“Infertility is inherently stressful – it can affect how you see yourself, your sexual relations, your marital relationship, and your relationships with other people.”
The treatment of infertility brings cycles of hope and despair – and turns life into an emotional roller coaster. Infertile couples need psychological support, whether it be from family, friends, doctors, counselors, on-line support groups or each other. Many infertile couples turn to Resolve, a nonprofit organization founded in 1974 to provide support and information to infertile people and to increase awareness of infertility issues, and Open Path, the Fertility and Adoption Resource for Northern California.
Patients can choose the style of counseling that best suits their needs – whether individual counseling, couples counseling, or group counseling.
Depression, anger, anxiety, frustration, irritability, and grief are normal responses to infertility. Hormones can have profound effects on emotion, so treatments that send hormone levels shooting up and down may magnify the turmoil. As months go by without success, the stress of infertility builds. For many couples, the second year of infertility treatment is particularly trying.
Infertility can have damaging effects on a couple’s relationship if concerns are not addressed. A partner may feel guilty or angry about the cause of infertility, if it is known. Both may feel frustrated if the cause is unknown. Couples often have different attitudes towards treatment that can cause friction in the relationship. One may want to pursue all options, while the other may not want to be as aggressive. As most infertility treatments are performed on the woman, the unequal emotional and physical burden she bears can strain the relationship.
Good clinics build psychological support systems into their infertility treatment program. For example, clinics supply reading material in the waiting room, such as flyers on upcoming support groups and Resolve/Open Path meetings. These can help patients understand the treatment process and find out about available support services. Some clinics develop their own counseling groups, and a few clinics have on-site counselors. Your doctor may be able to recommend a therapist who specializes in infertility patients.
Professional counseling can ease the emotional problems of infertility and may even improve the odds of conceiving a child. Recent research found that couples who participated in group counseling sessions were more likely to get pregnant than couples who did not. It is not clear whether the counseling sessions caused the difference, whether the participants were more likely to try high-tech treatments because of the support, or whether it was just a coincidence.
Most people end fertility treatment because they run out of emotional energy, not money. Couples may find it difficult to make decisions about alternative treatments or to end treatment. There’s always another treatment available – something new to try. Counseling may help the couple press on – or realize when it’s time to stop treatment.