You Are Not Alone: Coping With The Effects of Infertility on Mental Health
If you're one of those people struggling to build the family of your dreams, you are not alone.
When you dreamt of starting your family, you likely didn’t include needing a team of doctors, embryologists, and a support team as a part of your vision to get there. Unfortunately, the desire to have your own children doesn't always equate to the ability to do so. Infertility is a real issue that affects an estimated 186 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. If you're one of those people struggling to build the family of your dreams, you are not alone.
Raising Awareness About Infertility
Infertility is often stigmatized. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of trying (or six months of trying if over 35 years old). People experiencing infertility often feel isolated and alone. Historically, infertility has been misconceptualized as a woman’s issue. Infertility is not a gender-specific issue. Any human can experience infertility for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes, the causes of infertility are known and can be corrected through medical treatment. For example, hormone levels can contribute, and those can often be adjusted with treatments and supplements. Overall health can also play a factor in infertility struggles. Those having difficulty initially conceiving can adjust their lifestyle habits such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and living a generally healthy lifestyle to optimize their body for fertility. However, even with seemingly healthy habits, the truth is that infertility is a common issue affecting 1 in 8 couples in the US.
Considering the majority of our reproductive education focuses on pregnancy prevention, most people are instilled with misconceptions about the ease at which others are able to conceive. In contrast, however, the statistics on successfully conceiving through intercourse t are enlightening. The chance that a woman or individual with eggs in their 30’s will conceive each month is only about 20%, a number that drops to 5% by the time that same individual is 40 years old. In addition to this, 10-20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, once again, impacting the overall likelihood of successfully sustaining a pregnancy.
Struggling With Infertility and How That Impacts Mental Health
With harmful societal rhetoric and stigmatism, it’s easy to fall prey to blaming yourself or your partner for infertility struggles. However, even if the cause of infertility can be determined, it's essential to realize that infertility is no one’s fault and the blame game is a pointless exercise that only serves to cause more pain.
Dealing with infertility can lead to various emotional, social, and psychological effects that can be overwhelming even on the best of days. At any time, someone in the middle of this struggle can feel a strong sense of loss and an even stronger feeling of failure. Society puts so much emphasis on the ability to have children that if it doesn't happen immediately, a couple can feel like they have failed. They may feel as if they've failed themselves, their partner, their families, their friends, and even their community.
In addition to trying to understand why you’re not conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy, there’s the toll of pursuing all of your options and fighting to remain hopeful. For those pursuing fertility treatment, there are also the physical effects of treatments to manage. The emotional upheaval and the mental exhaustion that comes from charting cycles, performing on command, and scheduling treatment after treatment and visit after visit with doctors can have a longer-lasting toll on the individuals and their relationship.
For many, the weight of infertility can escalate to severe emotional distress, depression, and anxiety. It’s important to find adequate support for your infertility journey including your physician, friends, community, and a mental health counselor to talk to when things feel overwhelming or exhausting.
Support for the Journey
Infertility is not a ‘you’ or ‘me’ journey. It's a ‘we’ journey. It’s important that couples work to continue to communicate openly with each other. Too often, grief and frustration from infertility can lead to tense communication or shutting each other out adding additional strain relationship.
Self-esteem can also take a huge hit when an individual begins to experience struggles with conceiving a child. It is common for those dealing with infertility to experience depression, anxiety, anger, isolation from their peers, problems in their relationships, and even issues with sexual function. They need a support system. Whether that is in the form of friends and family, a support group, or professional psychological intervention, a system of support is key to navigating the journey successfully.
Fertility Treatment: A Path to Parenthood
Difficulty conceiving on your own doesn't mean that dreams of parenthood must be abandoned. There are fertility treatments that can help individuals and couples challenged with infertility build their families. Integrative medicine approaches to treating infertility include optimizing your diet and lifestyle as well as taking vitamins, supplements, herbal remedies, or utilizing acupuncture. These treatments can be combined with other fertility treatments such as assisted reproductive technology (ART)
Reproductive medicine options for infertility treatment include medications to help stimulate natural conception, intrauterine insemination (IUI), in vitro fertilization (IVF), donor egg, donor sperm, donor embryo, and surrogacy. The first step in your fertility treatment journey is meeting with a physician.. Your medical team is there to support you and provide you with the education necessary for you to make an informed decision regarding your options to grow your family.
Infertility is a diagnosis that comes as a shock to many people. Although infertility has historically been stigmatized, through increased awareness and advocacy, more and more people are growing to understand how common and how devasting infertility is. If you are struggling, unhappy, or experiencing prolonged stress, seeking support can help you find relief and strength. Infertility takes a toll on a couple's physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It's essential to establish a support system to successfully navigate the roller coaster of infertility. The support system can include family, friends, a support group, medical professionals, and mental health professionals.
An infertility diagnosis does not automatically mean you will not be able to have the family of your dreams. Fertility treatments such as IUI, IVF, and donors have given so many individuals and couples hope and success when building their families. Regardless of treatment options please know that you are not alone and we are here to help.