant to seek medical help, and a therapist can help a couple navigate these concerns. Therapy may also be a useful place to discuss how long infertility treatments should be pursued or the amount of money that should be spent on attempting treatment. – Good Therapy
Couples counseling can help you navigate the issues surrounding infertility in the healthiest way possible, allowing you to strengthen your relationship and remain a team while giving each other space to grieve separately as needed.
Hope for Dealing with Infertility
Psychology Today recommends that if you are struggling with infertility and concerned about your mental and emotional well-being, you stop and do a mental health check-in.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I unusually disorganized and/or forgetful?
- Am I struggling to make small, everyday decisions?
- Do I desire or ask others to take care of my daily responsibilities, even the ones I used to enjoy?
The answers to those questions can help you identify your current mental health condition and know where to start when speaking with a counselor.
Psychology Today also recommends coping strategies you can use if you are struggling:
- Focus on the present. Try to avoid ruminating about the past and wondering about the future. Just for today, focus on today.
- Practice self-care. Are you setting aside time for sleep? Are you exercising (taking a walk counts)? Are you getting some time by yourself? Are you spending time with other people?
- Focus on work. It can be difficult to get work done when you’re overwhelmed emotionally, but if you can push through the fog, work can help you feel accomplished and offer a sense of purpose amid stress.
A counselor can help you with other coping mechanisms, such as cognitive restructuring and screening for depression and anxiety.
A Stronger Marriage in the Waiting
Although you are only one half of your marriage and you can’t change your spouse’s response, here are some practices you can do. These habits will increase the likelihood of your marriage thriving (Verywell Family):
Communicate. Talk about what you’re feeling, even when you might want to shut down.
Connect. Find time to spend together when you’re not discussing trying to conceive. Do something you enjoy, together.
Allow for differences. Recognize that your spouse will handle infertility differently than you do, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care, or that they’re too emotional, etc.
Find social support. Even if your friends or family members are unaware of your infertility, spending time with them can be healing and helpful. Isolation compounds mental health issues.
Make a plan. Deciding together on your next step can remove some of the frustration of waiting.
Compromise. Make sure both of your perspectives are heard and considered.
When you speak with a Christian counselor for infertility, you will be able to talk in a compassionate, understanding environment. Your counselor wants your marriage to thrive and your faith in God to be strengthened, and he or she will offer trusted, reliable therapeutic techniques and an environment of safety to facilitate your healing and growth. Call today to find out more.
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