Managing the stress of infertility – Phoenix, El Paso
If you’ve been struggling to get pregnant, you know how hard this journey can be. Even if you haven’t yet begun your fertility treatment, you may already be struggling with the emotional issues that infertility can bring. Many people find themselves feeling sad, worried, or some combination of the two. Some find that they have trouble sleeping, are irritable, lack energy, and/or have trouble concentrating.
If you’re feeling this way, we want you to know that we understand what you’re going through. We’ve supported thousands of couples in this journey, and we’ve seen how tough it can be for many of them. Fortunately, you’ll have a great support system here to help you. Also, please know that while the journey can be difficult, every parent says that it was worth it to have their child.
The stress of infertility is the sense of loss
First, know that you’re not alone. In fact, some studies have shown that infertility patients have stress levels similar to those of cancer patients! Know that you’re not imagining it, nor should you just “get over it” and ignore your feelings of stress and anxiety. It’s very normal, and even expected, to have these feelings.
At the core of the stress of infertility is a sense of loss. Having envisioned your family (often for many years), you grieve the loss of this dream when it doesn’t materialize. Even worse, with infertility, every month brings a new possibility that you’ll actually get pregnant – and a new sense of loss if you don’t. While we certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say that infertility is as painful as the death of a child, these feelings do have many similarities. You’re grieving the loss of the child you believed you would have.
In other words, dealing with infertility is very similar to dealing with grief. Fortunately, psychologists have spent decades researching ways to help people cope with grief, so you’ll have many resources at your disposal to help you cope with the stress of your fertility journey.
The five stages of grief
Because infertility is truly a grief process, people will generally progress through the five stages of grief as they progress in their infertility journey. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression/sadness, and finally acceptance. These don’t necessarily progress in a simple linear fashion; you may find yourself moving back and forth through the stages, or starting the process over again when you begin a new type of treatment.
Often, the stage of anger is the hardest one to handle. Society tends to discourage the expression of anger, so you may have few safe outlets for your emotions during this stage. Remember that anger is a very common part of the infertility experience, and is a natural reaction to the frustration of doing everything you can to achieve something and yet not having it happen.
How to cope with the stress of infertility
To work through intense emotions, many people find that physical activity is helpful. This could include running, dance, martial arts, or any other type of moderately intense physical activity. You may also find that you can move your emotions through your body by expressing them physically. This may bring a sense of relief.
You can also try writing about your emotions, or talking about them with a trusted friend or family member. Not everyone in your life will be capable of the type of compassionate listening you need, so choose very carefully who you share your emotions with. If there’s no one you feel would be right to share with, you could also choose a professional counselor or therapist. They’re experts at compassionate listening.
Knowing that you’re not alone can make a huge difference. Many couples going through infertility treatment find that it helps to be part of a support group. It can be very healing to meet other couples experiencing the same type of stress, and to give and receive advice on how to cope. For our patients, the Mind-Body Medicine Skills Groups offered by Dr. Mark Gilbert are very helpful. In these groups, you’ll not only meet other couples going through infertility, you’ll also learn scientifically-proven techniques for managing your stress and staying calm. Other calming self-care techniques, like massage, can also be very useful.
Make sure to stay connected with your partner. Unfortunately, we’ve sometimes seen the stress of the infertility experience drive a wedge between the members of a couple. Keep the lines of communication wide open, do your best to support your partner, and ask for support when you need it. Remember that you’re in this together.
Honor your own experience
Of course, every couple experiences their fertility journey differently. Not everyone experiences the stress of infertility in the same way. Your feelings are okay, no matter what they are. You don’t have to have the same experience as someone else receiving the same treatment.
If you find that you simply can’t function in your daily life because of your emotions, then it’s time to get professional help. There are many excellent counselors and therapists who specialize in helping people cope with difficult emotions. You don’t have to just try to muddle through on your own; you can take advantage of these great resources to give you tools to make your journey better. We’re happy to refer you to a counselor or therapist who we trust.
It’s worth it!
Once a couple has a baby, the anxiety and stress of infertility treatment fade away. Parents know that it was worth everything they went through in order to have their beloved child. We’ve never heard a parent say otherwise. Although it can be difficult right now, know that in the future, you’ll have a different perspective on this time in your life.
We’re here to support you. Please take advantage of our many resources, and let us know if you’d like any other advice or help. We care about your experience, and want to make it as pleasant as possible throughout your treatment process.